Report: Google Maps For Pedestrians 'Not Safe Enough'

John Lister's picture

Google is under pressure to provide safer routes for pedestrians in its mapping tools. It's previously done so for cyclists, though hasn't yet pleased everyone.

The latest call comes in international business newspaper the Financial Times. Special reports writer Madison Darbyshire highlighted a recent walk from a concert venue to a stop for a late night bus in which she used Google's suggested walking route.

According to Darbyshire, "I found myself meandering along unlit side streets and away from the traffic that makes the city feel alive at all hours." (Source:

Pedestrians Offer Less Data

She suggests Google could use a variety of data to improve directions such as population density and crime statistics, using location and time to figure out when an area will be dark and thus routes will become more risky than in daylight. Darbyshire also says Google could look at location history to spot variations in the streets people walk along during the day and after dusk.

The newspaper notes a couple of limitations to the idea, however.

One is that data from pedestrians is more limited than that from vehicles, particularly from drivers who use navigation tools. Google previously bought a tech company called Waze to use its technology for tracking where drivers are at any moment and spotting busy routes. It then redirects drivers elsewhere, the goal being to spread out traffic. That creates a virtuous circle where more users make the directions more useful, in turn attracting more users.

Another issue is that whether a walking route is 'safe' is a more subjective issue than whether a road is busy or if a lane is blocked by construction work. It could even be difficult to decide which is the more important goal: sending a pedestrian on a route where they really are at lower risk from crime, or avoiding routes which make the pedestrian feel less safe, regardless of the actual risk.

Cycle Routes Also a Headache

Which risks are important is also difficult to quantify.

While some pedestrians will worry more about unlit streets or being away from areas with lots of people, others may be more worried about how fast cars drive along the road in question and whether there's adequate barriers between traffic and the sidewalk.

Google has previously improved the safety of its directions for cyclists by incorporating data from sites that specialize in suggesting cycling routes. However, this also has problems as bike users have different preferences when it comes to routes, such as the shortest overall distance, the least hills, the least exposure to heavy traffic, and even the least number of road junctions to navigate. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use Google or other navigation tools for walking directions? Should it do more to produce safe routes such as for walking after dark? Is this a realistic goal?

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