Bicycling Directions, Trails Comes to Google Maps

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Written by Mike Melanson

There’s nothing worse for a bicyclist than finding yourself a mile in to a two-mile stretch of shoulder-less, busy, highway-speed traffic with no alternative route. Before today, this was a common occurrence if you went to trusty Google Maps to get bicycling directions, but starting today, that has all changed.

Google has added bicycling directions, lanes and routes to Google Maps, meaning you no longer have to drive, walk or bus to get directions. And we can tell you, bicyclists are excited.

Before now, the only option to cyclists to get even remotely appropriate directions, was to use the walking option, but this would still ignore bike trails. Google has heard the pleas of cyclists and, from first look, we have to say that the feature is well implemented.

We gave it a test to see if it would put us on some of Austin‘s more bike unfriendly streets, but it managed to chose some good alternative routes and stick to the bike trails when it could. The directions got a little wonky when we threw it a few curve balls, but we expect this to happen with any mapping service, especially one still in beta. But, as we’ve learned, you can’t just go mindlessly follow directions, lest you end up in a lake.


The new feature also includes a “Bicycling Layer”, which shows bike paths and bike-friendly streets with or without lanes. Three different lanes appear in the layer.

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes

According to Google, it has also taken steps to avoid uphill and long downhill routes, busy roads and even busy intersections. Google says that it even takes hills and other factors into account when calculating your trip time. “Assuming typical values for mass and for wind resistance, we compute the effort you’ll require and the speed you’ll achieve while going uphill,” Google says in its Lat Long Blog.

Google worked with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to bring more than 12,000 miles of biking trails to its map, along with bike lanes and recommended streets for 150 cities across the country. Google makes sure to point out that the feature is still in beta, so feel free to tell Google the next time you find yourself on a crowded, shoulder-less highway because of Google Maps.

And for those of you headed to fair Austin this week, make sure to take a look at the new feature, because it includes all of Austin’s numerous bike trails and bike lanes. If you’ve never been to Austin for SXSW before, bicycling is the way to get around town and now you’ll know how to get there.


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