I’ve noticed that the Google Maps team has been quietly building up their database of cycle tracks, cycle lanes and bike routes throughout the United Kingdom. Google is now augmenting that with a complete map of British Waterways’ bridges, locks and 2,000 miles of towpaths.
Though you won’t find an option to show bicycle facilities in the UK with the normal Google Maps, you can use the Google Maps API to display the bike layer to show the familiar green stripes and dashed lines. For an example of this, click through to this map and enable the “Google Bike Layer” button.
The Register and various other British news sites now report British Waterways has donated their geographical database to Google Maps. Google UK told reporters, “Canal towpaths offer green routes through our towns and cities, and by working with the Canal and River Trust we’re adding towpaths to Google Maps and encouraging people to discover their local waterway.” (British Waterways, a public, quasi-governmental agency, is currently in the process of becoming a non-governmental charitable organization called the Canal and River Trust).
With the donation of this nationwide path data, can we expect Google to enable bike directions in the UK?
Google’s bike routing tool for the United States became reality after the Rails To Trails Conservancy donated their geographic database of 30,000 miles of bike trails to Google.
Although bike directions are not available to UK users right now, the CycleStreets Cycle Journey Planner provides online bike directions through their website and mobile applications. The uniquely informative user interface and routing engine uses OpenStreetsMap data to generate their turn-by-turn directions, with options to select quick, quiet and ‘balanced’ routes.
Google bike directions could only be better than the lamentable TfL version which suggested that I should cycle from Wembley to Hangar Lane along the North Circular!
It appears somebody has tagged A406 there as a preferred cycling route on OSM. The existing tools, including my map application, use OSM data to determine what the cycling routes are.
The good news is that you can edit the map data yourself if there are better routes available. It takes my map about a day for those changes to propagate out.