WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—Google’s announcement at the opening plenary session at the National Bike Summit yesterday that it is adding biking directions to Google Maps was met with resounding applause.
“As many of you know, the challenge we face in advocacy is how do we get more people out on bikes? Bike-to-Work Day is a great way. But how can we scale that up so we can ride every day? How can we provide guidance to our friends and families and transfer that knowledge in a way that makes them feel comfortable with the routes?” asked Peter Birch, a Google product manager and avid cyclist.
“At Google, we love problems of scale. We’ve done directions for driving, directions for transit and directions for walking. Everyone asks us, ‘What about biking?’ I’m very proud to say bicycling directions for Google maps is live and available.”
This new feature includes: step-by-step bicycling directions; bike trails outlined directly on the map; and a new "Bicycling" layer that indicates bike trails, bike lanes and bike-friendly roads. The directions feature provides step-by-step, bike-specific routing suggestions—similar to the directions provided by its driving, walking, or public transit modes. Users simply enter a start point and destination and select "Bicycling" from the drop-down menu. The route is optimized for cycling, taking advantage of bike trails, bike lanes, and bike-friendly streets and avoiding hilly terrain whenever possible.
“We’re really showing our commitment to maps for people, not just cars,” Birch said. “However people want to get around, by car, by foot, by transit and now by bike, we’re offering as part of a growing movement to create greener and more sustainable communities. We’re hoping tools like Google maps can help accelerate biking in cities that are already great for biking.”
Shannon Guymon, product manager for Google, who led the project said the feature has been in the works for over two years. But, she said, the company was challenged because it used outside sources for map data that didn’t include bike trails and bike routes.
Google began managing its own map data in October and at that time began pulling bike route information into its data sets. Guymon said it’s been a main development focus since then, with five dedicated engineers working to develop the algorithm to find the best cycling routes.
In launching this beta version, which offers biking directions throughout the U.S., Google has input cycling route data for 150 major U.S. cities. It also has input more than 12,000 miles of trail data provided by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Birch said over the next several months it hopes to extend its coverage of bike trails and routes as well as improve the quality of cycling directions. To do so, it’s counting on retailers and advocates who are plugged into local cycling communities to provide feedback. A mechanism to add trail information is built in directly to the Web site under the link: Report a Problem.
According to Guymon, this has been the most requested addition to Google Maps, showing up regularly in forums and in an online petition that received 50,000 signatures. “Cyclists have certainly been very vocal in asking for this feature so they better start searching,” Guymon said.
Walking directions account for 10 percent of Google Maps searches. Guymon said it will be interesting to see what percentage of searches are by bike.
“In the tight-knit cycling community word started spreading immediately. We expect a spike around the launch and then as the climate and attitudes toward cycling change we expect more use,” Guymon said.
Visit http://maps.google.com/biking to try out the new feature.
PHOTO: Google engineer John Leen demos the new Google bicycle feature for Robbie Webber of Bike/Walk Madison at the Bike Summit.