Google Maps Launches “Bike There” Function with Inconvenient Routes

Yesterday, Google Maps launched the much-awaited “Bike There” option.

After several years of vigorous activism, lobbying, and  hard work by thousands of people and numerous organizations, it is now possible to select “bicycling” in addition to the driving, walking, and public transportation options when searching for directions on the most popular internet mapping site.

The new Google product was announced yesterday at the League of American Bicyclist’s annual National Bike Summit. According to Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists “we know people want to ride more, and we know it’s good for people and communities when they do ride more – this makes it possible. It is a game-changer, especially for those short trips that are the most polluting,”

I’m thrilled, giddy, even twitchy with excitement about this development, indicating something of a “critical mass” of support for the most efficient form of transportation ever invented.

Cycling advocates in Austin started a petition called “Google Maps, Bike There” in order to unite supporters of the biking option, reaching 50,000 signatures last year. Their website contains a great list of reasons why the inclusion of bicycle directions in Google Maps would be beneficial to individuals, communities, and our society.

The directions are still in beta so riders are urged to use caution. I immediately checked the directions to tomorrow’s planning meeting for the Three Rivers Bioneers Conference and found that the biking option includes FOURTEEN turns for a trip that is 2.7 miles, compared to the five turns recommended for the car.

Most of the bike trip is measured in feet rather than miles: 157 feet, then a turn, then pedal for 200 feet, then turn, ride for 335 feet, then turn. Oh! Ride for .1 miles, then turn, then .3 miles, then ride for 292 feet, then turn, etc.

Hm. Not very efficient. In fact all of this stop and go and turn and go and turn and go sort of defeats the purpose of riding a machine that depends on momentum for much of its magic.

I suppose the next step is to continue pressing our communities and leaders to make the fastest, largest, and most direct streets desirable and safe for cyclists because we are growing in numbers. We are growing rapidly, and are the transportation mode of the future.

Next step: widespread bicycle boulevards!

Stay tuned, next I’ll tell you about the public hearing I attended yesterday at the Pittsburgh City Council on the proposed new bike parking ordinance which I’ve written about here for Next American City and here.

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9 Comments

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  1. yeah, pretty much all i’ve heard so far is excitement that it exists, followed by disappointment/laughter at the routes it provides

    • The suggestions are strange, but I think that this has much to do with the streets that our cities have elected to make safe for cyclists. We need safe routes on every street so that it doesn’t take 14 turns for simple errands.

      Cars are allowed on almost every single street in every single town and city in this country, despite the fact that in many of these places, a large percentage of the population does not drive. We have given our cities to the motorized vehicle and it is time to start claiming them again.

      I am in favor of creating a series of streets and boulevards that are designed to efficiently, safely, and beautifully move actual people, either on foot or bicycle, roads specifically for the slower, less resource-intensive, and less dangerous modes of transportation.

  2. This is a fantastic feature by Google that’s in Beta, which means it won’t be really useful for at least another year. Also, they include an option to report unmapped bike routes. I think it’s a great thing for a private company to develop such an application with no commitment to do so.

    • I agree, Adam, and I’m thrilled that the option exists. I intend to offer some feedback when I’ve had the option to use it more. I think it represents a massive shift in thinking that will make it easier for people who have never considered biking to do so.

      If someone checks for directions and sees that directions are available with safe routes for bikes, it will help make the leap out of the car and onto the bike that much easier for thousands and thousands who have never considered it, and for those who have thought about it but found it too dangerous.

      Now I just want to keep moving, and change the way we develop our roads and cities and erase the car-centric mentality that has dominated planning for the past decades, drawing instead a place where everyone can live and get around safely and easily.

  3. So, from reading a CNN article about this, it appears that the algorithm used to formulate a bike route places emphasis on “ease and safety.” As far as logistics go, vehicle routing software has been around for a long time… but, it’s really interesting that Google has done this for biking.

    Steep hills aren’t that bad, especially since it’s an understood while biking, but it’s nice to know that routes are planned in order to maximize biking-friendly paths. (In the beta stage, it’s definitely easy to correct ridiculous routes by user drag-and-drop and via points.) I don’t ride anywhere other than to school and around campus because I’m not confident enough that I won’t get smashed when traveling uncertain places and distances.

    For developing roads and cities to erase car-centric mentality, is that possible? In the meantime, it’s nice to see an organization as powerful as Google working towards creating an application that highlights those roads that are friendlier than others.

    • It seems that I have, at the very least, much to learn about creating meaningful titles! I really am excited about this new feature. Aside from the roundabout and zig-zaggy nature of the first route I initially tried, I think it is amazing. I think that this line from the post is more indicative of my thoughts on the new change:

      “I’m thrilled, giddy, even twitchy with excitement about this development, indicating something of a “critical mass” of support for the most efficient form of transportation ever invented.”

      I’m curious to see how the routes will be modified through user comments, especially for various parts of the intimidatingly hilly Pittsburgh as I get to know my new adopted city better.

      I think this point is really important: “it’s nice to see an organization as powerful as Google working towards creating an application that highlights those roads that are friendlier than others.” It certainly is, and I think that it will also lead to highlighting the streets that are less friendly and gradually improving them so that cities all over the country look like Washington, DC’s map that is covered in green bike friendly roads.

      “For developing roads and cities to erase car-centric mentality, is that possible?” Absolutely! I think so, and Google’s move to include bikes shows that attitudes and options are changing. I think we are going to see big, positive changes in in the coming days, weeks, months, and years all over the country, making our towns and cities more pedestrian-, bike-, and transit-friendly.

  4. It’s interesting that they give 14 turns for bikes. That would never be how I would give directions, but it is often how I ride. Example: insead of riding 5th from Neville to Beeachwood (no turns) , I ride, 5th ->Church parking lot->Devonshire -> Synagog parking lot -> Morewood -> Castleman ->Amberson-> Westminster -> Aiken -> Kentucky -> Denniston -> 5th. Sometimes I throw a few alleys in there as well. I understand the Lawrenceville “wiggle” involves a few turns, too.

  5. It’s cool that they have added this but I’m with you on the ‘peddle 5 feet’ and then duck left, duck right, and repeat cycle 5 more times. There was this amazing site that I used ot use for cycle tours (which I can’t find right now) that has a massive user group that puts maps overtop of google of various routes to get from one amazing place to another.

    And let’s hope that through having this cities will start to use it to ‘educate’ google on the routes that have bike lanes. IT may also force cities to realise how little/lot of lanes they have… and increase more development…

    One can hope at least.

    Shane

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