Google Bike Maps Revisited

Back in March, I posted a note about a new feature of Google Maps: the addition of routes and directions for bicyclists.  This was introduced as a “beta”service, as is customary with Google, but my initial reactions, and some reported later, were mostly favorable.  It is almost a given that any such service would exhibit some early problems, mostly data-related, because the availability of cycling route information is much more limited than for auto routes.  On balance, it seemed like a positive development to have this information available  at all.

This past week’s New York Times had an article with some more recent reactions to Google’s service.  For a beta version just introduced earlier this year, it is a fairy ambitious undertaking:

The beta version for bicyclists is just a few months old, but it is already reshaping how bike enthusiasts travel. Spanning more than 200 cities nationwide — and with plans to roll out bicycle routes internationally — Google Maps relies on a mash-up of data, from publicly available sources like bike maps to user-generated information.

The Google service, or any other service, is not likely to match the knowledge embedded in a locally-produced bike map, augmented by advice from local cyclists.  The quality of the basic data that Google uses varies by city, too.  Some “bike friendly” places, like Portland, Oregon, have extensive data available on local routes and trails.  Still, the quality of the routes should improve as more user data is submitted.

Mr. Barth [Dave Barth, Google Maps product manager] says that as Google Maps software becomes more user-generated — it has already been deluged with over 20,000 suggested corrections — bikers will be able to edit the data on a hand-held device as they actually cycle.

Any route-finding service is bound to miss some of the tricks that you find by exploring, and sometimes exploring is half the fun.  But it’s handy to have an easily-accessible resource that you can use when visiting a place for the first time.

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