Tech Companies: Count My Steps To Make Walking Directions Better

Apple, Google, Microsoft, and all you other technology companies that so strive to provide competent mapping and direction services:

Add built in step-counting capabilities to your mobile mapping software.

Kind of random, right? Let me set this stage…

Friday morning, I attended the Technology Association of Georgia’s (TAG) conference at the Georgia Tech Research Institute conference center on “The Future of Transportation,” featuring Former EPA Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality Margo Oge, who recently published her book, “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars,” describing her take on the future of driving. It was a very interesting talk and follow-up panel (more on this soon). My phone buzzed in my pocket, reminding me of my next appointment in Midtown and offered me transit directions. After looking them over, I compared it to the estimated time it would take me to walk instead. At 1.7 miles, my phone calculated it would take me 35 minutes, making the transit options comparatively shorter. As we filed out of the auditorium and through the conference center doors, everyone turned left towards the parking garage. Looking at my phone again, I turned right and walked on down 14th.

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Despite being next to the Connector and being a large thoroughfare itself, walking down 14th is actually pretty nice. Stopped at the exit ramp on 14th, I saw at least four cars nearly collide and made me appreciate the walk all the more. Over the Connector, the bridge is framed on either side by an interesting trellis that mimics the shapes of leaves. I liked it, but couldn’t help but wonder why there weren’t actual plants growing up the trellis from planter boxes. Aside from just the aesthetic appeal, vining plants would make walking on that bridge much more pleasant by dampening the cacophony of the Connector and possibly improving the air quality on the sidewalks. It seems like a no brainer.

Give me something, Construction Site, even a sign like this one I saw in March.
Give me something, Construction Site, even a sign like this one I saw in March.

As I continued towards Peachtree, I ran into one of Midtown’s major problems: a closed sidewalk at a construction site with no pedestrian pathway or even sign on the opposite side of the intersection informing pedestrians the way ahead is shut. I crossed the street and then crossed again to continue up the block, but I had to wait through three traffic signals to get back on my original path instead of one, which wasn’t just inconvenient but may have been illegal since there wasn’t even a “closed sidewalk” sign. I explored this issue with PEDS back in March and if anything the problem has gotten worse due to more projects going up. All of the construction is a great sign for the health of the city and increasing walkability in the future, but does the walkability of the present have to be sacrificed in the process?

An example of a good covered walkway by a construction site in Midtown.
An example of a good covered walkway by a construction site in Midtown.

Anyways, back to the tech. I reached my destination, Empire State South, in less than half the time my phone predicted. If my phone, equipped with gyroscopes and GPS and accelerometers galore, put all that hardware to use by integrating it more closely with the mapping software, it would allow for more accurate, realistic estimates. Hell, if we’re living in a post-PC era, than shouldn’t our devices be able to know us better? After all, what’s more personal than recognizing body language and how we move?

Utilizing this data, and even factoring in other variables like weather, elevation change, and traffic congestion, would allow tech companies to provide more accurate walking directions and travel time estimates. With the demand for walkability in the real estate market, and with no sign of it slowing down, this tweak would be a boon for software companies — and even better for their customers.

So please, go ahead, track my steps. It’s worth it.

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