It's a holiday weekend, you're entertaining relatives from Topeka, Kan., and since no sightseeing trip would be complete without a viewing of the Hollywood sign, you look up directions. But if you're using Google, MapQuest or most GPS systems, you'll be routed to the Griffith Park Observatory. No matter which direction you're coming from, and even if you look up directions for walking to the sign, you'll still be routed to the observatory, with a dotted line on the map suggesting where to look.
The observatory offers a nice view, but it's certainly not the only view or even the best view. It just happens to be the most politically expedient view. Several popular trails lead from Griffith Park to the sign, but they start in or adjacent to residential neighborhoods that have complained about tourists clogging their streets. At residents' behest, City Councilman Tom LaBonge persuaded Google and GPS company Garmin to redirect sightseers from those neighborhoods to the observatory, as well as to the viewing deck at the Hollywood & Highland Center — four miles away from the sign. Even worse is that this was the compromise solution. At one point, Google even agreed to "hide" the address of the sign, but that was deemed impossible because it's so widely available on the Internet, tech news website Gizmodo reported.
For eons, sightseers have found their way up narrow, winding streets in search of the best view of the Hollywood sign, and that has caused traffic jams and safety hazards near trailheads and vantage points — problems that have only worsened in recent years with the advent of GPS and smartphones. City officials have stepped up traffic enforcement and tried weighing tourist vans to enforce a 6,000-pound vehicle limit on the streets. New parking restrictions take effect next month. And the city has tried to get people out of their cars with a $10-per-round-trip shuttle from the Greek Theatre to a viewing area closer to the sign. And LaBonge is pushing for more trails to the sign from the Hollywood Reservoir. These are good, practical fixes.
But the solution is not to get companies to falsify maps or hide public information. What's next? Routing people away from certain stretches of beach because homeowners don't want the riffraff on "their" sand? LaBonge and the companies that provide mapping services have set a troubling precedent by essentially wiping routes to a public park off the map to appease residents.