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Old 04-23-07, 12:19 PM   #1
treehugger
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Wouldn't Online Bike Maps Be Nice?

While helping to plan a peacewalk with bicycle support in a city we weren't normally residents in (http://www.nevadadesertexperience.or...lkblog2007.htm ) using googlemaps, my boyfriend and I kept getting shunted to the freeway. Wouldn't it be nice if all of the convenient searchable maps had bike and pedestrian accessibility factors in? This contributor to grist.org thinks so.


http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/4/22/125812/340

Help the "don't be evil" folks raise their sights a little higher
Posted by JMG at 8:31 AM on 23 Apr 2007
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Frustrated yet again trying to use Google Maps and Mapquest to figure out a bike route to someplace I've never been, I had a sudden realization -- these folks are missing a huge business opportunity.

One that you can help them recognize.

Think about it: why do online mapping services assume you're driving? Why don't they let you tell them "I want a bike route" or "I want to use transit."

First and foremost, because we've all been conditioned to accept the view that getting around means "in a car" and that all other modes are "alternative" (read: less than). This includes the geeks providing the mapping services.

Second, because bikers have rolled over yet again, quietly submitting to mapping services that only help drivers, thus helping perpetuate driving and environmental destruction.

What should an online mapping service provide?

Simple -- just like today, it should let you select a starting and ending point. Ideally, it should also let you include intermediate way points too, because we all like to combine trips, right?

But the hands down winner is the service that, for each leg of your trip, lets you choose your mode of travel and insert restrictions on the kinds of roads. This way, bikers wouldn't be presented with maps that tell them to use the highways, for example.

So the winning online mapping service would offer you choices of mode like this:

Walking:

1. Walking (shoulders OK)
2. Walking (on streets with sidewalks only)
3. Walking (avoid high speed traffic whenever possible)

Biking:

1. Bike paths whenever possible
2. Avoid high speed traffic whenever possible
3. Bike on bus routes OK

Etc.

The point is that the mapping services have spent a gazillion dollars giving us a service that is really only aimed at helping us if we drive.

Now that essentially all of America has been mapped and remapped and digitized, what's needed is for the geeks to go back and work with pedestrian and bike advocacy groups to encode data about all those roads for each city and town so that if you want to walk or bike or use transit, the system only "sees" those roads and transit routes, so it never tells you to take your bike on the Capitol Beltway, for example. The roads should be scored for safety for biking and walking so that you can adjust the route to suit your preferences (like not riding your bike next to a bunch of 18 wheelers).

Help me make this happen:

Write to your online mapping service or visit the suggestion box links below and tell them you want maps that help you with all your methods of getting around, not just driving. Maybe include a link to this post.

Let's see which mapping service actually cares enough about being green to implement a service that works for non-drivers too.

Here is a contact link for Google Maps I think might work, though lord knows they don't make it easy to contact them: gblog@google.com.

Mapquest has a reasonably easy-to-find link to their online suggestion box.

Let's hit it -- so that by next Earth Day, there's an online mapping service that tells you how to walk, bike, and use transit to get where you're going.
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Old 04-23-07, 01:12 PM   #2
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Ask.com has a maps section that does walking maps. It still will utilize US Highways, but not interstates as far as I know. Google also has an experimental transit map program.
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Old 04-23-07, 01:33 PM   #3
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Including services such as transit or routes such as MUPs also adds layers of complexity to the equation for figuring out routes. Heck, I don't even think gmaps has a way to avoid Highways yet, and mapquest will only let you do it for short distances. Give it time, it'll happen, but they need to get all the higher volume usage nailed down first.
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Old 04-23-07, 02:51 PM   #4
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My GPS' software does exactly what the original poster is asking for. Its engine is the same Nav Com engine that runs MapQuest. I paid $350.00+ for my GPS (Garmin Quest). I cannot see software for walking being useful to a cyclist and as much as I agree that everything is skewed to the motorist side of the equation the fact is the bicycle mode has more in common with automobile travel than not. Chances are its the ROADS that are the problem and in many places particularly in the East and MidWest even if one did possess mapping idealized for a cyclists needs the actual riding would still leave lots to be desired.

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Old 04-23-07, 02:59 PM   #5
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if you're visiting Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; here's the online map: http://www5.mississauga.ca/cycling/m...cling_map.html
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Old 04-23-07, 03:02 PM   #6
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Topo USA. It costs money, but you can exclude all sorts of things, including interstates.

there's also http://routeslip.com and http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/
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Old 04-23-07, 03:04 PM   #7
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Mapquest gives you the option to "avoid highways" after you bring up the initial route map. I've written them several times to thank them profusely, as they're the only online mapping service that offers this option. It doesn't factor in bike friendliness or off-street bike paths, but it sure helps.

I also wrote Yahoo! maps and Google maps, letting them know that I don't (and can't) use their services because of their lack of non-highway routing.
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Old 04-23-07, 03:08 PM   #8
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Unfortunately with topo maps and pedo maps I fear one will be routed too many times onto 'roads' or paths which forbid motor traffic. Fine you say, but is it? It will set back those of us who hope to get bicycles accepted as legal road vehicles to start avoiding motorways and behaving like bionic pedestrians.

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Old 04-23-07, 03:27 PM   #9
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Online maps for metropolitan Portland, OR can be found here.
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Old 04-23-07, 03:30 PM   #10
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I see several problems and complexities with this:

1) Road map data is easily obtainable. Bike paths and pedestrian shortcuts however are not as easy to get. Even local city bike maps miss some sometimes. Even if you did incorporate some of the better known MUPs into maps, tons and tons and tons of shortcuts will remain unmapped. The data will be incomplete and almost as useless as no info at all.

2) Roads are standardized. They are classified by size and speed (expressway, arterial, minor arterial, residential - that sort of thing). But bike paths and such are completely unpredictable. There is no way to tell if you're going to end up on a path that actually accommodates cyclists reasonably (i.e. segregates cyclists and pedestrians, provides clear sight lines, lighting, snow-clearing services etc.) or whether it's some horrendous twisty narrow crowded thing (and you have to climb stairs to get to it).

3) A "bike-friendly" street isn't well-defined. There isn't any agreement on what consititues such a street. Even if there was, identifying these streets would not be easy matter. On Toronto's own cycling map, there are streets marked as "bike-friendly" which are in fact horrendous for cycling in various ways and some streets that have no markings at all and look like nasty major arterials but turn out to be perfect for cycling because of wide outside lanes.

So given this, how is a computer system going to choose a route? Even if it somehow took conditions of paths into account, it could not guess the needs and priorities of any individual cyclists. Should it just avoid highways, or tack extra two miles on your ride to incorporate some MUP or should it double the riding distance but make sure the ride is on a bike path all the way? Should it incorporate one mile of an MUP in your route that requires you to climb stairs to get on and off the path? Should it include unpaved trails or are you riding a fragile road bike?

As a matter of fact, I don't think there even could be a mapping system that could map out good cycling routes. Motorists' needs are fairly standard - most of them want to get places as fast as they can. Cyclists' needs and preferences vary greatly, however: some put efficiency above all else, some would go to great lengths to avoid traffic, most opt for some sort of a trade-off. So why even bother trying to create such a system? JUST MAP YOUR RIDE YOURSELF. You know your needs and preferences better than anyone else. Use sites like gmap-pedometer or bikely - you can map your own route and the map will tell you the distance etc.

I disagree that the current map systems only help drivers. I benefit from them a lot more as a cyclist than as a driver. The sattelite view is god-sent. You can zoom in and actually see things like shortcuts and paths. You can see whether lanes on a particular street are wide or narrow. You can see how much traffic there is on the street and compare it to neighbouring streets. You can often see if there are stop signs and lights at certain intersections or not. It's simply wonderful, especially if you combine Google maps with local cycling maps. You'll end up choosing much better route than any software could ever produce.
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Old 04-23-07, 03:32 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leisesturm
Unfortunately with topo maps and pedo maps I fear one will be routed too many times onto 'roads' or paths which forbid motor traffic. Fine you say, but is it? It will set back those of us who hope to get bicycles accepted as legal road vehicles to start avoiding motorways and behaving like bionic pedestrians.
Like it or not, these paths are often made for bikes, and some people would be looking for these things in a bike map.

Full bike maps would be difficult. Minneapolis has one-way roads with bike lanes in both directions. There are also a variety of paths - marked and separated bike paths, wide straight MUPs, paths with a 10mph speed limit. But I agree that a "no interstates" option would get you 90% of the way there, "prefer local roads" maybe 95%.

Google maps recently added the ability to have multiple destinations. You can't quite say "town1 to town2 to town3" but you can add a destination after the route is mapped out.
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Old 04-23-07, 04:18 PM   #12
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Bike auto-routing doesn't really make much sense. I make too many shortcuts for them to be all mapped out in even just this city. I just keep looking for shorter/quieter paths as I'm riding. Sure, every now and then you have to double back because you can't get through, but so what.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CaptainCool
Google maps recently added the ability to have multiple destinations. You can't quite say "town1 to town2 to town3" but you can add a destination after the route is mapped out.
My upcoming vacation ride to our property.
Well, almost, it is following the road to the towns that the rail trail goes through. I am hoping to have a gps by then so I can record it and put it up on bikely or routeslip (It is following part of the COLT - Central Ontario Loop Trail)

So in your destination you just need to put in "uxbridge, on to:lindsay, on to:fenelon falls to: .... etc" Or do it via the Add destination link. Also, you don't need to put in just the town - you can put in full addresses.
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Old 04-23-07, 04:58 PM   #13
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The thing that does make sense is a system that automatically tells you one route (or several) that you can legally take on a bike. There's room for improvement, but such a system more or less exists with the mapquest walking directions.
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Old 04-23-07, 05:19 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caspar_s
So in your destination you just need to put in "uxbridge, on to:lindsay, on to:fenelon falls to: .... etc" Or do it via the Add destination link. Also, you don't need to put in just the town - you can put in full addresses.
Okay, interesting. Instead of "town1 to town2 to town3" you have to do "from: town1 to: town2 to: town3"
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Old 04-26-07, 06:48 AM   #15
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Interesting thread and comments about challenges to producing a usable map and people's use of satellite photos in combo with online map services. In the Washington Metro area there are a few resources for bikers. ADC, a local map company, produces a map to show bike friendly streets in DC that is for sale at many LBSs. bikewashington.org has maps of bike trails. Some local county governments in MD and VA and nonprofits have produced maps that I've seen listed but never used. For the regular commuter I think nothing beats pulling out the road map, using trial and error on weekends to learn the route, and talking to other cyclists.
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Old 04-26-07, 11:16 AM   #16
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Here in Minneapolis, we have a website that has an amazing map of trails and bikelanes in the Minneapolis city limits. The county also has a map online; it's not that great but it gets the job done.

I guess I had just been taking it for granted that we have some great maps online where I am currently living! Yikes!
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Old 04-26-07, 11:56 AM   #17
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A whole other thing to consider: topography! The first half my commute is all neighborhoods, but massively hilly. When I got started, I printed out some topographical maps and found a nice zig-zaggy route that stayed as flat as possible. "Avoid hills" would be a fairly important option for cyclists, but totally a non-issue for motorists.
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Old 04-26-07, 04:16 PM   #18
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A paper map has a lot of the detail you want.
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Old 04-26-07, 07:18 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chephy

3) A "bike-friendly" street isn't well-defined. There isn't any agreement on what consititues such a street. Even if there was, identifying these streets would not be easy matter. On Toronto's own cycling map, there are streets marked as "bike-friendly" which are in fact horrendous for cycling in various ways and some streets that have no markings at all and look like nasty major arterials but turn out to be perfect for cycling because of wide outside lanes.
Bike-friendly is definately a qualitative criteria. I guess I am often looking often for just more information than is usually available on standard maps: bikelanes, wide outside lanes, or wide shoulder, that there is either a shoulder or lower speed limits or low traffic, topography, level of traffic. There are certainly specialized maps for particular areas that do this ( http://www.nrsrcaa.org/bikemap/ is the one for the Humboldt Bay area). I just found the information for Las Vegas quite difficult to get. However, we just tried the Mapquest trick, and that would have made it easier.

There is actually a Las Vegas bike map, with a public transit map on the other side, it was just blatanly inaccurate. On a street labeled "Bike Route", I was yelled at more in a short period of time than I ever have been in my life just for being on the road. It had no shoulder, fast speeds, mean motorists. Not that I needed the meanness of the motorists mapped out, but the street didn't match either the map's or my defintion of "Bike Route".
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Old 04-27-07, 07:11 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by treehugger
Bike-friendly is definately a qualitative criteria. I guess I am often looking often for just more information than is usually available on standard maps: bikelanes, wide outside lanes, or wide shoulder, that there is either a shoulder or lower speed limits or low traffic, topography, level of traffic. There are certainly specialized maps for particular areas that do this ( http://www.nrsrcaa.org/bikemap/ is the one for the Humboldt Bay area).
It's true, there are things that most cyclists would almost unanimously prefer (such as wide outside lanes). However, on many things they would disagree (I know cyclists who avoid streets with bike lanes; I myself would take a street with no bike lane over a street with a bad bike lane any day). But more importantly, they'd probably disagree on how much extra distance they are willing to go and how much they'd be willing to be slowed down by stop signs etc. in exchange for reduced motor traffic. There is a whole spectrum of cyclists out there, from "give me the fastest way from A to B" to "I'll go triple the shortest distance if that means I can be on bike lanes all the way". A computerized routing service cannot take these preferences into account.

As for specialized maps, most of these sorts of maps I've seen fail to indicate some of those useful things mentioned above. And you point out yourself that these maps are often quite inaccurate. They are of some use, but when given a choice between such a map and Google maps with detailed satellite view, I'd take the latter. However, a combination usually works best.
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Old 04-27-07, 07:24 AM   #21
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I forgot to mention that I use Google Earth, too. I will use online maps (although I prefer paper, as well) to get a general route, then I use Google Earth to see what it really looks like. Granted, the images of my area are 3 years old, but nothing has changed. The point is that I can see for myself what the lanes look like, etc., without even going there.
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Old 04-27-07, 04:41 PM   #22
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I have a city map which can also be found online, however, most of the time I find my self taking a route not on the map. Many of these are labeled with road signs as bike routes, however still don't show up on the map. Maybe some city's bike routes are more comprehensive than here, but really having the maps available aren't all that useful to me.
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Old 04-28-07, 01:17 PM   #23
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Google is letting users submit their own maps/routes now.

While not an automatically generated route, this certainly has a great deal of promise for bike commuters wanting to share a route. Directions can be found here.
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Old 04-28-07, 03:20 PM   #24
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Last time I checked, MyMaps didn't give distances for the routes users plotted. Bikely is far better: it already has a database of user-generated bike routes. Gmap-pedometer will let you see the distance as well and routes can be saved, but they are not searchable: the only way to share a route there is to save it and post a URL somewhere.
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