Are Google Maps’ Bicycling Directions a Game Changer?

Are Google Maps’ Bicycling Directions a Game Changer?

Posted on 10. Mar, 2010 by in Mapping

Last night Google made a “game changing” announcement at the national bike summit in Washington DC. The long awaited “Bike There” option has been added to their options for route types. The dropdown next to Google Maps “Get Directions” button now has “Bicycling” as the fourth option following “By car”, “By public transit” and”Walking”.

We are very excited to hear this long awaited announcement. The implication of Google’s map update to the world of cycling are enormous. UtilityCycling.org has long been advocates of bicycle mapping as a way to improve cyclists knowledge and access to routes. With Google now fully entrenched in supporting cyclists through Google Maps, we now have very high hopes for a continued growth in bike commuting and bike touring in the US.

As we know all to well, putting bicycling infrastructure into place in the US is a serious uphill challenge. Even with recognizable momentum in places like Portland and New York City, the ability to offer cycling infrastructure throughout the US seems like a Eutopian dream. But utilizing mapping technology, Google offers cyclist a glimmer of hope. Google’s bicycling directions offers up a tool that will have both an immediate impact as a tool that that provides immediate results and a pathway towards long term integration of bicycling into the US transportation infrastructure. Google’s bike map’s will only encourage increased number of cyclists to go out on bikes. With more cyclists out, a demand for better cycling infrastructure will follow. A correlating growth of cycling infrastructure and the improvement of Google’s bike mapping capabilities can potentially compound eachothers impact. This could play out with first, more cyclist hitting the streets using Google’s cycling directions, second, greater cycling infrastructure being put into place to meet this demand, and third, Google integrating the new cycling data into their maps. This back and forth interaction could unleash an exponential growth of cycling as an integral part of our transportation solutions.

The potential for Google cycling map to help push forward strong growth in cycling infrastructure is partially reliant on Google’s continued focus and dedication to improving their bike map route creation technologies. Having briefly reviewed the Google’s methods for generating their bicycling directions, it appears that they’ve definitely gotten started in a good direction. Google has leveraged a variety of types of data to recommend their routes, including available information about bike trails, bike lanes, recommended routes, uphill and downhill routes, busy roads and busy intersections.

To get an understanding of the accuracy of Google’s bicycling maps, I quickly mapped a regular bicycle trip that I make here in Flagstaff, Arizona from our offices at BikeShopHub.com back to my house. I noted that the route comes close to following my preferred route however misses a few nuances that I use for safety and efficiency. The route swings me through a high traffic underpass while I prefer to take a bike path that goes along the railroad tracks and through downtown. It was also interesting to note that when I reversed my route, half of the route was no longer along the safe and efficient side streets that were given in the opposite direction.

google-bike-there-map-problemsThat being said, I quickly noticed Google’s statement:
“Bicycling directions are in beta. Use caution and please report unmapped bike routes, streets that aren’t suited for cycling, and other problems here.”
Clicking on the “here” button offers a variety of options to report on and critique the route.

Google’s opportunity to harvest user generated data, is one of the best opportunities for Google to fine tune their bike mapping directions. Google’s bike mapping success will be directly linked to their ability to harvest user generated route data. Google already has a significant database of user generated bike routes. Google’s ability to continue to reach out to a broader spectrum of active cyclists and cycling organizations who can help fine tune their map data will be critical to the overall improvement of the routes.

Beyond harvesting user generated data, Google will need to balance a variety of data types to continue to fine-tune their routes. Possibilities for relevant data that can be more automated than relying on user support include finding ways to harvest cyclist’s GPS signals and analyzing GIS data to draw intelligent conclusions about recommended routes. As all of this information comes into play, Google’s challenge may be in properly balancing all these different forms of data to generate the best overall bike route recommendations.

By titling this post, “Are Google Map’s Bicycling Directions a Game Changer?” I was interested in starting a conversation about the potential for growth in our cycling infrastructure that could be possible through the wide use, adoption, integration and improvement of Google maps for bicycling routes. Please let us know your thoughts.

7 Responses to “Are Google Maps’ Bicycling Directions a Game Changer?”

  1. gecko

    11. Mar, 2010

    This is definitely a game changer.

    A huge American company supports cycling as serious transportation.

    Now American transportation including the US and local transportation departments must follow the lead or explain why not.

    When will iPhone with ATT and Verizon wireless get into the act?

  2. Peter

    11. Mar, 2010

    Have you seen this?

    http://cyclopath.org/

    A great Twin Cities resource, though not more widely applicable…yet

  3. Dr P Martin

    13. Mar, 2010

    I quite like http://www.opencyclemap which uses data from http://www.openstreetmap.org and it is edited by the public. It is much more up-to-date than Google but is patchy is some places. It is very good.

    The only thing it needs is a decent routing function. There are many sites (and phone applications) that will allow routing for bicycles/pedestrians using the OpenStreetMap data.

    Cheers,

    Paul

  4. Pete Prebus

    13. Mar, 2010

    I think that it is awesome that Google is doing this!

    I do believe that some people may not bike commute because they are not aware of safe and less strenuous commute routes. Even though the routes are not perfect right now, it is a step in the right direction. Allowing users to provide suggestions for alternate routes is great.

    The next step is to integrate this into the mobile devices. I just checked to see if my iphone google maps app has been updated with the bicycling feature and as of right now it doesn’t look like it. I’m sure it will happen soon. This is a feature that is meant for a mobile devices. I bet we will see more handlebar mounts for smartphones. Just don’t ride and map! or text. :)

    Overall I think it will be a game changer. It may take a little while to iron out the kinks, but with people using i and offering suggestions for alternate routes, it will improve and become reliable.

    Have a great next ride!

    Pete

  5. [...] been nearly a month since Google made their game-changing announcement about the addition of a Bike There option to Google Maps.  Since that time, there have [...]

  6. [...] motivation to gather cycling usage and safety information. Google comes to mind. While it is unclear how committed Google is to improving their cycling map data (i.e. the Bike-There feature), it does seem clear that collecting data about cycling would help [...]

  7. [...] in 2010, Google Maps launched the Bike There feature to much fan fare among the cycling community.  This was certainly a positive move forward [...]

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