Posts Tagged ‘Google Mapmaker’

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.

 

Google Bicycle Layer: Detroit additions

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Google Maps has a bicycle layer which shows three main types of bicycle facilities: off-road pathways (dark green), roads with bike lanes (lighter green), and roads that are preferred bicycle routes (dotted green).

As of this today, the city of Detroit has been updated.

  • Milbank Greenway added
  • Conner Creek Greenway added (including St. Jean and Clairpointe bike lanes)
  • Southwest Detroit Greenlink added (bike lanes only)
  • Atwater bike lanes added
  • “bike lanes” on Joy Road removed
  • “bike lanes” on Fort Street removed
  • RiverWalk sections added

There are still more corrections to make.

  • W. Outer Drive and W. Chicago are shown with bike lanes when they only have shoulders.
  • There are still some sections of sidewalk shown as “preferred” bicycle routes.
  • The Southwest Detroit Greenlink bike routes should be labelled as “preferred.”

We’ll get to these changes unless someone beats us to it.

We also removed the sidewalk along Lakeshore through the Pointes as a preferred bicycle path/trail.

What are the benefits?

For one, the map can help cyclists map their route. It’s interactive and up to date, though some may still prefer a printed bike map, especially since not everyone has a smart phone or direct access to the Internet.

Having an accurate bicycle layer also affects how Google generates bike route directions. Google will try to route cyclists on to bike lanes and preferred routes when it makes sense.

On the other hand, having an inaccurate bicycle layer can make bike directions less valuable. Google has directed us out of our way to use a sidewalk in Troy that has been labelled as a preferred bicycle route.

How to update the bicycle layer

The bicycle layer can be updated using the Google Mapmaker utility. There is a review and approval process for changes so it’s not as instant as Wikipedia.

Mapmaker gives you the ability to change roads attributes, sidewalks, places, and more. It appears bike racks are not being added to this map.

Guide to Mapmaker bicycle facilities

The Google guidelines on how to appropriately label bicycle facilities aren’t always that clear, but here are some key points.

  • Paved shoulders are not bike lanes. Google’s best practices says, “Roads without explicit paint markings or signage indicating a bicycle lane should not be given the ‘On-street bicycle lane attribute'”. Since paved shoulders of adequate width can improve bicycling, they can be labeled as “preferred.”
  • Sidewalks and sidepaths are not trails/paths. Sidewalks and sidepaths should be documented as part of the road attributes. Google’s best practices says they should only be mapped as separate trails/paths when they’re “separated by a river, railway, or other impassable physical barrier.” Yes, many parts of Oakland County has improperly labelled bicycle features.
  • Sidewalks are rarely preferred bicycle routes. If the above guideline is followed, sidewalks along roads can’t be. It’s less clear for sidewalks that are not along a road. In some cities like Royal Oak, bicycling on a sidewalk is prohibited. Sidewalks aren’t usually not cleared of snow by cities unlike streets, so their value in the winter can be variable. We’ve removed a preferred sidewalk segment in Royal Oak that had stairs.