Google Biking Directions a Disappointment?

Now that we’re a couple of weeks out and we’ve all had a chance to try out Google’s new “Biking Directions” component of Google Maps, I’d be curious to hear how it’s working for you. I hate to say it, but the directions I’ve been getting around here are not great so far. In many cases, the best off-street paths and back road shortcuts are completely ignored in favor of high-speed 6-lane parkways, while at other times the results suggest impossible routes that go through locked gated communities. I’m wagering that Google will improve the service over time as riders provide feedback, but at this point I’d give the application an A for effort and a D for execution.

Google Biking Directions

How would you grade the accuracy of Google Biking Directions so far?

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35 Responses to “Google Biking Directions a Disappointment?”

  • Yangmusa says:

    I agree – so far execution is lagging behind intent. But the intent is wonderful! And given how fast they responded to my feedback, I’m fairly certain that it will evolve quickly to become more useful.

  • Zyzzyx says:

    I probably should check it out more, but I haven’t really bothered to use it. I already know the good ways to get where I’m going in town, or even to neighboring towns. But I guess feedback from knowledge like mine is what’s really what is needed to make it better. *shrug*

  • Jayson says:

    +1 for showing which roads have bike lanes
    -1 for giving me a route to work that is the worst possible solution
    -10 for telling me to use trails that aren’t paved (which required me to tack on more additional miles than I cared to). Needs to be some sort of delineation between paved and non-paved streets and paths.

    I used it to try and find new ways to get around. I’m not that upset, but won’t be using it again until they improve the information.

  • James says:

    I’m giving them a B. it would be worse if I only evaluated on the first route they offer, but since they often return several alternate routes, one of which usually meeting my needs better than the primary, I think the service is not performing all that badly.

    That said, it will be an incremental improvement process, just like was seen for road directions. Constructive feedback sent to google, increased resolution of trailways both on- and off-road, and time will all add up to solid improvements given a bit of patience.

  • OmahaBikes says:

    Considering how much I paid for them to develop this service, I would give it a B. It’s a solid effort that needs some polishing. Unfortunately, it will require OUR INPUT to get it up to an “A”. The only way I could think that they could have released it more effectively would have been to roll it out to a limited group of advocates and active commuters in each community as a “closed BETA” or even “ALPHA” and let them flush out the routes and details in each city PRIOR to realeasing it as an “open BETA” to everyone.

    However, letting everyone get their hands on it now should help it improve more quickly. I wonder how many people at Google will be tasked with entering updated route info from the community?

  • Tom says:

    Lucky for us in the DC area… we have http://www.ridethecity.com/ AND google biking directions. Ride the City has more of the local off-street asphalt paths (multi-use trails).
    The cool part about Ride The City is that I can edit the underlying OpenStreeMap (OSM) data to add a path that is missing. Ride the City was also lightning quick in removing a route that I submitted feedback on as being inaccurate.

  • macwestie says:

    In my limited experience with them they are pretty good. They got my daily commute exactly except for about 200 yards.

  • Julien says:

    Hi
    You can try http://www.yournavigation.org/
    It’s a routing service using the open street map free database.
    In Europe the directions are quite good.
    And if the database is wrong, you can add your local geographical knowledge.
    Best regards

  • Logan says:

    The best thing about the google bicycle maps that I have found for Portland has been the access to the bike map layer, under the “more” tab, revealing paths, lanes, and sharrows. Yes the city has maps in pdf that also show this but its nice to use google’s map because it is dynamic and I can find businesses address location instantly and find a nearby coffee shop. :) I don’t mind that the directions are still in beta, I can plan my own path based on the bike map layer info. ;)

    The directions in Sacramento and Portland I have found to be adequate at maybe a “C” grade (they usually prescribe a very “scenic” route using the long way around. But the bike layer option is a definite “A” for the areas that are covered like the two cities I mentioned above. Overall I give it a “B” for cities that are well covered. For cities that are not well covered I agree with you Alan on the “D” grade since google gives bike directions even though it doesn’t have the information on bike paths, lanes or sharrows. These directions can be misleading and potentially dangerous.

  • Casey Brown says:

    Such promise, but such disappointment! Here in Golden, CO the Google bike directions ignore ALL paved bike trails (comprising many, many miles) and instead suggest a route east out of town through a gated and security patrolled road through the Coors brewery complex. Bummer!

  • Bob says:

    We don’t have much in the way of commuting- and transportation-sensitive bike routes in Iowa City, but in my part of town there are a few key places to which one can ride almost entirely on multi-use trails or wide sidewalks that are marked bike routes–a high school, two good grocery stores, a drugstore, and, though I hate to go there, a big mall. Google fails to recognize any of the trails or wide sidewalks. I can see them on the satellite image, but I can’t drag the the route line onto them. In fact, the driving, walking, and biking directions from my house for these destinations are essentially identical.

  • heather says:

    Per my friends who work at Google — If you have an issue with specific directions, Tell Them. If the site gives you a wonky route, email Google. If it sends you the wrong way on a one-way street, or tells you there’s a bike land and there isn’t, email Google. Google wants to fix this product and make it work well, but their engineers aren’t physically capable of checking every single route out there. Rather than vowing not to use it “until it’s better,” help make it better.

  • Jayson says:

    @heather:

    I’ve looked all over and can’t find any sort of way to contact them. Where would one find a place to make suggestions?

  • Torrilin says:

    Madison, WI is one of the cities that cooperated with Google. Google doesn’t *quite* get all the linkages dead on accurate for the bike trail system, but it is very good. Very, very good. The reason I downgrade them from A to B is that it’s almost impossible to force them to generate a cue sheet based on your preferred routing. So if I want to bike to my sister-in-law’s apartment, Google will prefer a particular route that is a bit longer than I really like, and involves some unpleasant riding on a frontage road. I can’t force it to route me along either of the minor arterials that I would prefer.

    The routes I prefer are a bit hilly, but the traffic speeds are also a lot lower than the frontage roads. I really don’t like how on frontage roads, drivers seem compelled to keep up with highway traffic. I am much happier on a heavily used arterial with 35-40mph speeds instead of random buzzes by drivers going 55-60.

  • John says:

    Note that Google provides the ability to add corrections on the directions interface (very bottom left corner when you have directions loaded). I used it to report 3 problems in Portland and they’ve already corrected two of them.

  • uncle says:

    I betcha they’ll get better. But for now, they’re flarggin weird. For example, why did it just route me through a random alleyway when it was perfectly fine (and preferable) to stay on the road I was on?

  • JonP says:

    Here in Philly, it gives me some wonky directions for my daily commute.

    I understand what it’s TRYING to do, but Google calls for a route that would send me down what essentially are alleys. The streets are so tiny and have so many intersections that real-life speeds have to be kept to a crawl.

    Real world experience tells me that low-traffic main roads are the better choice. (And deletes six unnecessary turns from Google’s suggested route.)

    So, yeah, I give them an A for effort. But I wouldn’t dare use Google as my exclusive route planner.

  • Sharper says:

    I think what’s most amazing is that given the generally high quality of the products Google has put out over the years, this is the first one that really deserves that “beta” tag.

  • SM says:

    Terrible execution. As far as using exiting data to provide a free service Google has it nailed. When the data is less than perfect like in this case they fall flat on their faces. All they needed to do was connect the bike info into the street network at the intersections and it all would have been good. Put a little weighting on the bike routes when bike mode is selected so you wouldn’t get routed off the bike system and they would have been golden. The user community will correct it all eventually but it doesn’t make them look very good at this point. I’ve seen routing in my town (Boulder) that takes you off a separated bike path and on to a major road with no bike lanes etc. when there is a bike path right across the intersection going the same place.

  • townmouse says:

    I’ve not used the bike specific google routing, but I’ve found that with the regular google driving directions – in the UK at least – if it gives me a route I don’t like, I can just drag a node away onto a better road and eventually (sometimes it’s quite stubborn about sticking to the road it wants) it will reroute. That way I can see the new distance, and get directions printed out if I need it.

    We also have cyclestreets here which is OpenStreetMap based, and gives options for fastest, quietest and balanced routes. It probably doesn’t pick the routes I’d choose either, but if so I’ve only myself to blame as I’ve done the bulk of the OSM mapping in the area…

  • Dweendaddy says:

    It sure would be nice if they had an elevation piece built in….

  • heather says:

    @Jayson -
    When you get bike directions from GoogleMaps, a box pops up that says “bicycling directions
    are still in beta…please report (blah blah blah) problems here.” The “here” should link to a pop-up box where you can report the problem. Per my friend at Google, the comments really are being read and corrections are being made to the maps, though it might take a few days as the folks working on it are pretty overwhelmed.

  • ToddBS says:

    I was surprised to even see them for my locale since I don’t live in a metropolitan area. All in all, I found them to be not terribly different than the driving directions. Which is not unexpected given that Florida law considers bicycles to be vehicles and I’m surrounded by mostly low-volume roads.
    It did route me on to a MUP running alongside a 4 lane highway (65mph speed limit). That part is new. Previously it had me riding on the highway. Technically, I’m allowed to as it is not a limited access road and it has rather wide shoulders, but the MUP is just 50 feet away and you don’t have to suck exhaust the whole way, so for someone unfamiliar with the area it is beneficial.

  • bongobike says:

    I gave it an ‘F’. It wanted to send me down one of the busiest and most dangerous roads in Austin. Nobody bikes the north end of Burnet Rd.–no one with half a brain, anyway!!!

  • steve says:

    When I searched for a work-commute route, Google bike gave me the shortest route, all of which is bike facilities. Most of the Google route was on major streets, while most of my actual route is on bike facilities that allow me to travel through residential neighborhoods, with few and slow moving vehicles, and a much safer, slightly longer distance. It was difficult to modify the Google bike route to my actual route.

  • Giffen says:

    I gave it a ‘D’. I put in the end points of one of my favorite routes and it wanted me to ride a 8-lane freeway. No thanks. I didn’t give it an ‘F’ because it’s nice that they are trying.

  • Matt in Tacoma says:

    I am excited about the bike map tool and have tested it and submitted suggestions to Google. Great.

    However, they left out the only major paved trail in Tacoma (the Scott Pierson Trail), which goes over the Narrows Bridge (part of state Hwy 16). Tacoma-Gig Harbor should be 7-10 miles or so, mostly trail, instead of the 60+ mile bicycle adventure that is recommended (via Seattle and a ferry ride!)

    Among other things, Google Maps also tends to direct me down alleys in Tacoma for long stretches of a given route, which is neither convenient or safe. For now, I still just use the “avoid highways” feature if I need a bike map. Hopefully it won’t confuse too many new riders before it gets better.

  • Jonathan says:

    I like the service very much.

    First, it creates tremendous visibility for the idea of getting somewhere by bike in the universe of wayfinding tools. My choice: car, foot, transit or bike. I can quickly compare how long a trip would take via transit or bike.

    Second, I can drag the route to match my preferred routing.

    Third, it’s hooked up with all the business-lookup functionality. Now, I can look up a restaurant or toy store on Google, click get directions, and have it tell me how to bike there.

    Fourth, the routes take change in altitude into account, and choose less steep routes generally.

  • willyjake says:

    I gave them a “D” so far. My primary reason for this is that I utilize VA bike route 1 on my ride to work everyday here in Richmond VA which is also known as the Eastern route or something similar for Adventure Cycling enthusiasts. The directions provided me by Google did not take into account exisiting bicycle infrastructure when plotting my route. I would have thought that even a beta version of this would include estbalished infrastructure when planning routes and avoid congested areas. That being said I doubt there is a centralized (or even a decentralized location like each state who probably keep different records on this stuff) location for Google to obtain this information from. As previous posters had stated, input from the cycling community and users will probably have to be the driving factor in improving this resource but until then if you use the feature to plot a tour or something similar we’ll have to be wary.

    On that note I was on google last night trying to do just that and realized some of the reccomended routes google was suggesting had me cycling through areas of the city I probably wouldn’t ride in a tank through due to the degrees of crime and violence and poverty in those areas. I hate to say it but the socio-economic conditions of the communities I chose to ride through are a factor when cycling. While cycling is a great activity to get one out into one’s own community unfortunately the same is true when riding through other areas that may be unsavory. Honestly, I don’t think I am really trying to take a route through a community where my bike and equipment are esentially a billboard that says please harass me. Perhaps google could cross refernce socio-economic data from available sources when plotting routes to provide a route that dosen’t put anyone at as great a risk for becoming a victim of theft or violence. This could also backfire though as I have ridden past trailer parks in the country that I didn’t mind whatsoever but there are probably people out there who wouldn’t feel comfortable riding in my neigborhood. Hard to say what a solution might be for this other than trying to stick to estbalished bicycling infrastructure routes to guide cyclists.

  • Dan says:

    I tried a couple of routes around my area – google suggested route included gated driveways and dirt roads thru private farmlands; no way to get around the gates and definitely posted Private.

  • Joseph E says:

    “C” so far, but “A” for response to feedback! I suggested a couple of corrections to routes in my neighborhood, and the map was corrected in a few days.

  • Dottie says:

    I’ve been very impressed by the directions in Chicago. For my work commute, it gave me two route choices – one via bike-laned streets and one via bike path – the two routes I always take depending on my mood.

    As a huge bonus, the maps now show all bike lanes, sharrows and bike paths. GoogleMaps never had that before.

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  • Ian says:

    I’m developing a web app which uses Google bike maps (http://www.ridefreebikemaps.com). During development I am constantly plotting random routes across the country to test the app. I’ve noticed that the app tends to handle multi-waypoint routes poorly. Sometimes this causes the direction to run in circles or go down dead ends. I am disappointed with that but overall I’m impressed with the service. From a developer standpoint what Google has accomplished with their bike maps is extraordinary.

    Think about it; all the bike lanes/paths were probable collected by hand; the directions take into account distance, elevation, traffic, AND paths; lastly this is free! It’s a great tool overall. My only gripe is that you can’t use the maps in a bike map holder, which is why I created Ride Free Bike Maps.

    I’m hoping that as Google works on this project that improvements will be made. I’m guessing that they will.

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