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


Archive for May, 2008

John Pucher - The Bicycle Scholar

May 31, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

John Pucher is:

a professor in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey). Since earning a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1978, Pucher has conducted research on a wide range of topics in transport economics and finance, including numerous projects for the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Canadian government, and various European ministries of transport. For almost three decades, he has examined differences in travel behavior, transport systems, and transport policies in Europe, Canada, and the USA.

Momentum dubbed him ‘The Bicycle Scholar‘ and offers this introduction:

There is no doubt that Professor John Pucher takes his role as a bicycle scholar seriously. In his emails and on his office voicemail at Rutgers university in New Brunswick, New Jersey, he identifies himself as “Car-Free John”.

Pucher (pronounced Pooker) has been researching and writing about cycling as a form of urban transportation for more than a decade, looking at places where it works (many northern European cities) and where it doesn’t (much of North America), and teasing out what it is that makes a successful cycling city.

When asked about his “car-free” moniker and his transportation habits, he offers the guilty confession that he owned a car for three years in the early 1970s, but is quick to add that he soon found driving more stressful than it was worth.

On May 15, 2008, Pucher gave a presentation in Vancouver (transcript), at Simon Fraser University (wiki). Zakkaliciousness of has suggested the presentation is ‘nothing short of astounding,’ and implores us to ‘See the film now. Quickly. It’s wonderful.’

I don’t know about you, but when Copenhagen talks - and talks like that, I listen. The original video is here, and I uploaded the main part of it — Pucher’s presentation — to Vimeo to make sharing a bit easier, and possibly be less taxing on SFU’s servers. [Vimeo is down at the moment - go figure.]

See for more context and their previous coverage of Pucher.

There is a lot of good info in the talk, and I couldn’t possibly try to sum it up, here, but a few parts that stood out:

  • We need to garner broad public support — I think this requires explanation, because I think there is more to it than meets the eye (in my opinion). This is something I’d like to add to The Big Initiatives list.
  • Businesses/merchants are initially up in arms in objecting to car-free zones near/in front of their stores/restaurants, but once the areas exist, their business booms, and businesses/merchants who were not included in the car-free zone want in.
  • ‘Bicycle infrastructure’ does not need to be expensive - use lane/road diets, remove auto access from bridges and other roadways, etc.
  • Some countries use laser technology on little Smart cars to do preventative maintenance on cycleways.
  • New residential/business developments required to have bike/walk facilities. Other anti-sprawl measures codified in law/ordinance.
  • If we need to get across highways - over or under - make the cars do the extra effort, not the bikes. Might be less practical/more expensive, but it’s the philosophy as much as anything else.
  • Right-turn shortcuts for bicyclists.
  • Cycling can be extremely safe - you just have to build the right infrastructure, laws, etc.
  • ‘Traffic calming’ and ‘bicycle boulevards’ are obvious big pluses.
  • ‘Green Wave’ indicators for allowing cyclists to properly time their route through areas with street lights.
  • Required childhood bicycle safety education including ‘licensing exam’ in 3rd/4th grade.
  • Form coalitions with lots of groups, including environmental and public health organizations.
  • Companies provide free car parking - why not provide free bikes, and bike parking, and showers, etc.?
  • For every hour you spend cycling, you add more than an hour to your expected healthy lifetime.
  • Averge canadian works two months a year to finance your car.  [I think this is similar for America, but not sure.].
  • Bicycle route mapping (in Berlin, Germany)!!! This is the text from the relevant slide:
    • Free internet bike trip planning in Berlin:
      * Cyclist enter origin, intermediate tops and final destination
      of their intended bike trips.

      * Cyclists can indicate preferences:
      - desired speed of travel
      - direct arterial streets or secondary roads
      - type of pavement
      - volume, speed and mix of traffic
      - on-street lanes, off-street paths, parkways

  • Danish town (a town in Denmark - I’m not sure which, yet) offers same type of bicycle navigation, but also on a cell
  • “New Jersey drivers are homocidal!”  (NJ is my home state!)

The main web page for the video includes text about all the parties who were involved in bringing Pucher to town - I’ve linked to each of them with the best link for each:

Sponsored by Translink. Co-sponsored by the Bombardier Foundation and the Active Transport Lab at the University of British Columbia as part of the series “Shifting Gears: Five discussions on the Future of Transportation“. Program partners: Simon Fraser University City Program and the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition.

I had a little difficulty finding the website for the UBC Active Transport Lab, and that might have something to do with its full name being UBC Active Transport Collaboratory. According to wikipedia, a collaboratory is:

a “center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries” (Wulf, 1989).

That is not overly interesting, perhaps, until you see a joint research program from UBC and Georgia Tech called SMARTRAQ, which stands for ‘Strategies for Metropolitan Atlanta’s Regional Transportation and Air Quality’:

SMARTRAQ is a leading edge transportation and land use research project being conducted by Georgia Tech. Its goal is to develop a framework for assessing land use and transportation policies having the greatest potential for reducing the level of auto dependence and vehicle emissions in the Atlanta metropolitan area, while sustaining the economic vitality and environmental health of the region.

SMARTRAQ produced state of the art activity-based travel data representing travel patterns for all socioeconomic classes in the 13-county Atlanta region. When matched with data from the parcel-level GIS land use database and data from three sub-surveys, SMARTRAQ produced results that add important knowledge that can be applied to the development of a comprehensive regional transportation plan and in the evaluation of regional land use and transportation investment policies.

I’m a big believer in research, so I’m happy to see that a bunch of really smart people were working on important problems. Now, it’s up to us to make sure that research is put to good use.  :)

I plan on coming back to revist this post and update it with some thoughts and more links.

I’m also trying to get a transcription (the text) of the video (and I asked Professor Pucher for his slides, if they were public, and I also asked for permission to transcribe), and could use some help. More details here.

Improving Safety in More Ways Than One

May 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Knowing the safest bicycle route from Point A to Point B is a natural concern, but there are other uses for providing bicycle directions on Google Maps…like getting un-lost.

It happened to me just three or so weeks ago. I went “south of the river” to an area I was not familiar with. Of course, it was dark by the time I was coming back, and I lost my way. Not only did I not know where the bike lanes were, but I didn’t even know which general direction I was supposed to be heading. I rode around for an hour or so trying to figure it out, but I eventually caved and asked for directions. Then I got lost again. Then I asked for directions again, and finally made my way back home.

If I had a “personal navigation device”—a Garmin or similar device—I would at least have been able to head in the right direction, but ideally I would have been able to get bicycle directions from wherever I was to wherever I was going.

With the upcoming version of the iPhone, and the first Android phones on their way, we should have compass and GPS capabilities available to us. This is another reason Google Maps should provide a “Bike There” feature.

The Android Community blog is covering the Google I/O Developer Conference. Check out the video below of using Google Maps Street View with the built-in compass feature of an Android-powered phone:

Walt Mossberg, tech columnist for the New York Times, reminds us that it’s possible to get driving directions from google by using simple text messaging from your cellphone, so it’s not even necessary to have one of these newer, fancier cellphones to be able to take advantage of bicycle directions on Google Maps.

Take Control of Your Maps

May 27, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

That’s the title of an article written by Paul Adam Smith. Paul is a co-founder and developer at EveryBlock—a very cool mashup-type application that might have implications for the reporting of street closures, potholes, crime reports, and other bicycle- and pedestrian-related issues. EveryBlock’s co-founder, Adrian Holovaty, presented at Where2.0, and during Adrian’s talk he mentioned this article by Paul; that’s how I found out about the article. I looked it up, and it’s really good.

The article, a very good introduction to internet-based map building, suggests that rolling your own maps—that is, not using Google Maps, Mapquest, or another big map player as your base toolset—is possible, and even possibly desirable:

We live in the era of Google Maps. What started off as an impressive refresh of Mapquest-style maps now fuels web mashups. With APIs official and unofficial, Google Maps is simple enough for front-end designers to embed and for back-end programmers to target. Along the way to becoming nearly ubiquitous, it has played a major role in the “democratization of mapping.” For the practical developer who wants to add geospatial information to a site or application, the Google Maps API has been an easy call.

But, perhaps no longer. As websites mature and the demand for geographic applications grow, the old mashup arrangement is starting to chafe. Mapping components are more and more vital, and so we demand greater control, expressiveness, and functionality from them.

Fortunately, as in many aspects of internet technology, an ecology of open-source online mapping tools has emerged alongside the market leader. It is now possible to replicate Google Maps’ functionality with open source software and produce high-quality mapping applications tailored to our design goals. The question becomes, then, how?

Hopefully we won’t have to build this for ourselves, as we want it available on the main Google Maps interface (that’s of primary importance, I would argue), but if we do have to do it ourselves, this article points us to a lot of useful information.

For starters, I had no idea that geodata was so difficult to get in some parts of the world, such as outside the United States. Here is the relevant part of Paul’s article:

Street beat

As I mentioned above, many mapping applications require a streets layer. Streets are a primary way that people orient themselves—the closest thing we have to a practical coordinate system in the world. As you might imagine, a database of streets is a large, complex, and valuable asset. Companies, such as NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas employ a fleet of vehicles to scour the world’s roads, arterials, and expressways, amassing the exact coordinates of each street they travel. You can purchase a license to use this type of commercial database for your own applications—usually at a per-page-view rate. It can be expensive, but if your organization can afford it, you’ll have the benefit of a constantly-updated, high-quality streets layer, with near-comprehensive coverage.

You may recognize Navteq (wiki) and Tele Atlas (wiki) from copyright signatures in the bottom-right corner of lots of Google Maps layouts, depending on the location being mapped. Navteq is being bought by Nokia (wiki), and that may help push pedestrian navigation into mobile phones a bit quicker. No word on bike navigation yet.

In addition to being able to license street data from commercial companies, folks interested in mapping American streets can use the Tiger/Line database for free. It’s not perfect, but it’s not too bad, either. European countries don’t have similar freely-available databases of street data collected by the respective governments. I would presume other Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia and South Africa and India share similar government policies, but I don’t know. and are websites/organizations aimed at open and/or free access to all public geodata. If you live in or are interested in Europe and mapping/navigation projects, you’ll probably want to be familiar with initiatives surrounding INSPIRE—The Proposed European Commission Directive on European Spatial Data Infrastucture. Check out INSPIRE’s website.

All of the discussion surrounding publicly-available geodata has helped me recognize the significance of projects like—a site we’ve had listed on our Other Efforts page for a while.

Paul Adam Smith, the author of the article we’ve been talking about, is also a co-founder and board member of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, “a 501(c)3 non-profit grassroots organization advocating for the conversion of the unused Bloomingdale railroad in Chicago into a multiuse, elevated linear park.” Go check it out and get involved if you can.


Where Is Michael Jones?

May 27, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Development

Or is it Michael T. Jones?

In any case, there is a Michael Jones who presented at the 2007 Where2.0 conference (not the 2008 conference; the one that just finished a few days ago). He is listed as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of Google Earth. He might now be the Chief Technology Evangelist for Google. He co-founded Keyhole Corporation before Google bought them and renamed their product Google Earth. He’s done time in serious positions at a couple of other companies, including Silicon Graphics—the premiere high end (visual) computing platform of several years ago (they’re now on the downslope). In short, this guy can make stuff happen; we need to put our idea in front of him. Your mission, should you choose to accept it… :)

Around twelve minutes into his presentation, Jones says:

“At Google, we don’t know when to tell users what they need. We respond to users with whatever they want.”

That’s good news, because we know what we want. And we’ve done good work so far in building this combined expression of support. Very good work.

In my last position, I worked as a technical support engineer. I dealt firsthand with what people were doing with our products out in the field, and I came to get a decent understanding of how feature requests were prioritized within our company. I decided that it was probably similar to the way a lot of companies did things. Every time I ran into a situation where a customer requested or asked about some particular feature, I logged it in our feature-tracking system. Easy enough. That would act as a natural “vote counter,” so to speak. It wouldn’t be the whole story, but it was an important part.

An emerging company often has very definite ideas of what types of products it hopes to build—and that is often a good strategy—but when they finally get real customers making real demands, the company building the software has the opportunity to listen to those customers and builds what they want. It can be a very democratic form of product building, depending on how good a company’s feedback loop is.

As customers of Google Maps, we want to continue to build momentum for this feature request until it reaches a fever pitch. We’ve been making good progress in making sure that a lot of people know about our request. We can be almost certain that some folks on the Google Maps/Transit/Earth teams know about our petition because we’ve had actual Google employees sign the petition (at least they claim so, and I’ve no reason to doubt them).

As a support engineer, when I witnessed the “critical mass” of a feature request, everyone in the company had heard about it from more than one customer or source. Myself and the other support folks would know of a few customers who wanted some feature. Sales folks would hear about it over the phone or from site visits. The CEO and biz dev folks would hear about it during partnership and strategy sessions. And then, one day, you’d be in the break room, grabbing a Diet Snapple, and there’d be a support person, and a sales person, and a couple of developers, and field engineer, and we’d shoot the breeze about whatever, and then…boom. Somehow the feature request would come up and we’d all decide informally that yes, this feature request was going to happen. Now all that remained was to formalize it, and figure out when it would be implemented and released. (OK, that’s not exactly how it went down, but it’s close enough. )

That’s the kind of effect we’re looking for. Even if a person is only familiar with the concept, that’s one less person that won’t have to have the value proposition explained to them, so when they’re in that circle—in the break room or in the board room—and the feature request comes up, they may not say, “Yes! That’s the best feature request ever!”, but they also won’t say, “What the heck is that?”

Michael Jones also says in that presentation that Google realizes that not everyone has cars. That’s another plus.

Google Earth is not technically Google Maps—what we’re primarily concerned with—but they’re very closely related. A certain Michael Jones (I’m not sure if this is our Michael Jones, because there is also a Michael T. Jones listed, though it’s probably the same person) will be presenting at yet another upcoming developer conference that starts tomorrow: Google I/O. (“I/O” typically means “Input/Output,” as in you put information into a program [input] and get information out of that program [output].) But in this case, Google says the I/O stands for “Innovation in the Open.” Innovation and open standards continue to be a very contentious issues on the internet; companies want to be on the correct side of things, but they also want to make sure they don’t give away the farm.

Google I/O is Google’s big, annual developer conference. And this year they’re doing a lot of geo-related workshops. There will be 15 geo-related sessions, and I’ve listed them below. For full info, check out the Google I/O site.

What to say to Mr. Jones, or any of the other folks in attendance, you might chat up? You can figure it out for yourself, I know, but if I was there, as a developer with a pet concern, I’d have my 10-second and 30-second pitches ready — they might go something like this:

“Hi Michael, I’m Peter Smith. Good presentation (hopefully!). Have y’all talked about doing bicycle navigation, like bicycle routing and directions, in addition to the default car routing?”

The bicycle navigation might not sink in at first, so it’s easiest to just give a synonym immediately after. Routing is the “mappy” technical term I’ve seen used when discussing directions. If he needs more info:

We want bike directions. Bike routes. There is an online petition right now with 33,000 signatures and growing. It started about three months ago at Google Maps’ default directions option is “Drive There.” Some major cities have “Take Mass Transit”—that’s awesome. And now we want a “Bike There” option so the growing numbers of us on bikes can figure out how to get from Point A to Point B safely. And as soon as that is done we want a ‘Walk There’ option. Nokia is releasing a pedestrian routing option for their upcoming Web 2.0 releases. People are going crazy for this stuff. 40% of all trips are less than two miles from home. Two miles is biking and walking distance. Most car pollution occurs within the first few minutes of operation. People want to get healthy and save the environment—we just need to meet them half way. Lots of people are working on mashups to provide this, but that’s not prominent enough. We want to mainstream bicycling, and we want Google’s help.

It’d be cool if we could just drop a stack of cheap business cards on one of the tables at the event.

Here is the list of geo-related sessions:

From Mashups to Mapplets
Wed 11:15am - 12:15pm Geo
David Day

Mapplets are mini-applications that run within Google Maps, allowing you to add new features or overlay your data directly onto Google Maps. These applications allow a developer to take advantage of the power of the Maps API while getting exposure to millions of users on Google Maps. In addition, Google provides free hosting, free bandwidth, and an official directory where users from all around the world can find your Mapplet.

We’ll introduce Mapplets in detail, explain the benefits of writing one, and walk through the details of how to get started. This includes what you need to host your Mapplet and best practices for gaining users.

Participants should have knowledge of basic JavaScript and HTML. Knowledge of the Google Gadgets API is recommended, but not required. We’ll discuss how Mapplets relate to Gadgets in this session.

Type: 101
David Day (Google)
Dave Day is a software engineer who works on Mapplets and the Google Maps API out of the Sydney office. Dave graduated from the University of Sydney with BSc/BE (Hons), where he focussed on Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and has previously worked in the power industry writing simulation and database software.

Flash API for Google Maps
Wed 11:15am - 12:15pm Geo
Michael Jones

Google has recently introduced a Flash version of the Maps API so you can now create your own maps mashups using Flash. Write ActionScript 3.0 code around the Google Flex 2 map component to customize your map with markers, polylines, overlays and info windows. Learn how to get started in this session.

Type: 201

Harnessing StreetView, Static Maps, and other new additions to the Google Maps API
Wed 12:30pm - 1:30pm Geo
Ben Appleton

This session will introduce a few recent additions to the Maps API including Static Maps and Street View. We’ll show how to use the Static Maps API for fast page loads and printable maps. We’ll also show how to use the GStreetview objects to show Google Street View panoramic imagery in your site.

Participants should have previous experience working with the Google Maps API.

Type: 201
Ben Appleton (Google)
Ben is a software engineer in the Geo team. He currently leads Google’s Maps API team, previously leading Mapplets and adding KML support to Google Maps. Before joining Google, Ben obtained a PhD in image analysis at the University of Queensland.

The World’s Information in Context
Wed 1:45pm- 2:45pm Geo
Michael T. Jones

Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful is made both more accessible and more useful when that information is delivered in a geographic context. Michael will review the ways Google’s Geo team works to accomplish this in Google’s own Websites, on more than 100,000 other websites, and in dedicated software for personal computers and mobile phones.

Topics covered will include progress to date, new product directions, and key trends of importance to developers.

Type: 101
Michael T. Jones (Google)
Michael Jones is Google’s Chief Technology Advocate, charged with advancing the technology to organize the world’’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. He was formerly Chief Technologist of Google Maps, Earth, and Local Search——the teams responsible for providing location intelligence and information in global context to users worldwide. Before its acquisition by Google, Michael was CTO of Keyhole Corporation, the company that developed the technology used today in Google Earth. Previously he was CEO of Intrinsic Graphics and Director of Advanced Graphics at Silicon Graphics. A computer programmer since 4th grade, he is a prolific inventor, developer of notable scientific and computer graphics software, an engineering and business executive, and an avid traveler and photographer using a home-built 4 gigapixel camera made with parts from the U2/SR71

Map Mashups Session
Wed 3:00pm - 4:00pm Geo
Paul Rademacher

Session details TBA

Type: 101
Paul Rademacher (Google)
Paul Rademacher is the Technical Lead for the Google Earth API. Prior to joining Google in 2005, Paul was the creator of, a combination of Craigslist and Google Maps that kickstarted the mashup revolution. Paul holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked as an R&D Software Engineer for Dreamworks Animation on films including Shrek 2 and Madagascar.

Hands-On Maps API: Basic & Advanced
Wed 3:00pm - 5:15pm Geo
Pamela Fox

In this code lab, participants will create a map mashup that integrates various features of the Maps API such as driving directions, custom icons, and KML overlays. Attendees who’ve already used the Maps API can move on to the advanced section of the lab, where they will create custom maps from images, custom maps from ESRI data, and user-contributed maps with Google Spreadsheets.

Participants should have prior JavaScript experience.

Type: Code Lab
Pamela Fox (Google)
Pamela is the Developer Programs Engineer for the Google Maps API. She graduated from USC with her CS masters, where she helped grow the video games department and dabbled in the 3d animation and linguistics departments. She enjoys helping developers innovate with the Maps API and combine it with many of Google’s other amazing APIs.

Maps and Geo Session
Wed 4:15pm - 5:15pm Geo
Bart Locanthi

Session details TBA

Type: 101
Bart Locanthi (Google)
Bart Locanthi is a software engineer working with the LBC and Coupons teams. He earned a PhD in Computer Science from Caltech and worked at Bell Laboratories and Silicon Graphics prior to joining Google.

Parsing and Generating KML with Google’s KML Library
Wed 4:15pm - 5:15pm Geo
Michael Ashbridge

KML is a file format used to display geographic data in an earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Maps for mobile. You can create KML files to pinpoint locations, add image overlays and expose rich data in new ways. This session will introduce Google’s open source KML library for working with KML files. We’ll explore its architecture and then show you how to parse and generate KML in your applications and scripts.

Participants should have basic familiarity with KML.

Type: 201
Michael Ashbridge (Google)
Michael is an engineer at Google and has worked on KML since he joined the company, designing the language, developing tools and applications, and helping it become an open standard.

Advanced KML
Thu 10:15am - 11:15am Geo
Bent Hagemark

This session will cover advanced techniques in KML for displaying data and creating dynamic presentations. We’ll show how to use Region to display very large datasets without clutter and without compromising performance. We’ll also look at how time features can be used to add animation effects and how NetworkLinkControl and Update can be used to make dynamic KML presentations.

Participants should have a strong background in KML.

Type: 201
Bent Hagemark (Google)
Bent is a software engineer at Google, working on KML and tools for KML. Before joining Google, Bent worked at Opera Software and Silicon Graphics.

My Maps Editing API
Thu 10:15am - 11:15am Geo
Keith Golden

Want to know how to add My Maps features on your own mashup? Come and learn how to use some of basic map creation tools from My Maps features and add to your own mashup or Mapplet.

Type: 201
Keith Golden (Google)
Keith is a software engineer on Google Maps. He currently leads Google’s “My Maps” team. Keith joined Google in 2005, before which he was a research scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. He has a PhD in computer science from the University of Washington.

Hands-On Maps API: Basic & Advanced
Thu 10:15am - 12:30pm Geo
Pamela Fox

In this code lab, participants will create a map mashup that integrates various features of the Maps API such as driving directions, custom icons, and KML overlays. Attendees who’ve already used the Maps API can move on to the advanced section of the lab, where they will create custom maps from images, custom maps from ESRI data, and user-contributed maps with Google Spreadsheets.

Participants should have prior JavaScript experience.

Type: Code Lab
Pamela Fox (Google)
Pamela is the Developer Programs Engineer for the Google Maps API. She graduated from USC with her CS masters, where she helped grow the video games department and dabbled in the 3d animation and linguistics departments. She enjoys helping developers innovate with the Maps API and combine it with many of Google’s other amazing APIs.

How to Index your Geo Data
Thu 11:30am - 12:30pm Geo
Lior Ron

Come and learn how to index the Geo data on your site (KML, GeoRSS), how to create a custom geo search on your site for your users, and how to access other geo data from the web using the local search API. Basic knowledge of KML is helpful, but not a must.

Type: 201
Lior Ron (Google)
Lior is the Product Manager for geo search in Google, where he is trying to help the world around us get mapped using the power of the masses. Before joining Google, Lior co-founded a medical device and a search startup, and served in various managerial positions in the Israeli Intelligence, where he worked on GIS and search problems. Lior holds an MBA from Stanford and BSc and MS from the Technion - the Israeli institute for technology.

Advanced Ruby Scripting for Google SketchUp
Thu 12:45pm - 1:45pm Geo
Sang Ahn, Scott Lininger

Google Sketchup contains a Ruby API for users who want to extend the capabilities of SketchUp. The interface allows users to create macros, such as automated component generators and additional tools, to be included in the menus within SketchUp. This session will cover two Ruby technologies that can be used to add functionality to SketchUp: WebDialogs and Ruby Extension Modules. For those comfortable with web programming, WebDialogs allow you to create rich user interfaces easily. For those with a native library they’d like to use, Ruby Extension Modules can help with high performance computations.

Type: 101
Sang Ahn (Google)
Sang Ahn is a software developer at Google working on SketchUp things related to OS X and API related. His previous employers include @Last Software (which was acquired by Google Inc.). In his spare time he likes to play with Lisp and Ruby. He plans on renovating his kitchen into a lambda function.
Scott Lininger (Google)
Scott is a software engineer on the SketchUp team. In his previous life he was a 3rd party developer like yourself, trying to build commercial tools on top of Google APIs. Now that he’s “on the inside,” his mission is to promote the idea of SketchUp as a Platform, and make it easy to build world class 3D applications by leveraging all that Google has to offer.

Fireside Chat: Google Maps & Earth
Thu 2:00pm - 3:00pm Geo
Google Geo engineering team

Fireside chats are a chance to talk to the product engineering teams. Come tell the team what you want, discuss issues and design decisions, and hear the team’s thoughts on just about whatever you ask.

Type: Fireside Chat

Hosting your Geo Data, an Overview of Design Options
Thu 3:15pm - 4:15pm Geo
Mano Marks

In this session, we will talk about various options for hosting your Geo data, including Google App Engine. We will outline different design patterns, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of each, and show code samples. Specifically, we will look at storing Geo data as static files, in databases, and extracting Geo data from Google properties, such as Calendar and Spreadsheets.

This will be a higher level talk, focusing on overall design. However, some knowledge of scripting languages and databases would be helpful, as well as a basic understanding of KML and the Google Maps API.

Type: 101
Mano Marks (Google)
Mano Marks is a Developer Programs Engineer at Google, providing developers help with the Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and other Geo APIs.

Radiant City, Subdivided, and Other Documentaries about Suburban Sprawl

May 27, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: urban sprawl

I haven’t seen it yet, but a new documentary called Radiant City looks interesting. Here is what it’s about:

Something’s happening on the edge of town.

There’s a desperate housewife in the parking lot, a musical chorus line mowing the lawn - and a loaded gun in the upstairs closet.

Welcome to Radiant City, an entertaining and startling new film on 21st century suburbanites.

Gary Burns, Canada’s king of surreal comedy, joins journalist Jim Brown on an outing to the burbs. Venturing into territory both familiar and foreign, they turn the documentary genre inside out, crafting a vivid account of life in The Late Suburban Age.

Sprawl is eating the planet. Across the continent the landscape is being levelled - blasted clean of distinctive features and overlaid with zombie monoculture. Politicians call it growth. Developers call it business. The Moss family call it home.

While Evan Moss zones out in commuter traffic, Ann boils over in her dream kitchen and the kids play sinister games amidst the fresh foundations of monster houses.

I like that “suburban sprawl,” “urban design,” and other related concepts are finally seeing the light of day through film. Check out these two short clips from Radiant City:

Clip 1: Nick Moss, suburbanite kid (27 sec.):

Clip 2: Howard Kunstler, social critic along the bike path (54 sec.):

This latter clip captures how I feel very often during my rides. Another one of Kunstler’s phrases comes to mind—”immersive ugliness.” :) So, we just have to make things better. And we will.

And there is the movie Subdivided (which has a blog!):

Then there’s The End of Suburbia:

Finally, don’t miss a two-part series on urban sprawl from Michigan called The Sprawl of America; Part One is called “Inner City Blues” and Part Two is called “The Fat of the Land“. Both are freely available as RealMedia files at the above links.

The Big Initiatives

May 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

What are the big initiatives—or the most-effective strategies and tactics—we can use to make the world a nicer place for cycling and for walking, and consequently a nicer place to live?

We all need to continue doing the good work we’ve been doing, but this is my attempt to list some of the initiatives that I think cycling and pedestrian advocates should use to make big changes in the immediate future.

After attending the 2008 Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Summit (pdf) (thanks, CAMPO), I feel like I’m now knowledgeable enough to share my non-expert advice. Though there is no particular reason anyone should listen to anything I have to say, I hope we can agree on a general strategic outline for success.

Here are some of the things I think advocates of bicycling should concentrate on:

1) Actively and passively push commuter cycling into mainstream consciousness by: [link]

Getting bicycle directions on Google Maps (what this website/petition is all about!)

Making bicycle maps available in a more readily available, user-friendly, and productive format—say, on Google Maps instead of on a PDF that requires PDF viewer software (This is a smaller focus of our website/petition)

Supporting the one or more national bicycle advocacy organizations in whatever ways we can. Whether it’s Bikes Belong, the League of American Bicyclists, the Thunderhead Alliance, or whatever, we need a very strong and visible national bicycling advocacy organization that speaks for all of us. Every bike shop in the country should have at least two brochures at their checkout counter: one for the local advocacy organization, and one for a national bicycle advocacy organization. Every bike advocacy organization and blog should have a prominent link to their local advocacy group and a national advocacy group.

Enlisting the support and cooperation of national bicycle retailers and chains. This means Performance Bike, but it also means Wal-Mart, Target, REI, and all the others.

Coordinating year-round national marketing and advertising campaigns for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy. Part of this coordination includes the creation of a consistent message about the benefits of bicycling and walking culture, as well as the destructive nature of car culture. A side effect of this coordination effort will be that every bike and pedestrian advocate will have a vision for where we are trying to go, and they’ll be able to relay that vision whenever they need to, and that vision will be roughly consistent with what every other bike and walk advocate is saying. We should all agree, for instance, on an appropriate metaphor to promote the right types of transportation, such as the Transportation Hierarchy pyramid seen here and used by Transportation Alternatives. We should all be able to state clearly and concisely why car culture is so harmful, and why bike and pedestrian cultures are so beneficial.

Promoting Ciclovías (or, Cyclovias). Here, I’m specifically referring to “the temporary event closing of the street to automobiles to allow dominance by other users.” Made popular with the help of StreetFilms, the ciclovia in Bogotá, Colombia is a great, inspiring example for us all. Every town needs at least one Ciclovia event per month—a closing down of a significant portion of some part of town to bike and pedestrian-only traffic.

Close down some or all parts of a park to pedestrian and bicycle-only traffic on certain (or all) days. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and others managed to get a Saturday closure added for Golden Gate Park after tireless work. There is The Car-Free Central Park Campaign in New York City. I remember having to dodge speeding cars in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all the time. Parks are not for cars, and they’re certainly not meant to be alternate highways for speeding cars.

2) Promote and improve car-sharing programs (Austin CarShare, ZipCar, [link]

We have to start promoting car-sharing right alongside cycling. We have to be ready, willing, and able to address the real concerns of people who currently rely on their cars to do some things or everything. Car-sharing will help move people out of their cars and onto their bikes, so we need to promote car-sharing. It’s that simple. Cycling and walking advocates need to reach out to car-sharing companies, and the car-sharing companies need to reach out to us. It doesn’t matter who calls first; we just need to make it happen. [Baltimore and Ithaca coming online.]

Car-sharing companies need to do a better job of marketing themselves and making it easier for full-time drivers to move to car-sharing. The current value proposition to a potential car-sharer goes something like this:

If you give us, the car-sharing company, a hundred bucks up front and your credit card number, apply for membership, sign your life away in various ways, and buy some monthly service plan that you don’t even know if you’ll use or not, then I’ll let you borrow a “community car” once in a while…maybe…because it may not be available when you want it. And you’ll pay for how long you use the car—either on an hourly basis or sky-high daily basis—and you’ll still have to pay for your own gas, of course. And you’ll still be paying for the insurance, maintenance, and other associated costs for your own personal car, of course.

It’s a non-starter. Why sign up for something like that? We need to do better—a lot better. How about a free trial? A money-back guarantee? Some quality guarantees? A limited trial membership? Free signup? I mean, give us something to work with here.

3) Continue building bike-sharing/bike-rental programs (Velib, SmartBike DC, WheelHouse Detroit). [link]

4) Continue building college and university-based bicycle programs and co-ops (Velorution Project, Bike Cave, Orange Bike, Bike Emory). [link]

5) Lower barriers to entry for beginner cyclists: [link]

Offer bike shop “commuter packages (like this triathlon shop does for beginning triathletes), and continue to entice prospective commuters by showing definitive numbers on cost savings, calories burned, emissions reductions, and so forth. Commuter packages should include bike riding and bike maintenance training, route-finding, memberships to local and national advocacy groups, shower facilities, and more.

Push for bicycle-only and pedestrian-only routes of traffic and areas. These can be greenways (like the Minneapolis Greenway, the Atlanta Beltline, the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, the San Francisco Bay Trail, etc.) or exclusive lanes like in NYC. Zero-automobile areas are ideal for walkers and cyclists and will promote bicycle use. In addition to just working on particular paths and bikeways, we should consider lobbying for the shut-out of all auto traffic from high-use downtown and other “town square”-like corridors. Dublin, Ireland is considering closing down parts of their city center to private automobile traffic, allowing only buses and taxis to enter. Presumably pedestrians and bicyclists and other human-powered modes of transport will be allowed.

Focus on personal security issues, such as how to prevent the harassment of all cyclists, with particular attention paid to female cyclists. We need to think not just about safety issues inherent in riding on busy roadways, but the safety of riding and walking in isolated and dark areas. At traffic lights, I feel like cyclists (and pedestrians) are too exposed to fumes and harassment. Maybe bike boxes are a step in the right direction, or maybe not, but at least we’re working on ways to make folks more comfortable on a bike.

6) Promote “lifestyle” cycling (like this bike-to-work poster does; bakfiets [aka work/cargo bikes]). [link] This should extend into any business areas, too. We should ask our local Postal Office to look at using bikes instead of trucks. We should try to incentivize businesses to start getting their employees to use bicycles for some trips, including jobs that might require cargo bikes—the Postal Service, home cleaning services, (pizza) delivery, and so forth.

7) Push for laws that respect pedestrian and bicycle access as a requirement for any new (re)development. [link] Such laws would put us advocates in a much stronger position — proactive rather than reactive. Instead of waiting for developers to drop their latest proposal on us any time they feel like it, they’ll have to do actual up-front planning that addresses bicycle and pedestrian issues, giving them the prominence they deserve when considering any new development (that is, more prominence than cars).

8 ) Find/(re)create/(re)organize the largest/most-effective coalition of lobbying/activist/advocacy groups/organizations possible. [link]  In Austin we have a few active organizations, and they all do good work, but I’m not convinced we have found the best mix yet. Do we combine organizations? Create a new one? Shift the focus of one organization or another? We may find that some particular mix of advocacy groups works best. Every town will have to find that right combination of advocacy groups for themselves, but we need to make sure that we’re all working together, cooperating, and coordinating to make sure we’re as effective as possible.

9) Continue building and supporting non-profit and volunteer-oriented groups and co-ops (Austin Yellow Bike, Boise Bicycle Project). [link]

10) Reach out to the non-English-speaking community, and other folks in your community who may not look/act/speak/be like you. [link]  The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign recently started hosting its first Spanish blog. Our website offers a couple of translations and direct access to the Google Translate widget. Whatever the particular makeup of your community, do your best to reach out to them in whatever way is most appropriate—whatever will allow people to be most receptive to your message. I am very interested in making sure that everyone can participate in our movement, not just because it’s obviously in my/our own best interests, but because it’s the right thing to do. I’m particularly concerned that ethnic and social minorities may be left out of our movement. Let’s make sure everyone is included in this awesomeness that we have going.

11) Form coalitions and work with: [link]

• other bicycle groups.

• non-bicycle groups. This includes walk/pedestrian groups in particular, but also with mass transit groups and anyone else you can think of, like local gardening advocacy groups, perhaps.

• local groups, and non-local groups. You might team up with non-local groups in creative ways, maybe using the Sister Cities model (also known as town twinning), or maybe even enlisting their help.

12) Create a mass-transit advocacy group, or make sure that your advocacy group is watching mass transit issues, too. [link]  Transportation Alternatives is a New York City-based group that is NYC’s advocacy group for “bicycling, walking and public transit.” The BayRail Alliance looks after rail-related transportation in the SF Bay Area. There are groups like that look after rail, aviation, and inter-city bus transit.

13) Create and promote a “town hall”—virtual and/or physical—that can connect the entire bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit community. [link]  The virtual place could be something like, which is an incredible resource for the people of Portland who care about these issues. BikePortland helps connect all the people of Portland involved in bicycle, pedestrian, and mass-transit initiatives and helps to keep them informed of what everyone is working on. Every town deserves a I have been planning to launch a blog network to do exactly this, and StreetsBlog (New York City Streets Rennaissance) has already started implementing something like this with their original New York City-based website, as well as their still-relatively-new Los Angeles-based site. (If you might like to be involved in this, please get in touch.) Further, I would like to have a physical space where advocates could go to find like-minded folks, and just casually be able to run into each other, chat, and talk about new ideas. It could be a coffee shop, a bike shop with a coffee shop, a low-key monthly gathering at the local pub…it can be whatever you can think of. The idea is to make it easier for us to communicate with each other, to make real person-to-person connections, to increase the variety and vitality of ideas, etc. Maybe some place like the Centre for Social Innovation could be this physical space.

14) A continued commitment to research when considering solutions to our problems. [link] Research like this (study) can help us stay focused on what is actually important in making informed public policy decisions. I feel like the bicycling community already has a healthy respect for the validity and usefulness of transportation research. We need to continue that mindset, promote further research, and then capitalize on that research, making sure it sees the light of day and is put into practice.

15) Push to get local cyclists, walkers, and mass transit riders to support local advocacy groups. [link]  Not everyone has to support every local advocacy group that is doing work in their community, but everyone should be contributing something, like time, money, or other resources (equipment, services, discounted rental space, etc.). If you have no money, contribute time. If you have no time, contribute money. Find a way to help out. Lots of people are just trying to make ends meet, (believe me, I know this experience intimately) but we still need to expect everyone to help out in some way, in whatever way they can.

16) Hold fundraisers for local advocacy organizations. [link]  (Thanks to Linda DuPriest for presenting this idea at the recent Austin Bicycle Summit (pdf).) Lots of the runs, walks, and other events we all participate in have the goal of raising money for various charities, and most of the time they seem like very worthy charities. We should support other worthy organizations, such as our local bike/walk/mass transit advocacy orgs. The Cascade Bicycle Club has the Pedal Power program that lets riders raise money for any number of charities, some of which are bicycle/pedestrian-related. The new Toronto Cyclists Union is hosting a Pee-Wee Herman Picture Show (hey, whatever works, right?) that will include folks like Broken Social Scene. The Bike the Drive event in Chicago seems like a lot of fun, too.

There are lots of good ideas for big growth. I hope I’ve hit at least one of them in the sixteen shots I took above. In addition to these ideas, here are a couple of other ideas I’m not as sure about:

  • I passed an older gentleman on a recumbent trike (tricycle/three wheeled-bicycle thing) the other day. I thought that would be awesome for lots of other folks. One of the reasons I ride a bike for exercise (in addition to other uses) is because I cannot comfortably run at the moment (thank you, soccer-related injury). The baby boomers in America are already exploding into retirement. They need bikes. They need trikes. They need anything and everything to get them going and keep them active and healthy. Let’s face it—doing the hamster-on-a-treadmill routine inside some dank and nasty fitness gym is not for everyone. But two-wheeled bicycles can require a lot of athletic ability and balance; let’s address the older, less mobile crowd by making sure you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to enjoy riding a bike. Let’s push recumbents and trikes into the mainstream.
  • I’d like to see more bicycle-oriented get-togethers and conferences to keep energy high, and to promote cross-pollination of ideas. I thought a visit from a Danish national to Austin, and your town, would be cool because of the awesomeness of Copenhagen bicycle culture. I wrote an email to the Danish Embassy in D.C., and I found this list of Danish consulates and trade commissions around the U.S. If you live outside the U.S., you might want to check out the very-cool official Denmark home page, or the wiki page. Maybe a visit from a high profile Portland national would be cool, too. :)   [Great news!] [And don't forget the Bicycle Film Festival.]

Finally, just for fun, a video from the Ripon College Velorution Project:

How wrong am I on these? What big things did I miss?

…I knew I’d forget something. This is one of my favorites:

17) Create and aggressively market a ‘Corporate Cycling Certification’ program that will help large companies move more of their employees onto bicycles. [link]  In particular, companies with at least one large corporate campus should be primary targets, but just about every business is a potential customer. This is the type of program that can be run by a national organization (League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong, etc.), or a larger regional organization (Cascade Bicycle Club, Bicycle Victoria). Businesses are concerned about saving money; we need to figure out how putting employees on bicycles does that for them.  Businesses will be worried about liability.  We need to address that concern with training and certification.  We need to do all the thinking up front for companies, so that their HR/health/wellness personnel can just call us up and ask how much the certification program costs, and what the business can expect in return.  What if the company doesn’t have bike racks?  What if they don’t have showers?  We need to be ready with answers - preferably published on our new ‘Corporate Certification’ site.  Large businesses don’t employ a majority of the American people, but they do hold a large place in our hearts and minds.  Google, Dell, Apple, Microsoft, GE, Coca-Cola, IBM, Gap, Nike - all these companies and more vie for top talent.  The top talent increasingly want work/life balance - some companies have already seen the light.  Great employees want to work in bike-friendly towns, and they want to work at bike-friendly companies.  There are designations for bike-friendly communities.  There are designations for bike-friendly states.  How about a designation for bike-friendly companies?  Hospitals might be a good place to start, since they know the value of being healthy, and the cost of being unhealthy.  Healthier employees are happier and more productive employees, and there is an increasing body of research to suggest that aerobic exercise is not just good for your heart, but also for your brain.  It seems some tech CEOs, like Enrique T. Salmen, are going the ‘super endurance’ route, too - they’ll know the value of a bike ride.  Search Google News for ‘health’ and ‘wellness’ and see what employers are doing to incentivize employees to just get up and walk around the block once in a while; employers need us — we just have to meet them half way.

Women’s Garden Cycles Bike Tour

May 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

From their website:

We are three friends who are planning a three-month-long bicycle journey to tour and document food-producing garden projects from Washington D.C. to Montreal - and back again.

These three friends got together and decided to do a bike tour that would help document the growing community gardening movement. I think it’s a great idea. It seems they’ve finished their trip and they just did their first official preview.

Here is the trailer:

Not too long after I got into this commuter bicycling thing, I learned there were different popular advocacy movements that can help each other and feed off of one another; I believe that community gardening and bicycling are two such movements.

If you’ve never heard of community gardening, you may know about another form of it—the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. It’s not quite “community gardening,” so to speak, but it seems to possess the same general philosophy. As a member of a CSA, you pay either a monthly or seasonal fee, and in return you get a big basket of fruits and veggies every week or two weeks. Many CSA farms offer different packages; you pick the one that is right for you. CSA baskets seem to be fairly popular with workplace offices.

LocalHarvest is a website with lots of info about the CSA community. Also, check out the American Community Gardening Association for more information on community gardening.

We should find the synergies between the community gardening and cycling communities, and leverage those synergies into a broader, stronger political force.

Hat tip: Garden Rant.

Where2.0, WhereCamp; More Mapping Fun

May 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Where2.0 is a conference for geo-oriented developers that is going on right now. O’Reilly, the mega-publisher of computer geek books, is producing the conference. Here’s what their web page has to say:

GIS has been taken to heart by neogeographers, a new breed of developers with increasingly powerful tools built on the back of open standards and free APIs from the likes of Google and Microsoft, and application frameworks like Mapstraction and GeoDjango. Increasingly, the open source GIS stack is supporting the Web, adding a new arrow in the neogeographer’s quiver. Geonames, an open-data service, is built from this data web-accessible data. Google has started exposing geo data in a separate index that is growing daily.

Translated, this means that everybody is in love with GIS (geographic information systems) and geographic data of all sorts right now, in part because GIS data used to be “for GIS professionals only”—now, this is changing.

The “geoweb” is the Web, powered by GIS dataa relatively new term that implies the merging of geographical (location-based) information with the abstract information that currently dominates the internet. This would create an environment where one could search for things based on location instead of by keyword only‘. GIS information is an important part of the geoweb, but it is not strictly necessary for the geoweb. A web page tagged with the location ‘Atlanta, GA’ in some standard format - without using any GIS data, per se - can become part of the geoweb as soon as Google geoindexes that page. GIS data is typically stored in old-school GIS databases and programs, and the data is not readily-available on the web. There is an incredible amount of information in the GIS world, so lots of people (including me!) are very excited to see it make into the mainstream of computing consciousness.

Check out this video for a joint presentation by Google and ESRI. ESRI (wiki) is the leading GIS software developer, with upwards of 50% of the total market share for GIS software. They are, in short, a very big deal. Chances are that your local, state, and national government uses ESRI software extensively.

The Where2.0 blog reports what all the hoopla is about:

John Hanke invited Jack Dangermond on stage. Jack is the founder and CEO of ESRI; he is the godfather of GIS and by extension neogeography. Jack and John are the only people who have spoken at every Where 2.0. The upcoming release of ArcGIS Server 9.3, ESRI’s flagship product, will now publish in KML and GeoRSS. Every install will be able to output to a streaming KML file. There’s always been a dark web of geodata. Now this is being exposed and we can expect the geoindex to grow because of it.

And this weekend is WhereCamp at the Googleplex. WhereCamp is more of a hacker get-together, where people organize themselves into smaller teaching-oriented sessions, hold Q & A’s, work, create mockups, learn, and much more. Maybe there will be some aspiring bike route mappers there? :)

All of this is good news for our efforts to see bicycle directions on the main Google Maps interface. Bike route information is generally stored as GIS data, and this new partnership between Google and ESRI should help make it easier for everyone interested in bike map/route data to gain access to it. And GIS experts will now have an easier time of sharing their knowledge and expertise with the world.

As we’ve mentioned previously, part of all this excitement surrounding “the geoweb” is being generated by the upcoming releases of the new iPhone, and the first Android-powered cell phones this summer—both of which are supposed to ship with built-in GPS technology.

P.S.: Google has introduced a new Flash API for Google Maps, and the Google I/O Conference happens in two weeks.

…Schwarzenegger Calls for Task Force in California for expanded GIS Use.

Tags: ,

Bike Pittsburgh's Google Maps-based Bicycle Map

May 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

It doesn’t provide bicycle directions (yet?), but it does have a bunch of cool features.

The map shows on-street bike routes, “cautionary” bike routes, and bike trails. It also shows bike shops, trail access points, reported crashes, bridges, landmarks, and notes.

This is a very cool thing! For more information, check out the blog post and map.

Making a Difference During Bike-To-Work Week

May 14, 2008 By: Brandon Warga Category: Uncategorized


My name is Brandon, and for the past few weeks I’ve been helping out behind the scenes at Google Maps “Bike There”. Peter, the driving force behind this blog, has urged me to post and introduce myself, but I’ve been wary to do so because I’m playing such a small part.

We’re now in the middle of Bike-to-Work week, and it’s got me thinking about bicycle advocacy—the central theme of this blog. A lot of people don’t get involved in bicycle advocacy because they think that it means making a big effort—organizing a group ride, giving a speech at your workplace, or spending your free time at the local bike co-op.

It’s true that we—well, almost all of us—could do more, but that’s not the point. Advocacy is about doing what you can to make a difference. Every little gesture counts. So when you answer a coworker’s questions about your commute, help a stranger patch a flat, or even obey the rules of the road to show drivers that they can share the road with bikers, you’re acting as an advocate of bicycling. And you’re making a difference.

Even though I could do more to advocate for bicycling (and I plan to!), helping out at Google Maps “Bike There” is a good first step. I hope each of you will make a small gesture of advocacy during Bike-to-Work week, even if it’s just smiling at the motorists you pass in traffic.   :)

Happy cycling!