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By Autumn Parry / The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
If Google Maps can put a man on the moon -- which it effectively did eight years ago, plotting part of the lunar surface -- when will it and other mapping services show us the completed Westside Parkway?
Bakersfield's new five-mile, $178 million freeway opened Aug. 2, but aerial Google Maps satellite images reveal it as an unpaved parkway, with unbuilt on- and off-ramps, and an unfinished Truxtun Avenue tie-in, in photos dated January 2012.
Ask Google for directions on your computer and it won't use the parkway -- sending you down surface streets instead.
Apple's Maps application for iPhone 5 also still routes drivers on surface streets, and shows images of a partially paved freeway, with incomplete ramps and eastern and western entrances.
Take Motorola's Droid with you on a 65 mile-per-hour, six-minute parkway ride and it delivers a verbal warning to return to the roadway, on no uncertain terms.
And despite being under construction for four years, the freeway doesn't appear on either the current Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce or Automobile Club of Southern California maps. Thomas Guide maps show it under construction.
That's in part because while freeways are planned decades before they're built, regularly updating their progress on maps would cost too much, even if it helped consumers. Also, until two weeks ago, no one could actually drive on the parkway.
This "really is about the process TomTom, Nokia and Google go about (in) capturing that information and pushing it up into the cloud. Do those companies do it once, do they do it two or three times, do they do it many times? It's a real interesting question: 'When is a road not a road? And to who is it important?'" said Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions for Redlands-based ESRI, which compiles mapping data from international sources and supplies mapping software and database management tools.
TomTom, Nokia and Google are among the first line of data creators, Thompson said. Their original maps are used by computer, smartphone and print mapmakers including Apple, Motorola and Blackberry -- many of whom combine them with other research. Companies like the Auto Club and the Chamber of Commerce distribute maps of Bakersfield that are created for them by outside contractors.
"Our online maps are actually done by Navteq, which is owned by Nokia. They generally are on a continuous update," said Amy Krouse, a spokeswoman for Illinois-based print and electronic map maker Rand McNally, which now owns and publishes Thomas Guides, formerly known as Thomas Bros.
Rand McNally's digital applications are updated four times a year, and the new editions of its yearly print products, which involve more original research, are revised every summer, in June or July.
A Blackberry spokeswoman said only that the company's mapping applications on its smartphones use data provided by Amsterdam-based TomTom, and did not provide information on how often it updates Bakersfield maps. A TomTom representative did not respond to an interview request; nor did representatives of Apple.
Google owns Motorola Mobility, makers of the Droid and other smartphones. It provided data to Apple for its maps until a disagreement last year over turn-by-turn directions prompted Apple to use other sources, reportedly including TomTom.
While legendary for its pranks and hidden "easter egg" features, Google is guarded about how its mapping is done.
In 2005, it offered a version of Google Maps that showed a small area of the moon's surface, based on NASA images, as a salute to the 36th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Earlier this month, the company turned an area of London's Earl's Court Road into a portal to Doctor Who's Tardis time machine.
A Google spokeswoman wouldn't say much about the famous Google Maps cars it uses to photograph us, or when a Bakersfield update will be coming -- although she noted that you can actually sit in a Google Maps car the company donated to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
"The software that we use to collect the imagery and stitch it together once it's back here is proprietary and something we don't let others experience," said Google spokeswoman Sierra Lovelace, who didn't know when Google or its cars would reshoot the Westside Parkway. "I would suspect next time we have (an image) collection on the schedule near you, we would come through there."
Locally, the news is much better.
The city's internal mapping division already has updated its maps to show the Westside Parkway, according to Janet Wheeler, public outreach manager for the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which administers major highway construction on behalf of the city. The freeway will appear on maps the county of Kern uses to do business in about a month.
The Auto Club's Bakersfield map hasn't been updated since 2008, but a new version in March will include the parkway. New Chamber of Commerce maps, also featuring the parkway for the first time ever, will arrive in late January.
However, construction has begun on the Westside Parkway's final, $30.1 million, one-mile segment, extending it from Allen Road to the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Heath Road. When it opens next year, existing maps instantly will be outdated -- prompting some to wonder if a freeway can ever be finished.
"Your question is being repeated in 60,000 governments every single day. The final version of the plan is different from the final version of as-built," Thompson said. "There's no such thing as a final version."
Watch videos from the Westside Parkway opening: