Or really, on a lack thereof.
I went to a talk today at UCLA – a really fascinating one, really – on continuing developments in the world of map-making. One of the things that the speaker mentioned was Google’s initial resistance to letting users modify their maps, until they realized that there was a tremendous potential in or for user-produced maps (just imagine a YouTube for maps).
Thinking about biking in Los Angeles, one of the biggest things holding the community back is the lack of well-publicized maps. True, the MTA has put together a map of bike lanes around the city (their Metro Bike Map), but one of the things I quickly learned about that map was just how far removed it is from the actual experience of riding the streets. It’s partly the MTA’s myopic bicycling policy, but partly to do with the fact that different roads ride very differently at diffferent times. I’ll ride Western after 9 pm, but I don’t think I’d be caught dead on the street during rush hour. Wilshire between Comstock and Beverly Hills is a crap shoot: Late at night, you don’t have to take the sidewalk, but I can’t bring myself to ride the street during daylight hours.
What I’m trying to get at is the way in which there’s no one place for LA cyclists to compile their maps. If all the cyclists in the city – and there are a lot of cyclists – put some time and effort into compiling their maps in a single place, it might make the process of riding in this city a lot less daunting. When I started riding here – only a really short time ago, really – I had a lot to learn. I’ve figured out some routes that work for me, but I still have a lot left to do.
With all that in mind, I want to point people to a very worth cause: Google Maps ‘Bike There’ is a website organized around the effort to convince Google to work in bike routes into their mapping software. Take a moment to sign their petition, and while you’re there, check out the post on Houston taking their place alongside Los Angeles as cities with severe smog problems. The post’s last words:
But it’s not time to give up. Places like Houston and Los Angeles, which are so car-dominated that its residents can barely breathe, need our help. Even if it’s an email or a phone call to the people most responsible for suffocating those cities.
As a last thought on this issue of mapping, what if we – imagining the larger community of Angeleno riders – put together our own mash-up? A kind of general map where everybody and anybody could visit and add routes and warnings – and there may well already be something of the kind, but that’d be news to me. So here’s a thought: If you are curious or have something to add, check out this map. Please let me know what you think.
UPDATE (31 oct 08): You’ll see in the comments that Gary from Gary Rides Bikes also got started with a similar idea. I’ve taken the liberty of merging his rather succesful project and mine. It’s very much a version in progress, but it’s kind of neat to see how certain routes are emerging from the city.
UPDATE (20 nov 08: Because sometimes looking at a map is more fun than looking at text: