Google adds bicycle directions to Google Maps
To request bike routes, select "Bicycling" from the pull-down menu below Google Maps' directions form. As a company blog post explains, the site prioritizes off-street trails (designated with thick, dark-green lines) over separate bike lanes (thinner, light-green lines) over designated bike routes (dashed, light-green lines) and also tries to avoid hills, busier streets and crowded intersections.
Google's trails-first algorithm doesn't always yield efficient results, as a request for directions from the old Washingtonpost.com offices in Arlington to the Post's downtown HQ revealed: The site suggested taking the Mount Vernon Trail over Memorial Bridge and then heading north. That's about 50 percent longer than the route I'd take -- down Clarendon Boulevard and through Rosslyn to the Key Bridge, then across town on M Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and L Street.
Google went astray in a second test when it suggested biking through Arlington Cemetery, which is -- understandably -- not allowed.
On longer routes along such mostly flat paths as the Washington & Old Dominion trail, regular cyclists may find Google seriously overestimates travel times. It suggested a trip from my home to Reston Town Center would take an hour and 37 minutes at a plodding pace of 10.6 mph, about half an hour longer than I usually take.
Google lists bike lanes and bike routes in only 150 U.S. cities, while its trail data -- based on input from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a District-based nonprofit that works to reuse abandoned railroads -- spans the entire country.
Worse yet, Google left out almost all of the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Silver Spring to Union Station, even though many stretches of this still-under-construction route have been open for years. (One possible reason: the Rails-to-Trails site files the Met Branch Trail under an "in development" category.)
Google invites users to correct its data through an onscreen form, which I tested by filing a report about the missing 15th Street cycle track.
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.
But the company needs to get more of its bike-route data in gear first.
Try out Google's bike directions and post your own review in the comments -- and, if you wish, your guess about when or if competing map sites Bing, Yahoo and MapQuest will match this feature.
March 10, 2010; 9:15 AM ET
Categories: Location awareness , Search , The Web
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