When AC and cool showers aren't enough, this app finds the shady streets to walk

You don't have to live in the south to feel the heat this summer. Creative ways to stay cool, like the Cool Walks app, will be the new norm.

We’ve already had some intense, unexpected heat this summer. When it comes to taking a stroll outdoors in this weather, finding shade is critical. 

But even though most mapping tools have a “walking” option, they are still designed for drivers, revealing the fastest route without any regard to comfort. 

Cool Walks, a new app from a public agency in Barcelona, is unique in that it allows users to choose the shadiest path to their destination. 

The app can show pedestrians multiple routes for walking to a location — from the most direct way to the route with maximum shade.

How Cool Walks works: The app can show pedestrians multiple routes for walking to a location — from the most direct way to the route with maximum shade. There is even “vampire mode,” which avoids sunlight completely, and it will point out drinking fountains along the way. 

“We wanted to generate different options so you could pick faster or cooler routes and we calculated three different algorithms,” Marc Montlleo, director of environmental projects at Barcelona Regional, told The Guardian. “The vampire mode was made from our team who had a lot of beer the night before. It was for a bit of fun to totally avoid sunlight.”

How they did it: Using LIDAR, a mapping tool that is precise within 10 cm, they created high-res models of ground elevation, including trees and buildings. Combining that with information on the sun’s path, they can create a shadow map that shows pockets of sun and shade at any time of the day. 

“I don’t know many cities that deal with pedestrian routing. It’s nice for a public agency to work with data that the city gave to us, to demonstrate that it’s feasible to come up with technological solutions to climate change,” Albert Carbonell, one of the Cool Walks app developers, told The Guardian. 

Right now, only the city of Barcelona is available on the Cool Walks app. But this could be a step toward a cool new norm. 

Why this matters: Already, reports show that hundreds of people are believed to have died in the recent heat waves of the Pacific Northwest. And many perished in the recent record-setting heatwave in Canada. Extreme temperatures can kill. 

With heatwaves becoming more common and intense, we will need to find innovative ways to stay cool. Cool Walks is just one strategy among hopefully many options. And, if there is a way to stay cool, maybe more people will walk, instead of drive. 

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

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