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byCycle.org makes progress with online bike route finder

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 28th, 2005 at 7:18 am

In more online mapping news, Wyatt Baldwin over at byCycle.org has made some exciting progress on his bike route finder. After much back and forth, he has finally received data from Metro and integrated it into his Google-map enhanced route finder. Here's more from Wyatt:

"...we're now using Metro's data and the whole tri-county region is covered; we're looking into making the system multi-modal, especially incorporating public transit."

So get over there and give the byCycle route finder a try.

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  • Curt Dewees October 28, 2005 at 9:27 am

    I tried it, and it failed four out of four times.

    I live in close-in SE Portland between Hawthorne & Division, just a few minutes from downtown Portland. You could say that I live pretty much in the "ground zero" epicenter of Portland's biking community. So if anyone should be able to use this service, it would be me and other folks in my neighborhood.

    HOWEVER:

    Asked for a route from my home to workplace; it couldn't find my work address.

    Tried to find a route from my home to my girlfriend's house. She also lives two miles away, also in SE Portland, this side of Mt. Tabor, and very close to SE Harrison/Lincoln, a well-known and well-used bike route. It couldn't find her address.

    Tried to find a route from my house to the Community Cycling Center, 1700 NE Alberta; it it couldn't find the CCC.

    Tried to find a route from my house to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, 717 SW 12th Ave. It sent me over the Morrison Bridge, which is dangerous foolishness for a bicyclist, since the Morrison is a very high-speed, high-car-traffic bridge with no bike lane. Oddly, it did NOT mention the Hawthorne Bridge, which is actually a faster, much safer, and more direct route from my house to the BTA.

    Based on this experience, I would have to say that the "byCycle route finder" is worse than useless in its present form. For comparison, check out TriMet's "Trip Planner" feature on http://www.trimet.org. It really works and it's AWESOME!"

    Great idea, tho. Please let us know when the "byCycle routefinder" actually works!

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  • Jonathan Maus October 28, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Curt,
    Sorry you had a bad experience. I haven't actually tried it yet but like their website says, the service is still in beta mode...which means it's not 100% ready yet. I'm sure Wyatt will appreciate your feedback.

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  • Wyatt Baldwin October 28, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    In regard to Curt's comments:

    First off, I would like to say that such statements certainly keep us motivated. I'd also like to mention that up until just recently we've had almost zero users and very little feedback. Feedback is very valuable to us (even when harsh); thanks for putting it out here.

    On the technical side, we just incorporated Metro's data, which has made the system 100 times better, but which also has created some quirks of its own.

    For example, the reason you can't find addresses might be because you typed in something like '633 N Alberta, Portland.' The system won't find this because all the city names are abbreviated in the database. For now, you should type '633 N Alberta, Port' or better, just leave out the city altogether. This should and will be fixed as soon as we can get to it.

    Incidentally, I just tried '1700 NE Alberta' and 'harrison and lincoln' and was able to find both. If an address or intersection can't be found even when leaving out the city, please forward the address to me so I can check into why it's not in the system.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the system is 100% intolerant of spelling mistakes.

    As for the Morrison Bridge problem, I've seen that too and it's definitely bad. This is a problem with translating street attributes into useable routes. Another example would be if you look at the Bike There map, Highway 99 down in Gladstone is marked as a bike lane. I've been down there and I personally would never choose to ride on Highway 99 if there was an alternative, but if I didn't know any better, I might plan my route along there just because it looks like a bike lane on the map. The point here would be that it's not necessarily so simple to get the machine to do what you want, to translate abstract attributes into useable routes (stupid machine!).

    OK, so this all brings up the point that there are a million little things that need fixing and only one person is working on those problems. If anyone out there is willing to get involved with coding and fixing these kinds of bugs or helping in any other way, please get in touch. We need help to make this thing work well. Check out our todo list at http://www.bycycle.org/routefinder/todo.html to see what we're working on or planning to get to soon.

    Finally, I would like to agree that the TriMet trip planner is very cool and I enjoy using it. Now, if they would just incorporate bike routing into it.....

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  • Jeff S. October 28, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Great potential here, but as Curt observed, not yet really ready for general usage. I think/hope that with continued refinement & collaborating with the folks at Metro -- who have already made some strides in this area -- they'll have a useable bike route finder before too long.

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  • Jeff S. October 28, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    oh, I forgot to add -- many thanks to Wyatt & co. for voluntarily taking on this (frighteningly complex) task..!

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  • Curt October 31, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    Wyatt,
    thanks for putting in so much time, effort, and thought into this project. It really must be a labor of love, and you deserve a lot of credit for tackling this project. I sincerely apologize for criticizing your work so harshly. I didn't read Mr. Maus's announcement very carefully and didn't realize until too late that your project is still in "beta" mode. My mistake; I'm sorry.

    It occurs to me that one of the reasons the TriMet trip planner works so well is that they only have to incorporate a limited number of data points: four different MAX lines, each with their own finite set of stops, and a few dozen bus routes, each with their finite set of bus stops.

    If you could somehow limit the number of "data points" for planning the best bike routes around town, you would have a definite advantage over TriMet--TriMet has to plan trips that coordinate different bus and MAX schedules. In other words, timing is important for the TriMet program. (For example, you don't want to direct someone to Bus Stop A, if the next bus doesn't arrive there for another 60 minutes ...)

    However, in planning a bike route with a limited set of geographical data points, timing would NOT be a factor--the program just connects the dots, and the cyclist then rides the route as his/her own pace. Less programming needed.

    Maybe you could develop an algorhythm that would divide up Portland's street addresses into a series of "zones" (say 5 blocks x 5 blocks square), and then plot the best bike route getween the starting and ending "zones" rather than trying to connect exact street addresses. Not an elegant solution, I know, but probably much easier to program and operate in the short run.

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  • organic brian November 9, 2005 at 10:39 pm

    Wyatt mentioned that the system is very intolerant of spelling mistakes. The Google search has a function for recommending correct spelling in a lot of cases. Is there a way to use this functionality for the mapping? Is this something Google is working on?

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  • Wyatt Baldwin November 9, 2005 at 10:54 pm

    In the long run, we will definitely have to make the system more tolerant to misspellings and also alternative spellings and names. For now, that's somewhat low priority. It would be cool if we could somehow could hook into Google's suggestions, but I don't think it's possible.

    Similarly, I wish we could hook into Google Local results (like 'groceries near 123 Main St'), but I don't think that's possible either.

    If someone knows otherwise about these things, please let us know.

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  • [...] I also went to a workshop about online route mapping, which is a topic I’ve covered several times in the past few months. Online bike trip planning is the next big thing. There are tons of cool features you can build into it and I think it will bring many new people into cycling. I’ve got to find out the latest on what’s happening here in Portland…it’s been a while since I checked in with Wyatt’s Trip Planner at ByCycle.org and with the GIS guys at the City of Portland. I’ll try and find out the latest and report back what I hear. Tomorrow is the big Alice Awards party at the Oregon Convention Center. The Alice Awards are a BTA fundraiser to recognize Oregon’s “bike heros,” folks that are doing great things for bikes. The BTA tells me they’ve sold completely out of tickets and that at least 600 people will show up to toast the 40 nominees from across the state. In addition to raising money, the night is really a big excuse to party and revel in our bikey-ness. I’m really looking forward to it. If you can’t make it down, I plan on posting some words and photos from the event. [...]

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