Considering a company whose mission is to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” I think it’s safe to say that Google’s map division has met and exceeded all expectations when it comes to deploying its pedestrian/walking, transit, and street view features. Whereas once Google Maps was relegated to driving, it now takes on features that prove far more useful in urban environments.
- Pedestrian/Walking – many users accustomed to using Google Maps for driving will be surprised to learn that the service offers a unique algorithm for walking directions in most locations. The feature started appearing as a drop-down option on the standard Google Maps interface early last summer, but the company still warns that walking directions are in beta testing and may not account for missing sidewalks or unsuitable pedestrian areas.
- Transit – The service is available in select locations and can calculate route, transit time and cost, and can compare the trip to one using a car. Since its full public launch in late 2007, Google Transit has grown to include more than 434 cities worlwide. It’s clear that this real-time schedule information, especially when utilized on mobile devices, can and is rapidly changing and improving the way people utilize transit. If transit agencies release data to Google, the service can provide lots of public benefits with next to no additional public investment. Unfortunately, there has been resistance by some transit agencies to release schedule and routing information to the for-profit company.
- Street View – Starting as a curiosity in a few select American cities in May 2007, Google Street View has rapidly expanded to include huge swaths of the industrialized world and it is increasingly expanding in Mexico, South America, South Africa, and eastern Europe giving unprecedented access to the world’s street environment (see worldwide coverage map here). Google announced in the spring the introduction of the Google Trike, which brings 360° directional cameras into pedestrian environments like universities, narrow streets, parks, bike trails and alleys. Check out some of the first pedestrian area street view images that were taken on California’s Monterrey Bay Coastal Trail. Google is currently taking suggestions of where they should take the Trike next in the United States (submit by October 28th).
Given the rapid expansion of Google Maps in the last two years, its likely that we’ll continue to see continued rapid refinement of these tools and more great technological advances in the near future.