Frustrated yet again trying to use Google Maps and Mapquest to figure out a bike route to someplace I’ve never been, I had a sudden realization — these folks are missing a huge business opportunity.

One that you can help them recognize.

Think about it: why do online mapping services assume you’re driving? Why don’t they let you tell them “I want a bike route” or “I want to use transit.”

First and foremost, because we’ve all been conditioned to accept the view that getting around means “in a car” and that all other modes are “alternative” (read: less than). This includes the geeks providing the mapping services.

Second, because bikers have rolled over yet again, quietly submitting to mapping services that only help drivers, thus helping perpetuate driving and environmental destruction.

What should an online mapping service provide?

Simple — just like today, it should let you select a starting and ending point. Ideally, it should also let you include intermediate way points too, because we all like to combine trips, right?

But the hands down winner is the service that, for each leg of your trip, lets you choose your mode of travel and insert restrictions on the kinds of roads. This way, bikers wouldn’t be presented with maps that tell them to use the highways, for example.

So the winning online mapping service would offer you choices of mode like this:

Walking:

  1. Walking (shoulders OK)
  2. Walking (on streets with sidewalks only)
  3. Walking (avoid high speed traffic whenever possible)

Biking:

  1. Bike paths whenever possible
  2. Avoid high speed traffic whenever possible
  3. Bike on bus routes OK

Etc.

The point is that the mapping services have spent a gazillion dollars giving us a service that is really only aimed at helping us if we drive.

Now that essentially all of America has been mapped and remapped and digitized, what’s needed is for the geeks to go back and work with pedestrian and bike advocacy groups to encode data about all those roads for each city and town so that if you want to walk or bike or use transit, the system only “sees” those roads and transit routes, so it never tells you to take your bike on the Capitol Beltway, for example. The roads should be scored for safety for biking and walking so that you can adjust the route to suit your preferences (like not riding your bike next to a bunch of 18 wheelers).

Help me make this happen:

Write to your online mapping service or visit the suggestion box links below and tell them you want maps that help you with all your methods of getting around, not just driving. Maybe include a link to this post.

Let’s see which mapping service actually cares enough about being green to implement a service that works for non-drivers too.

Here is a contact link for Google Maps I think might work, though lord knows they don’t make it easy to contact them: gblog@google.com.

Mapquest has a reasonably easy-to-find link to their online suggestion box.

Let’s hit it — so that by next Earth Day, there’s an online mapping service that tells you how to walk, bike, and use transit to get where you’re going.