Google Maps “Bike There” Is Now Live!

UPDATE: Google Maps Bicycling Directions now live for the United States and Canada. I list the tips and tricks and secrets in this post.

Here’s a screenshot for biking directions from downtown Santa Cruz to the Santa Cruz Wharf. Below the static image is the embedded map from Google.

Bike There Google Maps



View Larger Map

Interesting findings on the service:

  • By default, when you select Bicycling directions, the map shows the bicycling facilities it knows about with green lines (as shown in the static image above). With bicycling facilities show, though, you cannot embed the map into another web page. You must click on the “More” button in the map and turn off the “Bicycling” checkbox for embedding to work.
  • The trip estimator takes road grade into account for trip time. Google Maps tells me, for example, the 6.7 mile trip it suggests from my home (elevation 500′) to the beach in Santa Cruz takes 36 minutes (about an 11 mph average speed). The reverse trip takes 48 minutes (8 mph average speed).
  • You’ll see in the embedded map above that the bike directions assign a very high weight (or preference) to bike facilities, especially off street bike paths. To get from downtown Santa Cruz to the Wharf, I normally shoot straight down Front Street and then straight to the Wharf. Google Maps routes me to the San Lorenzo River path.
  • The map takes one way streets into account and does not route cyclists the wrong way down them. It doesn’t know about the contraflow bike lane on Beach Street in Santa Cruz, though. I haven’t tried testing some of the other contraflow bike lanes I’ve heard about.
  • Google Maps shows a green line for the railroad trestle bridge in Santa Cruz next to the Boardwalk, but won’t route bicyclists across that bridge, routing cyclists a mile out of the way instead. Walking directions, however, use the bridge.
  • Maps doesn’t know about the bike access across the Santa Cruz Harbor.
  • The 25 mile bike ride from downtown San Jose to my office in Menlo Park in reality takes me about an hour and 20 minutes. Google Maps estimates over two hours for this trip with a 10 mph average speed. The routing for this longer trip is pretty lousy, giving strong preference to the numerous bike paths in Santa Clara County instead of sending me along the faster and straighter road routes.
  • This one’s pretty bad for the South Bay: “Bike There” doesn’t seem to know that the Santa Clara County Expressways are the preferred bikeways for longer distance cycling. For the trip from Cupertino to the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, Google Map routes me onto some less desirable roads away from Foothill Expressway.
  • Google Maps knows about bike paths and pedestrian bridges. It doesn’t always know about some commonly used shortcuts, however. There’s a cut through for walkers and cyclists on Ivy Drive in Menlo Park, CA, for example, that neither walking nor bicycling instructions take advantage of. There is a button for users to provide additional input to Google and let them discover these shortcuts.

In summary, Google Maps “Bike There” is very very very cool. I list the shortcomings above for informational purposes and to remind cyclists to always do an on the ground reality check so you don’t bike off of an unfinished bridge or something equally ridiculous, but honestly I’m amazed the service works as well as it does. It seems to work best for shorter trips (under about 10 miles), but that’s reasonable — people going on longer rides will probably want to be a little more thorough in their planning anyway.

Below is my original post on the expected announcement of this new service from Google.


Google is expected to announce the long awaited “Bike There” options for direction finding on their popular Google Maps service.

Here’s what I know:

  • Google “Bike There” has been in internal beta among Google employees for several months.
  • Trip time is based on an average cyclist speed of 8 mph.
  • Bike directions will take advantage of bike paths and other bike facilities. I know that “bike there” routing in the SF Bay Area seems to work fairly well, though I’ve seen instances where a street is picked over a nearby bike path.

Jonathan at Bike Portland scooped me big time — he’s at the National Bike Summit, where Shannon Guymon of Google will make an announcement Wednesday morning. Shannon is on the Google Maps team, and Shannon is scheduled to demonstrate Google Maps “new features” at SXSW this weekend. Jonathan’s journalistic instincts put two and two together.

So there you go. Watch Bike Portland for the details Wednesday morning.

26 Comments

  • March 9, 2010 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Ooooooh that is exciting!! I will be using the Bike There option a lot once it goes live! Yay!! Thanks for posting this!

  • March 9, 2010 - 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I hope and pray they don't use any variation of the word “safe.” It's a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to bike routing websites (see Ride The City, which uses “safe” terms).

  • March 9, 2010 - 10:13 pm | Permalink
  • MarvinK00
    March 9, 2010 - 10:14 pm | Permalink

    It's up and working!

  • March 9, 2010 - 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Woo hoo!

  • March 10, 2010 - 12:27 am | Permalink

    Those are good observations. I was too busy freaking over weird stuff like you pointed out to write them down. And my master's project is due in 19 days.

  • March 10, 2010 - 4:02 am | Permalink

    Checking to see if this works for London!

  • March 10, 2010 - 4:38 am | Permalink

    I just tried to do this for my commute to work into Boston MA. I noticed (and reported) a few problems)

    1. appears to indicate riding on sidewalk – which is illegal in the city of Boston
    2. appears to indicate to go the wrong direction down a one way street (the correct side of the street (it is split with a park in between) is right there – not sure why it indicates the wrong side (unless it expects sidewalk riding)
    3. It directs the rider to ride through the Boston Public Gardens – bicycle riding is prohibited through the Garden (the map shows it as a bicycle route)

    Even with these problems i think this is a great start!

  • March 10, 2010 - 5:28 am | Permalink

    Doesn't work for London yet… :(

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  • March 10, 2010 - 7:47 am | Permalink

    Yep, just USA and Canada, as far as I can tell. Thanks for checking that Mark; I've added that info to the post.

  • March 10, 2010 - 8:53 am | Permalink

    This is cool. I am planning to bike again this weekend. I can't wait to try this out and check how it works.

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  • March 10, 2010 - 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Awesome addition. I use Google maps when I'm driving. I'm eager to see how well the GPS will work on the handheld and how accurate the locator will be since you have to be more precise when you ride a bike. Either way, great news that Google listens to their customers requests.

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  • Gma4389
    August 17, 2010 - 1:17 pm | Permalink

    This would be awesome if it were made mobile. And then someone needs to make a mounter on a bike for phones. Instant bike GPS.

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  • Onthuhlist
    December 8, 2010 - 5:34 pm | Permalink

    How does one add bike paths to Google maps?

  • December 8, 2010 - 6:38 pm | Permalink

    You can file a “problem report” and then wait for Google to add it for you.

    Or you can this OpenStreetMap application and add the bike facilities in yourself.

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