Google have responded to public demand and added bike paths and urban cycling directions to their mapping software – in the US at least.
From today, the 'Get Directions' route-finding feature on Google Maps has a fourth option, "bicycling", alongside "by car", "by public transit" and "walking".
If you select this, you are recommended a step-by-step route that is optimised for bikes, taking advantage of cycle lanes, bike paths and cycle-friendly streets, and avoiding hills where possible.
Google announced the new feature, which is available for 150 US cities, at the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit in Washington DC today. They said cycling directions had been the most requested addition to Google Maps; an online petition started in 2008 has been signed by over 51,000 people.
"This is the next move in what we think mapmaking should be,'' Jim Lecinski, managing director for Google in the US, told the Chicago Tribune. "Streets are not just for cars.''
You can try out a beta version of the 'biking directions' feature at http://maps.google.com/biking. Factors like bike lanes, topography and traffic lights are taken into account to determine the optimum route, and if you don't want to miss out the hills, you can alter the route to reflect this.
"Sometimes we get feedback from Googlers who say 'you should take this one, it's faster,' but they're more aggressive cyclists than the style we're targeting," Shannon Guymon, project manager for driving directions and lead on the bike routes, told The Seattle Times.
Bike paths are shown on the map in dark green, cycle lanes in light green and streets that are suitable for cycling due to light traffic and other factors are indicated by dotted green lines. Much of the data has been provided by the League and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
League president Andy Clarke said: “This new tool will open people’s eyes to the possibility and practicality of hopping on a bike and riding. We know people want to ride more, and we know it’s good for people and communities when they do ride more – this makes it possible. It's a game-changer, especially for those short trips that are the most polluting.”
As yet there's no news on the feature being added to European mapping, but the Google trikes seen on Britain's streets last year bode well. A mobile version is likely to follow soon, along with points of interest like bike shops.
Bike-riding Google employees have tested some of the routes, but there are bound to be teething issues, so the “report a problem” feature may be well used. "We really are thinking of all this data as a starter set," said Guymon.