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Google adds bike routes to maps

Riders find some glitches, but cyclists are happy to see the result of years of lobbying.

By Teresa Mears Mar 11, 2010 5:42PM

Responding to public demand, Google Maps has released a new feature: directions on how to get from one place to another via bicycle.

 

“With this launch, we’re showing our commitment to providing maps for people, not just cars. We’re really proud to be a part of this growing movement in helping to build greener and more sustainable communities,’’ Peter Birch, project manager for Google Earth, told the National Bike Summit, according to Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland.

 

The tool allows riders to find the best bike route from one place to another, taking into account traffic, hills, bike trails, bike lanes and bike-friendly streets. It covers more than 150 cities, using data gathered in partnership with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Google product manager Shannon Guymon, in a blog post, explains how the new feature works.

Bicyclists have been clamoring for at least two years for Google Maps to add bicycle directions. Austin, Texas, cyclist Peter Smith went so far as to start a Google Maps ‘Bike There’ Web site in three languages in 2008, gather more than 50,000 signatures in an online petition, network with bicycling groups worldwide and put up a Facebook page.

 

He explained how his effort started:

Upon arriving in Austin (from Palo Alto), I took a ride to the local book store. It was a harrowing experience -- in part because I didn’t know where the bike lanes were -- or even if there were any. I felt like the frog in Frogger -- after you’ve passed the first couple of levels -- dodging death monsters, trying not to get squished. I sought out the Austin Bicycle Map, but found it was still difficult to find out how to get from my apartment to wherever I wanted to go in my new town -- because I had no idea where anything was. I used Google Maps several times a day to find any number of things, and thought it would be very convenient if I could just get bicycle directions directly on Google Maps, the same way I got car directions and mass transit directions. This was not a new idea. After finding several Google Maps mashups on the net that attempted to provide bicycle directions, it started to become clear just how many people were interested in bicycle directions. So, we thought we’d start a campaign to try and convince Google to provide them.

Biking instead of driving a car is certainly one way to save money and a good way to exercise. If using a bike can take you from a two-car to a one-car family, you can realize substantial savings. Google Maps also provides information on how to get from one location to another via public transportation.

Some avid bicyclists who tried the new service found some glitches, and Google said it wants to hear from bicyclists to refine the maps.

 

A New York Post reporter found some of the routes inaccurate and unsafe and concluded, “A helmet may not be enough to protect cyclists from Google Maps' latest feature.” Eric Savitz of Barron’s Tech Trader Daily also found problems with suggested routes in Palo Alto, Calif.

"This feature is in beta,” Google’s Birch told Jonathan at Bike Portland. “It’s not a mature product yet. We really want to get everything right. That’s why we made this announcement here at the summit, because these are the people with the expertise to tell us which roads are good and which ones aren’t.” A mobile application is in the works.

 

I must confess that my last bike ride, about 10 years ago, ended badly when I ran into a curb while trying to avoid traffic and cracked my shoulder. Maybe I needed a Google bike map. I loved riding my bike around our deserted downtown in small-town Kentucky years ago, and I had a wonderful ride on great bike lanes in Denmark, but I have never liked riding on city streets with traffic.

 

What do you think of Google’s new feature? Do you think people really are riding bikes more or are they just talking about it? What would persuade you to use a bike more often for transportation?

 

Related reading:

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