Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google Maps "Bicycling" Option Raises Many Problems

Today, at the National Bike Summit, Google announced that it had finally released its long-awaited "Bike There" option for its Google Maps product. Now, cyclists in large cities all over America (including Columbus) have the ability to find the best bike route to their destinations.

A company the size of Google taking bicycling seriously enough to create a product focusing specifically on the world's most efficient form of transportation is huge. And, as many folks on Twitter, Facebook, etc. have mentioned, it's great for discovering new bike paths and lanes in your community, as well as routes to those paths and lanes.

Except...

I understand what Google's trying to do here. And I truly appreciate the effort. But here's my dilemma with the effort:

Not everyone agrees on what is or should be considered bicycle-friendly.

I ran my route to work through the new option. A simple ride down High Street, which is my current route, is about 5.5 miles. To take the route that Google picked for me, which took me NORTH to get to access to the bike path instead of south toward my destination, would be 8.1 miles. And I don't think my route is any more or less safe than any other.

Looking at the map itself, it labels the paths that it considers safe with a green stripe. If you focus on OSU's campus, for example, you'll see a bunch of green lines criss-crossing the Oval. However, the OSU Department of Public Safety states on its website that cycling on sidewalks on campus is not permitted. I quote:

University traffic rules also require that bicycles not be ridden on sidewalks even when a short cut across the Oval is desired.

So Google is suggesting that riders ride illegally on Ohio State's campus. That's hardly safe or bicycle-friendly for pedestrians or riders.

And High Street, which is marked with Share the Road signs and is the future site of an official Sharrow, isn't listed as a bike-friendly route at all.

I am still giving this product a once-over, but I have to admit that I'm as disappointed in the beta as I thought I'd be. I realize that it's a work in progress, naturally, and I urge all users to send their opinions and thoughts to Google to make this product usable by all cyclists.

People, not speed.

2 comments:

  1. The information is only as good as what they have been told. Since the LAB is working with Google on this, it would be great if someone could get them in touch with the keeper of the bicycle data at MORPC used to build the Columbus bike map.

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  2. So true, tcristy. As much as I love the LAB (League of American Bicyclists, for those of you who don't know the acronym), they do have a narrow view of what should be considered bike friendly sometimes (my opinion only). Of course, the MORPC bike-friendly Columbus map is open to debate as well. There's really no one who is "the source" for what is bike-friendly. MORPC does probably come closer to being the case more than anyone else locally, though.

    And yes, our input to Google as bicyclists has to be frequent and complete, otherwise nothing will be improved. Hence my final comments in the post.

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