Automatic route planning – a 32% grade?

You may have seen stories about neighborhoods being annoyed by social traffic apps routing around congestion into their streets. Here’s one: Waze’s crazy routing over a 32% grade road is driving residents nuts by Cyrus Farivar – “I’ve seen five or six cars smash into other cars, and it’s getting worse.” No, it’s not Route 89 around Zephyr Cove or San Francisco somewhere, it’s in Los Angeles.

It’s a common story: small towns and residents living on once-quiet streets are sometimes annoyed by the influx of traffic that Waze, traffic wayfinding apps, and ride-hailing services have wrought.

But residents along Baxter Street in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood—reportedly one of the steepest streets in America (comprising two major hills)—are now banding together to try to change local traffic patterns. Neighbors have contacted city officials and Waze’s parent company, Google, to try to mitigate the problem.

They believe that a lot of drivers are using Baxter as a way to avoid Glendale Boulevard, a nearby thoroughfare.

That might be an OK detour for a commuter but it highlights a problem with automatic routing for RV’s. Even if you use satellite views you might not see the grade. 

Back in the day, the kids could grab a free map at the gas station to see where they were and how they were going to get to their vacation destination. Those maps only had major routes and highways with very little detail and nothing about local roads and city streets. These days, the navigation applications have a lot of detail about roads including those planned but not yet built, speed limits, and whatever else can be scraped from user map edits (see the Open Street Map project), state and local map data, and other sources (e.g. the Census Bureau TIGER). Don’t forget web sites about low clearance roads, either (e.g. Low Clearance Bridges and Overpasses: How to Watch for and Avoid). Then there’s the satellite views and street views that get melded into the maps. 

So we are, or can be, buried in a mass of data and detail. This is an opportunity for exploration but it is also a risk. When you get off the beaten path or on to unknown trails and roads, take care you don’t find yourself on a dead end or facing a 32% grade or other RV hazard.

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