Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)


Archive for March, 2010

GMaps API Now Has Bike Directions and Elevation Profiles

March 25, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

If you’re into making your own Google Maps (i.e. if you’re a nerd/programmer), this post may be of interest to you.

A sample application might be if you wanted to find the nearest bike shop, or bar, or both, on your bike ride home — now it’s possible to do that with the Google Maps v3 API.

On March 10, the same day that Google announced bike directions for the US, they also released the API update.

Then, just a couple of days ago, on March 23, Google released an API  update that allows developers to get access to elevation data for any point on the globe (not just the US, and includes ocean depths, shown as negative elevations). Now, bike directions already take into account elevations, but it’s always good to have access to the raw data — there’s no telling what kind of creative ways you can use Google Maps to help us travel and live smarter and better.

In Google’s words:

Overall, we’re hoping the Elevation service will help you build higher-quality applications catered towards hiking, biking, mobile positioning, and low resolution surveying.

Here’s a screenshot of their blog post which shows profile data for Lombard Street in San Francisco:


Happy hacking!

p.s. I’m late on this, but StreetFilms just held a celebration/fundraiser here in SF tonight — I missed it as I’m a bit germy at the moment, but I do have my own personal earmark set aside for them. It’s not much, but it’s something, and every bit will help. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a StreetFilm might be worth a million words. Like bike directions on Google Maps, I think that StreetFilms will continue to be felt in increasingly wider circles, in more manifold ways. They’re just that good.


StreetFilms has a number of ways you can help support the cause — straight donations, some with t-shirt and DVD gifts, sponsorship packages, you name it.

And if you’ve tried to watch some StreetFilms on your iPhone only to be thwarted by the lack of Flash, you might be able to find your film over on the StreetFilms Youtube Channel. Mobile advocacy — gotta love it! :)

The Google Maps Biking Directions Ad

March 25, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

If you cruise around the bike blogosphere, you’ll eventually run across this ad for the new bike directions feature of Google Maps:


I think the ad is kind of nifty, and I still can hardly believe it’s real.

One place I know I’ve seen the ad is over on this post.

Anyways, saved for posterity’s sake.

Why Google Maps' New Biking Directions Could Be Huge

March 21, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

A post-announcement news round-up is on the way, but on the first day of Spring 2010 (now, the day after), I’m a bit too excited about one article in particular, that I just need to share it now — from The Atlantic (hyperlinks and bold mine):

Other websites already provide biking directions, including and However, Google being Google, the introduction of Google biking will attract a larger audience, or at least anyone who Googles the word “bike.” Ideally, Google’s heft could also influence city planners to create more bike lanes and more-reluctant bikers to put on a helmet and get peddling. And coupled with the greatest biking incentive in the world — warmer springtime weather — Google biking looks like it picked the right time to get into gear.

This sentiment, that the simple introduction of bicycle directions on Google Maps, could actually influence city planners to…change their plans, is pretty amazing — and I think it’s spot on, and probably it is not nearly hopeful enough.

The influence of Google’s bike directions (and maps) will, I believe, be felt in increasingly wider circles (people, business, policy, culture), and in more manifold ways.

Said another way, I don’t believe we can really know what other positive influences these bike directions will have until they arise naturally over the next few months and years — the intermediate advances will have to be realized, first.

I think it’s not a stretch to suggest that Google’s introduction of biking directions has already ‘changed the game’. Being very explicit — I think Google’s introduction of biking directions helped sway Ray LaHood to issue his ‘sea change’ comments.

Think about it — one of the most influential companies in the world says, “You know what, y’all? We think bikes kinda rock, so we’re gonna go ahead and do this bike directions thing that will put biking, finally, on an equal footing with driving, transit, and walking.

What happens a few days later? The Secretary of Transportation for the United States of America says, essentially, the same thing.

Maybe I might not be so crazy to think that Google Maps could have had that much of an influence already. Here’s the League of American Bicyclists’ Andy Clarke:

It is a game-changer, especially for those short trips that are the most polluting… This new tool will open people’s eyes to the possibility and practicality of hopping on a bike and riding.

Even the car people seem to suggest a casual, if not causal, connection between bike directions and the ‘sea change’ comments from LaHood:

First Google Bike Maps, now this.

The next step, of course, is for us advocate-types to tilt the pendulum such that non-motorized transit is actually favored over motorized transit. We’ll get there.

Spring is here. Seemingly every car in existence is being recalled. And I need to go out and ride while I jam to an old, but new-to-me band, MGMT.

Happy riding!  :)

Google Shares Up 2% On Bike Directions News

March 20, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

There are myriad events affecting Google’s stock price from day to day, but on the day bike directions were announced, Google shares jumped about two percent:

I’m not a stock guy, so I have no idea if it was really bike directions news that helped push Google’s stock higher — or had any effect at all, one way or the other — but you can check out yourself the opening and closing prices (I calculate +2.3%), and news events on and around March 10, the announcement date.

Our FAQ #15 suggested this would be the case (green text mine):

15. What’s in this effort for Google and the Google Maps (and/or Transit) team and Google stockholders?

Besides the indirect benefits that Google would reap from this feature implementation (like, say, the continuing and/or increased adoration of millions of people around the world), there are probably direct benefits. As mentioned in the petition, this feature would “Help Google realize its core mission of ‘organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.’” But I also believe this feature is a money-maker – an effort aimed at the quickly-growing number of people who choose to commute by bike. Google will be positioning itself to capture more local advertising revenue, be able to capture a larger share of the burgeoning bicycle industry, and its expertise in the mapping/GIS arena (one of growing importance) will be further strengthened. Since Google Maps revolutionized online mapping, lots of folks are starting to realize the importance of this revenue stream. Google stockholders will be pleased with the introduction of bicycle directions to Google Maps as this feature would almost certainly have a positive impact on share price.

Let’s see if Microsoft, Yahoo, Mapquest and others wants to compete, or if they’re just going to cede online mapping to Google.

I did the San Jose Bike Party last night. Good times. One great scene was seeing all these different groups of bikers converging on the meeting point from every different direction — big chopper bikes, etc. It looked like a revolution was about to happen. Maybe it is. :)

Happy First Day of Spring! Get on your bikes and ride!

Google Bike Directions Are Now Live!

March 10, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Big day!

Today we’ve added biking directions and extensive bike trail data to Google Maps for the U.S. My team has been keeping close tabs on all the public support for biking directions that’s been steadily coming in, but we knew that when we added the feature, we wanted to do it right: we wanted to include as much bike trail data as possible, provide efficient routes, allow riders to customize their trip, make use of bike lanes, calculate rider-friendly routes that avoid big hills and customize the look of the map for cycling to encourage folks to hop on their bikes. So that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Here’s a quick little screenshot (or, go try them out now):


And here’s a quick video of how to use the bike directions:

Thanks to the Google Maps team that put together, what at first glance, appears to me to be an exceptional tool. The quick and accurate routing, the multiple route options, the drag-and-drop routing ability, and the bike route layer are all brilliant.

Thanks to all of you 51,330 (and growing) petition-signers who took the time to lend your support to the cause. I believe we helped make a difference.

Thanks to long-time editor of this site, Brandon Warga, for preventing many of my mistakes from going out the door — too bad we didn’t have him before we wrote up the petition!

Thanks to Pierre for providing the French translation of the petition.

Thank to Bibi for providing the Italian translation of the petition.

Thanks to for proving that bike directions could be done, and done very well. I can’t tell you how many comments and emails I received saying: a) why are you doing this? b) why aren’t you doing this yourself? c) this can’t be done, d) this should not be done, e) etc. It was so common we decided to add it to the FAQ — with a bit of a defiant tone. :) RideTheCity were not necessarily the first web application in the world to provide bike directions, but when I first saw RideTheCity, I was very impressed — and it made myself and others hopeful that Google would eventually follow suit.

Thanks to the many people over the past couple of years who said, “Keep it up!” — your support was often the only thing keeping us hopeful and energized. In comments, in person, through email — y’all rock!

Thanks to the myriad people, places, and policies who had some role in pushing for this feature — too many to list, of course, but off the top of my head:

  • — for making it obvious how a website could help build community and inspire us to action
  • City of Palo Alto — for allowing me to be introduced to ‘everyday cycling’ by way of bike lanes and physically-separated bike paths
  • Austin — for being an insanely cool place, with insanely cool people, and a crazy-fun place to get around on bike (and an awful elevated highway that cut downtown in half and convinced me that bikes were the best way forward :) )
  • Austin Bike People — for being insanely cool people who were enthusiastic supporters of the petition and really helped kickstart its take-off
  • Wheatsville Coop and Black Star Coop — who inspired by being living examples of ‘working together to achieve common goals’
  • Other Mapping Efforts — for pushing us all to continue to think bigger in terms of what could be possible for an online mapping tool
  • John Pucher — for an incredible presentation at Simon Fraser University that first alerted us to the existence of sophisticated bicycle mapping tools like BBBike, for inspiring us with examples and data, for imploring us to use all the tools at our disposal to turn public opinion in our favor, and for speaking out in favor of social justice and, in particular, women’s rights and the importance of appropriate bicycle infrastructure.
  • Rails to Trails Conservancy — an official provider of bike trail data to Google.
  • San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — one of the first ‘big outfits’ to talk about the petition — in this case, in their newsletter.
  • Marin County Bicycle Coalition — put us in their newsletter early on.

My deep apologies if I missed anyone!

This site will stick around and we may even continue to post occasionally.

Looking forward to tons more people being exposed to biking as a practical and fun way to get around town!

…added Rails to Trails Conservancy, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and Marin County Bicycle Coalition.