Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google: Bike There

I know the entire blogosphere is abuzz about Google Bicycle Directions, but let's put it to the test.

I've ridden many, many places a bicycle can legally go in Johnson County over the past 3 years. From the busiest, unfriendliest roadways to the rarely-seen unmarked shortcuts, aqueducts, and un-intentional paths. I know how to get around. I won't claim to know all the routes, but I can usually find a cozy course to nearby destinations. I believe this makes me qualified to judge a proposed route.

Let's start with a route I drew up a few weeks ago. Normally, one would hop straight onto the Interstate. I used Veloroutes to draw the route I had in mind. I later rode it, and I'm very pleased with it, even during rush hour.

Let's see what Google Maps did. A bonus is that all the bike routes, bike lanes and paths appear to be highlighted in "Bike mode," at least for here in Greater Kansas City.

I see kind of what Google was trying to do. They exploit some diagonal route choices to cut a little distance from the ride: about .3 mile worth. Here is an overlay merging the two to see the differences:

They also offered an alternative route that looked almost identical to my route from the point where they join just west of Antioch. The diagonal section east of 69 highway actually does make some sense from a distance and traffic perspective, but it's less than a quarter mile shorter with the disadvantage of technical navigation. The proposed stretch on 103rd street to get across Metcalf is a disaster. The optional route that crosses Metcalf at 99th Terrace is much safer.

I mapped some other destinations as well. My old commute, for example. Here, I noticed that Google Maps seems to give extremely high priority to multi-use paths, roads with bike lanes, and city-designated bicycle routes, sometimes even when they don't make much sense to those who know the area. Case and point in the second map above: Quivira Road is a "Bike route" - yeah, right. At rush hour, you'd be best to take Pflumm (a mile west) or very carefully stick to the sidewalks while preparing to be hooked by inattentive motorists. The outer lane is not wide enough to share with cars, and construction detours in the area have Quivira even more overloaded than usual. This has less to do with Google, and is more of a problem with the cities misrepresenting Quivira as a bicycle-friendly road, even without using it as a detour for highway-bound traffic.

All in all, though, I'm satisfied with the route choices that it comes up with. As a programmer, I'd like to see their algorithm. Pro-tip: you can drag the route to comply with your personal whims. Using the "My Maps" feature, you can save, print, and share your refined routes easily.

And, as always, you can feel free to ask me for input on getting from point-A to point-B in greater KC, using bikes and buses, although my experience really is best around downtown and JoCo. There's also the KC Bike Commuters list.


Randy Rasa said...

For my test, I used it to map a route from south Olathe to Swope Park. It mostly made good decisions, except for two brief stretches on 135th and 151, both of which I would avoid if at all possible.

I appreciate what they've done, but still prefer the mapping at -- they've been offering cycle auto-routing for quite awhile, even recognizing trails and such (I think the data must have been available thru the Google maps API before it was officially announced). Again, their choices aren't perfect, but a more dedicated tool is preferable, at least for me...

Unknown said...

KansasCyclist - on ridewithgps we've actually been using Google's walking directions as "cycle" directions. It avoids the highways so is better than driving when on a bike, but is not optimal for actually cycling. We will be using their new cycling directions soon, just have to wait for it to become available for us to offer as a feature! Thanks for preferring us in any event :)

shan said...

Awesome analysis.

I tried plugging in my commute as well to see how it compares to what I came up with on my own. It lengthened my route by .3 mile, but I introduced me to MUTs I didn't even know where there, so I'm excited to give it a try.

sallymander said...

Actually, the Indian Creek Trail crosses Metcalf at 103rd, so if you ducked onto the trail, it would be a great route. I've used it many times. In fact, I think you could stick to the trail all the way to Nall and then buzz south there.

Noah said...

Yeah, it's not so much the crossing of Metcalf on 103rd, it's more the fact that it has you use 103rd in the first place. Of course, now I'm wondering if the step-by-step instructions specified using Indian Creek Trail for that part. *runs and checks*

Heatherkay said...

It's funny. Going to work, it gave me exactly the same route to work that I actually use going from Rosedale, by the Med Center, to the River Market. But coming home, it just reversed the same route, which is not something I would do as it would add another big uphill. It also sends me uphill on Minnie rather than the shallower, better visibility, wider laned Roanoke. It doesn't seem to be real sensitive to elevation changes.

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