Starting today you can edit Google Maps, and add pedestrian and bike routes.
Errors on Google Maps matter. One even started a war.
As of yesterday, Google Maps now lets you fix those errors. Google Mapmaker turns the site into your cartographic palette. Americans can now add or edit roads, paths, and high-tension wires that aren't mapped accurately in your neighborhood. It's easy. I tried it. And it left me with a dose of civic pride to boot.
I live in Manhattan where just about every road, sidewalk, and even tree has been mapped and re-mapped within an inch of its concrete life for more than two centuries. Still, there are a few improvements I can suggest. In particular, there are several pedestrian paths through my apartment complex that, according to Google Maps, don't exist even though I walk them every day.
Well, I fixed that.
It took about 15 minutes to fiddle with the settings, zoom in and out, change to satellite view to confirm everything was precise—this is a serious endeavor after all. In the end, I added a trapezoid shaped set of foot paths you can see above in blue, and two pedestrian underpasses that are open to the public and frequently used as shortcuts through the neighborhood.
The changes are currently awaiting review from other users who will confirm that these are real, not aspirational nor nefarious. Then, according to Google's blog, they will become official Google Map material. It is unclear if anyone employed at Google has to approve them, or just other users.
Here's a video about how it works.
This feature has been available in other countries where the Google Maps cars and trikes haven't done as extensive a job as they have here in the United States. The goal goes beyond roads, though. Google wants you to add in where a soccer field is in the park, or add the actual correct location of the local coffee shop.
But the biggest boon this new feature has to offer is the crowd-sourced chance to add pedestrian and bike routes. There are countless avenues, parks, and paths where walking and biking paths don't align with official roads. Adding in that non-vehicle information will enable bike and walking directions to be more accurate, a persistent challenge for most online mapping programs.
Signing up to fix the maps in your neighborhood is a service to others, but it's also a gift to a corporation. In this case, though, I think the end result is worth volunteering your knowledge for a giant company. I'm glad my neighborhood will be mapped more accurately the next time a friend uses Google Maps to plan their trip to my place.
A version of this post appears on Transportation Nation.