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Archive for December, 2010

Google bike directions go international, eh?

December 05, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Green Car at Kensington MarketCars can be useful — we can put them up on blocks and grow tomatoes!

Oui! It’s true! Canada has bike directions!

Thanks for the tip, Richard.

Cities to go live include Vancouver; Kelowna, B.C.; Edmonton; Calgary; Winnipeg; Waterloo, Ont.; Toronto; Ottawa; and Gatineau, Que.

O Canada is right next door to the good ‘ol US of A, but still — this is the first international expansion of google’s bike directions — a very cool development — one we’ll hopefully see a lot more of.

Congrats to all the collaborators, including Google, the Google Maps team, the National Capital Commission, the various participating cities, etc.

The announcement was first made a couple of weeks ago at the Sustainable Mobility Summit 2010. The press release has some nice words from some of the higher-ups — I’ve quoted liberally, since I think it’s sometimes important to know just how widespread, and high-up, the support is for better biking facilities — online and off:

“Hosting the Canadian launch of the new biking directions feature of Google Maps at the Sustainable Mobility Summit in Canada’s Capital Region is a perfect opportunity to highlight our efforts in encouraging the use of alternative modes of transportation in our region,” said Marie Lemay, Chief Executive Officer at the National Capital Commission. “By integrating NCC’s recreational pathways with city of Ottawa and Gatineau cycling lanes and paths, Canada’s Capital Region becomes the first region in the country to have its entire cycling network on Google Maps. This new feature is no doubt a step in the right direction to improve cycling in the Capital Region.”

Ville de Gatineau is proud to take part in the implementation of this sustainable mobility project. The posting of maps dedicated to cycling on a site as popular as Google Maps will not only enable us to better serve the cycling enthusiasts among our citizens and visitors, but also to promote active transportation in the area. The involvement of three local partners in this initiative aimed at developing our network of bike paths should guarantee our success,” stated Ville de Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau.

“The City of Ottawa has always placed a high importance on encouraging residents to use sustainable transportation alternatives like cycling,” said Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien. “By having the City’s paths, bike lanes and suggested routes available on Google Maps we are providing a convenient, accessible technology for our residents to plan their cycling trips to where they work, live and play and allows us to build on similar partnerships we have with Google for bus and pedestrian travel information.”

“Easy access to information is a powerful resource for supporting and encouraging the choice of sustainable travel options,” said Lorenzo Mele, Chair of the board of directors for the Association of Commuter Transportation of Canada. “The introduction of Google Bike routing in Canada will put cycling at the forefront of people’s thoughts as they search out the optimum way to get to their destination. Google bike routing, especially when in an area where Google transit is available, provides a complete overview of travel options for the user. We applaud Google’s initiative and support of cycling and sustainable mobility.”

Mayors, Commissions, Cities, you name it — everyone wants in on this biking thing.

The folks at BikeRadar.com seem to have asked Google UK about bike directions for across the pond — no new info, there. And it seems that Google’s bike directions are having their own ‘Fox News Effect‘ — they are forcing other mapping companies to respond — in this case, Mapquest released a bike directions API (No bike directions available on the main Mapquest site, though.). [Google offers a bike directions API, too.] Where you at, Bing? [Bing does now offer transit and walking directions, at least.]

Mike Kittmer, active transportation coordinator for Kelowna, Canada (one of the launch cities), said it exactly right:

“The reason we wanted to be part of this is that it’s a tool that will address a barrier to people who aren’t yet cycling,” he said, pointing out the service allows cyclists to plot a route that’s safer and, at times, quicker.

“This will allow them to feel more comfortable to get out there.”

People who ‘never contemplated biking as a realistic option’ are now biking — because of physical infrastructure changes which allow them to bike, and cool tools like Google Bike Directions and RideTheCity.com, which help put biking into that ‘realistic option’ category. Interestingly, RideTheCity.com has also gone international with their introduction of bike directions for Toronto and Iceland. Nice!

You can check out the google maps bike layer for Toronto, here. And here’s a sample bike route from Kensington Market to the CN Tower.

One thing I noticed on my last visit to Toronto, a couple of summers ago, was that there seemed to be quite a few people riding bikes, and riding them in spite of the fact that there was little to no bike infrastructure — not even regular bike lanes. Google bike directions comes at a good time for Toronto, where biking may be under attack from the new mayor. Though, with bike sharing due to launch in Toronto this upcoming May, the new mayor might decide that it’s too costly politically to be on the wrong side of history.

And we know Vancouver and Quebec have been going bike-crazy these past few years.

It’s possible to get google bike directions on your Android-powered phone, and hopefully we’ll see them released soon on the iPhone, too.

Let’s keep pushing for more and better bicycle infrastructure. Don’t let anyone you that bikes can’t be the dominant mode of transport in your city (unless you live in Venice) — especially not professional traffic engineers and transportation planners. We all have very good reason to be very skeptical of anyone who’s been doing this stuff for a long time — they need to prove that they can get with the program, and start building cities/towns/streets for people instead of cars/trucks/buses.

p.s. The car in the pic up top can be found here, in Kensington Market, Toronto — a cool neighborhood that is home to Pedestrian Sundays.

p.p.s. An article in the LA Times titled ‘Los Angeles, by Bike and on a Budget‘ (or, ‘Los Angeles on $100 a Day’) has some nice things to say about Google bike and transit maps/directions — here are a couple of snippets:

And as the days passed, I realized that, for a city known for its car culture, Los Angeles can be managed on a bike. The small number of dedicated bike lanes and marked bike routes are scattered around somewhat unhelpfully, but Google Maps’ bike mapping beta for mobile and Web does a fairly decent job of making sense of them.

From there, I cruised a few smooth miles east toward Hollywood via back streets parallel to major thoroughfares, where, even on a Sunday afternoon, traffic was looking like a challenge. (A smartphone with Google Maps or other GPS-like applications is an invaluable help, although I believe they still make maps on paper as well.)

and I was in no mood to bike the rest of the way back to Santa Monica. So Google Maps led me to the No. 920 bus, a straight shot back to Santa Monica via Wilshire Boulevard.

Very cool stuff. Man, I hate LA, but I love LA. Make sure to check out the cool pics.

Update: Montreal wasn’t one of the launch cities, but it does appear to have bike directions (if not many bike lanes/etc.). (tip)