Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Let Google Maps be your guide, and end up puzzled or flattened

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Next time a US flying bomb blows up an Iraqi wedding party or an Afghan creche instead of Osama bin Laden's lair, my first question will be, were they relying on Google Maps to find their target?

Apart from checking out my own house when Google introduced its electronic maps of Auckland to the world a while back, I hadn't returned until this week when I was trying to work out exactly where Labtests' rooms at 280 Queen St were. I shouldn't have. According to Google, they're slap bang in the middle of the Civic Theatre.

It's true the Civic management had a bit of a setback financially with My Fair Lady, but I hadn't heard of any moves to repair the balance sheet by renting out the upper stalls for blood-letting of a medical nature.

Increasing the magnification of the satellite imagery, it was soon clear that Google's mapping of the CBD is still a work in progress. According to these map-makers, the venerable Smith and Caughey's department store is now across the road from its usual home, in the copper glass tower block. Indeed all the labelling down Queen St seems to be reversed as far as I looked.

There were worse howlers further afield. The almost as venerable Herald offices are labelled as a Chinese restaurant. At least our watering hole over the road, the Shakespeare, is correctly signposted, which is more than can be said for the Auckland District Court. It's become the Papakura District Court.

As for Labtests, it's diagonally across Queen St from the Civic, just up from McDonald's restaurant. And for those who might be wondering, I was seen immediately, the extraction was painless, and as of now, despite all the scaremongering about the new service being error prone, I've had no calls to say I'm pregnant.

The Google errors don't end there. This week, the internet mappers joined the Auckland Regional Transport Authority to reveal the best way home by bus. I couldn't resist a play and was impressed with its knowledge of my simple trip home. It even knew the route changed in the evenings. And that if I walked, it would take me 35 minutes.

How about from work to the museum? Once again it showed me where to catch, in this case, the Link bus. Then where to get off in Parnell and how far to walk to my destination.

What if I wanted to walk from work to the museum instead? No problems, said Google, even printing me a step-by-step list of instructions for the 38-minute, 2.8km stroll. I was to head east on Wyndham St for 0.1km to Queen St then turn right for 0.4km to Wellesley St East. I'd then head along Wellesley St for about 11 minutes until I reached Stanley St where I turned left.

That's if I were still alive. Dear old Google had just directed me illegally along the car-only tunnel under Symonds St and across the motorway interchange linking the port highway with the traffic pouring out of the city and up Grafton Gully.

With a mischievous sense of humour, the Google map-makers identified a "Pro-Care Health" building slap bang in the middle of the left lane of the flyover. A morgue would have been more appropriate.

The walking guide does have a disclaimer, advising me to "use caution - this route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths". Thanks a heap.

Still, one day ...

Last month I wrote about the disastrous decision a few years ago to extend Wellesley St east under Symonds St and across to Grafton Rd without providing any pedestrian access to the Domain. Christopher Dempsey, who works near the underpass, then contacted me about the number of tourists who walk up from the city with their little hotel maps, assuming they'll be able to continue on to the Domain and the museum, as you would be able to do in any other civilised town. Instead, they find their way barred by motorways.

At this month's Auckland City transport committee meeting, a glimmer of hope did emerge. Councillors agreed "to provide enhanced cyclist and pedestrian facilities along the route". But because it's a dedicated motorway, the Wellington highway builders will have to agree.

Committee chairman Ken Baguley wants a new combined cycle-walk bridge straddling the motorway, something that should have been built originally. Another option is to make temporary use of the unused light-rail corridor.

Or you can use your Google guide and dice with death.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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