This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 at 11:41 am and is filed under Bicycle advocacy, Bike to Work Book, GPS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
At the end of August, Mary Spence, president of the British Cartographic Society, laid into online mapping, claiming that Google Maps and Multimap were “demolishing thousands of years of history [and] geography” because they, and other online mapping services, failed to always include the same amount of detail as Ordnance Survey maps.
She said online mapping was good for driving directions but left out the sort of crucial data people need to understand a landscape, such as churches, ancient woodlands and stately homes.
During a talk delivered at the conference of the Institute of British Geographers in London, she said:
“We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique, giving us a feel for a place even if we’ve never been there.”
Google, Microsoft, and satnav specialists, such as Garmin, were guilty of “corporate blankwash,” said Ms Spence.
She didn’t diss everything digital: she championed projects such as Open Street Map, a wiki map that users can update with plots of anything they fancy: from bike shops to bus stops, and from pubs to post boxes.
This personalisation of maps is powerful: but it’s not just a wiki thing, Google Maps does it, too. Third-party developers produce so-called ‘mash-ups’ of Google Maps, And far from killing maps, mash-ups are allowing individuals and special interest groups to create hard-working maps that clearly have an enormous role to play in the future of wayfinding.
There’s an ever growing list of such way-finders on Bikeforall.net.
One of the newest additions to the Bikeforall list is Bristolstreets.co.uk, a map-based site covering all of Bristol - natch – but also parts of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset.
Bristolstreets.co.uk is a map-based site chocka with transport information, including bike lanes, off road routes, bus routes (with live bus info), train times, and car club locations. The site is interactive, too. Users can mark the map and post a request for cycle parking, or suggest the addition of a cycle lane, or flag up a hazard such as a pothole. There’s no guarantee any particular request will be acted upon, but the council will use the data collectively to determine where improvement will be most effective.
Although the site looks like the work of a massively funded quango - Bristol, after all, is England’s first ‘cycling city’ and is home to the UK’s chief ’shared space’ transport guru - it’s actually the work of a one-man company.
Toby Lewis of Logogriph of Bristol is a web designer. His site is Google Transit on steroids.
He created it in November 2007 and it has been evolving - and improving - ever since. It was started because travel information about Bristol appears all over the place
“There are already many sources of information about public transport. People are faced with a needle in a haystack and often multiple haystacks as different transport modes have different web sites or different organisations providing information. There is little consistency in the presentation of the information from different sources,” said Lewis.
“There are lots of web sites these days with maps in them, but there are few where the map is the site. When location is an important aspect of the information it makes sense to present this first on a map and then show further details when the visitor has identified the items of interest.”
The site will pay for itself with paid-for markers, said Lewis. He’s planning to add a property section. Estate agents could load house-for-sale markers. Bike shops could pay to be listed. He’s also making money for hosting survey research. Bristol City Council is currently seeking information on cycle commuting take-up in Bristol and has a survey on Bristolstreets.co.uk
Lewis isn’t worried that Google Transit could steal his thunder: “Google Transit is fantastic but it doesn’t get under the skin of a city. When you live in the city you’re producing a map for, you have on-the-ground knowledge. This is critical when you’re navigating people around an area.”
Bristolstreets.co.uk also has a Facebook presence.
In the US, Google Transit has made big strides since it was launched.
“Plan a transit trip in several cities across the US and Canada with Google Maps. Get step-by-step directions and travel times for your entire route, all in one place online.”
The first map was for the San Francisco Bay area.
Other cities have since come on stream. There’s still little info on UK cities. In fact, the only UK location for Google Transit is South East of England, but it’s populated with data only from ?Traveline South East.
In theory, Google Transit offers A to B walking routes as well as bus and car route information. What is doesn’t yet provide is bike route info. Such an omission rankles with some cyclists. Earlier this year GoogleMapsBikeThere.org was set up to pester and petition Google to add bicycle routing to Google Transit.
However, this isn’t something Google could provide easily. Cyclists may pick out short-cuts side streets sometimes, but this can often be a slow way to cycle across a city. And bike paths very often snake their way around town, when roads usually take the most direct route. Any cycling directions on Google Transit would therefore have to be produced by cyclists. But one cyclist’s ‘dangerous highway, choked with cars’ is another cyclist’s ‘fast route into town, with cars as pacers’.
Google need not do all the legwork themselves. As other Google mash-ups have shown - for instance, byCycle.org, which provides bike mapping for Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin - people are willing to share their knowledge for the greater good.
RIDE THE CITY
Mash-up site RideTheCity of New York has taken a different approach. Instead of seeking rider feedback, it has meshed Google Maps with city crash stats, creating recommendations for safer routes. It can also recommend faster routes for those who don’t mind mixing with cars.
“Every time you search Ride the City, we look through more than 125,000 records in a database. Most of that data comes from the City’s LION GIS data. The City’s LION file does not contain bicycle facility data, so we made a Freedom of Information Act request to the NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Department of City Planning. That got us a little closer, but we still had to put in dozens of hours of data cleanup to get everything working more-or-less correctly.”
“Sometimes the most daunting thing about riding a bike in New York is figuring out the best route to take. How do you get to the bridge entrances? What’s the best way to Central Park from the Hudson River greenway? We created this website to help beginning bicyclists answer those questions,” founder Jordan Anderson told TechCrunch.com. He runs the site with fellow cyclists Vaidila Kungys and Josh Steinbauer.
According to the trio, Ride the City was built almost exclusively from open source software and tools.
TfL’s Journey Planner is complex but you can soon drill down to the transport options you want, including cycling. After typing in start and end points, the system gives an esitmated average journey time and a map.
The London Cycle Network map (requires registration) uses A-Z mapping and you can click to choose overlays, such as National Cycle Network routes or London Cycle Network bike routes.
Shockingly, the Department for Transport funded UK Transport Direct journey planner does not contain bike route info despite this proud boast: “Transport Direct is a world first. We are the first ever web site to provide national coverage for information about all types of transport.”
However, Martin Whitfield of print map making company CycleCity Guides said his company is to “to add a cycling layer into Transport Direct’s existing multi-modal journey planner.”
Taking your bike to Berlin? This is a great route finder, and it has an English language option, too. It’s open source - PERL, in fact - and has a myriad of options, making it one of the best featured of all online bike route maps.
Like all other route finders you enter starting position and destination as well as any ‘via’ points. But you can also choose your likely average speed, whether you want to mix with traffic or take side streets, whether you want to include bike paths, and there’s also data on current weather so you can upgrade or downgrade your probable speed given the likely road conditions.
BBBike can also be downloaded to laptops for offline route-finding.
Naturally, as one of the most bike friendly places on the planet, Amsterdam has an online routefinder that knocks the socks off most others. In fact, Routecraft is for cars, too. But hit the bike symbol and you select the cycle planner. Type your start point or drop the bike on to the map. Type your end point or drop on the chequered flag. Hit ‘find route’ and you’re done, with a resulting map route and turn by turn directions. Routecraft calculates the distance but, neatly, also tells you how many trees you’ve saved by not driving. It’s what’s motorists would no doubt consider to be a smug-o-meter.
Routecraft also has live roadworks info and a traffic blackspot option.
Best of all, though, Routecraft Bikeplanner is also available to use on a mobile phone. You need one with an internet connection and which can run Abobe Flash Lite.
DIY PRINTED MAPS
On 6th September, Richmond, Indiana, became a bike-friendlier place. It now has its own bike route map. It wasn’t funded by the locality, it was pushed through by cyclist Mark Strosberg. His inspirational website details how we went about the task, from creating the routes through to raising the funds.
“I hope that by sharing may experience in this project it may guide other motivated citizens who would like official bike routes in their towns, but don’t want to wait until their cities have both the time and the money to produce them on their own,” said Strosberg.
“Anyone is welcome to design and print a map, and it is experienced cyclists, not city bureaucrats, who are most qualified to determine what recommended bike routes should be.”
Like this article? It’s an extract from the Bike to Work Book, available in November from Amazon.com. Get the free podcast for the book. A larger extract of the book will be available as a PDF soon.