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Author Topic: Online mapping for walking; how useful is it?  (Read 1478 times)
Bmblbzzz
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« on: January 23, 2018, 07:37:24 pm »

I've just read an article arguing that it's really not good enough and that this is a problem not only for people trying to use it but for transport systems in general and really society as a whole (because route planning on a mobile phone is many people's first choice and if it doesn't support walking very well, and furthermore suggests taxis instead – as Google maps do – then this feeds into a mobility and health problem).

Quote
Journey planning apps need to think more about walkers – before governments force them
By Rachel Holdsworth

Oh, terrific. Image: author provided.
Here’s a story. Last summer I went on holiday to Stockholm. Being a digital native, I eschewed guide books and paper maps in favour of my phone.

And I almost immediately regretted it. On asking Google Maps to tell me how to get from the metro station to my hotel, it gave me a walking route which included about eight flights of stairs to get me down an urban cliff edge. One problem: I had a large suitcase.

I’m a healthy adult, so I managed to heave the case down, with a lot of sweating and some profanity that would have taught even the most Anglophone Swede a thing or two. And as I lifted, dragged and kicked the case down the stairs, it occurred to me that I’d have been royally screwed if I had mobility problems – or had a pushchair instead of a suitcase.

Google Maps knows this walking route includes stairs. If you go into the detailed step-by-step instructions, rather than immediately following the dotted route, it says “take the stairs”. But there’s nowhere to toggle an option to say ‘avoid stairs’ and no upfront warning flag when it comes to accessible walking directions.



Oh, great. Click to expand. Image: Google.

Citymapper is also available in Stockholm. The journey planning app suggests the same walking route but isn’t so sure about the stairs: the route graphic zigzags, but not in exact line with the stairway. Andrew MacDougall from Citymapper says the main problem is a lack of a data standard or format for things like walking.

“Transit timetables and schedules are relatively discrete information sets covered by GTFS [General Transit Feed Specification],” says MacDougall. “The same isn't true for data on walking through city streets, which is largely crowdsourced.”

What about Google Maps? Having chatted with a spokesperson, there’s nothing in development – at least, that they’re willing to publicly acknowledge – which would allow users to select step-free walking options.

In the capital, Transport for London says that accessibility is a huge priority right now, but it’s limited to what it can do outside its own realm. Step-free information within stations is available, and staff are working on details like tracking how long it takes to walk between platforms at stations such as the mammoth Green Park.

Once a user is on the pavement, however, it’s a different story. TfL can map its stations and walking distances between, but the actual streets in London are managed by a combination of TfL, the Highways Agency and boroughs. Getting all that detail together is a daunting task.

This a growing issue. As we rely more on our phones to get us places, pedestrians are increasingly going to face the same difficulties as drivers following their satnavs, only to be directed down streets too narrow or under bridges too low for their vehicles. If you don’t fit the mould of the average user, you’re going to encounter problems.

In addition to my Stockholm incident, I’ve recently been blithely directed by Google Maps up outdoor stairs to get to a Leeds pub and over various footbridges as the only way to cross dual carriageways. To get to CityMetric’s office from New Bridge Street to the west, the fastest route is up several flights of stairs.

There are alternative routes, but these are the first ones suggested, because they’re the fastest. And the apps give no indication of accessibility issues unless you interrogate each route individually. And, really, who has the time?

It’s important our walking apps get better – and not just for people with mobility difficulties, buggies and luggage. Walking is an excellent way of staying healthy. More people out and about on the street also boosts local businesses. It’s a general win-win.

Walking charity Living Streets agrees, but has concerns that making walking easier isn’t a priority for tech companies. “Apps have the potential to improve health outcomes,” says spokesman Steve Chambers, “but only if walking is prioritised in the user interface. We’re already seeing journey planning apps evolve from merely providing travel information to linking through to transport service provision. If we’re not careful, active travel options, which cannot currently earn revenue for the app providers, could be deprioritised in the app user interface.”

In the course of researching this article I did some journey planning in Google Maps and was surprised to see the first set of directions default to cab-hailing options. The app has now learned I prefer to see walking first, but it’s worth remembering that Google Ventures holds shares in Uber (and is reported to be considering investing in Lyft).

Citymapper responds that the very first transport modes its app suggests are walking and cycling, which is true – though they are immediately followed by Uber and Gett.

That’s not great news, particularly when you consider that the company probably best placed to provide accessible walking information is Google. Getting the information is the hardest part, and we know it already has detail about stairs. One question is whether Google is confident it has enough of that detail to launch a service where users can ask for step-free walking options.

Another question is whether there’s enough motivation within the company to develop in that direction. I’d say, if they can find the development time to turn the yellow Street View icon into the Queen near Buckingham Palace, they can manage this.

Living Streets suggests that, if travel apps don’t get on this, they could find themselves obligated. “To improve public health outcomes local and national governments will need to influence third party app design,” Chambers says. “This could include highlighting information about step free or low incline routes.”

If transport apps want to be truly useful, then they need to cover the whole route. An option that would tell users they should approach CityMetric’s office from a different direction could affect which train station they get off at, or which bus they take. It’s something that needs building into the entire planning process. Which app will get there first?

The editor would like to make clear that he does not encourage readers to visit the CityMetric offices.
https://www.citymetric.com/transport/journey-planning-apps-need-think-more-about-walkers-governments-force-them-3618
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LiskeardRich
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« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2018, 08:13:48 pm »

I use Strava for cycling but it has a running option (I’ve used for walking) and it stores and guides along any routes used by or created by other users that make them public. My most recent mountain biking routes are now available to anyone else to use as guides.
It’s only as good as the routes used by other users. I can also create a route on my laptOp to send to my phone app.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2018, 10:35:24 pm »

I think that's a slightly different case. (I don't use Strava myself but I do use ridewithgps and also cycle.travel; the first is great for sharing routes, the second perhaps better for creating my own.) What the article is talking about is using eg google maps for routing as you would a sat nav. "I am here, show me how to get to place X." The chief obstacle the writer found is that walking routes are not suitable for all types of walking; great for maybe fit adults without luggage, but not for the elderly, infirm, disabled or those with luggage or small children – due to routing up and down steps and similar obstacles. She compares it to a sat nav route which might be suitable for most drivers but will get a high-sided vehicle stuck under a low bridge, but with the added problem that the routing has no "avoid steps" or "warn of steps" option.
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CyclingSid
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« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2018, 10:45:31 am »

Similar queries have been raised about the suitability of Google Maps for cyclists; https://www.theguardian.com/technology/bike-blog/2017/sep/26/google-maps-must-improve-if-it-wants-cyclists-to-use-it.
I think part of the issue is lack of base data; walking and cycling routes. I believe that Ordnance Survey are still trying to collect urban paths that aren't Rights of Way. Sustrans will release its route data, but this is only a very small proportion of cycle paths/tracks. I am not sure that all local authorities create map files of cycle paths/tracks, which aren't Rights of Way. OpenCycleMap have made a reasonable attempt at collecting what data is available. The cycling organisations are proposing that all Rights of Way should be open to cyclists, which even as a bicycle user does not fill me with joy.
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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2018, 10:46:29 am »

Essentially there are only four worldwide map databases: Google, OpenStreetMap, HERE (ex-Nokia, now owned by a consortium of German car manufacturers) and TomTom. (There are also a number of national map databases, such as Ordnance Survey or the French IGN.)

HERE and TomTom are as car-centric as you would expect and generally don't include footpaths at all.

Google includes some in cursory detail. But OSM has many more, largely because OSM surveys are mostly done on foot or by bike, and also includes details on steps, path surfaces, etc. (Not all details are shown on the default map at openstreetmap.org, but steps are.) The Vale of Evesham is quite an instructive comparison - http://tools.geofabrik.de/mc/#15/52.0826/-1.9144&num=2&mt0=mapnik&mt1=google-map

So, with OSM data, it's perfectly plausible to create a navigation app that avoids steps or rough surfaces. Indeed, my own website cycle.travel (which Bmblbzzz refers to) does exactly that: it has a strong downweighting for steps, so it'll only send you up/down them if it would save a long detour, and very long flights of steps it'll refuse entirely.

Because OSM is open data, anyone can build an app to do this; whereas since only Google has access to their own mapping data, you're otherwise at the mercy of whatever features they choose to include.

(Worth noting too that although Ordnance Survey maps do include public rights of way, they're literally just pen lines on a map - there's no underlying, navigable, topological database structure that would allow you to find a way through. I believe they've now digitised the rights of way in National Parks to this standard, but nowhere else in Britain.)
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lordgoata
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« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2018, 11:01:58 am »

It was starting to get better in Google Maps until the morons forced them to close Mapmaker - the data was (is, I assume) there in the backend for things like steps, road surfaces, dedicated cycle lane etc etc. but when they closed it, it all became dumbed down. I believe some of the higher level local guides may have access to adding/updating that, but unless you do it more or less full time it will take forever to get to that level now.

I'm sure it will come in time, but the improving of Google Maps took a massive hit when they closed Mapmaker down :-(
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2018, 11:17:01 am »

...
Google includes some in cursory detail. But OSM has many more, largely because OSM surveys are mostly done on foot or by bike, and also includes details on steps, path surfaces, etc. (Not all details are shown on the default map at openstreetmap.org, but steps are.) The Vale of Evesham is quite an instructive comparison - http://tools.geofabrik.de/mc/#15/52.0826/-1.9144&num=2&mt0=mapnik&mt1=google-map

That is quite a contrast. The problem then would seem to be getting apps that use OSM rather than Google maps. There's one I've heard of called Komoot but I've not used it, and of course there's rwgps though I haven't found the app (as opposed to the website) particularly useable. And I believe there were plans for a cycle.travel app?

Edit: Just had a little play with Komoot. It's quite nice but also a bit offputting in that it starts by asking you to select your sport: hiking, bike, mountain bike, road bike, running. ("Bike" seems to mean cycle touring.)
« Last Edit: January 24, 2018, 11:24:55 am by Bmblbzzz » Logged

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Richard Fairhurst
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« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2018, 11:34:55 am »

Same as Strava - "Connecting the world's athletes". I'm not an athlete, I just like riding a bike!

Working on a cycle.travel app when I get some free time from the day job(s) - hope to have something up and running on iOS this spring, Android later.
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Surrey 455
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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2018, 11:12:04 pm »

The problem then would seem to be getting apps that use OSM rather than Google maps. There's one I've heard of called Komoot but I've not used it, and of course there's rwgps though I haven't found the app (as opposed to the website) particularly useable. And I believe there were plans for a cycle.travel app?

ViewRanger allows you to choose which map you want. Includes the free Google maps, Open Street maps, open cycle maps plus others. You can also pay to use Ordnance Survey maps in the app.
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eXPassenger
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2018, 09:55:55 am »

The problem then would seem to be getting apps that use OSM rather than Google maps. There's one I've heard of called Komoot but I've not used it, and of course there's rwgps though I haven't found the app (as opposed to the website) particularly useable. And I believe there were plans for a cycle.travel app?

ViewRanger allows you to choose which map you want. Includes the free Google maps, Open Street maps, open cycle maps plus others. You can also pay to use Ordnance Survey maps in the app.

I strongly recommend ViewRanger.  I use it for UK walking and walking / light biking when on holiday abroad.
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Surrey 455
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« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2018, 09:32:42 am »

One issue that bugs me with Open Street Maps is that I often mistake borough / county boundaries for footpaths. That doesn't happen on Open Cycle Maps.
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Adelante_CCT
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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2018, 01:19:04 pm »

One issue that bugs me with Open Street Maps is that I often mistake borough / county boundaries for footpaths. That doesn't happen on Open Cycle Maps.

Glad I'm not the only one to have done that  Grin
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