St. Thomas — The Google Maps team has done a few incredible things in the Virgin Islands in the past weeks. Google has quietly added real time traffic data in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the Google Maps app on Android, iOS and desktop. The app began promoting Android and iPhone users with features aimed at skipping traffic jams, including getting more accurate travel times and surprise delays about two weeks ago.
Mapping data and basic traffic navigation were already available to residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but live traffic data and street view additions are completely brand new features. Street View is a feature that Google launched in 2007. Street View imagery now helps Google Maps users all over the world, by cataloging 360 degree images from cities like Belize, Rome and Paris, including destinations like the Great Barrier Reef and the Swiss Alps.
The map now shows green lines for clear traffic, yellow lines for moderate traffic and red lines fo heavy congestion or delays. The traffic is also mapped by individual lanes. For example, you could be alerted by your phone that there is traffic heading down Raphune Hill, while other users are told the route is all clear if they are going in the opposite direction.
Google Maps managed to pick up the unusual traffic congestion at Magens Bay on Saturday’s King of the Wing 2018 competition. The event attracted so many residents that Google Maps began alerting residents about a 30 minute slow down — this is a new feature for the Virgin Islands. For some attendees it took nearly 30 minutes just to enter the beach, with traffic going as far back as Flamboyant on the Bay Resort — nearly a mile away. Views of tents, traffic and beachgoers overlooking Magens Bay from Drake’s Seat showed just how much the event has grown over the years.
The traffic alerts have been available in other regions for several years. Real time traffic data can be collected by Google in a few ways. Many states utilize camera and sensor data for traffic data and allow Google to can access public traffic data for its maps client. St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John do not currently utilize sensors to alert commuters about traffic conditions and delays.
To better explain how this works, Google is actually using anonymous data, sourced from phones to understand roads in the territory. That means, your phone and my phone and other phones with Google Maps acts as a sensor — since traveling with phones in cars is not unusual. Did you know that Google actually owns two mapping apps? Waze, also owned by Google, is a more social mapping app that allows users to add accidents, police checkpoints, and downed cars on main roadways. That data is also placed on Google Maps in the form of traffic delays and alternative routes. Both apps work together to map out traffic and road congestion using anonymous location data from cell phones.
State of the Territory tested the feature for two weeks in St. Thomas, and navigating with it was fairly accurate. There are a few things to note, though. Google is using real time traffic data that’s accurate anywhere from 3-7 minutes. While using it, it was clear that some of the notifications about moderate traffic didn’t actually have slowed cars in the marked locations. Google Maps is fairly accurate when it comes to predicting traffic near the Charlotte Amalie High School in the mornings — including predicting traffic from split sessions.
Google Maps is actually predicting traffic and congestion based on commuter patterns on island. So most sharp turns, and areas with potholes appear yellow on the map, since most cars on average experience a moderate slowdown. Areas with poor road conditions see slowdowns not because traffic exists, the slow down appears on the map since cars regularly slow down in that specific section of the roadway to avoid potholes.
I think it’s pretty cool that Google Maps is predicting a slowdown that residents know exists — it could be a great feature for tourists that are driving on all three islands. So if you get anxiety on the road and would like to avoid some traffic, use Google Maps for a day or two and play your favorite playlist while on the road.