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

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F.A.Q.

We tried to answer a few of the frequently asked questions, but we’ll add more later:

  1. What is this all about?
  2. Why should I sign the petition? I don’t agree 500% with it.
  3. There are mistakes and typos in the petition.
  4. Who started this petition?
  5. Why did this petition start?
  6. Why don’t you build this functionality yourself? Why are you lazy?
  7. This will never work.
  8. What is the Wheatsville Food Co-op, the starting point shown in the banner at the top of each page?
  9. Why aren’t you asking for walking maps, too?
  10. This already exists. Check out sites ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’.
  11. This won’t be safe. They don’t even have bikes in California.
  12. You didn’t answer my question.
  13. How can bicycle directions in Google Maps, and bicycling in general, help me/us/our society?
  14. Who is behind GoogleMapsBikeThere.org? Who is running this thing? Why are you really doing this? What gives?
  15. What’s in this effort for Google and the Google Maps (and/or Transit) team and Google stockholders?
  16. Why can’t cyclists just check the ‘Avoid highways’ checkbox? That’s the same thing as ‘bicycle directions’, right?
  17. You are barking up the wrong tree. Google doesn’t have this data - they license it from all sorts of third parties. Therefore, you should not be petitioning Google - you should be petitioning one/some/all of the people/organizations/companies that Google gets its data from.
  18. Bike lanes are evil, and you want these bicycle directions to give credence to the notion that bike lanes can be safer for cyclists, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t have any proof, but I do know that vehicular cycling is the only way to proceed. Why are you evil?
  19. What is the Law & Order Brigade?
  20. What is the category ‘Simple Answers to Simple Questions’ all about?

1. What is this all about?

This is about an effort to get bicycle directions provided on Google Maps. See the petition, and our About page for more information.

2. Why should I sign the petition? I don’t agree 500% with it.

Because we need your help. You don’t have to believe, as we do, that Chariots of Fire is the greatest movie ever made (next to The Bicycle Thief [Ladri di biciclette], of course - aaaand a lot of other great movies) - all you have to do is support the idea that having bicycle directions provided in the main Google Maps interface is a good thing.

3. There are mistakes and typos in the petition.

Yes, there are - and they are my fault - sorry. There is an ‘edition’ where there should be an ‘addition’, and we said ‘Madison’ instead of ‘Milwaukee’, and there might be other mistakes as well. I did have the petition reviewed, first, I promise, but these typos still slipped through. In any case, the petition is still valid, despite these typos. Unfortunately, the petition text cannot be updated.

4. Who started this petition?

Peter Smith, with the help and encouragement of folks in the Austin cycling community.

5. Why did this petition start?

Upon arriving in Austin (from Palo Alto), I (Peter) took a ride to the local book store. It was a harrowing experience - in part because I didn’t know where the bike lanes were - or even if there were any. I felt like the frog in Frogger - after you’ve passed the first couple of levels - dodging death monsters, trying not to get squished. I sought out the Austin Bicycle Map, but found it was still difficult to find out how to get from my apartment to wherever I wanted to go in my new town - because I had no idea where anything was. I used Google Maps several times a day to find any number of things, and thought it would be very convenient if I could just get bicycle directions directly on Google Maps, the same way I got car directions and mass transit directions. This was not a new idea. After finding several Google Maps mashups on the net that attempted to provide bicycle directions, it started to become clear just how many people were interested in bicycle directions. So, we thought we’d start a campaign to try and convince Google to provide them.

6. Why don’t you build this functionality yourself? Why are you lazy?

We definitely considered building this ourselves (and we still are), but seeing as how so many people were already working on it, we thought it would be best to pool resources - that is, to organize - and help build a solution that everyone could use. Upon further consideration, we realized that having bicycle directions built directly into the main Google Maps interface would be the best solution for a number of reasons, some of them being:

  • Millions of people who are not normally exposed to the concept of bicycling as a form of transportation will have the ability to compare cycling with their current mode of transportation - whether they drive, take mass transit, walk, etc. This, we believe, can have a profound impact on individuals, and on every automobile-oriented society. We believe that, once exposed to the concept of cycling as a possible means of transport, millions of people will get out of their cars and onto their bicycles.
  • Building this ourselves would be tough in that this is potentially a very big project. Done right, this is almost certainly a very big project - one that would require several hundred or thousand person-hours of work. That resource requirement makes a project of this size a good fit for a large organization - an organization like Google.
  • This project requires significant technical expertise - from computer programming to cartography - Google has that technical expertise.

7. This will never work.

We hope you are wrong.

8. What is the Wheatsville Food Co-op, the starting point shown in the banner at the top of each page?

According to their website, they are:

a community-focused full service grocer in Austin, Texas: visit our site for current activities, community links, and The Breeze for recipes, editorials, and health news.

One of the things that attracted me to Austin was the presence of what I perceived to be ‘a lot’ of co-ops. (I’ve since been told that the Bay Area actually has a bunch more co-ops than Austin. Who knew?) I didn’t and still don’t know a lot about co-ops - I only knew that they seemed like a good idea, in general. I started hearing more about Wheatsville soon after I arrived here in Austin - it seems to a very recognizable part of Austin. People would just talk about them. “Wheatsville [this]. Wheatsville [that].” Soon after I got here, I bought some SpaghettiOs or something at a local convenience store (it was late, and I was tired). The kid who rang me up - without anything from me, he said, “Dude! You should shop at Wheatsville!” So, I was like, “Yeah?” Boom - he was off to the races - just started going off on how awesome Wheatsville was. I didn’t know what they were selling at Wheatsville, but I knew I’d have to check it out as soon as I had the chance.

Someone else told me that Wheatsville was a big deal because it was it was just kind of very typical of Austin - maybe some combination of quirky, weird, and pleasant. He told me how you could go to Wheatsville and see cars and trucks in the parking lot that represented the full range of political beliefs, but that those things didn’t matter at Wheatsville - you could shop at Wheatsville no matter who you were or what you believed, no matter which political candidate you supported, etc. Maybe that’s why people like Wheatsville so much?

I also found out more about the Black Star Co-op - Pub & Brewery after I got here. I like food, but I love beer. So, finding out about Black Star got me excited about Austin, and about co-ops. Black Star reminded me of MyFootballClub, which I had recently become a member of (I’m now a member of Black Star, too). It seemed to me like co-ops were started by people who had an interest in something, so they found other people who were interested in the same thing, and then they tried to organize themselves to get what they wanted. It seemed to me like they didn’t even necessarily know what they were doing - didn’t know how things would turn out - they just started working together - figuring things out as they went along - worked hard, and hoped for the best. That mindset - find other people who want the same things you want and work together to make it happen - it’s kind of infectious. Yes, in a way it’s kind of obvious, but in a way it is not - until you see things like MyFootballClub and Black Star Pub - and then the idea of co-ops and organizing with other people doesn’t seem so boring anymore.

And thinking of the prominence of Wheatsville in the collective Austin imagination - I started to think that this whole co-op thing might be really important - that by being part of a co-op, you might be able to be a part of something that really benefited society. It seems different from protesting and voting and all sorts of different forms of civic engagement - it’s roll your sleeves up-type stuff - working with other people - making compromises - real democracy in action-type stuff (not to dis protesting or voting or whatever else you may or may not be into) - and at the end of the day, hopefully you end up with something that everyone wants. Black Star Co-op got me thinking that we could accomplish a lot if we work together, and Wheatsville Co-op just seems to be the most recognizable co-op in Austin, so I thought it’d be a good place to start, especially since I was asking Austinites to be the first folks to help me get the petition going.

9. Why aren’t you asking for walking maps, too?

As far as mapping goes, we think that walking and cycling are two fundamentally different things. Lots of us wanted to ride our bikes to work, and go wherever, and it’s just too far to walk - so, we’re going after bicycle directions. That said, we think walkable/livable communities are very important, of course, so who knows what we’ll work for next? Honestly, I don’t understand much about walking maps, but I’m already learning. I’m trying to help revive Walk Austin (a member of America Walks), so join us, or find the local pedestrian advocacy group in your town. Bicycle and Pedestrian groups need to work together.

10. This already exists. Check out sites ‘x’, ‘y’, and ‘z’.

It is true that there are lots of other groups trying to accomplish something similar to what we want - and more power to them. ViaMichelin and byCycle.org are two efforts that we’ve been keeping tabs on, of late, but many are worthy. We still feel strongly that having bicycle directions available in the main Google Maps interface is extremely important.

11. This won’t be safe. They don’t even have bikes in California.

Our primary basis for asking for this petition is to increase safety for cyclists. Nothing is perfect, and nothing can make us completely safe, but we will certainly be safer by having proper bicycle directions. Ideally, the bicycle routes will use information provided by local governments and associations - the local bicycle map - which has been built by real bicycle advocates who ride real bikes, just like you. Google (headquartered in Mountain View, California) has many cyclists in its ranks, and many of them even ride to work. I, for one, have no doubts that, if they so choose, Google and the Google Maps team can produce stunning bicycle directions on their already superior Google Maps application.

12. You didn’t answer my question.

Sorry. You can contact us here.

13. How can bicycle directions in Google Maps, and bicycling in general, help me/us/our society?

Bicycle directions provided in the main Google Maps interface can expose millions of people to the idea of using a bicycle for regular transportation needs. This exposure, I believe, will actually put more people on bikes. They might not get rid of their cars immediately, but they’ll start using their cars less. For more info on how Google Maps could help bicyclists the same way they help automobile drivers and mass transit riders, see FAQ #5.

As far as the benefits to individuals and societies that bicycling can offer, they are myriad. And among them are:

  1. Contribute to the health of an individual by providing a convenient way for them to get exercise.
  2. Reduce traffic congestion, especially in downtown areas that experience gridlock traffic conditions.
  3. Reduced traffic, which can reduce pollution, especially in demographically-concentrated areas (cities), where pollution has myriad bad health effects, especially on children. Asthma and other pollution-related conditions can be reduced dramatically.
  4. Reducing traffic overall could help slow and/or reduce the effects of global climate change. This is particularly important if you believe that just improving fuel efficiency is not enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
  5. Even incremental improvements to each individual’s health can have a significant impact on the cost of health care in the U.S. The NIH has done lots of ‘overweight and obesity’ research - scary stuff. If we can reduce the cost of health care, then maybe people can get more/better health care when they need it. Plus, overconsumption on a personal level, followed by lots of high-cost health care on the tail end of that consumption, is wasteful. As an economy, we can spend our money on much more useful things - whatever you think those things are or should be. The World Heath Organization has been talking about rising obesity worldwide for some time now. Just search Google News for ‘obesity’ to see just how serious and widespread the obesity epidemic is.
  6. Food prices continue to rise around the world, and this is caused by many factors, but one of them is because lots of folks are using corn-derived ethanol and other biofuels instead of oil-based fuels to power cars. The potential for riots or other forms of ‘social unrest’ appears to be growing. Here in the U.S., we talked about truckers being unhappy with the current state of affairs. Something has got to give. More cycling means less fuel is needed for autos, and the demand for ethanol will drop relative to the demand for oil, and following that, food prices will drop back to normal levels - or, at a minimum, we might be able to slow the rate of increase in the price of food - a worthy goal.
  7. Helping folks get on their bicycles can help individuals and families save money. This is especially important in a depressed economy.
  8. Helps restores people’s dignity by allowing them to move about under their own power without the permission of the government, and they can do it for free or close to free. Freedom of movement — to travel — is a fundamental human right.
  9. Bicycling has contributed, and may still be able to, contribute to women’s rights around the world.
  10. Bicycling might be able to help you survive a zombie attack.

14. Who is behind GoogleMapsBikeThere.org? Who is running this thing? Why are you really doing this? What gives?

Peter Smith started this petition after getting a lot of support from the Austin cycling community and elsewhere. Peter is just a regular dude who happens to be tech-savvy (thus, could start this website and the petition) and who is still relatively new to the idea of using a bicycle for regular transportation. There is no formal organization behind GoogleMapsBikeThere.org.

15. What’s in this effort for Google and the Google Maps (and/or Transit) team and Google stockholders?

Besides the indirect benefits that Google would reap from this feature implementation (like, say, the continuing and/or increased adoration of millions of people around the world), there are probably direct benefits. As mentioned in the petition, this feature would “Help Google realize its core mission of ‘organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.’” But I also believe this feature is a money-maker - an effort aimed at the quickly-growing number of people who choose to commute by bike. Google will be positioning itself to capture more local advertising revenue, be able to capture a larger share of the burgeoning bicycle industry, and its expertise in the mapping/GIS arena (one of growing importance) will be further strengthened. Since Google Maps revolutionized online mapping, lots of folks are starting to realize the importance of this revenue stream. Google stockholders will be pleased with the introduction of bicycle directions to Google Maps as this feature would almost certainly have a positive impact on share price.

16. Why can’t cyclists just check the ‘Avoid highways’ checkbox? That’s the same thing as ‘bicycle directions’, right?

I was reminded of this question when I read this (so, I just rephrased/shortened it, here). The answer, quoted here:

I think the “no highway” mode mostly skips big divided highways, but still routes on roads that aren’t really highways but that aren’t much fun for most folks to ride if there’s an alternative. For example, a quick test with “no highways” sent me along Aurora Ave between 85th and 100th, even though Linden, one block west, would be more pleasant on a bike.

A “real” bike trip planner would actually favor low-traffic streets, or those with a bike lane/fat shoulder, maybe help find a way around steep hills, etc.

Thanks to ‘cdc’ for the answer, and to SLOG for writing us up.

17. You are barking up the wrong tree. Google doesn’t have this data - they license it from all sorts of third parties. Therefore, you should not be petitioning Google - you should be petitioning one/some/all of the people/organizations/companies that Google gets its data from.

I was reminded of this question/argument - which has some validity - when I read this comment, and was reminded of my thoughts on this topic when I read this blog post, which we’ll quote some of here (keep in mind, the ‘I’ in this text is not me, Peter Smith, speaking - it’s Bret Taylor):

At Google, I worked on a number of projects that required data from third party data sources. We licensed mapping data for 100s of countries for Google Maps, movie showtimes data for Google Movies, and stock data for Google Finance, among many others.

The point is that Google is often in the business of building mashups, too - they collect data from all sorts of different people/places/things/services/companies/entities and throw them all together and produce an application and call it Google Maps, or Google News, or whatever. They just don’t get called ‘mashups’ for some reason - probably just because Google are not using hyped APIs from some of the better-known Web2.0 companies - but their applications are mashups, nonetheless. So:

  1. Google is used to aggregating data - that is, if they need data, they know how to go after it and get it.
  2. Whenever you are lobbying for something, it makes sense to lobby the correct people - folks with the appropriate resources to make something happen. Google is a large company - if anyone has the time/money/expertise to make a big effort like this happen, it is Google.
  3. From an efficiency perspective, it just makes sense to lobby a single entity - or, at least, to focus on a single entity - instead of the various data providers and other parties who may or may not be involved/required ‘downstream’ - some of whom we know about, and others who we may not know about. This makes Google a good focal point for our lobbying efforts.
  4. We want new functionality on Google Maps - it’s a product of Google - so we should lobby Google. Some of us may not object to other folks providing bicycle directions - be they other companies, groups of regular people, governments, etc. - we just happen to be fans and users of Google Maps, so we want this new functionality on Google Maps. If it shows up somewhere else - great - awesome - but we still want it on Google Maps.

All that said, there are secondary/etc. lobbying efforts going on all the time. For instance, we just suggested it would be a good idea to contact your public works/transportation folks to make sure you have bicycle route information available in digital format.

18. Bike lanes are evil, and you want these bicycle directions to give credence to the notion that bike lanes can be safer for cyclists, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t have any proof, but I do know that vehicular cycling is the only way to proceed. Why are you evil?

‘Grizzled Veteran’ — we don’t have studies to point to yet, but it seems clear that bike lanes at least make people feel safer (it’s true for me!), and it does appear that bike lanes help promote cycling in very real ways - that is, bike lanes help put more people on bicycles. And we do have good data to suggest the cycling gets safer with more cyclists on the road. This petition only asks for your support in asking Google to provide bicycle directions on Google Maps. Many of us think that routes with bike lanes deserve special consideration - that is, priority. It’s not a perfect science - lots of people are working on it (including Google, hopefully) - we have to try it out, and then refine the algorithm if/when necessary. As cycling advocates, we want to make it easier and safer for you, ‘Grizzled Veteran’, to get where you are going on your bicycle, but we are really targeting a much bigger audience than folks who have already logged 20,000 miles on their bikes - we are targeting the tens of millions of auto drivers and soon-to-be auto drivers who feel that bicycling anywhere is just too dangerous.

19. What is the Law & Order Brigade?

The Law & Order Brigade is an evil band of troops who roam the internets castigating cyclists who refuse to obey stupid, unjust laws. Members of the Brigade, for instance, often berate everyday cyclists for simply running stop signs, and openly celebrate when cyclists are punished for breaking unjust laws at the same time all other road users — from drivers to pedestrians — routinely break laws as well (with lawbreaking drivers causing untold misery, destruction, and death). Their stated reason for doing this is that running a stop sign on a bike is against the law, and therefore bikers should not do it, and if they do, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. When asked if the law makes sense, Brigade members simply refuse to participate in questioning this particular law — presumably, since it is a law on the books, it must be obeyed, no matter how unfair, unjust, ridiculous, pernicious, and/or dangerous. This strict, unthinking obedience to power lends itself to ridicule, so the term ‘Law & Order Brigade’ was coined to heap scorn on the idea that anyone should swear allegiance to power and authority instead of allegiance to truth and justice.

20. What is the category ‘Simple Answers to Simple Questions’ all about?

Sometimes on the internets, people will talk about the stupidest things in the stupidest ways, assuming some really stupid things along the way. This feature, spotted at Eschatonblog (this is not an endorsement), is an attempt to answer simple questions with a simple answer. That’s it. Sometimes a simple question really is…simple, so all that is required is a simple answer. Professional pontificators can endlessly debate the meaning of a mixed green salad — this ‘Simple Answers’ feature, however, cuts to the chase.

9 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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