Compare Google, MapQuest bike maps

I’ve added a semi-secret Google switch to my bike map application that lets you compare MapQuest’s bike routing with Google’s bike directions.

Bike route: Google vs MapQuest

To use it, enter your start and destination addresses like you normally do, then when you pull up the map, add “&google” to the end of the URL. MapQuest bike route appears in red; Google in blue. The Google option only works in the United States and Canada, and I don’t (yet) print Google’s text directions — I just provide the visual comparison. As before, MapQuest’s directions work for Canada, the US, Mexico, and Europe. It doesn’t work in Asia, South America, or Australia.

MapQuest’s route appears in red; Google’s in blue. Here’s an example from Gatineua, Quebec to Ottawa, Ontario.

You’ll recall that MapQuest gets bike facility information from OpenStreetMap. Where the bike facility information is fairly complete, I like MapQuest’s routing better than Google’s. Where it’s incomplete, the result is only as good as the data. If you know the bike facilities for your town, please join OpenStreetMap and add the data. OSM’s map editing tool is easy to use once you get the hang of it.

Since I created this bike route tool on Thanksgiving, I’ve added or corrected bike facility data for Longmont, CO; Fresno, CA; Gatineau, QC; Santa Cruz, CA; and San Francisco, CA. Ted pointed out a one-way street error that I fixed. Once I make the additions and corrections, it only takes a couple of days for MapQuest’s routing to make use of the new information. It’s very very cool to see it happen.

I’ve found a couple of shortcomings in MapQuest’s bicycling routing algorithm. First of all, MapQuest will not route on bridges that are marked as pedestrian bridges, even when they’re tagged as bicycle accessible. MapQuest acknowledged this as a bug and they’re working to fix it.

The other is more subtle, and I’m not even quite sure it’s an issue. MapQuest doesn’t seem to pay attention to designated and preferred bike routes — ncn, rcn, and lcn tags in OSM parlance. The preferred route for cyclists in Palo Alto is the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard, for example, but MapQuest wants to send you across town on Alma Street, which is not favored at all by local cyclists. One possibility I need to look at: OSM doesn’t mark the cyclist cut throughs along Bryant. See, for example, this routing around Embarcadero Road if you’re familiar with the area.

Please try entering a few addresses you know to look what MapQuest recommends. If you know of bike facilities OSM doesn’t know about, please join the OSM project and contribute your local knowledge!


  1. One very good thing about Google Map Bike Route I found is that, the user can report problems and possible short cuts farily easily.

    A few months ago, I route my commute from Fremont to Palo Alto, and found that Google Map routed me around several short cuts/bike route entry points that I know of along the route. On a whim, I filed the complain/suggestion to Google Map, and to my utter surprise, they responded, and 2-3 weeks later they fixed the problem.

  2. I cannot get this to work for me. I have tried it with multiple browsers and it does not work. Also I have never gotten OpenStreetMap to work. I don’t get it. I cannot figure out how to get directions on OpenStreetMap that functionality does not seem to exist?

  3. There’s just something about the OSM maps that doesn’t look visually appealing to me. It’s good that some have a cloned Google look to them now.

    I tried putting my commute on there, and neither versions were the way that any local cyclists would go. They both route right up the steepest straightest hill, which is 18%, which is not where you find cyclists. Considering that for a little bit longer, there is a road with a nice bike lane and 6% grade, I’d think any good routing software should jump to that one.

    I’ve sent over 100 fixes to Google by reporting them, and nearly all of them were fixed. Usually takes them about 3 or 4 weeks to do it. They basically took the pedestrian layer and subtracted the car-only roads to make the cycling routes in the beginning, which meant that a lot of ped only paths were included, and the lesser known ped/bike shortcuts were not there, but it’s slowly getting better.

  4. 10-4 on the garish OSM base layers, which is partly why the default view on my map is Yahoo, and Google’s base layer is another option.

    I’ve submitted corrections to Google as well. Several are accepted, but in one case Google made the changes then reverted back to the old way, which is publishing a route that sends cyclists illegally down Highway 17 from Scotts Valley into Santa Cruz, CA.

    Since you’re taking the effort to help Google’s shareholders, I encourage you to *please* make those corrections to OSM as well. It only takes a couple of days for the changes to propagate out.

  5. I submitted a problem report to Google when it routed me across those salt pond dikes by Newark. Fixed a few weeks later.

    OSM map changes take 2 or 3 *days* — it’s slightly more effort on your part, but I encourage you to help out where you can! The purpose of this map tool is partly to identify the missing links in the OSM bike data.

  6. OSM doesn’t do directions — it’s just a geographic database. It’s up to other tools to have routing software that uses that database. Ride The City, for example, uses OSM data for their bike routing, but it’s limited to a few major cities where OSM data is fairly complete. Ditto for the UK Bike Hub iPhone application, because OSM has a very large following in the UK. We’re slacking here in the USA on bike facility data @ OSM.

    When you say it “does not work” what do you mean? Nothing display?

  7. Yeah I know. I looked at Ithaca on there and the bike info doesn’t seem to exist, so I have a feeling like some cold weekend I’ll spend a good chunk of time learning OSM. I tried long ago, but didn’t figure it out well and hadn’t tried since then. That was back when no one knew about OSM, so now that it’s gaining popularity it would be helpful for me to really learn that again.

    I wish Google would just give some sort of special access to people that make lots of reasonable changes. I would think after 100 decent submissions that they accepted nearly all of, they would do that for me and others in the same boat. I submitted some comments to that affect and they never responded. I also sent them links and contact information for the city, town, bike advisory board (which I chair) and the county (which has a great bicycle map in print and some GIS data online).

    I could talk about bike mapping all day… I think I’ll just email you my other ideas.

  8. [Learning OSM] I tried long ago, but didn’t figure it out well and hadn’t tried since then — Ditto for me; tried, got frustrated, gave up. When I jumped back in the other week, I saw the edit tools have improved substantially — there’s a world of difference.

    I’m thinking about writing an illustrated “How To Add Bike Paths” tutorial for OSM. Would that be helpful.

  9. I have the official bike routes for Dallas. Still trying to figure out the best way to get them into OSM. Currently I have SHP, KML, and PostGIS.

  10. Hey if you’re doing an OSM tutorial, something to look out for:

    I’ve come across bike trails in Northern Virginia that somebody had just imported into OSM. That’s great visually, but you have to manually edit the data and have the trail connect to the roads where needed (create a junction between the two) for the routing to work. However, if the trail goes below a road, make sure they remain unconnected – otherwise you’ll be telling them to jump off the overpass and down to the trail! OSM editing can be addictive, beware 😉

  11. Stuart — 25 pages of additions! I’m impressed.

    I’ve only glanced at a few of the ways so I’ve only seen bike lanes and the like, I think. If you entered any separated facilities (MUPs), somebody typically also needs to massage the data to ensure they connect with the right roads. Otherwise, they truly are unconnected paths to nowhere as far as the routing software is concerned.

  12. Well, obviously I didn’t make all those additions by hand. 🙂 Now that I’ve looked at some examples from other cities, I don’t think I did it right. I created completely new nodes and ways rather than using the existing ways (roads). I’m not sure if that is something I will be able to do programmability.

    FYI, these are all on-street recommended routes (aka bicycle boulevards) not bike lanes or MUPs. Dallas doesn’t have any bike lanes (yet) and it looks like someone has already taken care of the MUPs.

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