San Francisco Has Needed This for a Long Time: a ‘Hill Mapper’
John Metcalfe | The Atlantic | August 6, 2013 | link
There’s much to love about San Francisco – great food, gorgeous parks, tolerant people – and much to despise, like the infernal rents and the way nobody seems to pick up dog poop. Perhaps highest on the hate list for many locals, however, are the number of hills, awful, ridiculously steep mini-mountains that can turn a novice’s legs into wiggly spaghetti.
Everybody has their own approaches to dealing with the seven major hills and 40-or-so demi-humps that protrude from the city’s 7-by-7 mile plat. Some tough it out and subsequently grow calve muscles the size of cantaloupes. Others go great lengths to dodge them, doubling their travel time and looking from above like aimless, addled ants. The more extreme hill-loathers will only rent homes in flat neighborhoods or, as is the case with somebody I know, have a friend physically push them up inclines with a gentle hand on the back.
Bicyclists, who research has suggested would often go a mile out of their way instead of pedaling up a 100-foot climb, have long had a way of avoiding the more annoying hills. It’s called the Wiggle, a 1-mile path from Market Street to Golden Gate Park that never gets above 6 degrees in elevation. But for pedestrians it’s often a matter of intimately learning the city’s curves and slopes or else carrying around crumpled, topographic maps printed out from the U.S. Geological Survey, like some kind of foreign explorer. (You could also use your eyes to judge the best route, of course, but this city has a weird way of trapping you in corrals of hills that require strenuous effort or tedious backtracking.) That’s why Sam Maurer should be hailed as a local hero: The U.C. Berkeley student has created perhaps the best-yet way to navigate this lumpiest of burgs, the “Hill Mapper of San Francisco.”
“Two years ago I moved to San Francisco. Whenever I take long weekend walks around the city, I wish I had a map of where the hills are,” Maurer says via email. “One day while walking it occurred to me that the beauty of digital maps is that they can adapt based on your actual location – so I could make a map that showed not only how steep the streets were, but whether they’d be going uphill or downhill when you got there.”