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

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'Bike There' not just for cyclists

March 02, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Providing bicycle route directions on Google Maps will make cyclists safer, but it will also make automobile drivers and pedestrians safer. Here’s how.

The diagram below is a snapshot from the Google Maps Satellite view of a section of Alma Street in Palo Alto, California, overlayed with some illustration by an expert diagrametician (me). :-) What is shown is a not-so-uncommon scenario along that stretch of road, which lies between downtown Palo Alto and California Ave - a bicyclist, cars, and pedestrians.

Two lanes in either direction - no shoulder - no bike lanes, and a small buffer zone on one side with a sidewalk on the other side of that buffer. This situation is very dangerous - I’ve witnessed it from behind the wheel of my car.

Dangerous situation for all - smaller

What happens is this - the cyclist doesn’t know that there is a bicycle lane/path on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, just to her south/on her right, and there is another bicycle lane a couple of blocks over, just to her north, on her left - on Bryant Street (Mid-Peninsula Bicycle Map (pdf)). Even without bicyclists, this road can get very hectic in a hurry, especially in any kind of inclement weather and during rush hours. If Google Maps made bicycle route mapping available, this cyclist would almost certainly be aware of these bicycle lanes and path, and she would use them.

It’s a bit difficult to get the proper perspective from just one picture, but the situation is actually very common across America, at least, and I suspect in other countries around the world. A cyclist can often feel ‘trapped’ - in this case, the cyclist sees nothing but railroad tracks to her right, and there is a neighborhood to her left, where she knows she can ride into if she’s interested in getting lost and never making it to her destination. So the only option left, she feels, is to ride as quickly as possible on this stretch of road which she very quickly becomes aware is not safe for her or anyone else. What else is there to do, really?

When she gets to work or school or wherever, she might remark to someone that part of her ride was dangerous, and maybe an experienced local cyclist will be able to help. That help may or may not include pulling out a gargantuan folded paper bicycle map - if you had access to an experienced local cyclist who happened to have a map on them. Or, that help might include jumping online and finding your town’s gargantuan PDF bicycle map and trying to figure out the safest way home that way. These situations are unlikely, not ideal, or some combination thereof. Google Maps can fix these problems by providing bicycle route information.

Back to the dangerous situation described in the picture, above — when a bicyclist is on this road, any number of things will play out - here are just four:

  1. Car driver just slows down and waits behind cyclist for some amount of time - probably longer than the car driver feels they should have to wait. Car driver eventually speeds around cyclist and may offer some ‘Good morning’-type pleasantries to the bicyclist for having slowed the car driver down, possibly informed the cyclist of his/her ‘lack of intelligence’, and may even offer a remedy for how the cyclist should go about fixing his/her intelligence problem. This situation may or may not escalate, may or may not include verbal threats of physical violence, the swerving of the automobile in the direction of the cyclist to physically threaten violence, etc.
  2. Car driver sees cyclist about to impede fast forward progress so speeds up and attempts to shift into left/passing lane ahead of the car on his/her left. This maneuver may or may not be successful, depending on any number of factors. A fun one to consider is when the driver already in the passing lane recognizes this same impending ‘traffic situation’ and speeds up to allow the car on his right to slide over into the passing lane without having to slow much - this means we now have two cars racing side by side towards the cyclist. Hopefully someone wins, because if one of them doesn’t, then the cyclist is going to be in major trouble.
  3. Car driver will have plenty of room to pass cyclist and will do so, and everyone is fine.
  4. The nightmare scenario - we don’t have to spell this one out. Any police officer or paramedic could detail what happens when hazardous road conditions and imperfect humans meet.

And while the bicycling conditions on this particular stretch of road might be hazardous, anyone who has ridden a bicycle around town, anyone who has driven a car that ‘got stuck’ behind a cyclist, and anyone who has walked a stretch of sidewalk along some crazy-looking roadway knows that these things happen all the time - possibly every day of your cycling/driving/walking life.

Bicycle routes shown directly in the core Google Maps service can make everyone safer. They will help us all lower our blood pressure. They can prevent road rage. They can give people more transportation options. They will help lessen traffic congestion.

Now, I have to plan my route to Zilker Park, where I’m going to watch the Zilker Park Kite Festival. Have a safe and happy day! :-)

facebook

March 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

There is a cause, and a group - take your pick! We’re trying to merge them, somehow.

Probably my fault - I must admit, I’m a bit of a Facebook novice. :-)

meant to post this as a ‘Page’ instead of a blog post - my bad. You should see a link up top, now.

Google Translate

March 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

The Google Translate widget has been installed over on the left. I came up with the idea after working with Pierre, our excellent French translator.

Since Pierre’s main blog is in French, I wondered if FeedBurner (Pierre’s RSS publisher, and we use FeedBurner for this site, also), could automatically provide RSS feeds in multiple languages. In other words, I wanted to subscribe to an English language version of Pierre’s RSS feed, which is in French.

FeedBurner is now owned by Google. So, perhaps after the Google Maps team is done building our bicycle map routing functionality, we can petition the FeedBurner team to work on this other feature.  ;-)

Français

February 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Thank you to Pierre Noirat for making a French translation for us so quickly - staying up until 1 am local time to get it done!

Hopefully we’ve made it just a bit easier for French speakers to join our cause. Wikipedia tells us that there are quite a few French speakers out there:

French (français, pronounced [fʁɑ̃sɛ]) is a Romance language originally spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, and today by about 350 million people around the world as either a native or a second language,[7] with significant populations in 54 countries.

Check out Pierre’s cool bicycle t-shirt boutique and blog with lots of bicycle goodness (http://www.pierrequiroule.net), and for us foreign language-challenged folks, there’s an international version in English (http://www.velolove.net). [Don't quote me on this, but I believe 'vélo' is at least one of the terms for 'bicycle' in French.]

Thanks again, Pierre!

kluster, and TED

February 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

kluster is a crowdsourcing startup in Burlington, Vermont. What do they do? From their process page:

kluster is a place to harness the power of community collaboration to get stuff done. everyone has ideas, we provide a platform to get them out of heads and into the world…where they belong.

we initially built kluster to facilitate large group decision-making during product development, marketing/advertising initiatives, and event planning. then, after the system got its algorithmic brain, we realized it was powerful in virtually any decision-making activity, with groups large or small.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only conference held annually in Monterey, California. They invite speakers in all sorts of fields to give ‘the talk of their lives’ in 18 minutes or less. I wholeheartedly recommend watching some/most/all of their videos - so many are so good. TED 2008 is going on right now.

kluster just officially launched a few days ago, and it will be used by TED attendees this year.

TechCrunch has a good rundown on what kluster is all about.

Maybe we should look at using kluster to design the ultimate Google Maps ‘Bike There’ feature?

Email Sent to Google

February 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

At least one commenter and one emailer have suggested that Google is already planning to release this feature in 2008, and asked if/why someone did not just contact Google to ask?

I am not a member of ‘the formal Press’, so I do not have a press contact for Google, and cannot use the email address they reserve for press inquiries (you can find it by searching their site).

So, I did the first best thing I could think of, which was to post about this petition to the Google Maps Help Group - which is an implicit question to Google and the Google Maps team. I have seen Google Maps representatives respond directly to user requests in the past, so this is a viable option, I think.

Today I sent an email to Google using the email form that can be found here.

Yesterday I remembered having heard about what I considered to be some type of ‘press sub-organization’ for Google Maps. The idea was, I thought I remembered, to help non-profits and advocacy groups around the world to help use Google Earth and Google Maps be effective in their campaigns. After some googling I stumbled upon the Google Earth Outreach program. This was the ‘sub-organization’ I was thinking of, though I’m honestly not too sure how it all works. Later today or perhaps tomorrow I’ll post a question to one of the forums specific to this Google Earth Outreach program and see if we can find anything out there.

Until we find out for sure whether or not Google decides to implement this feature, I think it is probably a good idea to continue to build broad-based support for this feature request, so that at a minimum we can all remain in touch with each other and help organize ourselves to see bicycle route mapping happen for every city and town (and even rural areas) on earth.

Please keep up the good work. As of right now we’re up to 3,721 signatures, and the locations continue to diversify.

I believe we have a volunteer to do a French translation and I would love to have other languages.

Soon I will add a page listing all of the various bicycle route mapping services that exist - ones that I know of and others that you let me know of (thank you to those of you who have already notified me about all of these other services).

Thank you!

Favicon

February 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Yes, we now have a favicon - the most important aspect of any web presense.  :)

Thanks to the folks at Dynamic Drive.

Facebook Cause

February 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Check out the Facebook Cause page, and send some love to your friends.  :)

Milwaukee, not Madison

February 28, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Someone pointed out that byCycle maps Milwaukee, not Madison. Doh! My bad. Sorry.

Email Signatures

February 26, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

You can help spread the word by using an email signature with a link to the petition and/or this website.

If you are a Facebooker or MySpacer or Orkuter or Beboer or any other social networker, you might consider dropping a link to the petition and/or this website in your profile somewhere.

Cheers.

…uh, and forgot to mention, if you are a blogger, then please feel free to blog about our collective efforts. :)