Ride Boldly!

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Google Launches Maps For Biking

Today, at the National Bicycle Summit, Google was on-hand for the opening session to launch their newest Maps enhancement: Bike routes!

Peter Birch, Product Manager for Google Earth, was present to introduce the new features. Google Maps for Bicycling has routes and information for 150 US cities, including on-street routes and bicycle trails. Shannon Guyman, another Googler, was on-hand to provide a live demo. Each said that this enhancement is part of Google’s commitment to provide maps for people – not just ‘cars.’

We got a nice live demo, but as always, Google created a nice video demo for the rest of you:

Like other Google Maps options – cars, transit, and walking routes – the biking layer is routable. To provide directions between two places, the algorithm looks for routing info in the following order:

  • Bike paths/trails
  • Dedicated bicycle resources (bike lanes, sharrows, other bicycle facilities)
  • Roadways that have been designated as bicycle-friendly by some data source, often signed routes

The Maps team have also adjusted estimated trip times based on average cycling speeds.

Trails and on-road facilities are marked on the bicycle layer, and okay roads feature a dotted blue line. Minneapolis’ downtown is below (clicky to enlarge):
Google Maps for Bikes

You can either just look at an area, or route between two points. When routing between two points, you can drag the route to change it. To see a local area map, click the ‘More’ button and select ‘Bicycling’ to see suggested routes.

Google is also doing a Twitter content to give away a bike worth up to $2500 of the winner’s choosing. Deets on that are at http://maps.google.com/biking.

I also spoke to the Product Manager after the presentation. Right now, the Bicycle layer is not showing anything more specific in terms of businesses or landmarks than is shown normally. We discussed the possibility of using the Local Business Center data of businesses, many of which are tagged by business type, to potential preference showing bicycle businesses on the map, and adding ‘Bicycle Parking’ as an option for business owners to indicate on their Business Center listings. These are both long-term potential upgrades, which would make for some sweet marketing potential for bicycle-friendly businesses like ice cream shops, cookie parlours, and bike shops.

I know that relative to Minnesota, we have the excellent cycle-route wiki Cyclopath, so some of the locals may not be impressed. However, in a broader sense, this is a good development in the sense that this covers 150 cities and may assist local visitors to various towns – not just MSP. Unlike Cyclopath, this isn’t a user-contributed system, so it may not always provide the best routes. In cases where routes offered are a bit bunk, Google have asked that users provide feedback to improve the system.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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