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Bike There on Google Maps

03.10.10 | Comment?

On February 29, 2008 I signed a petition (#5724) asking Google to add bicycling directions to their popular maps product. Public transit directions had recently been added, thanks in part to my brother Chris, the tech lead on Google Transit. While bus, train and walking directions are great, but as a cyclist I wanted something just for the bike.

Two years later, the Google Seattle team adds support for biking directions. It sounds like this was a lot more than simply flipping a switch and adding a new option in a drop down. A post on the Google LatLong blog describes some of the data and algorithms that go into great biking directions.

  • Bike trails: Our maps contain over twelve thousand of miles of biking trails. First, we had to figure out where trails are…
  • Bike lanes: For more than 150 cities in the US, we know which streets have dedicated bicycle lanes…
  • Recommended routes: For many cities we also provide information on streets that have been designated as good for cyclists, so we them into account in our algorithm…
  • Uphill slopes: … Our biking directions are based on a physical model of the amount of power your body has to exert given the slope of the road you’re biking on… Sometimes the model will determine that it’s far more efficient to make you ride several extra blocks than to have to deal with a massive hill. My teammates in San Francisco were relieved to see that this does indeed work!
  • Downhill slopes: Many cyclists will tell you that going downhill is annoying for a different reason: you may have to ride your brakes all the way down…
  • Busy roads: Cyclists often tend to prefer to stay off of fast roads, and not even cross them unless it’s necessary…
  • Busy intersections: We try to avoid making you cross busy streets with a lot of car traffic and long wait times.

I tested out the new feature and it works great for my neck of the woods. True to form, I plotted directions from a brew pub in San Ramon to another in Walnut Creek. I’m not recommending that you ride your bike after sipping a few pints of Pliny, but it’s certainly better than driving. Google correctly plotted a route along the wonderful Iron Horse Trail, taking into account the various hops onto local roads as need.

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