Waze to go, GPS
I wrote last week about some innovative ways that data from the Israeli traffic and mapping app Waze is being used by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Waze was in the news again this morning, but for less positive reason.
When the intense rains that have hit Israel over the past three days flooded the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, Waze didn’t know and apparently sent quite a few hapless drivers into a traffic jam from hell.
The Ayalon – the expressway – is built alongside the Ayalon River, usually a dry concrete channel. This morning, the rain proved too much and the entire highway became impassable and was shut down.
Waze relies on other drivers to automatically report how traffic is flowing. If cars with the Waze app are stuck in traffic and are moving slowly, Waze extrapolates that into a pickle. But there were no cars at all on the Ayalon. So Waze, in this case incorrectly, assumed that traffic was flowing just fine. Drivers who hadn’t double checked with other news sources but relied entirely on Waze were gleefully directed into what one person reported as a three-hour bumper-to-bumper outing that didn’t exactly result in a successful day at the office.
I had my own little Waze experience yesterday, also in the rain. I had finished an appointment in the Pisgat Ze’ev suburb of Jerusalem and had noticed that the road on the way out was at near gridlock – not uncommon for Pisgat Ze’ev which has only one real exit artery. But Waze was clever and it decided to route me via Palestinian Shuafat.
Now, that’s not an immediate red flag – the light rail runs down the center of Shuafat and it’s a nice wide street. But Waze directed me away from the main drag onto a side road. Suddenly I was on a narrow, potholed lane in a lashing rain, driving through watery gullies in an unfamiliar and possibly hostile neighborhood. To make matters worse, once we got far enough in, Waze got confused and didn’t know where we were at all.
Maybe it was the weather playing havoc with the GPS, but it was nevertheless extremely disconcerting to say the least to be abandoned by my electronic guide with no idea where I was in potentially perilous conditions. I did what I could: I reversed and got back to a bigger street. Waze came back online, but insisted I go deeper into Shuafat, albiet in a different direction.
I decided to give Waze one more chance. This time, it turned out to be the right choice. That turn (the one I apparently missed the first time through) cut diagonally across Shuafat, past all the traffic on the main road and straight into the French Hill junction where it was relatively smooth sailing home from there.
I’m not giving up on Waze by any means – it’s not like Apple’s Map app which sometimes put airports in the middle of the ocean – but perhaps I’ll carry an old tech paper map with me in the future. Just in case the traffic, rain and GPS gods all decide to conspire again.