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

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March 20, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

We’ve introduced Forums - see the ‘Forums’ link in the navigation bar at the top.

The idea is just to allow for a place where everyone can communicate a bit more easily, and on more varied topics than the blog might cover.

You have to register for a free account on this site (just a regular WordPress account). Not the best option, perhaps, but it means we won’t have to remove spam all day long. :)

Riding streets 'like Russian roulette'

March 20, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Lots of cities and towns are really trying to get on their feet with cycling:

After more than two hundred accidents and four deaths involving cyclists and motorists in the metro Indianapolis area last year, local cycling advocates are hoping education and respect will go a long way to a safer 2008.

Central Indiana Bicycle Association President Nancy Tibbett said Indiana has a long way to go before being thought of as a bicycle-friendly place, but recent events, such as the announced addition of bike lanes on parts of New York and Michigan streets in Downtown Indianapolis, are encouraging.

One rider from Carmel, Indiana - a suburb of Indianapolis - says that riding is so dangerous, he had to cut back:

Jonathan Juillerat, general manager of Nebo Ridge Bicycles in Carmel, argues Indianapolis should add more designated lanes for bicycles and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles should do a better job of educating motorists.

“It’s intimidating as a cyclist,” he said. “Riding city streets sometimes feels like Russian roulette, so I made a conscious decision not to ride as much because of that. Eventually, I feel like my number will be up because motorists aren’t paying attention.”

That’s the general manager of a bicycle shop speaking. If an experienced cyclist is worried about getting killed, why would we expect a novice to feel any differently?

If Google Maps were to provide bicycle directions, just as they now provide motor vehicle directions (and mass transit directions in many places, most recently New Jersey), drivers would become more aware of cyclists being on the roads. And, as we all know, it’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.

The Indiana Bicycle Coalition, IUPUI, and the League of American Bicyclists are also mentioned in the article.

Competition for Jared

March 19, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Jared, of course, is The Subway Guy. Maybe one day we’ll all be introduced to a Large Fella on a Bike.

From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, we have:

Scott Cutshall of Minneapolis went from 501 pounds to 232 in under three years, thanks to a special bike, soup for breakfast, and a lot of determination.

[You might be able to read the whole article and see the video slide show by deleting your browser's cookies.]

Thanks to IBIKEMPLS.com to tipping us off to this (again). Large Fella’s original post (or is that, ‘The Cyclist Formerly Known as Large Fella’?) about his making the paper was pretty low key, so we just skimmed it and didn’t click through any of the links.

Congrats, Scott! And to your whole family! And to Minneapolis!

Vel'oh!

March 18, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

veloh.pngNew bicycle sharing program about to start up in Luxembourg - Vel’oh! (in English).

And, a video for your viewing pleasure:

One more reason to visit Luxembourg! :)

ViaMichelin.com

March 17, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

viamichelin.PNGTwo folks have recently let us know about ViaMichelin.com - a mapping service by Michelin (wiki) that seems to provide bicycle routes.

John Symon, writing for Pedal Magazine, says:

Meanwhile, Viamichelin.com, a French based website, already seems to offer the services that Smith is requesting of Google.

The first page of the Michelin site offers the choice of large number of countries, including Canada. On the left side of the screen is a box to be checked for those people traveling by bike. A few test runs of the website by Pedal produced adequate bike riding directions between various Canadian locations, including this reporter’s apartment in Montreal and the Prime Minister’s residence in Ottawa. While Michelin missed a few bike paths and shortcuts along the way (the bike paths are not cleared of snow at present), it certainly avoided major highways and gave detailed information about the travel directions. The total 190km trip was estimated at 13 hours and 34 minutes. By comparison, the Trans Canada Trail bike path between Montreal and Ottawa takes the scenic route at about 400km.

These virtual directions by Michelin correctly suggested leaving Montreal Island to the north, following unofficial bike routes such as Ste Croix and O’Brien Streets before briefly following Quebec Highway 117. The suggested route then follows Highway 148 and many secondary roads around Mirabel Airport and crossing the Ottawa River at Hawkesbury and following Ontario Highway 17 to Ottawa. This reporter, who has produced a guidebook of bike routes around Montreal, was astonished at the precision and veracity of this suggested route.

That’s a pretty massive thumbs up if I’ve ever read one. :) I’d suggest reading the entire article.

For bicycle mapping services, I was thinking more along the lines of city commuting, where there may be explicitly-designated bicycle lanes, etc., but that doesn’t make the long haul route mapping any less valid. It just so happens that my particular world mostly involves city commuting, but I definitely think we need maps for everywhere - city and non-city. In fact, the bicycle route information only gets more interesting and fun when you start to consider what each of us might be able to achieve - some folks can/will/do commute 20 or 30 miles to work each way, every day. And the suburbs need our help as much as the cities.

In email, Craig writes:

I thought your efforts were commendable, but wanted to let you know that viamichelin.com already has a feature that does this. I’ve used it in our area, and it’s pretty good, except of course it does not have bike paths or sidewalks in its database. But it definitely keeps you off of highways, high traffic areas, and other undesirable cycling situations. Pretty impressive for a worldwide map system.

I actually don’t know which city/town Craig was writing from, but that’s awesome that ViaMichelin seems to work for him.

So, I tried it out myself and was pretty skeptical at first, but after doing more testing, it seems like it might do a reasonable job of providing bike directions. I’ve only done testing for downtown, Austin, so far, so I’ll be very curious to know how well it works for everyone else in your respective towns. I tried about six routes - the first was not good, but neither was the Google Maps ‘Avoid Highways’ option - both were much less than optimal. But then I tried a succession of routes, each further from my apartment. The results were mixed, but there definitely did seem to be a ‘method to the madness’. I couldn’t really decipher the algorithm (the decision-making process) that ViaMichelin was using, but that doesn’t mean much. I would very much like to know how they’re doing it - but I suspect they want to keep that information private. In each case, the route seemed to be attempting to follow designated bicycle paths, but seemed also to give consideration to the quality of the particular bicycle path (here in Austin, green==good, red==bad).

Which brings me to a quick aside - red bike routes in Austin are designated as ‘low easy of use’. That means, “High traffic volumes, narrow lanes; or difficult connections, May function as a barrier to cyclists.” Personally, speaking from my limited experience riding red bike routes here in Austin, I don’t consider these safe - I’d rather travel on the roads that are not designated on a bicycle map as ‘bike routes’ at all. That’s a particular qualm I’ll take up with the local biking scene/city government, but it actually made me wonder if I was reading the map correctly. Am I? To me, these red bike routes are something less than ‘safe’ for bicyclists. Los Angeles using a ‘Class’ system, with ‘Class III’ being the ‘least best’ of the cycling options available - in other words, ‘Class III’ are the ‘red routes’ of LA. Or are they?

All that said, does Google or any other mapping company release information on how they calculate routes? Or is this just information that is well-known in the industry? Maybe there are some industry-standard formulas used by traffic engineers and other folks to calculate traffic flow, safety, etc.?

When you first go to the ViaMichelin site, you’ll probably see the French version - but just click the flag of the language you’d like to see up at the top of the page - for English speakers, use the Britain/UK flag. An America flag pops up on the next page, but clicking that will take you to viamichelin.us, where the route mapping product seems to go away. It almost seems like ViaMichelin is only kinda-sorta covering either the US, or North America, or maybe anyplace outside of Europe?? From their ‘Who are we?‘ page:

Unique content with a European dimension

ViaMichelin provides exclusive mapping coverage - over 42 European countries, from national road maps to detailed town plans.

The regularly updated European database contains some 7 million kilometres (4.4 million miles) of mapped roads and streets (including towns and cities down to street-level detail).
In addition, ViaMichelin highlights and describes some 18,000 tourist locations and 62,000 hotels and restaurants, as tested and recommended by The MICHELIN® Guide inspectors throughout Europe.

Finally, ViaMichelin also provides information on weather forecasts, traffic reports, service station locations…

So, there definitely seems to be a European bias. That is not a knock against the service - it’s just trying to figure out what it’s all about. For instance, does this mean that the bike routes provided for non-European cities can, in general, be relied upon? Are they as valid as European routes? If not, how so?

I’ve sent an email to ViaMichelin, using their contact form, to try to find out.

All in all, though, this is a very positive development. Some major corporation has gone to the trouble of providing at least some information to bicyclists about what options they have for getting around - the quality of that information for different locales might be up for debate, but at least they’re trying. And, as for my personal quick tests with ViaMichelin, it seemed to do about as good a job as I could expect. That is, downtown Austin, in my humble opinion, is a not great for bicycle commuting, so I couldn’t look at the PDF of the Austin Bicycle Map and pick out a route from Point A to Point B that would have been obviously better than what ViaMichelin was suggesting. Maybe it’s just luck on the part of ViaMichelin, or stupidity on my part, or bad/disconnected bike routes in downtown Austin, or maybe ViaMichelin is doing the best possible job we could ever expect any semi-automated bike route mapping technology/service to do?

In ViaMichelin, I now have a couple of locations and routes saved. The interface uses some of the good AJAX technology that we know and love in Google Maps. It even offers download of routes in GPS format, so you can import it into your GPS device if you have one (and if you don’t, I’m sure Michelin would be happy to sell you one). :)

So, I think this is definitely a positive development, in general, because individual cyclists might be able to get new/better route information than they have had to date - but I’m also a little ambivalent about it. As much as I appreciate the efforts of ViaMichelin, it’s still not Google Maps, and Google Maps is what I use almost every day, often multiple/dozens of times a day. After I’m more familiar with Austin, I’m sure that ‘multiple/dozens’ figure will go down significantly, but Google Maps is now an integral part of my online life, as I’m sure it is for millions of others.

[Sorry for the rambling post. And please forgive on any comment wackiness - the spammers found us pretty quickly, and we've been changing the spam settings around. A sure-fire way to get a comment on is to just register - that cuts down on spam massively, though we do know it's a pain.]

Thoughts?

Memorial bike ride tomorrow

March 14, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

From cyclelicio.us:

Everybody will be joining the memorial ride for Kristy Gough and Matt Peterson tomorrow.

Martin Krieg and his gang will leave the BusCycle garage in Palo Alto at 1 P.M. for the six mile ride to Foothill College, where they’ll join the “official” memorial ride to Stevens Canyon.

At the request of ride organizers, the Santa Clara Sheriff’s department will escort the ride down to Stevens Canyon, and Stevens Canyon Road will be closed during the duration of the ride. The county sheriff bike patrol will also join the ride. Alto Velo/Webcor will provide course marshalls to direct traffic at busy intersections.

Free parking will be available at Foothills College in Lot 1 (the lot nearest the football field) from 2 PM to 6 PM.

The media WILL BE PRESENT at the ride. Organizers are asking everybody to ride in an orderly fashion and keep the group as tight at possible.

The ride will take place rain or shine. The temperature will be in the low fifties and rain is likely Saturday afternoon.

…post-ride report.

Our hearts go out

March 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Just want to offer condolences to all the people - friends, family members, communities - who were affected by the recent deaths of cyclists in Cupertino, California, and elsewhere around the world [The Cupertino incident is on the mind of American cyclists because of proximity, the strong Bay Area cycling culture, and the details of the incident itself, but we are aware of other accidents in the Bay Area and around and outside the US.]. We also want to offer a ‘Get well’ to those cyclists who are now recovering.

There is nothing else at all intended to be implied/inferred in/from this post - it just felt bad being silent about these recent incidents when so much of the bicycling community has been so deeply affected.

Jobs Perks

March 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

So, I’ve been out looking for meaningful work, and I stumbled upon this listing:

Con-way Enterprise Services, located in northwest Portland, includes the company’s Information Technology, Finance and Administration teams. The Enterprise Services campus borders The Pearl, near Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Northwest Portland and includes an employee gym with locker rooms and showers, two cafeterias, secured bicycle barn, and free parking. Our Total Rewards package includes medical, dental and vision coverage, life insurance, disability, 401(k) with company matching, stock purchase plan, and TriMet subsidy.

[My highlight.]

Kinda cool, no?

Companies in bicycle-friendly towns like Portland, Milwaukee, and Berkeley are looking to lure bicycle-friendly employees.

…weird how once you get familiar with a name, you start seeing it up up everywhere. Con-Way in the news.

Ligfiets.net

March 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

I am told that “the best recumbent site in the Netherlands has a newsitem” on our site:

Google maps met fietsinformatie?(10-3-2008) Google maps met fietsinformatie?

Er is een werkgroep gestart in Februari die graag de informatie in Google maps uitgebreid wil krijgen voor de fiets. Interessant!

Google Translate says that this is German for:

Google Maps with Radinformationen? (10-3-2008) Google Maps with Radinformationen?

In February, a working group went to work, which like Google Maps for information for cyclists extended wishes. Interesting!

I’m assuming the ‘Radinformationen’ (a translation of ‘fietsinformatie’) stands for ‘bike information’.

Check out the cool little recumbent Google logo.

Hey - it may be the only recumbent site I know of, but it’s obviously the best! :)

Thank you, Ligfiets.net!

The Bicycle Craze

March 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Uncategorized

Just how crazy is it? I’d be curious to see per capita bike industry growth numbers today vs. what took place during the energy crisis of the 1970s.

According to Wikipedia, there was more than one previous bicycle craze.

Sometimes you’re just kinda happy to be involved in something so positive. So, I get happy when I see bicycle blogs growing out of their original server digs, or hear about towns that sprout three new bicycle shops in a single month, or sign a bicycle maps petition that seems to find its way to 1,000 more people every day. :)