Google Maps on a Bicycle

Google has made a welcome addition to the ever more versatile Google Maps by adding  cycling directions to those for driving, walking, and riding public transit. The new “Bicycling,” created with help from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, option includes dedicated bike trails, favors cycle-friendly streets, and tries to avoid steep hills.

Google Maps screen shotIn brief usage of the new service, I found it impressive, though not without flaws. In plotting routes from my home to various locations in the Washington area, it showed a great fondness for the Capitol Crescent Trail, which follows an abandoned railroad right-of-way from Silver Spring to Georgetown. But it had a mysterious aversion to the Rock Creek trail through the heart of the city, oddly favoring dangerous routes down traggic-heavy streets such as Connecticut Ave.

There were also a couple of oddities (which I reported to Google) on its Capital Crescent route. At two points in Bethesda, it routed me down neighborhood streets, avoiding a bridge and tunnel that carry the trail over and under busy roads. But it did know about a little neighborhood loop that lets riders avoid a short but nasty hill near the Bethesda Naval Hospital.

It’s riding time estimates are also peculiar. Even for a cyclist of my modest abilities, a prediction of 70 minutes for a mostly level ride of 13.3 miles seemed excessive.  And for a ride where it offered a choice of two routes, it said the path that was a half-mile longer would take an extra minute, quite a trick at an average assumed speed of 9 mph.

These, however, are minor quibbles. The bicycle routing a great features and shows why Google Maps keeps increasing its lead  over the competition. Does anyone remember MapQuest?

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