Google Bike Maps

ow when you look up directions somewhere on Google Maps, you can choose public transit, walking, car, or bicycle directions. This is super nice because it opens up many options for where you can go and how you can get there. I’ve realized because of a bike trail going through an industrial area by my house, I can get to 44th street quite easily. Or I can take residential streets to get to church. I’d never thought of it. I always pictured myself on the busy main streets I drive on, getting honked at by the many cars who can’t share a road (either because it’s too narrow or because they’re not used to it.)

I will try to ride my bike places this spring using this new Google Bike layer, and I will report back to you on it. I already contacted Google, probably along with 38 other GR cyclists, about 28th street and how it’s not a good route for any bike to get anywhere. And my feedback is really vital because I’m not one of those bike snobs who wears the shorts and can handle any element…I don’t even have a road bike but a mountain bike. I do have a basket, however. And things like to bounce out of it.  I am also NOT a chic fashion cyclists like the ones they talk about on chic green websites, the hipster girls who ride old vintage falling-apart bikes everywhere in a dress and huge sunglasses because it looks cool.  I’m just kim. Bikin’ along my Kimscape.

Nothing beats this video introducing the new feature. I love the first part with all the bikes riding past Google headquarters and then this random pedal-powered machine with four guys on it trailing behind. I Laughed Out Loudly.

Here’s ANOTHER vehicle Google has invented: The streetview trike. This will likely get pictures of un-drivable pathways so that streetview can truly be comprehensive. There’d have to be thousands of them to get everything. But Google can do it. They’re creepy that way.

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Five Ideas to make Grand Rapids more Liveable

or Livelittleable.

I’m having a blogstorm kind of day. Some days, the urban planning blogworld overwhelms me and I ignore it, but today I patiently sifted through my Google Reader and found so many good ideas.

I wanted to apply them to my home city.  Grand Rapids has a sizeable downtown but probably 4 or 5 times more land dedicated to suburbs. Streets like East Beltline and 28th Street and Plainfield suffer incredible blight and traffic problems, mainly because they’re stuck in the 1950s. There are so many suburbs that walking anywhere for many residents is impossible. Division Street looks like hell in most places. Homelessness is rampant.

But back to the good ideas. Heere are five I’ve read about today that could work in Good Ole GR:

1. Google Maps should include Bike and Transit directions/estimations. And they are working on it. Chicago’s Transit Authority is set up so you can google directions that find the best combination of subway and bus transit to get to where you need to be. I used it all the time in Chicago. Grand Rapid’s bus system is used  and functional, but it’s not practical for quick trips. Aside from most buses having half hour between stops, it’s hard to know which routes to connect to get where we need to be. Google Transit has four cities from Michigan participating (Ann Arbor, Holland, Lansing, Detroit) but not Grand Rapids. Come on now!

As for bikes, there are plenty of trails in Grand Rapids, and one brochure that tells you where they all are. But what if you could use trails to get places? What if they were used for more than just recreation? The trail by my house on 28th and Eastern connects me to Division street in a much safer (and more pleasant) way than using 28th. If we had the trails on Google Maps, we could measure distance, map routes, and with our buses’ bike racks, fluidly use bike and transit instead of cars.

2. LEED-ND for new neighborhoods. LEED-ND is the newly approved system for neighborhoods, grading them on diversity, walkability, and green infrastructure. It’s like LEED for buildings and done by the same company. With Grand Rapids still expanding, this could be a good tool to create more neighborhoods where people actually want to live (real estate demand is proven to have moved from suburbs to walkable neighborhoods). So if new neighborhoods get to market themselves as LEED-ND Platinum instead of garages with rooms in the back, maybe we’ll get more residents and more money flowing around.

If you don’t believe me about walkable places, look at Woodland Mall. That place was failing once Rivertown was built. It was seriously suffering. But then the Bar Louie/Red Robin/Cheap Theatre/On the Border square popped up and the mall is doing great. So great, that Barnes and Noble wanted in on the action, reversing the trend of big box retailers moving farther and farther out into the boonies (like TARGET). Yeah, it’s still a mall surrounded by a sea of parking lot, but at least it’s showcasing the success of a good common area.

3. Bypassing Suburb Roads. Plans for an Oregon suburb to make it more connected really excited me, especially since the connections were not for cars.

The point of this is to cut down the distance one would have to walk or bike to get somewhere. The mess that is suburbs-on-a-map would not be less of a mess, however.

4. Better bike parking is an overlooked need when thinking about alternative transportation. I can easily bike to Meijer for most of my needs, but I don’t usually because there’s nowhere to put it. The Artprize-featured tree bike racks are not only made and designed locally, but they provide parking and shelter for bikes while not being an eyesore.

Talk about a community identifier. Bike parking is so easy and cheap. It takes one parking space for a car to park roughly ten bikes.

5. Using the River. At Green Grand Rapids, an idea charrette I attended in May, I loved the ideas of better farmer’s markets, bike lanes, and storm water management. I shot down the white-water rafting on the Grand River idea, though, because when it was lined up with other ideas, it didn’t seem as important. But as I walked up and down the Grand River during Artprize, I realized how beautiful parts of the riverside are. The park off of Monroe is nice, and there’s a waterfall by the pedestrian bridge. But there’s no reason for people to be by the river except for to walk. What if we did use it for canoeing or kayaking or white water rafting? Or energy?  Is it possible? I have no idea. But it could add to a list of things to do in GR, and generate more revenue.

The bottom line here is that we all know how badly this state is doing. But leaving isn’t the solution. Time for new dreams. What are your ideas?

Woonerfs–Shared Streets

Firsly, the Grand Rapids Press had a big fat article on the front page on Wednesday about installing sidewalks on 28th Street. Is this not a direct response to my Letter to the Editor?  I’m going to say it is!!! YAY!

Also, I found this great webpage with tons of examples of “traffic calming” strategies, but most of them are actually encouraging towards bikes and pedestrians. From the Federal Highway Administration??! Fascinating!   My favorite new word is woonerf–a shared street found in Europe and Japan. Basically a street where people can walk and bike, and cars can mozy through, too, if need be.

Cash for Clunkers, Signatures for Better Streets (Wow, that wasn't nearly as catchy as I wanted it to be)

Someone cut the out-of-control bushes at the vacant house on the corner of our street. Clearing the public right-of-way. Sweet!  Fix it, even if you didn’t break it.

I asked probably everyone who’d read this blog to sign this petition but I’ll post it here just in case. I’m not usually a fan of petitions but I’ve realized they’re about spreading awareness more than anything. Michigan needs hellllllllp!  Automobile capital of the world is dyyying. And I want to be able to bike to Meijer.  And my friend Nate wants to bike down a street without getting CHANGE thrown in his FACE. (Wow, thank you road ragers.)

Cash for Clunkers is definitely happening–I mean, HAPPENING. My friend’s dad, who is a mechanic at a dealership, talked about it last night. They completely destroy the engines of perfectly good cars. It’s the law. It’s insane. It’d all be well and good from a global warming perspective…if the cars they’re buying were actually tons better with gas mileage. But a 5 mpg improvement? Really? How is that worth it?  It’s just like the ACES bill…it’s not doing nearly enough.

Freedom of Mobility

Americans always seem to be incredibly afraid of losing their freedoms. Some responses to my anti-car transportation ideas have been “they might start controlling what kind of cars we buy!”

Guess what. They’re already controlling the very fact that we buy cars. It’s not even a choice for most people.

Also, Many are confused by the idea that we’re addicted to oil. They see cars as a necessity, therefore, it’s like saying we’re addicted to air.

Guess what. Cars are a necessity here.

And that’s a crime.

It’s an infringement on freedom to force one mode of transportation on a person. One that causes 40,000 deaths a year, one that costs $6000 a year, one lonely, frustrating, stressful, and unsustainable mode of transportation. It’s either that or walking/biking dangerously close to these dangerous shells. It’s either that or, if you’re lucky, the bus.

We’re addicted to oil, we’re dependent on it, and other countries are making sure we stay dependent on it.

Do you know how cheap it is to install parking lots for bikes?  How expensive it is to build parking lots for cars?  Do you know what amazing good a Bus Rapid Transit line would do for your city? This country is insane. Such potential–youngsters and disabled people and old people could get around on their own.

This is not about being “GREEN,” it’s a real look at our freedoms.  This wasteland is holding us back from rebuilding the economy. Time to rebuild the wasteland.

Bike Vs. Car – It Will Only Get Worse

Incidents like these are not likely to calm down as cities incorporate bike lanes more and more. It reminds me of the transition from horses to cars at the beginning of the 20th century: one road for two extremely different modes of transportation. I now agree with David Lagrand’s efforts here in Grand Rapids to make every cyclist wear a helmet–sharing the road with fast, ignorant, and pissed-off cars is DANGEROUS. 

When I get caught be hind a person on a bike on the city street (with no bike lane), I get very annoyed. I do wish they’d take the sidewalk. They are not going the speed of an automobile, but they are going much faster than a pedestrian, so where are they to go?  I’d still say with the pedestrians–it is safer and easier to pass pedestrians (shouting “on your right!”), especially in a nation where there aren’t that many pedestrians OR bikes on the sidewalks, where sidewalks exist, at least.

It’s simply going to be a difficult transition, no way around it. But bikes are not going anywhere. They’re a cheap, healthy, enjoyable, and sustainable way to get around.

Website for Michigan Complete Streets Program

Introducing the Michigan Complete Streets Program website, which features an effort to give Michigan residents transportation choices: bicycling, walking, transit, and driving.

This is the most exciting project in Michigan right now. Imagine being able to feasibly bike, walk, bus, AND drive anywhere. (Or as far as your legs/lungs can take you!)

Keep updated on this legislation, participate in the polls, spread the word, support this project!  http://www.michigancompletestreets.com/

GR Pride

The Green Gathering was great. It was a lot like the charrette I helped run in Chicago…voting by dots for each project, trying to figure out what the citizens would pay for. Some of the items were about improving walkability and safety–a city after my own heart <3. It was fantastic. I will be going to more of this stuff!DSC02142Charrette-style voting by dots: blue is what you personally support, red is what the City’s priority should be, and green is what you would pay for.

Some of the proposed projects:

  • Redeveloping Market 201 with taller buildings, corridors to the water, and extremely accessible transit access
  • Giving the rapids back to Grand Rapids by creating a white water rafting course using dams
  • Giving Grand Rapids (FINALLY! PLEASE!?) a permanent farmer’s market area
  • Making GR more bikeable–bike lanes downtown
  • Making it easier for citizens to create community gardens
  • Making GR a city where everyone lives a quarter mile away from a park.

Cool stuff. I’m proud of my city.