Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Biking Geeks Can Now Get Directions Via Google Maps

Today Google has announced a new map feature that should make life for you riding geeks out there a lot easier: Google Maps now offers biking directions!

Yes that's right in addition to the many features Google Maps already has like walking, car, and public transit maps, users can now pull up detailed turn by turn directions specifically meant for a "bike friendly" ride. The new maps uses biking specific algorithms to plot the best way to get from point A to point B on two wheels. The new "bike friendly" maps plot roads and tails that are two wheeled in an attempt to avoid biking obstacles like steep hills, traffic and unnecessary stops.

Here's what you get out of the new biking map tools:

  • Bike trails: The new Google maps will contain over twelve thousand miles of biking trails. In cooperation with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Google has managed to map out 12k miles of trails and incorporated them into the routing algorithm. The algorithm is weighted to prefer routing on these trails rather than roads open to automobile traffic, so your directions will try to put you onto a trail as long as it won't take you totally out of your way. On the bicycling layer (found under the 'More' button), these trails show up in dark green.
  • Bike lanes: Included in the new maps are dedicated bicycle lanes for more than 150 cities in the US. These too are prioritized when coming up with a routing suggestion so as to keep riders of busy streets without bike lanes. On the bicycling layer, you’ll see these roads indicated in bright green.
  • Recommended routes: For many of the included cities Google has worked to provide information on streets that have been designated as "good for cyclists", essentially roads that are more bike friendly than others. These roads are indicated with dashed green lines on our bicycling layer.
  • Uphill/Downhill slopes: Most of us would much rather have a nice gradual incline or decline, unless of course you are doing some serious training. However for the average commute rider or day to day rider its nice to know where those killer hills are. Google's new biking directions are based on a physical model of the amount of power your body has to exert given the slope of the road you’re biking on. Assuming typical values for mass and for wind resistance, Google will compute the effort you’ll require and the speed you’ll achieve while going uphill. Taking this data into account the maps will more accurately  determine the time estimate for your journey, as well as presenting the best route possible to avoid an unreasonable degree of exertion. Sometimes the model will determine that it's far more efficient to make you ride several extra blocks than to have to deal with a massive hill. As per example Google uses a ride in San Francisco to show that this does indeed work!
  • Terrain Layer:  An added feature for checking your uphill/downhill slopes is the terrain layer. With this feature you can check out the hilliness of an area for yourself. Perhaps you are looking for a more challenging ride, or you want to avoid some steep declines, either way looking at the terrain first had will give you a better feel for what you can expect.
  • Busy roads: Cyclists, especially the casual riders, prefer to stay off of fast roads, and most try to avoid crossing them unless it's necessary. This is roughly the inverse of driving directions, where you want to stay on arterials and freeways, so Google had to rework a lot of those fundamental calculations when coming up with our biking directions algorithm.
  • Busy intersections: The new mapping system will try to avoid making you cross busy streets with a lot of car traffic and long wait times.

For more details checkout the official announcement on the Official Google Blog

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