Google Rerouted Traffic Up Poorly Maintained Mountain Roads During a Blizzard

Screenshot of Google Maps showing driving directions in California
Screenshot (Crystal A. Kolden/@pyrogeog on Twitter)

Last week, when a snowstorm closed Interstate 80 east of Sacramento, Google Maps started redirecting traffic up poorly maintained mountain roads, which is about as good an idea during a blizzard as it sounds.

As SFGate reports,

Other dispatches from Twitter allege that the service—particularly its mobile app—directed people to closed-off highways, mountain passes and lakeside roads to get around. This is in direct contrast to Caltrans’ messaging to avoid workarounds. Caltrans District 3 spokesperson Steve Nelson told SFGATE on Monday that they were seeing drivers trying to skirt highway closures with side streets. “They’ll take side roads and try and sneak past the closures, and that never ends well,” he said.

Google engineer Sören Meyer-Eppler responded on Twitter to spell out some of the technical and logistical problems involved in rerouting traffic during bad weather: the difficulty in finding timely data (and in such cases data need to be really timely) and the risk of false positives. More at Jalopnik.

Google Maps Called Out for Showing ‘Potentially Fatal’ Mountain Routes

The Guardian: “Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are ‘potentially fatal’ and direct people over a cliff.” Google Maps’s issue with Ben Nevis is that it routes to a parking lot nearest the summit, then more or less straight-lines it from there; as a dotted line it’s meant to indicate a route very imprecisely, but it also corresponds to a higher-difficulty ascent route that could land even experienced hikers in trouble. Not meant to be taken by people who don’t know what they’re doing—the people who might have no clue that it’s a bad idea to use Google Maps for mountain hiking, for example.

To be clear, I think this one’s on Google. A lot of people trust online maps implicitly because they have poor navigation skills and have a hard time overruling what the directions tell them: this is why people keep driving into rivers and onto tracks. It’s a design failure not to account for this in every circumstance.

In Search of Thoreau’s Missing Map

A 1970 article about a 1912 expedition to Maine’s Mount Katahdin that mentioned “a diagram that Thoreau had made in the middle of the last century when he paid Katahdin what was to become a famous visit” has set off a modern-day search for that map of Thoreau’s. Only, as the Lewiston Sun-Journal’s Steve Collins reports, no one seems to has a copy of, or even heard of, said map. [WMS]

Heinrich C. Berann

Henrich C. Berann, “Panorama of Denali,” 1994. U.S. National Park Service.

I can’t believe that, other than a brief mention in 2010, I’ve never written anything about the cartographic artist Heinrich C. Berann (1917-1992), whose work includes panoramic paintings for National Geographic and, in his later years, for the National Park Service. (To be honest, they remind me of Jim Niehues’s ski resort maps, but that surely should be the other way around.) He also worked with Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen to turn their physiographic maps of the ocean floor into works of art.

Some links: Kottke looks at his panoramic paintings; so did All Over the Map last year. Also last year, The Map Designer has examples from Berann’s entire career. This site is maintained by one of Berann’s grandsons.

Mapping Denali in Detail

Matt Nolan and his family have created a topographic map of Denali, the highest peak in North America, using a form of stereo photogrammetry Nolan calls fodar: they repeatedly overflew the peak in a small airplane and took photos of the terrain below with a digital SLR. The end result is a 20-cm terrain model they’re touting as the best ever of the mountain, far more detailed than previous maps. Nolan outlines their endeavour in two blog posts: one focusing on the personal, the other on the technical; the latter also has lots of terrain models and comparisons with USGS data.

He’s also running a crowdfunding campaign to underwrite the costs of additional map flights. [WMS]

British Antarctic Survey Remeasures Mount Hope

Mount Hope, 18 March 2004. Photo by Euphro. Creative Commons licence.

This BBC News article leads with a reasonably interesting geographic fact: that Mount Hope, on the Antarctic Peninsula, has been remeasured at 3,239 metres, making it the tallest mountain in territory claimed by the United Kingdom. (Its location is also claimed by Argentina and Chile.) But it’s really about the British Antarctic Survey, who are using stereographic satellite data to create more accurate maps of Antarctica’s mountains for pilots operating on the continent. BAS press release. [Kenneth Field]