Posts Tagged ‘Google Maps’

Detroit bike parking: Getting better, room for improvement

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

We just updated the information for bike parking in Detroit.

Wayne State, Southwest Detroit, and even parts of Downtown doing a great job adding bike parking.

Still, there are other areas that have a significant lack of parking. In the map snapshot, we’ve highlighted those areas in yellow.

Ironically, many of those area have an abundance of surface lot parking — for cars!

And while this focuses just one part of Detroit, the city needs more bike racks throughout.

One other thing to keep in mind when looking at the map is that each red dot is a bike parking area. These areas may have multiple racks, some which fit a couple bikes and some that fit a dozen.

Lafayette & Elmwood Trails now in Google Maps

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Unless you live in Detroit’s Lafayette or Elmwood neighborhoods, you may not be aware of the huge trail network that runs throughout the area. The trails are rarely straight and it’s easy to get turned around.

They may not provide shortcuts for cyclists but they can make your ride more interesting.

But be forewarned that there are some issues with the trails. Some sections require maintenance. It’s not uncommon to encounter cracked pavement drainage issues, or little sinkholes.

Also, these trails typically do not have well-designed road crossings. You shouldn’t come to the road and have to search for a crossing (with curb cuts.) If these trails would be much more popular and well-used if they had easy to use road crossings, improved maintenance, and some directional signs.

One of the more unique trails runs along the west side of the Elmwood Cemetery. It’s paved with brick and makes for a bumpy ride for those on skinnier tires.

With encouragement from Kelli at Wheelhouse Detroit, most of these trails have been added to Google Maps bicycling layer. More of the smaller connections need to be added, but it’s usable now – so start exploring!

Google Map Maker video highlights Detroit bicycling

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Google released a video on their Map Maker software a little over a week ago. The video focuses on how we’ve used their program to update Google Maps with the latest bicycling and trail information.

Hailed as the birthplace of the automotive revolution, the city of Detroit, Mich. is taking its transportation legacy down new paths. As Detroit embraces a greener, non-motorized outlook, cycling is steadily increasing in popularity. The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance is facilitating this transition by creating an interconnected statewide system of trails and greenways, including the development of bike paths throughout the Detroit area.

How did this come about?

First it began when I became heavily involved in updating the bicycling and trail information in Map Maker. I began in the city of Detroit but slowly progressed across all of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties. Google tracks how many edits contributors make and this work put me near the top of those in this region. They were having a North American Google Map Maker conference in Montreal and they invited me.

At the conference I had the opportunity to share stories of our work in Detroit, which left a positive impression. Google contacted me afterwards about making Detroit part of their upcoming promotional video.

As one can tell by the quality of the video, this was not some small project. At one point their were nine other people in my home office for a video shoot. They shot video for three days at locations across Detroit, including the Heidelberg Project, Belle Isle, Dequindre Cut, RiverWalk, Spirit of Hope urban garden, and even the Ambassador Bridge for the Bike the Bridge event. Some of the most dramatic shots were taken from a helicopter.

Of course the East Side Riders looked great in the video as well.

Though Detroit’s bicycle and trail info is quite up to date, there’s other mapping work that can be done – and it’s something everyone can do using Map Maker.

Others are also working on printed Detroit bike maps as well as Open Street Maps. We’re not done!

The Detroit News, MLive, and the Huffington Post also covered this story.

Belle Isle trails now in Google Maps

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

This weekend we added the asphalt trails at Belle Isle to Google Maps.

This was a bit challenging as the tree canopy prevented us from seeing the trails in the satellite photography.

So, here are the steps we took to add them.

  1. Loaded the MyTracks app on our Android phone. Unfortunately it’s not available for the iPhone.
  2. Recorded our GPS tracks as we biked the trails.
  3. Exported our GPS tracks to Google Maps My Places.
  4. Went to the Google Map Maker web site and enabled overlays, an option in the Labs menu.
  5. Added an overlay using the KML link provided in My Places.
  6. Added a trail in Map Maker using the KML overlay as a reference. The GPS points weren’t perfect but one can guess the correct offset based on the aerials. Hiking the trails might have yielded more accurate data points.
  7. Added trail information, such as the bad the pavement condition and saved it.

Once these trail changes were published, there was a small delay before the Google Map graphics were updated. That seems to have happened now.

By the way, Google has produced an excellent video that basically explains this same process.

If you head out ride these trails for the first time, the asphalt’s condition may not be a good fit for skinny tires. Tree roots have pushed up the pavement and added speed bumps to the trail.

There are a number of fallen ash trees across the path as well.

Improving the Google Maps bicycling layer

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

Last week was the Google Map Maker North American Conference in Montreal.

What is Map Maker? It’s a web-based tool that lets you modify and add to Google Maps.

However, unlike Wikipedia, there is a change review process. New users can expect all of their changes to require a review while more experienced users can get some changes published immediately.

What changes can made? The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance has added missing pathways for the Detroit RiverWalk, Conner Creek Greenway, and Midtown Loop. All of the City’s bike lanes were added. There were also a number of trails shown for Detroit that simply don’t exist or are sidewalks. Those were removed.

The Google bicycling layer, which is selectable in Google Maps is now looking fairly accurate. We’re using it on this site with an overlay of bike parking locations.

Nonetheless, there are some improvements Google could make to improve their bicycle and trail data.

Here are some suggestions that were shared with their development team at the Montreal Conference.

  • Show unpaved roads differently – This would make it easier for road bikers to determine their routes.
  • Bicycle routing – Similarly, it would be useful if bicyclists could get biking directions using only paved surfaces if they prefer. This would be similar to the motorist directions which let you avoid expressways.
  • Add more trail surface descriptions – The popular crushed limestone surface seen on trails like the Paint Creek isn’t an option when describing a trail surface.
  • Add paved shoulders – Google Maps lets you describe bike lanes on a road, but not paved shoulders that make biking more desirable. For example, Edward Hines Drive should not be shown with bike lanes based on Google’s map policies.
  • Add bike racks – Points of interest can be added to Google Maps, but there’s not a category for bike racks. We heard that it will be available in the future.
  • Add abandoned rail corridors – There isn’t a way of properly showing abandoned rail corridors on the map. This is perhaps more useful for planners than riders, but it would be useful to add.
  • Exporting data – If we put all the bike rack locations in Google Maps, we want to be able to pull it back out. That information is needed for Bicycle Friendly Community applications. It would also be useful if we Google Maps could tell us the miles of bike lanes or trail within a city.

The U.S. Bicycle Routes were discussed. Those can be added now. For example, we’ve added the Conner Creek Greenway name to its on-road segments, e.g. ?St. Jean.

There was also a question of bicycles using ferry service. At the time, it was unclear if that was integrated into Google’s bicycle routing software. A different Google development team is responsible for routing (as well as rendering.)

However, getting bike directions from Detroit to Windsor does take you to the ferry in Algonac. City hall to city hall is 127 miles by bike — or 2 by car.

Mapping delays

One word of warning. There is a delay from the time your change is published in Map Maker to the time it shows up on Google Maps. That delay is dependent on many factors, including the size of the change and where the change is made.

There’s also a delay before changes affect the routing. Google’s bike routing tries taking advantage of trails, bike lanes, and preferred bicycle routes. If you add these features in Map Maker, it can take up to a couple months before the routing routines know about them. The Google engineers said there were working on reducing this delay.