Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Down Side of Crowdsourcing - Google "Bicycling" Layer Gets Fuzzy

Perhaps the greatest and under-appreciated accomplishment of Google Bike Directions is that is has created the most comprehensive mapping database of bicycle facilities in North America. Thousands of miles of bike lanes and tens of thousands of miles of shared use paths have been mapped by bike enthusiasts from all over who reported bike facilities through the "report a problem" function or in Google Mapmaker. Google Maps and its updated satellite imagery has also enabled the BCGP and its partners to create the regional trail map website.

But we have noticed lately that the crowdsourced effort has become a victim of its own success. A lack of criteria that defines usable bike facilities in the "bicycling layer" is diluting its original purpose
-To show a map of navigable routes for bicyclists. Take for example the current map of the Wissahickon which has erased the Forbidden drive as a multi-use path. Two attempts to correct this issue have been rejected by Google, citing conflicting information. The result is incorrect mapping and bicycling directions that avoid Forbidden Drive.

The current Google Map shows a huge gap where the Forbidden Drive trail was along the creek. Meanwhile the serpentine, permit-only mountain bike/hiking trail on the west bank is being highlighted a bicycle route.

We know of other examples where the bikeway designation is inappropriate, such as walking paths in the paid areas of Epcot and portions of the Appalachian Trail. Google needs to take a look at these problems and standardize the criteria for the bicycling layer (and bicycling directions). Natural surface trails open to mountain bikes and pedestrian only paths should be noted on the map but they need their own layers distinct from the bicycling layer and bike routing directions.


Bike Coalition said...

We recommend that everyone help us fix the Wissahickon gap. Go to http://g.co/maps/f7u6x and right click on the map - "Report a problem" and tell google that the trail is missing.

Geoffrey Zub said...

This made me think of an interesting idea, Google has the Regional Expert Reviewer program for users which gives users the ability to review others edits in a particular area. A similar program could be created called Regional Bike Expert Reviewer which would allow certain users who have shown a good knowledge of local bike routes to review those changes to bike paths in the local area which they bike. I know that as a Regional Expert Reviewer, I am sometimes cautious to approve bike route changes as I do not bike much in the area and would not want to provide incorrect information to someone who is trying to bike around their region.
There is also a great thread in the Map Maker forums with suggested improvements to the bike route classifications: http://goo.gl/XZBeH and I know that the folks who work on the Map Maker project do read the threads there (even if they don't always respond to every comment)...
I think it is a great idea to encourage others to go to the map maker site to help grow the routes in your area and fix issues! Remember that there may be a limited number of reviewers in your area who are local and so Google reviewers from other areas may look at your edits and could need a good amount of explanation as to why a particular change has been made (be sure to include that you are local and bike in the area).