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Google Maps for Bicyclists

Old 03-10-10, 09:04 AM
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Google Maps for Bicyclists

Google Maps just started claiming to be able to help bicyclists.

So I tried it, and input my starting point and destination. FAIL!

Oh, it generated a route all right. But they have a long way to go.

First, they start off by routing me up a significant hill and back down to one of the worst east-west streets. By contrast, my route goes through a neighborhood and gets onto a long sloping down hill on a better street.

From here, it gets the right route for a brief while then routes me through an industrial park where there are alot of trucks and comes back out onto my route. Soon we part again as I cut down a side street that allows me easement onto the MUP through the park, and then a ride through a suburban development with minimal traffic. Google says to take the main street and guides me along a section of highway with heavy traffic, heavily potholed narrow lanes, no shoulders and no sidewalks. I consider it a death zone.

As I come out of the development, the nature of the street changes and it now has 8 foot wide shoulders and is smooth and rolling. Google gets this right and for the rest of the ride does manage to find the correct route. Even the short cut via the freeway on-ramp that also goes to the frontage road that my employer is on.

It says that the trip should take 59 minutes which is just a few minutes longer than it does.

For the return trip, Google does not know about the shortcut through the back of the hotel parking lot across a strip of grass to the State Police parking lot. This is important because the frontage road is a one way street. So Google takes me up the one way street heading away from the correct direction, and then takes me through some residential neighborhoods. I take the shortcut and avoid the extra riding and then go back up the way I came. But after a while we meet and Google is back on track.

We part ways when we get back to the suburban development. They take me back through the death zone and back through the industrial park. But the important thing here is that that short dog leg requires taking a left turn across traffic and then crossing traffic again to get back onto the same road we just left. I just go with the flow of the road, much safer.

Now I have to mention that at the suburban development, when it's light, I take a long cut through the park on the far side of the development and enjoy the traffic free riding and connect to the MUP. But Google can't be faulted for that.

What I can take objection to is how they route me down that bad east-west street and then into a suburban neighborhood that I ride when I want to practice my hill climbing, because it's one hill after another.

So it might help as a planning tool, just to see what it suggests, as sometimes it does go through residential neighborhoods instead of main streets, but their database still leaves an awful lot to be desired when it comes to plotting routes as a bicyclist would. To their credit, there is a prominent link where you can report discrepancies, and shortcuts.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.

Last edited by Artkansas; 03-10-10 at 09:14 AM.
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Old 03-10-10, 09:35 AM
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I think it's pretty darn good for Denver. And I think you're expecting a bit much from a computer, Artkansas. As far as directions go, you're asking it to take in a lot of intangibles - where there are hills, where there are potholes, etc. Especially the bit where you cut across one parking lot, across a strip of grass and then across another parking lot. How the heck is it supposed to know that? How is it supposed to know there's not a fence between the two parking lots? That's asking an awful lot. Yeah, my commute takes me across a vacant lot and through a hole in the chainlink fence but I wouldn't expect Google to figure that out. I wouldn't want them to put that in the database either because who knows when the morning will come where I find out the hard way that somebody went and fixed the fence?

Really this is a tool to figure out a way to go somewhere where you're going for the first time or will only be going once. Even for a car, I often look at the directions and say, "well that's a dumb way to go, it's better to go.......".

For every person like you (and me) who thinks that MUPs are good and no sidewalks or shoulders is bad, there are "take the lane" folks who would find the lack of shoulders no hinderance at all and would never take a MUP or a sidewalk.

I was impressed looking around where it sees routes I didn't think it would. For example a path that goes right through the entry plaza and between buildings at a local factory, a weird little narrow "sidewalk" that cuts between some back yards and a golf course. It's impressively complete. Doubly so for an initial rollout.
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Old 03-10-10, 09:42 AM
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Yeah. I have been daydreaming lately of a multiple day tour to from DC to my parents' place in NC, and just tried to see what it mapped out. Instead of following US BICYCLE Route 1, it followed the actual motorized US Rte. 1 all the way to Fredericksburg. I've driven that road a few times, and I can say I would NOT want to ride a bike on it. They do need to to look at forcing the directions onto lower traffic and (preferably) flatter streets/routes. Following the traditional national bike routes or ACA routes for long distance might be a helpful guide for Google to incorporate, too.

I plugged in my commute and it got it pretty much right on, but my route is a lot more straightforward. Also, thanks in part to my reports (or I like to think so anyway), the walking directions which would utilize the same MUPs and streets I commute on were already corrected. Tried a couple other local destinations real quick, and I must say, I'm generally quite impressed with the way it works for the DC area.

I did note somewhere that Google is actively seeking input/suggestions for routing improvements, etc. I know from experience with my commute route and some recently reopened intersections important to driving that the Google Maps team is receptive to these reports/suggestions. So don't hesitate to click on the report a problem link at the bottom of the directions.

It will take a while for them to work out the kinks, I'm sure, but it's a positive development generally. They just need our guidance!

Last edited by EKW in DC; 03-10-10 at 09:45 AM.
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Old 03-10-10, 09:45 AM
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Agreed. They have a long way to go.

In my area, we already had a website base on the Google Maps API that gives bicycle directions (bycycle.org). It isn't perfect, but sometimes does a good job, especially in using off-road bike paths. The new Google feature doesn't do as well. It sent me along a busy four-lane highway for much of my route, though that road is easily avoided.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by GV27
I think it's pretty darn good for Denver. And I think you're expecting a bit much from a computer, Artkansas. As far as directions go, you're asking it to take in a lot of intangibles - where there are hills, where there are potholes, etc. Especially the bit where you cut across one parking lot, across a strip of grass and then across another parking lot. How the heck is it supposed to know that? How is it supposed to know there's not a fence between the two parking lots? That's asking an awful lot.
[...]
For every person like you (and me) who thinks that MUPs are good and no sidewalks or shoulders is bad, there are "take the lane" folks who would find the lack of shoulders no hinderance at all and would never take a MUP or a sidewalk.

I was impressed looking around where it sees routes I didn't think it would. For example a path that goes right through the entry plaza and between buildings at a local factory, a weird little narrow "sidewalk" that cuts between some back yards and a golf course. It's impressively complete. Doubly so for an initial rollout.
Denver's pretty flat in my recollection. As for asking too much, I don't necessarily think so. They know the average speed on roads, and they know elevation. So routing based on elevation isn't all that a stretch; they may do it already. A short map I did seemed to favor smaller roads at the cost of a detour, so it may be taking that into account.

They get this info for the normal auto directions by hiring people to drive around. It's not out of the pale to imagine them getting bicycling info the same way, or provide for user generated additions/comments. If a few people draw a path, start adding it to the instructions or something.

It's not perfect, but they have to start somewhere. Glad it's finally up.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:10 AM
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Originally Posted by EKW in DC
Yeah. I have been daydreaming lately of a multiple day tour to from DC to my parents' place in NC, and just tried to see what it mapped out. Instead of following US BICYCLE Route 1, it followed the actual motorized US Rte. 1 all the way to Fredericksburg. I've driven that road a few times, and I can say I would NOT want to ride a bike on it.
Oh, they don't have any rural yet and only, IIRC, 110 cities. So once you got out of DC it just put you on the car route.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:17 AM
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In the case of my commute I was wigwamed through lots of residential streets to get to the Illinois Prairie Path. This section of path is too rough for a skinny tire road bike, with at least one section that most folks on a mountain bike would even walk. One section is now marked as closed until May. (I don't know if a cyclists could still get through.)

Worst of all it has me west bound on the 4 lane road my work place is on, requiring me to make a left turn from a 50+ mph through lane into our driveway. (no dedicated left turn lane, and no shoulder to wait on) Plenty of our employees have been rear ended here in cars while waiting for a break in oncoming traffic. Knowing this, I always plan my route to come in from the other direction, so I only have to make a right to get into the driveway.

Overall mileage is about the same as my favorite routes.

Still, kinda cool and worth a look. I don't use any other mapping tools so I have nothing to compare it to.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:29 AM
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GV27 makes a lot of good points, and I hope that Google will have a way to take input from the users to upgrade the quality of their suggested routes. Real people sharing real information will be much more critical to this than for driving or even pedestrain route mapping. Cyclists also have a huge range of ability and comfort zones, so eventually it would be nice to see the 'bicycle' option be more customizable (road/mountain bike, top speed of traffic you're willing to mingle with, preferences to avoid stop signs).
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Old 03-10-10, 10:45 AM
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I really like mapitpronto. It allows you to adjust for hopping curbs etc by toggling on and off the "follow the road" button. And also gives elevations.
A big plus, I think, in mapping a bike route.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:46 AM
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Pretty darn good, I'd say. The route follows pretty much what I take to work. Google doesn't know about a pedestrian walk that connects two streets, which I take because it safes me from a much busier street. Interesting also in Chicago it routes you through a lot of alley ways (which I learned you don't what to bike through if you don't like to get a flat). It's not perfect for the routes I checked, but pretty good nevertheless.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by GV27
Especially the bit where you cut across one parking lot, across a strip of grass and then across another parking lot. How the heck is it supposed to know that?
We teach it!

That's the importance of the feedback. If the system is smart enough to discriminate between residential streets and main thoroughfares, it's only a small leap to knowing about the shortcuts through parking lots. We just have to be on the ball and let the folks at Google know of all those bicycle only shortcuts and the sections of street that are deathzones.

Actually I was impressed that it routed me through that hilly section on the way back from work. It meanders but it's all residential. It's in Beta, so I'll forgive it a lot. I look forward to seeing how it improves.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.

Last edited by Artkansas; 03-10-10 at 10:57 AM.
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Old 03-10-10, 11:04 AM
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I tried a variety of different things, and found surprising results. Lots of errors, of which some were pretty obvious-- it can't find my house, for example; can't seem to distinguish different zip codes, and house numbers are a half mile off; etc. Other errors would not be obvious if you don't know something-- it put me on a Delaware River bridge that doesn't bicycles, and would put you 20 miles from the nearest one that does; finding this out too late would be a real bummer. Even so, after a couple misfires, it came up with EXACTLY the route I have chosen, after considerable trial and error, for my commute.

All in all, I give it a passing grade even at this early stage.
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Old 03-10-10, 11:10 AM
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I put my commute in:

Suggested I ride down a very narrow, steep road with zero shoulders...one I would never consider riding down.

Suggested I exit a paved bike path and cross over a river and continue on a unpaved path on the other side.

Took me down a road that has been closed for construction for a year (and will be closed for another year).

I provided feedback on these issues using the link at the bottom of the route.

I give Google a A+ for providing this feature, but only a C+ for implementation (so far). Hopefully more people will provide feedback, the feedback will get incorporated, and this will become a really useful tool.
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Old 03-10-10, 11:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Artkansas
We teach it!

That's the importance of the feedback. If the system is smart enough to discriminate between residential streets and main thoroughfares, it's only a small leap to knowing about the shortcuts through parking lots. We just have to be on the ball and let the folks at Google know of all those bicycle only shortcuts and the sections of street that are deathzones.

Actually I was impressed that it routed me through that hilly section on the way back from work. It meanders but it's all residential. It's in Beta, so I'll forgive it a lot. I look forward to seeing how it improves.
The main issue I see is trails and small paved streets etc that are visible only in the satellite view but not on the "map". At least for what I have seen so far, the routing would be much better if the map were more complete.
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Old 03-10-10, 12:59 PM
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Originally Posted by GV27
Oh, they don't have any rural yet and only, IIRC, 110 cities. So once you got out of DC it just put you on the car route.
Well, that makes sense then. Like I said, good effort by Google. It can only get better from here, too.
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Old 03-10-10, 01:26 PM
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The biggest problem I see cropping up in these comments is personal preference.

Let's take the example of cutting across two parking lots separated by a strip of grass. Not picking on you at all Artkansas, just that it illustrates pitfalls that Google is going to have to avoid. I take routes like that all the time - I prefer routes like that! But not everyone does.

1) Your route takes you across private property. That's a big legal pitfall for Google

2) Your route takes you through parking lots. A LOT of people on this forum would rightly call a parking lot a death trap. I can see you responding "oh, those parking lots are always empty" or "one is a police parking lot so I feel safe". That may well be true but how is Google to really evaluate that? They could go and look, stake it out, etc. but that's no scalable. How do you do that with hundreds of thousands of parking lots?

3) What's the nature of that grass strip? What if there's a lot of rocks? "Oh, it's not that bad" - how is Google to evaluate that? What if you ride an MTB? What if you ride a Cervelo with Zipp wheels and silk tubulars? What if you ride something in between? What if it's a goathead patch? "Oh, if you run <tire X> it's not a problem" - what if you don't? What are the entrances and exits to that patch like? "You can just bunnyhop the curbs" - is that a viable option for everyone? What happens when it rains? Does it get super muddy? "When it rains I take a different route" - how do you illustrate that with turn-by-turn directions?

A couple of other examples:

"Suggested I ride down a very narrow, steep road with zero shoulders...one I would never consider riding down." DOWN? I'd ride down that! Up? Maybe not!

"It missed a pedestrian underpass under a busy street". There are a lot of folks on this forum who ain't gonna ride "pedestrian" nothin' - including MUPs

My commute has a section that's been closed for several months. It's slated to open back up next month. It's easy to bypass by riding across 5 or 6 fairly level yards which is what I do. How should Google list it?

Realize that (as I said) this service is intended to get you to a place you haven't been - or at least a ride you haven't been on. They need to find a RELIABLE route they can put people on with confidence. Will this always be the fastest route? No. The safest? No. The shortest? No. Should they put on shortcuts that could get shut down any day? No. Should they put on routes that are weather dependent? No. Should they put on routes that depend on putting on a sprint a few yards early to insure you outrun the loose junkyard pitbull that lives along it? No.

They'll never be able to calculate routes that are 100% optimal for every rider every time of year. It's just impossible. I'm not saying that it's perfect as it sits by a long shot. But if I tell them about the shortcut I use by cutting across a trash-strewn vacant lot and ducking through the hole in the fence should they put that in their database? Heck no! We'll make there job a lot easier if we self-evaluate the changes we suggest beforehand. Which would be a worse failure for Google - "It missed three shortcuts" or "I got a million goatheads in my tire" or "there was a 6 foot fence blocking Google's route and I had to backtrack a mile and got lost for half the day and got mugged and bitten by a pitbull?".

Last edited by GV27; 03-10-10 at 01:38 PM.
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Old 03-10-10, 01:36 PM
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I just tried for a route I want to ride and got pretty good results, including a way over a freeway I hadn't seen before.

it is clear that if there is a MUP or Bike infratructure, these are given priority in route choosing.
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Old 03-10-10, 01:48 PM
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Here's an article that I saw that points out some flaws I would consider actual flaws as well as one that none of us has thought of so far: how the heck do you give directions - especially computer generated directions - in places with no street signs? Many of my routes would have directions like, turn right just past the abandoned couch, turn left at the wino or in one place - litterally - take the path with the least wear - not one of the well worn ones and not the medium one but the one that's barely detectable; the one you can only find if you know it's there!

https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2361186,00.asp
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Old 03-10-10, 03:09 PM
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Originally Posted by GV27
The biggest problem I see cropping up in these comments is personal preference.

Let's take the example of cutting across two parking lots separated by a strip of grass. Not picking on you at all Artkansas, just that it illustrates pitfalls that Google is going to have to avoid. I take routes like that all the time - I prefer routes like that! But not everyone does.

1) Your route takes you across private property. That's a big legal pitfall for Google

2) Your route takes you through parking lots. A LOT of people on this forum would rightly call a parking lot a death trap. I can see you responding "oh, those parking lots are always empty" or "one is a police parking lot so I feel safe". That may well be true but how is Google to really evaluate that? They could go and look, stake it out, etc. but that's no scalable. How do you do that with hundreds of thousands of parking lots?
You have many good points. I hadn't thought about legal liability for Google.

There are some points where Google can improve. Such as on my return trip where following their directions, I have to cross 4 lanes of traffic to go into a small industrial park, ride 4 blocks and cross another 4 lanes of traffic to emerge on the same street I was on. And one section of another street that I consider a death zone and take a shortcut along an MUP and go through a residential neighborhood to avoid. Those kinds of things Google should be able to learn.
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Originally Posted by Bjforrestal
I don't care if you are on a unicycle, as long as you're not using a motor to get places you get props from me. We're here to support each other. Share ideas, and motivate one another to actually keep doing it.
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Old 03-10-10, 03:17 PM
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Oh yeah, I agree - just used your parking lots as an example of pitfalls present in many different comments.
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Old 03-10-10, 03:22 PM
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It's got a reasonable approximation of my commute. Misses my own optimized route to/from the trails (at each end). I guess the hard part of any trip, by bike or car or airplane, is not the long straight part covering 90% of the distance.
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Old 03-10-10, 06:11 PM
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from my front door to the North Hollywood Metro station: Google gives me the exact route that I currently ride (mostly along the Orange Line MUP) Just a smidge over 10 miles each way
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Old 03-11-10, 12:34 PM
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Boston user here. I have to defend Google on this.
For routes in Boston it actually selects the roads with least traffic / best fitted for bicycling.
It is so detailed that it knows all the no-body-knows-but-extremely-convenient-stairways!!

Haaaaaaaaalleluja XD
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Old 03-11-10, 12:54 PM
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Originally Posted by JimJimex
It is so detailed that it knows all the no-body-knows-but-extremely-convenient-stairways!!
That's awesome. I didn't know if it trimmed some of my shortcuts because they involve some trespassing.
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Old 03-12-10, 09:31 AM
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For the most part, I thought it was a good start. Yeah it wasn't great, but for my route to work it did offer three options on the left. One of which I wouldn't use due to high traffic, but the others were pretty good. Not the routes I take, but still pretty good. Looking at the map data, I also see that their Illinois Prairie Path data is only partial. I know that there is a path route that will take me from my house to my parents (about 40 miles away), but Google doesn't seem to have any of the Cook County paths in their system yet.

So definitely just a start.
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