Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)


Archive for March, 2008


March 11, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

The price of oil is helping to put the squeeze on people, and it’s just a real bad situation. When you read the accounts of people who are losing or who have recently lost their homes, you kinda think to yourself, ‘man, that’s bad‘, or ,’this is not supposed to happen‘.

I actually don’t know the situation in the rest of the world, but here in America, foreclosures are just about out of control - lots of people in lots of cities and towns all over the country are losing their homes - and this problem is not just about people losing their homes - it’s the myriad other problems that come with massive amounts of foreclosures:

The mortgage foreclosure crisis has caused a drop in cities’ revenues, a spike in crime, more homelessness and an increase in vacant properties, a survey of elected local officials out today shows.

About two-thirds of 211 officials surveyed by the National League of Cities reported an increase in foreclosures in their cities in the past year, according to the online and e-mail questionnaire. A third of them reported a drop in revenues and an increase in abandoned and vacant properties and urban blight.

“There’s a reduction in revenues at the same time that more services are needed,” says Cynthia McCollum, president of the National League of Cities and councilwoman in Madison, Ala., a suburb of Huntsville. “Because of foreclosures, people are stealing, crime is on the rise and we don’t have more money for cops on the street.”

While it might not be fair to suggest that a feature addition to Google Maps could save millions of Americans from losing their homes, I do think it is fair to suggest that a ‘Bike There’ feature addition could really help those people who were determined to not lose their homes by doing whatever they could to fight off foreclosure - even if it meant giving up their car.

People could sell one of the family cars, which could mean giving up a car payment, insurance payment, gas payments, maintenance and upkeep payments, etc.

The problem, of course, is that folks have no reason to think that they could cycle to work - it hasn’t entered the public conscience yet - for many reasons. And that keeps folks in their cars, because the only alternative to a car, they believe, is taking mass transit everywhere, which equates to a loss of control. When you ride a bicycle, you are still in control - an important and compelling distinction for which the bicycle has not yet been given its proper due - in my humble opinion. :) I pass people sitting or standing at bus stops all the time, and I know they’re thinking about it - ‘could I ride a bike to get where I need to go?‘ And then they think, ‘Nope - too dangerous.

A Google Maps ‘Bike There’ feature can help, here, by showing people realistic bike routes that have already been designated as such by cities and towns and organizations all across America and around the world - routes where there may even be a full-on bicycle lane so that you don’t have to dodge cars and SUVs and pickup trucks to within inches of your life.

The implementation of a ‘Bike There’ feature does not have to mean that Google is evangelizing bicycles over other forms of transportation - it could just mean that they’re responding to tremendous market demand - and that would be fine with me - and that’s part of what this petition is all about. I believe that tremendous market demand exists - this petition is just a way to fuse the millions of voices from around the world into a unified show of support for such a feature.

I drove up north of Austin, yesterday, to an area of town known as The Arboretum - an ‘upmarket retail trade area‘. There is just lots of ‘stuff’ out there - stores, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, etc. In driving the mass and mess of highways to get there, I thought to myself, ‘man, if I wanted to go shopping up here, there’s no way I could bike up here’. It just seemed too crazy - just thousands and thousands of cars zooming around in every different direction - I couldn’t think of a place I’d less rather be when riding my bike.

But all of this might have been false thinking. If I was able to pull up Google Maps and have it provide bicycle directions to The Arboretum, the route obviously would have been much different. The ‘Avoid Highways’ checkbox would be useful, of course, but it would not go far enough. If I was able to look at bicycle directions on Google Maps and see that a bicycle trip was possible, then what other trips would become possible? How many other Austinites would see the ‘Bike There’ option on Google Maps and think ‘I wonder if I could do that?‘.

Lots of Americans know they need to take drastic measures to avoid foreclosure, and sometimes, even selling your car won’t help, but it would be great if we could give folks just one more tool to help keep themselves afloat.

Signature Spotlight: Baby riders!

March 11, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Monday, March 10:

22463. Downing Lu Cambridge, MA Yes! I bike everywhere and now that I have a baby, would like to know of the safest bike routes to take with my child (though I haven’t ridden with him yet!).

Bike Sharing

March 10, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Bicycle sharing programs are sprouting up like crazy. Check out the Tulsa Townies bicycle sharing program, created by the Saint Francis Health System. Not sure I would have gone with the hot pink, but at least they are out there doing it. :)

Humana has started the Freewheelin program in Louisville, Kentucky. No website, but a good intro/PR/announcement video, and a nice pdf.

There are bicycle and safety and environmental advocates/activists gearing up all over the country to convince their local governments that bike-sharing programs are good. Check out Bike Share Philadelphia for an example.

The wiki page has more on bike sharing programs.

The Bike-Sharing Blog is run by a private bike-sharing company. They put together a Google Map with a list of bike sharing cities/programs in Europe.

News of bike-sharing programs making their way to the U.S. has been around for months, but actual rollouts (pun intended) are imminent, starting in DC, with myriad other towns all across America wanting to get in on the action.

Check out this awesome video about the Parisian bike sharing program, Vélib’ (English, wiki). And an older article from the IHT on Vélib’ -’a name that fuses the terms “vélo” (bike) and “liberté” (freedom)‘.

A search of the web or just the blogsphere will show just how much activity is going on with regards to bike sharing in America and around the world.

Bicycle routes directly integrated with Google Maps would be of great use to people all over the world right now - but when we take into account the rapid growth of bicycling all over the world as a real form of transport, this feature only becomes more important.

When we look back at the worldwide bicycle movement twenty years from now, I think there will be at least one effort that people will point to as being a crucial component in leading the way - in helping inspire people everywhere to believe that bicycling was possible and healthy and fun - and that will be the Vélib’ program. The question is, will Google be remembered as one of the key enablers of the worldwide bicycle movement?

I hope so.  :)

Bikehugger's SXSW Ride and BBQ

March 09, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

BikeHugger SXSW Barbecue Ride - El ChilitoSXSW is ‘South by Southwest‘ - the annual interactive (web, mobile, internet, etc.), film, and music festival that takes over Austin for a week or two every March. is a website we’ve mentioned before, after they helped popularize our our efforts. According to their website, they are:

…bike culture blogged. As a group blog, with different voices, we cover diverse topics, but all focused on bikes.

Well, they had planned a big bike ride and barbecue down here at ‘South by’ (pronounced ‘south bye’), and it was….great success!

At the Bike Hugger BBQ, there was a capacity crowd that ate all the food, drink all the beer, had a good time, and won prizes from our sponsors. We counted 300 people. 30 cyclists showed up for the Urban Ride on a beautiful Spring day. I made it just in time for the BBQ, but missed the ride, after being stuck in Memphis.

Thanks Austin and SXSW.

ATXBS blog was there, too (I think ‘ATX’ is just a nickname for Austin - a conjugation of ‘Austin’ and ‘Texas’.). It was great meeting Jason and the ATXBS crew, and Byron and the BikeHugger crew.

I missed the beginning of the ride, but managed to beat them to The Blanton Museum of Art (which didn’t have bike racks). No bike racks, but the folks inside were very nice. The Texas State History Museum also did not have bike racks - I’d originally stopped there, thinking it was the Blanton Museum. I definitely plan on calling the city about getting bike racks in both locations.

We cruised for some dinner a bit later on (just beer for me, thanks) - we went to El Chilito - a very cool joint. Again, no bike racks, but the place was so cool I could almost forgive them. I’ll find a way to ask them to install a bike rack, anyways. :)

I’m typing this post from a new cafe I discovered along the way (another benefit of riding vs. driving) - Clementine Coffee Bar. No bike rack here, either - I’ll ask someone about it Bike rack off to the side! :) It definitely seems we need to have a systematic way of contacting business owners and expressing our desire to get bicycle racks.

The picture is taken outside of El Chilito. The guy with the cool bike is Jason, of ATXBS blog fame.

Thanks to BikeHugger for organizing this event, and to everyone for making it such a fun event.

Inaugural Signature Spotlight

March 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

New feature that may or may not continue past today - ‘Signature Spotlight’.

We read so many insightful and funny comments, that we think more people should know about them. It won’t be an exact science, as the signatures are not timestamped - we’ll just make an educated guess as to which signatures came in each day, based on signature total from the previous night.

Here is today’s:


Ralph Evington Boston, MA I would also like a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich to come out of my computer whenever I use Google maps. A tasty one. Ok ok ok maybe that is too much.

An untasty grilled cheese and tomato sandwich? Never heard of it. :)


March 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

We hit 20,000 signatures for the petition yesterday. Good work, everyone.

No word yet from Google.

I sent a ‘product suggestion’ email using an online form on Google’s site - I can’t find the form right now.

And I just used another form here to let the folks know about our efforts.

International Women's Day

March 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Today is International Women’s Day - March 8.

C’mon - you mean to tell me that bicycles have played a part, and might still be able to play a part in helping to liberate women - wherever in the world they may face oppression??

Well, yes.

We first stumbled onto this aspect of bicycling when we read A Message from the President. That is, a message from David C. Joyce, President of Ripon College, and thought leader (as far as we can tell) behind the Velorution Project. He writes:

Interestingly, no single group benefited from the invention this advent more immediately than women. During the 1890s, the proliferation of bicycles helped women out of their corsets (in the collective sense) and steered fashion toward practical clothing. Likewise, Ripon College’s first four graduates in 1867 were women… another example of empowering women for the future.

How cool is that??

The bicycle wiki page has a bit more. Here’s the first graph from the wiki:

The diamond-frame safety bicycle gave women unprecedented mobility, contributing to their emancipation in Western nations. As bicycles became safer and cheaper, more women had access to the personal freedom they embodied, and so the bicycle came to symbolise the New Woman of the late nineteenth century, especially in Britain and the United States.

If that’s not interesting enough for you, then how about this link we found at the Freakonomics blog, which states that oil production is inversely correlated to women’s rights:

Why has the Middle East lagged behind the rest of the world in women’s rights and political participation? The strictures of Islam receive a fair share of the blame. Michael Ross of UCLA tells us otherwise. The real reason, he argues, is oil.

Michael spoke today at Yale about a new paper of his in the American Political Science Review. He argues that women’s participation in the formal labor force is a driving force in the development of women’s rights and participation. Oil production tends to crowd out local manufacturing, and so oil crowds out job opportunities for women. That is, the discovery of oil in a less developed country, he argues, sideswipes the development of women’s rights. The discovery of oil might even set back previous gains.

It gets more interesting. If you ignore oil, Islam tends to be associated (statistically) with poor women’s rights. After accounting for oil, that Islam-women’s rights correlation goes away. Variation in oil production seems to explain much of the variation in women’s rights within the Middle East, as well as between the Middle East and the rest of the world.

It’s far from proven - it’s just a paper - but wow, what if it’s true? What if it’s only partially true, or even only 10% true?

That would mean that more bicycling - with its corresponding decrease in demand for oil production (or even a slow-down in demand growth) - would imply/infer/create/correspond to a better/stronger women’s rights.

There are myriad economic and moral arguments for Google to provide bicycle directions in the main Google Maps interface, but of all the moral arguments - even if the oil study turns out to be flawed/wrong - the idea that we might be able to bolster human/women’s rights by promoting cycling is just way, way cool.

Other Efforts

March 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

We added a page called ‘Other Efforts‘ which lists a few of the other bicycle-route mapping initiatives. I’m sure we’re missing at least a few - we just have to go through the email again - but feel free to send us a reminder.

We only added sites/services that we felt made some effort to actually provide bicycle directions - that is, turn-by-turn/street-by-street directions of how to get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’ on a bicycle. Of course, there is a lot of room for interpretation, here.

Thanks to Alex Rabe for putting together the rockin WordPress table plugin, wp-table - which we’re using to show all the ‘Other Efforts‘ in that HTML table. This plugin saved us a lot of time/effort.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition - 8,000 strong?!

March 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

That’s a whole lot of members:

Through day-to-day advocacy, education, and working partnerships with government and community agencies, the SFBC is dedicated to creating safer streets and more livable communities for all San Franciscans.

Our active 8,000 members represent San Franciscans of all ages, from all neighborhoods, who are working towards more safe, efficient, and green ways to move around our city.

Because of our efforts, the number of residents biking for transportation has doubled in the past 10 years. Today, over 30,000 San Franciscans use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. (Source: 2006 David Binder Poll)

The SFBC is the largest bicycle advocacy organization in the country - that’s no joke. That number - 8,000 - wow.

We just wanted to give a shout out - say ‘Thanks!’ for picking us up. Here’s the blurb from their weekly bulletin:

While it’s good to see the “Take Public Transit” option in addition to “Drive There” on Google Maps, you know we’d all like to see a “Bike There” option. If you agree, have a look at the Google Maps ‘Bike There’ website and then sign the petition. Thanks to SFBC members Chloe, Emily, Jeremiah, and Christopher for the tip.

Thanks for looking out, Chloe, Emily, Jeremiah, and Christopher - and to the folks who actually put together the newsletter/bulletin/website.

And thanks to Andy, bike commuter extraordinaire, for letting us know where that massive influx of Bay Area signatures originated. :)

How to Survive a Zombie Attack

March 06, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

My roommates aren’t avid cyclists (yet), but they are avid zombie fanatics. We went to go see Diary of the Dead. (Did you know Google does movie listings?)

This led to the inevitable post-movie breakdown, and references to the best book evaaaaaaaaaaaah - The Zombie Survival Guide.

The top ten lessons for how to survive a zombie attack?

  1. Organize before they rise!
  2. They feel no fear, why should you?
  3. Use your head: cut off theirs.
  4. Blades don’t need reloading.
  5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.
  6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it.
  7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike.
  8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
  9. No place is safe, only safer.
  10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

Yet one more reason for Google to provide bicycle routes on Google Maps.