Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Google Bike Directions Go Live

It's official! You can now get bike route directions on Google Maps by clicking the bike icon. There's a warning that they're in beta, and a link to report missing bike routes or unsafe streets, but it's up and running. I decided to plug in a couple of addresses and see what Google has to say about how to get around.

Popping in my home address and my workplace got me a very similar route to what I normally take: Hm, I thought as I scanned it, I don't normally take Pleasant Park, but that would keep me off the intersection at Riverside and Industrial... I may have to give it a try. Although, there is a bike lane all the way down Alta Vista, and not, as far as I know, down Pleasant Park. I also don't know what the proportion of stop signs is like on Pleasant Park, something else that may not have been factored in to the routing software (and really, it would be hard to do that. Although, if they can come up with an algorithm to figure out the most boring day in history, you'd think they could come up with a way to factor bike lanes and four-way stops into the route plotter...)

The site will, eventually, have different coloured routes for bike-only trails, but for now they look just like all the other streets. Except, notably, that they don't have names. Which works awkwardly in the directions text (note steps 4 and 5):

3. Turn right at Alta Vista Dr

1.6 km
4. Turn left at Pleasant Park Rd

950 m
5. Turn right

3.3 km
6. Turn left

400 m
7. Slight left toward Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

1.8 km
8. Turn right at Montreal Rd/Rideau St/Regional Road 34

You also don't get Google Street View to help you out at these intersections. Ah well, this will probably improve. Fire back your input, cyclists: let Google's programmers know what you need!

Another note: year-round cyclists are going to have to remember that Google Maps will be marking routes as viable even if they're not cleared of snow and ice. This route sends you down the bike trail alongside the river, which has had a marvellously slippery, inch-thick coating of ice since the freezing rain last week. I'm still riding it, precariously: but come snowfall this won't be a possibility. I'm willing to bet Google Maps will still list it as a route, though. You can't expect them to have programmed for weather.

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