Mapping a Nashville Greenway with Google “My Maps”

GEyuOvUGUI-SplLUbTGzc6i3ZuPyPvahKIihLBPVp1kWhen I saw last week that Google is now offering the features necessary to mash up maps with photos, text, video and audio, I knew exactly the project I wanted to use to learn how it works: Creating maps of Nashville Greenways, which are some wonderful “linear parks and trails” being developed by Metro Nashville’s Parks and Recreation department.

Over the next few months, I hope to map them all. I started this past weekend when my wife and I, along with our two dogs, checked out a newly-opened section of the greenway nearest our home and my office, the Richland Creek Greenway. On Tuesday night, using the photos I took of the trail, I created this customized map. While the Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation website has PDFs of all of the Greenway maps, as does the volunteer “friends” group, Greenways for Nashville (who also have a great page with directions to trailheads) neither of the sites have maps viewed easily in a browser.

Last week, when the features of “My Maps” were announced, there were some who felt that by adding them, Google was crushing certain startups who use Google APIs to offer the same type of map-creation feature. Speaking strictly as a user, however, I’ve always wondered why I couldn’t do all this on Google maps, itself. Frankly, I’ve always been a bit overwhelmed with the third-party sites I’d have to visit if I wanted to be able to add “buttons” and draw the lines on Google maps. And I’d really never thought about being able to add “rich media” (a term that means photos and video and audio) to a map as I figured that would take some coding skills beyond my learning curve tolerance.

However, I was able to easily follow the directions and create the Richland Greenway map, complete with photos and trail notes — all while watching TV in the background. It takes a little practice to learn how to draw one continuous curved line, but that’s about the only feature that wasn’t obvious and intuitive.

I decided to host the photos appearing on the maps on Flickr so that I could also create photo sets of each Greenway. So that others can share their photos of Nashville Greenways, I’ve also created a Nashville Greenways group on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/greenways/ . I’m sure I could have done this all in another way, but by using Flickr and Google maps together, I was able to utilize the social features and search functions of both sites. And by blogging it here, I’m also able to do some experimentation regarding how long it will take for this post to show up on a Google search for “nashville greenways.”

However, my true objective here is to encourage Nashvillians to shut down their computers and go enjoy these Greenway treasures. They are handicap accessible and are easy for baby strolling and biking, as well as walking.

Google My Maps positives: Intuitive ease of use and robust features, ability to export map into a format that can be read in Google Earth. It’s free. Negatives: Really long URLs, inability to control order in which “Place Markers” and “Lines” appear in left column — or, if the ability exists, the difficulty I had in figuring it out. The description boxes are big and can be over-whelming on a small computer screen.

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