Maps are simplifications of reality and by their very nature introduce bias based on what they include and what they leave out. Unfortunately most current maps have a bias towards the car given that they leave off most of the detail that matter only to pedestrians and to public transport users. This problem is compounded when the maps produced by authorities specifically for these user groups also leave of the relevant details.
This problem was demonstrated very clearly to me today while we were delivering some xmas cards on foot today. We delivered our first card half way down Beech Road and then needed to get to the southern end of Cambridge Road as shown on the following map from Google. This map has an amazing amount wrong and is almost completely useless for walking directions as you will see as the post develops. From this map it would seem sensible to head north then east along the busy Woodbridge Road and then all the way down Cambridge Road.
Actually, I knew that there was a convenient set of footpaths missing from this map so we set off south to pick up a footpath that went up through the woods from Mendip Drive and then east along a short path. The paths are shown on this map from OpenStreetMap. The small blue squares are bus stops btw.
However, we then spotted a footpath I didn’t know about which seemed to be going in the right direction. We asked someone getting snow off their car if it would help, but he told us to go up to the main road as per the Google map. I knew that wasn’t right so we completed the trip as already planned going down to Mendip Drive. The clever bit about OpenStreetMap is the edit feature, so when I got home I pressed edit and added the missing path and the map now looks like this – notice the additional path.
What is clear to me is that the guy cleaning was using a mental model based on the roads as supported by the Google mapping. It gets worse though.. There is also a mapping website called walkit.com which aims to address this limitation with other mapping and which, as you might have guessed, promotes walking. Unfortunately it doesn’t have these paths on either and recommends the route as Google and the car driver! notice that there are no bus stops marked either.
And then there is the local official cycle map published by Suffolk County Council which also misses the paths off!
And now lets look at the local bus map which also misses all the footpaths and curiously doesn’t even show the positions of the bus stops which seem to be kinda important to public transport users.
What is going on here? OpenStreetMap which is produced and maintained by volunteers like me is available for free and is very accurate.The official cycle map which is produced at significant expense by Suffolk County Council, the local instance of Walkit.com which was commissioned and paid for by Ipswich Borough Council and the local bus map which is produced by the local bus company all largely reinforce the car drivers view of the world by leaving off this critical detail!
I will again recommend that that stop spending money on these resources and promote OpenStreetMap as Microsoft do with Bing Maps which can now display OpenStreetMap data. OpenStreetMap data can of course be used as the map base for all of the above specialist local maps if necessary.