Google Walks the Walk
Yesterday, Google added an overdue feature to its Google Maps site: the option to request walking as well as driving directions from one point to another.
A blog post announcing this feature outlines its basic workings. You'll only be offered pedestrian pointers for routes shorter than 6.2 miles, and while Google's cartographic algorithms do let you save time by taking one-way streets in the "wrong" directions, its data doesn't include all the off-street paths that might be available. Hence, the Mountain View, Calif., company is releasing this feature with a "beta" label -- but you probably guessed that anyway.
(In many other cities -- from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Walla Walla, Wash. -- Google also lets you request directions via public transit. But that feature, like Google's Street View option, still hasn't reached D.C. And biking directions remain a wish-list item everywhere, as far as I know.)
A test of a few sample routes around the District revealed a few flaws in this new option. Consider Google's suggestions for the walk-to-work commute I enjoyed for a year and a half: Its driving directions almost match the path I'd take on foot, while its walking directions include a pointless detour that adds two-tenths of a mile.
Then there's the inefficient, zig-zag route Google suggested for the walk from the Capitol South Metro stop to Nationals Park. It's about 20 percent longer than the most direct route (though that involves cutting through a park, something that Google's computers probably don't know about).
Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo wrote in an e-mail that "we try to reduce the number of turns, within reason," for simplicity's sake. She also noted that its time estimates assume a "standard average walking speed, 5 km/hr" -- or just over 19 minutes a mile, a pace that will get you elbowed aside in many Northeast Corridor downtowns.
Do Google's walking directions steer you right? Try some of your own neighborhood trips and report back here on whether Google's advice would save you any time.
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