Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft Explains the New Bike Map

The wait for bicycle directions on Google Maps has finally ended as the company announced a beta version of its new bicycle directions feature at the League of American Bicyclists National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. this morning. The new mapping software includes an elegant overlay of bicycle routes based on priority bicycle streets and paths in the 150 cities where Google is debuting the service.

Streetsblog San Francisco Editor Bryan Goebel sat down with Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft today to discuss the new software and Google’s plans for enhancing it. 

google_rep.jpgScott Shawcroft demonstrates Bike Map for a bike summit attendee. Photo: Bryan Goebel.

Shawcroft said the software gives bicycle directions that take into account the grade of a road, the priority of a road (based on traffic volumes), as well as bike lanes, recommended routes, and bike trails. Shawcroft also said the map interface de-emphasizes driving routes and streets that are not friendly for cyclists, and shows various bicycle class designations in shades of green, from fully separated bike paths to streets with sharrows.

Data gathering was a difficult part of the process, according Shawcroft, and he encouraged users to try the mapping service and give Google feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Users can report problems directly to Google in a box on the left-hand navigation bar in the bicycle directions section of Google Maps.

You can listen to Bryan’s full interview with Shawcroft here:

[audio: http://sf.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2010/03/Google-Interview-2.mp3]
  • NattyB

    I like this, obviously.

    But, one of the best parts of riding a bike in the city is getting lost.

    Because it’s the best way to get to someplace you’ve never been before, which is cool, because you’re like an urban explorer.

    I spent a summer in London and I had a 6 mile commute. I knew the general direction I had to go and just took a different route each day. And I got to learn the layout, the hills, the side-streets, the hidden gems . . . oh so well.

    But yah, this is a good development by Google and again showing why they’re the creative leaders and how frickin Microsoft and Yahoo will just remain in their dust for the time being.

  • Pretty amazing.

    A small overpass was not included in bike routes early this morning and was added later in the day.

    Great stuff!

  • Interesting to hear that even factors as road grade are considered. I’ve already submitted a few corrections to Google – seems that some things, like the Manhattan-side access to the Manhattan Br., is not quite there yet.

    Still, what potential this unleashes…

  • Quite literally, puts cycling on the map.

  • Also, I wonder about all the green lines downtown, like on Exchange Place and Stone St. It won’t let you use those streets for start/finish or as a route. Those streets are off limits to traffic but I’ve been on my bike there. If the intent is to make them appear as “no bike” streets, it’s too bad they chose the same symbology as bikeways!

  • gm

    the Google guy mentions that 10% of Google employees bike to work and they helped debug before the public beta. That’s a really high share of workers biking. Probably the highest of any Fortune 500 company. Maybe SF Streetsblog can do a follow-up story on that. Something for Google to brag about.

  • #6 gm, “Something for Google to brag about.”

    Yes. Seriously agile and sensible transport does provide an edge!

  • With 430 million cyclists and an additional 120 million on electric bikes wonder if Google is considering China? . . . a total mindblow!

    And, a really graphic vision of the future.

  • gm: I’m not sure the number is as remarkable. Silicon Valley has a pretty high bike mode share. In Palo Alto it’s 43%, but Palo Alto is unique because of Stanford.

    Besides which, it’s possible Google is calculating mode share differently – it could be counting anyone who uses a bicycle for part of the route, instead of for the plurality of the route as required by the American Community Survey.

  • Just tested the routes I use in various cities, e.g. Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Houston. Mostly, it mimics my routes EXACTLY. The one exception would be where I ride on a sidewalk for 50 ft to get under a highway in Houston. Their route takes a giant loop to avoid the highway. I’m very impressed. My old way was to take the “walking” option and sort of figure it out from there. Even with kinks, this is great.

  • david

    This might be asking for too much, but it would be great if they also provided an overlay of bicycle parking (covered v uncovered, on-street, secure, etc.) and other end-of-trip facilities (showers, lockers, etc). I know cities like Portland, NYC, and Seattle have a good handle on their asset inventory for bicycle parking in a GIS environment already, and I suspect other municipalities do, as well. How cool would it be if the routing tool directed you to your end destination AND told you where you could conveniently park your bici?! The other information (lockers and showers) could pretty easily be supplied by individuals, business owners, campus buildings & grounds folks, and building managers, and would be a pretty amazing resource for employees of and visitors to those sites.

  • Joseph E

    For those of us in Southern California and other cities with limited bike facilities (routes, lanes, paths), this really shows how much work we have ahead of us. Compare Portland (http://tinyurl.com/ybghhqb) and Los Angeles (http://tinyurl.com/ycz7apq).

    Fortunately, now we can get directions to Sacramento, CA, to demonstrate for laws and funding in favor of bikes! (http://tinyurl.com/yakmg2s)

  • It would seem that if Google fully tunes their cycling directions and cyclists embrace them, this could unleash a whole new dynamic for the growth of cycling and cycling infrastructure as a whole.
    http://www.utilitycycling.org/2010/03/google-bike-there-directions/

  • chris mcnally

    David, there is a map that displays bicycle parking, at least in NYC, and it’s a map you can edit, so you can add new bike parking if you find it:

    http://opencyclemap.org/?zoom=17&lat=40.71202&lon=-73.99331&layers=B000

    OpenCycle map. It also shows bike lanes and foot paths.

    I’m surprised that ridethecity.com does not display the bike parking since it’s available in at least one public db.

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