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White background needed for bike directions

May 01, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

This issue has more to do with bicycle maps (probably), than it does with bicycle directions, per se, but it’s still an important point. Our petition is primarily about bicycle directions, not maps - but maps obviously play an important role.

Check out the following map comparison (click for a bigger version). On the left is a view of Austin from Google Maps with the blue and green bike lanes highlighted (it’s incomplete, and I didn’t do red bike lanes because I think red bike lanes are worthless, or worse). On the right is a clip out of the Austin Bicycle Route map, which is in PDF format. They’re not correctly aligned, but I did the best I could.

I started recreating the Austin Bicycle Route map - the PDF - on a Google Map using the ‘My Maps’ feature of Google Maps. I thought it’d be cool to try, and I was curious what it would look like. I have even used it a bit to find my way around, but there are several things wrong with it - one of them being that it can be difficult to make out the actual bicycle lanes on the google map.

To me, the map on the right - the PDF - is the better bicycle map. The main (only?) reason it is better is because you can actually see all the bike routes clearly. And the reason you can see all the routes clearly is because of the PDF map’s white background. Compare that to the Google Map which has the grey background. The Google Map version also uses more and deeper colors for roads (yellows) and green areas (green). Those are great for directions, but they’re not so great for showing bicycle routes on a map because they just make it that much harder to see the bicycle lanes.

Myself and other folks have tried, with some success, to automatically convert GIS data from the city of Austin, and other places, into/onto Google Maps. I think it would be really cool if we could pull this off and have it look awesome. Right now, we’re not there yet, but that’s a hope.

So, how does all this apply to bicycle directions as opposed to just bicycle maps? Well, bicycle directions, in an ideal and completely awesome world, would be able to tell us which parts of the directions were which type of bicycle route - ‘easy’ (green), ‘medium’ (blue), or ‘difficult’ (red). If we want to see this ‘nice-to-have’ feature as part of our bicycle directions on Google Maps, we’ll probably need a white backgrounded Google Maps interface.

…ps - Happy Bike Month!

1 Comments to “White background needed for bike directions”


  1. Hi Peter -

    I think this is more than a “nice to have” feature and that bike facilities being mapped is a critical component of bike directions. With imperfections in routing, I would not be surprised to see a route that takes a highway instead of the bike path that runs next to it. Have paths indicated on the map will also allow for suggested route modifications based on nearby bike lanes and bike paths.

    As for the background, I ran into that issue when creating http://www.nycbikemaps.com and I also had to change the color scheme. I still have not found a good solution for one-way streets. Perhaps, instead of a separate background, cyclist could get a dedicated layer, like the terrain view for bikes.

    thanks and keep up the good work,
    Seth @ http://www.nycbikemaps.com

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