Dear Google Maps (@GoogleMaps), you are intolerable in Pittsburgh

Update, November 28, 2019: I found and have finally made note of the location of physical references to Crosstown Boulevard. These are on three highway signs, at some distance from the actual street, and immediately adjacent to each other, on westbound Boulevard of the Allies immediately before the ramp to Interstate 376. As near as I can tell from Google Maps usage, it refers to a connector from the Liberty Bridge to Sixth Avenue. On the ground, at the actual location, it is marked with a street sign that says “Liberty Br.”

Due to my inability to find a real job, even with a Ph.D.,[1] I’ve been stuck driving for Uber and Lyft for much of the last three years.

I’ve driven in California, where the problems with Google Maps were noticeable but sporadic and generally tolerable. I’ve recently moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they are at least an order of magnitude worse.

And I take the blame for navigation problems. Yes, people in Pittsburgh know mapping programs suck. But when there’s a navigation problem, the feedback they provide to Uber and Lyft reflects on me, not you (Google), but me.

Your navigation fuck-ups are intolerable and many of them are absolutely inexcusable.

  1. Navigating to back yard fences and brick walls

    For some reason, by default, you place the pin (for the coordinates you’ll actually attempt to navigate to) for any given address in the middle of the lot. If there’s an alley or any roadway at all behind or on the side of that lot, there’s an excellent chance you’ll navigate to that alley or side street rather than to the address.

    This was bad enough in California. But in Pittsburgh, if you take a wrong turn, you’re very likely going for a ride. The streets here are often narrow; traffic is heavy. Turning around is rarely an option and further complicated by the fact that it is done so rarely here that other drivers aren’t used to it, making such maneuvers all the more hazardous.

  2. Turning directions are at arbitrary locations

    I’ve been working intensively with your Maps program for over three years now and I still can’t make sense of where you decide to and decide not to provide turning directions. Sometimes you provide directions where they aren’t needed—no harm done. Sometimes you fail to provide directions where they are needed. You seem to have a very peculiar idea of what “straight” is.

    In Pittsburgh, there are a number of situations where similarly straight paths lead in wildly divergent directions. You just assume a driver will continue straight. But it isn’t always obvious what you mean by “straight.”

    In one particularly egregious example, when you say Bigelow Blvd., you might mean to head towards I-579 (which I guess you sometimes call Crosstown Blvd., but this designation appears on no sign that I’ve seen); or you might mean to head toward Bedford Avenue; or, finally, you might actually mean Bigelow Boulevard. Which is it? Can’t tell from your directions.

    That is, until I’ve already chosen the wrong lane and trapped myself on the wrong route. In which case, see above. I’m going for a ride. All too often with a paying passenger.

    In other examples, a roadway will veer slightly to the left and a roadway will veer slightly to the right. Which do you mean when you’re assuming I’m going to continue straight? I can’t tell. Here’s another wrong turn. Again, all too often with a paying customer.

  3. Complicated maneuvers in short spaces

    Pittsburgh has lots of places where I need 1) to be in the correct lane at the right time (this is usually the lane with all the cars in it, thus difficult to merge into, though Pittsburgh drivers are often—but not always—courteous about this); or 2) make numerous lane changes in a very short space (for example, the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges). You seem to think it’s okay to do lane changes in tunnels here—it isn’t, so if I’m in the wrong lane going through the tunnel leading to the Fort Pitt or Liberty Bridges, I am probably screwed.

    Your program utterly fails here, particularly when it refers to roadway names that appear nowhere on available signage (such as the putative Crosstown Blvd.) or when the lane guidance that you do give contradicts the road signage (like that transition onto Highway 28 with a left exit for East Ohio Blvd.).

  4. Routing on closed roads

    Pittsburgh has four seasons, but two for navigation purposes. For the latter, those seasons are winter, where with some of the steepest hills in the world,[2] some streets may be impassable even with snow tires; and “construction season,” when streets are randomly closed for rushed repairs before winter comes along and destroys them all over again.

    It’s hard to keep up with these closures. I get that.

    But lately, I’ve seen the blue line for the path I’m supposed to follow pass right through the “do not enter” icon for a closed road. So I can waste maybe five minutes following directions to a closed roadway that I’ll have to turn around and bypass.

    But there’s no way to tell you I can’t go that way. You keep telling me to do the impossible. As if I were driving a tank, not a car.

  5. Slow to recalculate on trip beginnings

    So today, Pittsburgh was celebrating something called “Picklesburg.” (Don’t ask. I have no idea.) For this, they closed the westbound direction (and eventually much of the eastbound direction) of Fort Duquesne Boulevard.

    I had just dropped someone off at the Renaissance Hotel on Sixth Street and gotten an order for someplace north of the Allegheny River.

    You knew the westbound direction of Fort Duquesne Boulevard was closed, but routed me that way anyway. I was pointed the wrong way on Sixth Street, a downtown street with a double yellow line down the middle of it, which was jammed with traffic. I couldn’t have turned around to follow that route even if it were open.

    But you wouldn’t offer me an alternative route. Simply wouldn’t do it.

    And this was not a GPS issue. Yes, there are GPS problems in downtown Pittsburgh with signals bouncing off skyscrapers. But in this case, you had my dot in precisely the right location.

    I was driving in the opposite direction from that route and you wouldn’t give me a route I could actually follow. As if I was going to turn my tank around (oh, wait) in all that traffic, drive over all those other cars, drive through the crowds, the pickle vendors, and the stage where some gawd-awful rap band was playing to follow the route that you, in your supreme arrogance, had preselected for me and was determined I should follow.

  6. More turns do not a better route make

    In California, I saw the gamut of possibilities with your program. Your routing might range anywhere from inexcusable to sublimely brilliant.

    In Pittsburgh, you are much more often inexcusable than brilliant.

    I don’t know how you calculate these routes, but it looks to me like you assign a precision way beyond the quality of the data. You come up with completely cockamamie routes that baffle me and my paying passengers.

    One, I think wisely, asked what I was going to do with routes like this in winter when many of these streets are impassable. I couldn’t answer. I have no idea.

  7. Failure to recognize gridlock

    So in California, you have enough drivers using Google Maps that you have a pretty good idea where there’s absolute gridlock.

    But in Pittsburgh, you’ve fucked that up. People know they can’t rely on you, so if they have any choice at all, they don’t use you.

    The consequence is that you don’t know where there’s gridlock. I can spend a half hour stuck in traffic that you think I can get through in ten minutes or less. Today, at “Picklesburgh,” where they’d closed the eastbound direction of Fort Duquesne, you thought I could get through that in two minutes.

    You are obviously not calculating fastest routes when this happens.

I am in the miserable position of having to rely on you for decent routing just as I am in the miserable position of having to rely on Lyft for a very meager living (Uber, as if it was any better, got weird about paying so I had to cut them off).[3]

Yes, I’ve tried Waze: 1) I can’t stand advertising anyway, but throwing McDonald’s ads in my face when I’m vegan is additionally offensive. 2) The graphics are cartoonish; I hate them. 3) I don’t know what this nonsense about candy is supposed to be about. Driving is not a video game, but Waze treats it that way. And other mapping programs are even worse.

But in Pittsburgh, you’re sabotaging me. And I completely understand why local folks don’t trust mapping apps.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  2. [2]WTAE, “World’s steepest street: Welsh road claims the title over Pittsburgh’s Canton Avenue in Beechview,” July 16, 2019,
  3. [3]Robert Maxim and Mark Muro, “Uber’s IPO fallout underscores the need for a new labor model,” Brookings, May 23, 2019,

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