NYC Council to Google: mark truck routes, no left turns

Two members of the New York City council have two recommendations for the routes provided by Google Maps:

Council members Brad Lander, deputy leader of policy for the council, and Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, wrote a letter to Google on July 1 suggesting two enhancements to the company’s maps. One would create a “stay on truck routes” option for truck drivers. The other, which has a much broader application, would allow users to select “reduce left turns,” minimizing the number of such turns required on a given trip.

Why reduce left turns? In their letter, Lander and Rodriguez cited an extensive report from WNYC reporter Kate Hinds about the danger of left turns by motor vehicles in an urban environment where lots of people travel on foot and by bicycle. According to data compiled by Hinds and her colleagues, 17 pedestrians and three bicyclists were killed in New York by left-turning vehicles last year. The fatality rate for pedestrians struck by drivers making lefts in the city is the highest in the nation, according to Hinds’s report…

The city’s department of transportation has been redesigning intersections to make left turns safer by changing signals and incorporating other design measures. But Lander and Rodriguez got the idea to ask Google to help by giving its map users the chance to request a “reduce left turns” routing option. “We haven’t heard back yet,” says Rodriguez. “But we hope, knowing that Google is one of those good private entities, that Google can look at this.”…

Nationally, a quarter of motor-vehicle crashes involving pedestrians occur during left turns. A 2013 study found that when drivers make “permitted” left turns—in which they do not have the protection of a left-turn green arrow—they are not even looking to see if there is a pedestrian in their path as much as 9 percent of the time. Such turns, the study found, pose an “alarming” level of risk to pedestrians.

Generally, I would be in favor of Google Maps and others programs offering more route options for those who have particular routes they might want to choose. Routes with late night gas stations? Routes that are more scenic? Routes that avoid long stretches of strip malls? Scenic routes? Routes that involve driving near fewer semis? Routes with more interesting sights along the way? Just like Google Mail has lab features you can turn on and off, why not do some of this for driving routes?

Even if Google makes the left turn information available as an option, how much of an effect would it have on safety? The average driver probably doesn’t think much about reducing left turns. So, Google could help by suggesting people might want this but I could also imagine a public campaign advising against left turns. Now, if Google started eliminating left turns without telling people, that could get interesting…

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