With soaring fuel costs, more people are switching from petrol-guzzling autos to bicycles or even their feet â and Internet mapping services that traditionally served the driving public are now being asked to find the best walking and biking routes from A to B.
Google has launched a walking-directions service and MapQuest reports higher use of its âavoid highwaysâ function as well as offering walking directions on cell phones. These services first need to take account of the factors that make walking and bicycle routes different from driving routes, for example, pedestrians need sidewalks, but face no âone-way streetâ restrictions. They can follow paths or trails not meant for cars, but must avoid highways. Bikers, unlike walkers, need to think about whether a road is paved, and are prohibited from sidewalks in some cities. These and other factors mean that the fastest, easiest route for a driver is not likely to be the same as for walkers or bikers. Developing a comprehensive routing system for non-drivers requires huge volumes of large-scale, local metadata added to national databases used by various mapping services.The technical challenge involves overlaying detailed information for walkers and bikers onto existing online maps, then applying algorithms to lay out the quickest routes â but the trick is to ensure that the algorithms take account of the new information.A Web site set up last autumn in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, that lets people select whether they are walking, biking or using public transport, and then get directions specific to their mode of non-auto travel. New York has a site that helps bikers avoid roads not meant for bikers and makes maximum use of roads with bike lanes and greenways. In Broward County, Florida, USA, a project is underway that will let users factor in things such as speed limits, traffic volume, lane widths and shortcuts. Project programmers are looking at aerial maps and adding key factors into their routing algorithms, incorporating, for example, things like where people or bikers can make left turns where cars cannot.At the end of July, Google Maps launched a feature that offers walking directions for trips shorter than 10 km â in addition to a feature that already helps visitors find the best public transportation routes. (See the new \"Walking\" option in the \"Get Directions\" menu).Mapmakers and route planners both agree that they need more and better community knowledge at the local scale â quite a departure for companies like Tele Atlas, who normally test drive road routes for itself. However, they are open to accepting bike and pedestrian route information from cities and community groups if the data can be verified from multiple sources. Local walkers and bikers know shortcuts that save time. For example, in Philadelphia, a bicycle commuter travelling from the northern edge of downtown to residential and commercial areas in the south knows to avoid the congestion of Center City by taking a paved trail along the Schuylkill River.Article based on news release by Associated Press as repeated in MIT Technology Review, 25 July 2008.
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