Cyclists in the United States do not have a reputation for successful activism. Causes to which their efforts would be well applied rarely get the effort they deserve. Group rides are facing increasing pressure from police and cities to clean up their acts, races are losing permits and mountain bike trails have been closed.
Strangely, though, this unusually Internet-savvy bunch made its presence known to Google, arguably one of the most powerful companies in the on-line world. Its application Google Maps provides a service with greater flexibility and more substantive information than anything you could get from the auto club. And while it offered more variations on mode of travel than the auto club did, those options were limited to driving, public transit and walking.
However, in the near future another option will be added: bicycling. Cyclists have been lobbying Google for more than a year to include cycling in its mapping routes and can now celebrate because the Palo Alto data aggregator listened.
The announcement was all but buried in a post on Google’s Lat Long blog, which is maintained by the folks at Google Earth. Four paragraphs down, software engineer Andrew Lookinbill mentions new datasets (now there’s an arcane noun) that include bike trails and paths. Lookinbill writes, “Soon we even plan on providing you with biking directions to take advantage of this new data.”
One wonders how far behind Map My Ride can be. That site is so forward thinking (and fun) it’s a wonder they don’t already offer proactive suggestions on routes.
Many riders in bigger cities complain that bike commuting is difficult and dangerous for the simple fact that finding a route composed of bike-friendly roads can be difficult. If Google gives weight to bike paths, bike lanes and bike routes, the feature could help usher in a new wave of bike commuters. And for map fiends (like yours truly), the ability to map a route that includes bike paths in advance and get accurate route notes and mileage is a dream come true. Imagine planning a European tour down to the last kilometer before ever leaving home. Where’s my passport?
There’s no word on how long until Google implements the new feature, but RKP will bring you an update once it is out and we’ve had a chance to test drive the mapping and compare it to existing software. Stay tuned.