Google Adds Biking To Google Maps

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Before heading to Florida on a work trip several years ago I lay sprawled across my den with a giant road map of the area, a set of highlighters, a guide book and my laptop. A frequent traveler, I like to bring my folding bike with me, and I like to head out on bike rides between meetings or trade show stops.

As I looked up cycling routes in my guide book I’d compare them to a Google Map search of the area and then stencil in the most suitable rides with my various highlighters. Guidebook, Google, map, guidebook, Google map. It took me about two hours to sketch out the various trips from my hotel room to the surrounding environs, none of which would be necessary if Google Maps included the feature the company is rolling out today, a new bike layer with directions in major metropolitan areas.

Google, who is joining Bike Hugger at the Mobile Social in Austin at SXSW to talk about this exciting new feature (more on that in other posts) has taken a lot of time to develop the much-requested cycling layer for their popular Google Maps tool. No mere add-on, the new functionality provides cyclists with some impressive features thanks to an overhaul in how Google Maps works.

In many ways, Google’s technology will be more accurate and more detailed than anything that regional planning groups or municipal governments tend to provide as it will indicate not only state-designated or city-designated bike lanes and routes, but trails and other bike paths as well.

The Google Map bicycle layer not only displays these key bits of cycling’s connective tissue but routes cyclists on the most efficient (read “least hilly” and “least congested”) This is combined with a newly designed bike-route display on the site that decreases the emphasis on vehicular routes and displays three levels of bike route. A dark-green route indicates a trail that’s bike only (and therefor the safest and most preferred route on Google Maps), light-green to indicate a bike lane that follows a road, and a dotted-green lane that shows roads without designated bike lanes but that are suitable for cyclists.

It’s that last part that’s the standout for me, as it’s the part that’s hardest to discern from most regional maps. By indicating safe non-designated routes (and we all know there are more of these than designated routes) the occasional or visiting cyclist can navigate between points without fears that their chosen bike path with come to an end right at a major and uncrossable highway.

While these features have been requested for what feels like eons now, Google was only recently able to begin development on the features. In October the company rolled out a new data set for Google Maps domestically that allows the company to include vastly more information as part of their mapping technology. This change made it possible for the team to work with groups like the Rails to Trails Conservancy to include not only locally-designated bike routes.

It will also make it possible for areas to submit feedback to Google about alternative routing, which will help make the new bicycling features the most comprehensive anywhere.

At launch there will be several dozen cities available (see the list below) including not only the expected favorites (New York City, Mountain View, Portland, Seattle, etc.) but some unexpected cycling regions (Plano, Texas; Aurora, Illinois; Overland Park, Kansas, etc) and more are in development currently.

It looks like this coverage will be constrained to the US until all of Google Maps share the same underlying technology, but it only took the division six months to go from technology rollout to product here in the States, and the demand for cycling routing in Europe and other regions is obviously high.

Here’s the list of cities covered, from Google, and you can try this out for yourself at maps.google.com, just look under the More… drop-down on the top of the map.

Mesa Arizona Huntsville Alabama Mobile Alabama Anchorage Alaska Chandler Arizona Gilbert Arizona Glendale Arizona Phoenix Arizona Scottsdale Arizona Tempe Arizona Tucson Arizona Peoria Arizona Anaheim California Bakersfield California Chula Vista California Fremont California Fresno California Glendale California Huntington Beach California Irvine California Long Beach California Los Angeles California Modesto California Moreno Valley California Oakland California Oceanside California Ontario California Oxnard California Pasadena California Rancho Cucamonga California Riverside California Sacramento California San Bernardino California San Diego California San Francisco California San Jose California Santa Ana California Santa Clarita California SANTA CRUZ California Santa Rosa California Stockton California Corona California Escondido California Hayward California Lancaster California Palmdale California Salinas California Sunnyvale California Thousand Oaks California Torrance California Aurora Colorado Boulder Colorado Colorado Springs Colorado Denver Colorado Fort Collins Colorado Lakewood Colorado Hartford Connecticut New Haven Connecticut Washington District of Columbia Cape Coral Florida Miami Florida Orlando Florida St. Petersburg Florida Tallahassee Florida Tampa Florida Port St. Lucie Florida Atlanta Georgia Honolulu Hawaii Boise Idaho Aurora Illinois Chicago Illinois Rockford Illinois Naperville Illinois Indiana Polis Indiana Des Moines Iowa Overland Park Kansas Wichita Kansas Kansas City Kansas Lexington Kentucky Louisville Kentucky Baton Rouge Louisiana Baltimore Maryland Boston Massachusetts Detroit Michigan Grand Rapids Michigan Minneapolis Minnesota St. Paul Minnesota Kansas City Missouri Springfield Missouri St. Louis Missouri Omaha Nebraska Henderson Nevada Las Vegas Nevada North Las Vegas Nevada Jersey City New Jersey Albuquerque New Mexico Buffalo New York New York New York Charlotte North Carolina Durham North Carolina Greensboro North Carolina Raleigh North Carolina Winston-Salem North Carolina Cary North Carolina Akron Ohio Cincinnati Ohio Cleveland Ohio columbus Ohio Toledo Ohio Oklahoma City Oklahoma Eugene Oregon Portland Oregon Salem Oregon Philadelphia Pennsylvania Providence Rhode Island Sioux Falls South Dakota Knoxville Tennessee Nashville Tennessee Amarillo Texas Arlington Texas Austin Texas Corpus Christi Texas Dallas Texas Fort Worth Texas Houston Texas Lubbock Texas Plano Texas San Antonio Texas Carrollton Texas Salt Lake City Utah West Valley City Utah Arlington Virginia Newport News Virginia Richmond Virginia Virginia Beach Virginia Alexandria Virginia Bellingham Washington Seattle Washington Spokane Washington Vancouver Washington Bellevue Washington Madison Wisconsin (North) Wisconsin (South) Wisconsin Santa Clara County California South San Francisco California San Mateo California South Burlington Vermont Mountain View California Farifax Virginia



9 Comments

It’s excellent that Google is doing this.  I’m absolutely surprised that Knoxville, TN is supported.  It must be due to our excellent bike program. 

I routed my commute to work.  Unfortunately it routed me up two high grade hills.  It may have been the least hilly overall but if I have to climb anything with a grade greater than >10%  I’m going to arrive at work dripping with sweat.  I hope they fine tune the “least hilly” aspect of their algorithm. 

It also routed me through some sketchy areas.  For instance one of the roads is a well known streetwalker hangout.  I had my bike kicked by a cracked out hooker one day when I made a wrong turn.  I swore ride near there again.

The alternative routes weren’t extremely safe either.  They both went down the street where a couple was held and killed after being kidnapped. 

While I wouldn’t be scared driving down these roads, we’re extra exposed on bikes.  Cross referencing crime stats with the routes would be handy too.  I guess that’s what the report feature is for.

This is very cool. Of course, it’s very new and there will be the inevitable bugs to work-out. For instance, I just did a test route from my house to my old haunt at the Microsoft campus. The route it suggested was partially along the Tolt Pipeline Trail.

I *have* used the Tolt to commute to work, but only when I felt like riding my mountain bike, it hadn’t rained in a few days, and I had an extra hour or so scheduled for my commute. It’s certainly not something I would do every day.

Now that they’ve opened the bicycle routing can of worms, they need to make it configurable for different surface types.

Good to see this happening in the US. There are a few initiatives already happening in Europe, for instance cyclestreets, a small nonprofit organisation (http://www.cyclestreets.net/) has been working on a UK-based system for several years now, and this is beginning to gain traction. Their system uses OSM.

I’m sure they’ll improve it with a bazillion dollars, but it sucks for Austin routes.

Use http://www.ridethecity.com/austin  Now .that is bike mapping done right.  (safest, safer, fastest options, keeping you on the best roads or paths for cycling, etc.)  I actually find improvements to routes I’ve been riding for years with ridethecity. 

The google map option screwed my commute in a bad way - no way i would send a beginner cyclist the way they suggest.

They want to improve it with the community. See [my post today](http://bikehugger.com/2010/03/more-on-google-bike-maps.html) on a route that put me on a cars-only bridge. They’re actively seeking input to do so We’re hearing a mix of “awesome route” and “uhm, what?” The maps are generated based on a variety of data sources and not all of them are accurate.

Agreed and there’s much community effort going on with people filling in the gaps on maps. Like I said in a couple quotes where I see this is making maps accessible to a larger community that just wants to ride to work or a school. I think CycleStreets and others should thrive too.

agreed and think existing maps should still thrive—these are for a larger audience of “hey want to commute to work”

I agree, there are some gravel bike paths out there I’d never take my road bike on.

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