Google Bike Routes — The Wait Is Over

Picture_2.pngBike directions from the Empire State Building to City Hall on Google Maps.

After much anticipation, bicycle directions are finally live on Google Maps

At the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC today, Google announced that its mapping tools can now provide bike directions in 150 American cities.

The software provides routes that point cyclists to bike paths or lanes whenever possible, avoid the busiest roads and intersections, and take into account hills, according to the Times’ Gadgetwise blog.

While New Yorkers can already get bike directions from Ride the City, you can count on two hands the number of other American cities with such luck. Google is expanding the coverage of online bike directions by an order of magnitude. 

The bike routing is still in beta, and certain features, like a mobile version and a bike-specific Street View, haven’t been released yet. Additionally, bike routing is notoriously difficult, so there are probably some kinks to work out. Even so, Google’s strength has always been its ability to learn from its own data, so it’s safe to expect its bike directions to improve over time. Try it out and let us know how well it works! 

  • They mistakenly include a bike lane on Bedford Ave between Flushing Ave and Division Ave. Somebody should bring this mistake to Google’s attention. Or better yet, the DOT’s attention.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    It should be pointed out that the linked map does not show the default bicycle directions. Someone has hand-edited the route to pass through the Hudson River Greenway. If you remove that waypoint, the route goes down 5th, past NYU, across Grand, and down Lafayette, which is a mile shorter.

  • Dude

    I would never recommend riding on 34th st at any time.

  • If you find any errors or unfortunate routings, please click “Report a problem” near the bottom so that the next person gets better route advice!

  • NattyB

    @JWB,

    But wouldn’t it be quicker to take Broadway all the way down? I mean, you’re at Broadway at Herald Square, and City Hall’s at Broadway too?

    But yah, that’s “essentially” the same route as what you wrote.

    I wonder how much “weighting” the system gives to bike lanes?

  • John Tangenberg

    Routing is difficult, I make mapping models for a living, but the routes I receive in LA County do not have me avoiding busy streets, as indicated above, and in fact route me further on higher traffic count / higher speed streets, than the shorter route on lower speed lower traffic count streets. Some thing is off in the weighting algorithm. I am also routed to more retail / commercial high speed/heavy traffic streets and then taken off the street where there are no businesses, then put back on the same street where there are retail shops again. Coincidence or is there a potential $$$ value assigned to the route? The route weighting falls under “Trade Secrets” – we will never know.

    It looks to me, in my area, that routing cyclists to advertisers has won out over how pleasant / safe the ride is on a traffic count / speed basis.

    I am concerned that newbie riders using this service will have what they expect proven to them, riding is dangerous, and that they won’t stick with it. The cost of free routing may be reinforcing societies idea that cycling is not a transportation alternative in the US, as people are routed for Googles gain not the quietist safest route.

    Just may personal experience / thoughts on the beta version.

    John Tangenberg Co-Chair Sierra Club Angeles Chapter GIS Committee

  • JK

    You guys are missing the forest for the trees. Think about the symbolism for a moment. Google is making a big statement here that bicyclists belong, they have a right to the road. They are a “normal” way to travel.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I checked out the routing from my brother’s house in Tulsa, OK to downtown (the rest of my family left NY in the late 1970s and never returned).

    Tulsa, like many cities in the west, is laid out with wide, high traffic streets in a one square mile grid, with shopping centers at the corners and low-traffic neighborhoods in the middle.

    For the first mile, and then crossing I-44, Google put a bicycle rider on one of those wide, high traffic streets. From that point on, however, the route went through the middle of low-traffic neighborhoods, with dozens of turns on residential streets.

    The first mile is a problem with Tulsa, not Google. In many places, entrances to a neighborhood on one side of an arterial do not line up with entrances to another, so you have to ride on the arterial. And only arterial streets cross the highways.

  • It looks to me, in my area, that routing cyclists to advertisers has won out over how pleasant / safe the ride is on a traffic count / speed basis.

    –John Tangenberg Co-Chair Sierra Club Angeles Chapter GIS Committee

    I’ve only tried some directions so far, and they seem on point. i’m very impressed. and the bike routes layer is awesomely cool.

    that said, it might not be the best time for the Sierra Club to be throwing stones

    Now, Lumumba was absolutely right that the behavior of the big corporate green groups—Conservation International, TNC, and, I’m afraid, to a lesser but still significant degree, the Sierra Club—is very compromised in terms of their approach to policy.

  • MtotheI

    I am amazed that google not only has bicycling directions within a city or metropolitan area but you can also get long distance and bicycle touring directions. The Exchange Place, Jersey City to Philadelphia routing looks pretty good.

    I also looked up DC to San Fran and Portland to see if it would give the transAmerica routing. It doesn’t but it does give cross country cycling directions that keeps to trails and paths as much as possible!

  • Doug

    I agree with JK. The point here is not whether or not this works in Manhattan, a city where there’s always a quick, easy, and sometimes safer route, but that this opens up many OTHER cities and suburban locations where biking routes may not be as obvious.

    The kinks will be worked out here and elsewhere. It shows that Google puts biking on par with driving and walking as deserving of mapping assistance.

  • vnm

    Awesome. And the level of detail seems very good. There’s a small unconnected section of the Manahttan Waterfront Greenway already built along the Harlem River between 138th and 132nd Streets — and even that’s included. I appreciate their “report a problem” link as well, so we can help crowd-source the maps.

    As soon as Google Maps stops referring to Harlem “Clason Point” I’ll be truly impressed.

  • John Tangenberg

    Peter Smith,

    Sorry you don’t like where I volunteer.

    Regardless of any association I still find the routes I am receiving strange from a GIS and cyclist perspective. And I know if I sent my non cyclist sister down that route she would not think it was safe to ride a bike, when there are very safe shorter alternatives.

    The public looks to Google as the best source, the catch is that if Google gives them a poor route the reaction is that there must not be a good one. That may mean they won’t ride. I want more rider’s, that’s my ultimate concern.

  • http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml

    It is great that Bicycling has been added to Google Maps.

    What would be most helpful would be more detailing on cycling information such as bike lanes, bike paths or greenways such as that provided by the Ride the City web application used on the New York City Department of Transportation at:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml

  • #13 John Tangenberg, “routes I am receiving strange from a GIS and cyclist perspective”

    There seems to be methods wherein updates may be somewhat automatic using GPS information from cell phones.

    “Ride the City” for New York City may be one such web-based application with considerable advantage when integrated with Google Maps and Microsoft Bing among others.

    Perhaps Federal Stimulus efforts could be applied to the costs involved in improved national bicycle route mapping using cell phone logging of GPS automation.

  • flp

    interesting, on google maps the ESB is still on 5th ave:
    http://bit.ly/b7sg54

  • That would explain why the Fresno-Clovis rail trail suddenly became an option for pedestrian routing a couple of weeks ago. Looks like theyve been looking at trails around the country and making them “usable” by the directions. It isn’t perfect though, bikes and pedestrians can enter and leave trails through paths of desire, but google maps only uses official entry points.

  • John Tangenberg brings up the “cost” of free routing. Interesting point. I prefer to find my own route using maps and personal recollections, but I suppose that other people find it more attractive to be told how to go. Regardless, I wouldn’t blame a routing service for traffic one encounters along the way, and I wouldn’t make the blanket assertion that “newbie riders using this service will have what they expect proven to them, riding is dangerous.”

    Even people who just learned how to ride a bike weren’t born yesterday; give them some credit for understanding the larger benefits of cycling vis-a-vis automobiling and the opportunity to take the free routing that they receive from Google with a grain of salt.

  • Albert

    With input from users, the errors and less-than-perfect routes will gradually be attended to, I expect. Not to worry.

    I just ‘reported’ to them that what they unfortunately call the “72nd Street Transverse” in Central Park is nothing of the kind (i.e., not a transverse). Maybe I’m being picky, but that little misnomer is pretty important to a bicyclist, who rarely risks his life on one of the *actual* below-ground-level transverses (65th, 79th, 86th & 96th).

  • People need to remember that Google Maps bike directions are still in beta. The bike data for the maps (which comes from external sources) is imperfect, and the routing algorithms could use some tuning, I think. Google knows this, which is why there’s a link on the directions page for corrections and suggestions.

    I tried generating Google directions for some of the trips I take regularly in Madison, with mixed results. In a few cases, Google’s suggestions exact match to the routes I use. In some other cases, the route they chose was arguably correct, but far from ideal.

    In some future revision, I hope Google allows users to state preferences; for example, do you want a fast route, or a non-intimidating one? (And how do you feel about hills?) Forester-type vehicular cyclists and 70-year-old grandmothers riding Limes have different needs, and, ideally, Google should accommodate all of them.

  • The routes suggested for the handful of destinations I plugged in were pretty spot on, and in once case, offered up an alternative I hadn’t thought of on my own that makes a lot of sense and almost certainly would be less traveled by cars.

    The more feedback Google gets from all of us, the better the mapping will become. And as others have said, the fact that they have created a bicycle-route mapping overlay is huge.

    One brooklyn-centric thing they didn’t anticipate, however, was Bruce Ratner’s ability to have New York City close roads for his Atlantic Yards project. Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic no longer exists, except as a fond memory on Google Maps.

  • One brooklyn-centric thing they didn’t anticipate, however, was Bruce Ratner’s ability to have New York City close roads for his Atlantic Yards project. Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic no longer exists, except as a fond memory on Google Maps

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