Various reactions to the long-awaited announcement regarding biking directions on Google maps:
Andy Clarke, League of American Bicyclists (Google made it “official” during the opening session of LAB's National Bike Summit):
“This new tool will open people’s eyes to the possibility and practicality of hopping on a bike and riding. We know people want to ride more, and we know it’s good for people and communities when they do ride more – this makes it possible. It is a game-changer, especially for those short trips that are the most polluting.”
Ride the City blog (the website has launched a bicycle route-finding tool in several US cities, starting with Seattle last fall):
“As cyclists, we're beaming right now thinking about the number of people who will use Google's familiar interface to plot their first bike commute. That's always been our #1 goal at Ride the City — to encourage people to ride bikes by helping them find a safer route.
“We want to congratulate the Google Maps team on what looks to be a job extraordinarily well done. As Vaidila can attest, merging bike path data layer with a street data layer in a major metropolitan area is a laborious, painstaking process. And as I can attest, adjusting the weights of a dozen different criteria that factor into the routing calculation is similarly challenging.
“We also want to affirm that Ride the City is not going anywhere. We're going to keep innovating, listening to users, and expanding into additional cities. Thanks for all the feedback you've sent so far to help make Ride the City what it is today — please keep it coming.”
“The bike routing is still in beta, and certain features, like a mobile version and a bike-specific Street View, haven't been released yet. Additionally, bike routing is notoriously difficult, so there are probably some kinks to work out. Even so, Google's strength has always been its ability to learn from its own data, so it's safe to expect its bike directions to improve over time. Try it out and let us know how well it works! ”
I tried out the feature using Portland as my base location (I’ll confirm tomorrow what cities the bicycling layer works in) and it worked well. With the “bicycling” layer turned on, I noticed it automatically found off-street paths like the Waterfront Park path and the Springwater Corridor Trail.
“Bike There” is very very very cool. I list the shortcomings above for informational purposes and to remind cyclists to always do an on the ground reality check so you don’t bike off of an unfinished bridge or something equally ridiculous, but honestly I’m amazed the service works as well as it does. It seems to work best for shorter trips (under about 10 miles), but that’s reasonable — people going on longer rides will probably want to be a little more thorough in their planning anyway.
In a quick test, it worked pretty well, though it routed me onto a high-traffic arterial at one point, which wouldn’t be my first choice.
It appears that Google Maps is aware of bike routes, lanes, and trails in Johnson County, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas, as well as the Prairie Spirit Trail. Other Kansas trails (such as the Flint Hills Nature Trail and the Landon Nature Trail) don’t appear to be in the Google database yet, nor do bike lanes and bike routes in other Kansas communities.
The target audience here seems to be less avid cyclists than bike owners who may not realize how many short trips are easily done on two wheels instead of four. In that context, Google's site is an easier choice than such competing cycle-cartography ventures as Ride the City. And once Google updates its map software for the iPhone, Android phones and other mobile devices — which product manager Shannon Guymon said yesterday will happen “soon” — its bike directions will be far more accessible on the road.
… To create its virtual bike lanes, Google partnered with an organization dedicated to getting people out of their cars, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The maps offer directions that help cyclists avoid freeways, crowded intersections and hills. The estimated travel time is based on the average pedal powers, so serious cyclists ought to get there a lot faster.
The wait, it turns out, was worth it. Although Google is with typical lowered expectations calling it a beta, it’s in pretty good shape. Yes there are flaws: After an hour of playing around with it, we found a few routes to quibble over. But all in all “Bike There” recommendations were solid.
BikeHugger D.L. Byron quoted in New York Times
Mr. Byron predicted that the Google service would help to promote cycling as an alternative mode of transportation. “A lot of people would love to get on their bike but are afraid they won’t find a safe route,” he said. “If you make these options more available to people, they will do it.”