Google Bike Routes — Almost Here?

ride_the_city.jpgNew Yorkers can use Ride the City to plan bike trips. Cyclists in most other American cities don’t have the option.

The folks at Google Maps "Bike There" — the blog dedicated to getting the world’s foremost information cruncher to include bike directions in its trip planning tools — noticed an encouraging development yesterday. On Google’s LatLong blog, embedded in a post about a new layer of base data in Google Maps, we now have a pretty direct acknowledgment straight from the source: Bike directions are coming.

College students will be pleased to see maps of many campuses; and cyclists will now find many more trails and paths to explore. Soon we even plan on providing you with biking directions to take advantage of this new data.

The technical hurdles to creating online bike route planners are substantial. Right now, cyclists in only a handful of cities can take advantage of such tools. New Yorkers have Ride the City, as do residents of Chicago, Austin, Louisville, and San Diego. If you’re in Portland, Oregon or Milwaukee, you can use Bycycle.org. As far as I know, that’s about all we’ve got in the USA. Think there’s an appetite for more? Peter Smith, the man behind the "Bike There" campaign, has collected 50,000 signatures asking Google to add bike trip tools. You can sign on here, just in case.

  • Ride the City is a joke, a ridiculously poor excuse for a bike-route creator and an utter waste of time. Google already does better: choose “avoid highways” on the car directions.

  • Barry

    http://www.cyclopath.org provides bike directions for the Minneapolis – St Paul, Minnesota area.

  • Jonathan:

    The issues with RideTheCity, as addressed on the BikePortland post, are the same as those for everyone else:
    -How to weight the various factors in a routing algorithm other than distance
    -The input data

    The latter is one of the core problems, but you can help with it: edit OpenStreetMap, which BikeTheCity uses as input. For example, when I first tried BikeTheCity, it routed me over a pedestrian bridge with stairs. That bridge came from census data and was inaccurately categorized. I fixed it, and now RideTheCity no longer takes that route.

  • Example: Greenpoint to Penn Station area. RTC routes via Queensboro Bridge. I used to ride this regularly and took the Willy B. to Ave C and the FDR service road (back before the East River bike path existed, now you could take that to 34th St). RTC makes you ride through midtown to save a half-mile. Huh?

  • Its surprising nobody’s come up with an iPhone app for this yet. Maybe it would be too similar to Google Maps?

    Google Maps already has a pedestrian function which would almost work except that it doesn’t seem to take street directions into account. Oddly enough, if I ask it for a route from my apartment in the South Village to East WIlliamsburg, which is similar to the route shown above, it gives me a 5.2 mile route over the Williamsburg Bridge. But if I ask for a pedestrian route using the same locations, it gives me a 5.6 mile route over the Manhattan Bridge. Does Google not know pedestrians are permitted on the WillyB?

  • Geck

    I find Ride the City works pretty well. All mapping programs have their quirks. They may not give you your perfect route every time, but they are just an aid. Use you head.

  • Doug

    I find that if you choose walking directions with Google, it’s a close approximation of the best biking directions. You just have to be mindful of not using sidewalks and that sometimes walking directions take you along busy streets. But generally it’s okay.

  • Joe Radosevich

    Barry, thanks for bringing up cyclopath.org – it’s a really powerful tool for bikers in Minneapolis-St.Paul. The site provides an incredible about of customization and feedback – avoiding some of the problems people are discussing with RideTheCity.

    This fits an unfortunate pattern at Streetsblog however, where Minneapolis and Minnesota is ignored despite the facts: more bike trails than any other state, strong complete streets policies, and the largest bicycle commuter share of the top 20 metropolitan regions in the country. What gives guys?

  • http://www.bikemetro.com/home/home.asp Is the tool For Southern California

  • @Jonathan

    Try choosing a safer route. I tried going from Upper Manhattan to the East Bronx and it either guides me to Mosholu to Pelham Parkway or takes me across Fordham. If you choose direct it’s essentially doing what google maps “walk there” does.

    @Alan @Stacy

    The Iphone app should record user’s routes and use that data to weight the directions. Weighting by lanes and greenways can be clunky, and crowdsourcing would give you way more insight. I wish I had the time to tinker with something like this!

  • @Jonathan

    Jordan from Ride the City here. It sounds like we whipped up some lousy routes for you! If so, I apologize. But I hope that you made sure to use the ‘rate the route’ feature in the menu. When you do, we see exactly the route you got and can address your complaint so the next time you run it, it works better.

    I can confirm that we always have room to improve… Based on the possible combinations of starting points and ending points, Ride the City can potentially generate about 16 billion different routes in NYC. If we screw up 1/2 percent of them, we’re generating 80 million crappy routes.

    I also want to weigh on bike routing philosophy for a sec. If we’ve learned anything in the nearly two years we’ve been doing this, it’s that there are two kinds of route feedback: facts and preferences. A fact? Canal Street in Manhattan is a hellish street to ride (at least during the day) and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. A preference? The Brooklyn Bridge has far too many tourists and you should always take the Manhattan Bridge instead.

    We can (and have) come up with some general rules and weightings to take both route facts and route preferences into account, but there will always be differences of opinion.

    To that end I want to plug a new Ride the City feature that is coming out in a couple weeks that I think will help address this: user-specific routing. Imagine you can login, click on any street segment in the city, and give it a rating between 1 and 7. The next time you generate a route while logged in, it takes your specific rating into account. Hate the Brooklyn Bridge? Give it a 1 and you’ll always avoid it. Love Canal Street? Give it a 7 and you can dodge trucks and inhale fumes to your heart’s content.

    So stayed tuned for that and — in the meantime — please use ‘rate the route’ when we give you one of those 80 million lousy routes!

    p.s. the ‘safer’ route from Greenpoint to Penn Station actually looks pretty good to me (and does use the Williamsburg Bridge). ‘Rate the route’ and I’ll see exactly what you’re seeing…

  • Greta

    +1 for Joe Radosevich’s comment.

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