Google Maps for Cyclists

I’m happy to report that Google has finally gotten around to adding directions for cyclists in Google Maps.

After a long wait and more than 50,000 signatures on an online petition, cyclists will be happy to know that Google has finally added bicycle routes to Google Maps.
In Google Maps, users can now find “Bicycling” in the tool’s “Get Directions” drop-down box. After choosing the option, bikers can input two addresses and find the bike route that will get them to their desired destination. Like Google Maps’ other modes of transportation, the mapping tool provides turn-by-turn directions and an estimated travel time.
The new Google Maps bicycling feature is available in 150 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. The tool boasts over 12,000 bike trails. When users look for directions, the company’s mapping algorithm weights trails more heavily than roads for safety reasons. If cities have bicycle lanes, those are also weighted more heavily than roads without them.

I tried a few routes and got mixed results. The route from my house in Emeryville to where I work in Hercules put my on the Ohlone Greenway bikepath, which is awesome. However, plotting a course from Emeryville to Mt. Diablo has me going over Shepherd Canyon, which has about 20% grade at the top—probably not the best route for most cyclists.
It’s in beta, so it’s no surprise that it’s far from perfect. I sent feedback into Google, as I suspect thousands of other eager cyclists will do. When Google Maps for Cyclists is ready, it’s no doubt going to be a fantastic and incredibly useful tool.

The directions feature provides step-by-step, bike-specific routing suggestions – similar to the directions provided by our driving, walking, or public transit modes. Simply enter a start point and destination and select “Bicycling” from the drop-down menu. You will receive a route that is optimized for cycling, taking advantage of bike trails, bike lanes, and bike-friendly streets and avoiding hilly terrain whenever possible. Just like Google pioneered with driving directions, you can click-and-drag your route to customize it as you’d like. You can also access the other features in Google Maps, such as Street View, so you can tell exactly where you might need to turn on your route or preview how wide a bike lane is, and Local Search, so you know where you can take a water break or where the bike shops are along your route. Biking directions provides time estimates for routes based on an algorithm that takes into account the length of the route, the number of hills, fatigue over time, and other variables.

In addition to directions, a new bicycling layer for Google Maps, accessible via the “More…” drop down menu at the top of the map, will display an overlay of the various bike-friendly roads and trails around town. The layer is color-coded to show three different types of paths:

* Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
* Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
* Dotted green indicates roads without bike lanes but are more appropriate for biking, based on factors such as terrain, traffic, and intersections.

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