Sunday, March 14, 2010

Google's New Bike Directions: a quick Sunday-morning review

The bicycling community was in a tizzy this week, when Google announced their new directions for bikes - of course, in beta form, per Google's standard modus operandi.  This is a big step forward for the bicycling-geo movement:  it is a much more visible and mainstream site for routing with a bike.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before Google got around to this particular transport mode.  (can multi-modal be far behind??!)  Prior bike-routing efforts included the OSM-based Ride the City, and of course a very famous proof-of-concept application developed on ESRI's ArcGIS Server a few years back.

Now, of course the directions are beta - what elese whould you expect from Google?!  There is already some belly-aching already around the route quality I understand. So I decided to take a quick look at the routing quality myself, based my own personal experience...

In Chicago, I commuted about twice a week into the Loop:  a quick look at Google's suggestions found them accurate for the most part.  For the lakeshore route, I saw a couple of issues though:
1) their data was missing a connector at Buena and Lakeshore - without it, Google directs you 2 blocks north and out of your way to get on the trail

2) On the other hand, they do show a connection in the loop that I was unaware of:  in the directions below, they show running the riverside walkway, which I never tried - (my concern there is how to get up from the river walk, to the surface streets) 

For the quicker route down halstead-lincoln-wells, their directions were accurate, but I question the route time:  36 minutes.  I think that's a bit on the fast side:  I would give yourself 45 minutes, more if there's a headwind (wind, in Chicago?!)

Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by a routing suggestion at our new location in Reston.  Now I am well aware of the OD bike trail that I've used to get to the office, but the connection getting onto the trail has been tricky.  Google maps suggested a connection, highlighted below, that I never knew existed.  (instead, I'd been off-roading it at Town Center Parkway, which has almost ended in mud-splattered disaster once or twice...)

So - a good start, Google.  Compared to Ride The City, it is easier to use and faster on the map rendering.  Directions however are a wash:  some positive, some negative.  It's all about the data, right?!

What is the holy grail??  Turn-by-turn GPS navigation for bikes.  If you think about it, with online bike directions, we're basically at the MapQuest stage from a decade ago.  We're really not going to get where we want until you get that sweet little nav voice telling you "in 100 feet, steer your bike right onto the lakeshore trail"