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Archive for the ‘Bicycle Maps’

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 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, which help put biking into that ‘realistic option’ category. Interestingly, 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)

TransitCamp Bay Area 2 Report

September 13, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

TransitCamp Bay Area 2
Just got back from TransitCamp 2—definitely a cool experience. Here’s the idea behind TransitCamp:

TransitCamp is inspired by BarCamp. Bar Camp events are powered by participation and collaboration. TransitCampBayArea will highlight the public transit system in the Bay Area Region and will bring together transit officials and citizens to discuss stuff like: getting schedules on the go, the future of the Bay Area transit system, experiences and observations (not complaints, though), the websites, cool ideas for attracting more riders, etc.

Lots of transit-type folks were in attendance: folks from transportation agencies, at least one San Carlos official, transportation advocates of all types, at least one mostly-bicycle advocate (me!), a few regular transit riders, and at least a couple of guys from the Google Transit team.

I managed to corner Joe Hughes. I’m not sure what Joe’s position/title at Google is, but it’s obvious from Googling around that he’s been heavily involved in transportation/technology issues for a while (I found this funny story after a brief search on Joe’s name.). Bottom line, he knew about our website and petition, and thought it was very cool, but couldn’t comment one way or the other on what Google may or may not be doing with respect to bike mapping. He mentioned that when they first released Google Transit in the Portland area, about 30% of the feedback were requests for bicycle route mapping. So, no new news, unfortunately.

One of the folks present at the meeting was Aaron Antrim, who heads Trillium Transit Internet Solutions. I first found out about Aaron and his company when researching Google Transit, right about the time this blog started. I’d meant to cover Trillium earlier, but I dropped the ball. Nonetheless, Aaron’s company is important because he helps smaller agencies get online with Google Transit, in particular, those small-to-midsized transit agencies that don’t have dedicated IT staffs. I’d like to see the numbers, but I have a suspicion that transit ridership numbers started ticking upwards in cities and towns where Google Transit started rolling out. I think it’s that good. It would be difficult to tell now, with gas prices changing so rapidly, but it seems like Trillium provides a great service. The Google Transit Google Group (message board) is filled with folks from various towns all over America asking for Google Transit in their town. At that point, Google can only say, “Please have your town create and publish a data feed that conforms to the GTFS specification, and we’ll make the rest happen.” So maybe Trillium can fill some of the in-between space there.

I’m going to post a few more notes on today’s sessions over at the San Francisco Bike Blog when I get a moment. Profiled on Major Tech Blog, TechCrunch

September 03, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

TechCrunch is the major blog covering all things Internet these days. It tends to focus on game-changing, technology-driven startups.

A few days ago they profiled, who we profiled a couple of months ago. Here’s what TechCrunch had to say:

RideTheCity is a cool mash-up application that allows you to plan bike routes based on safety and speed. By typing—or selecting—a start and end location in New York City, the application will find the safest and quickest routes by factoring in bike routes for “safest” trips and the shortest travel distance for the quickest trips.

The project is run by three bikers, Jordan Anderson, Vaidila Kungys, and Josh Steinbauer (Full disclosure: I went to college with Jordan but found out about this via NPR.) who connected Google maps to a few basic heuristic rules and added a cool logo. The GIS data comes from the city itself and is merged with Google Maps for display.

“Sometimes the most daunting thing about riding a bike in New York is figuring out the best route to take. How do you get to the bridge entrances? What’s the best way to Central Park from the Hudson River greenway? We created this website to help beginning bicyclists answer those questions,” said founder Jordan Anderson.

Just a small secondary link from that article to our site ( managed to bring us to a crawl. Let’s hope that the extra attention for helps bolster their efforts. And thanks to and for raising the profile of our collective efforts.

How To Calculate the Speed of a Commuting Bicyclist

August 25, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

That’s not something I’ve thought too much about, but we know that BBBike does it, so presumably, if Google Maps were to provide a “Bike There” feature, they would want to provide a travel-time estimate, so they would need to be able to estimate the speed of the average bicycle commuter. Fortunately for us, Joel Fajans, a physics professor at UC-Berkeley, has done the research. He introduces his work with physics and bicycles this way:

Combining my work and hobby, I’ve spent some time investigating the physics of bicycling. Did you know that to turn a bike to the right, you actually push the handlebars to the left? And contrary to the beliefs of most physicists, the stability of a bicycle has little to do with the angular momentum in the wheels. I’ve written a nontechnical summary, and a technical tutorial paper on the bicycle steering. The calculations in the paper were done in MathCad, and can be downloaded.

A PDF version of the article is here.

We’re big on research, so it’s great to find another great source of good information.

Can’t say the “push the handlebars to the left” makes sense to me, but what do I know? I guess you push on the left side of your handlebars and pull on the right side.

From this page, we read that Melanie Curry is the managing editor of ACCESS, a transportation journal published quarterly by the University of California Transportation Center at Berkeley.

I stumbled onto the work of Fajans when doing some quick research for a post about stop sign laws.

A cycling professor, huh? Hmm. Remind you of anyone?


July 10, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Reddit is a popular social news website. Today, we made their front page:

Now, we just need a bit more help to push it up to the top and keep it there for a bit. It could help us get lots of exposure, so please consider rolling over there, doing the quick sign-up (which does not require an email address, I don’t think), and voting up our petition. I’ve been an on-and-off-again user of Reddit, so I already had an account.


Ride the City

June 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Ride the City

A brand new website called Ride the City, based out of New York City, is a very nice bicycle directions application. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice it is.

That makes me very happy because I feel that, as bikers and walkers, we deserve the best. Every time we ride or walk somewhere, we’re helping to make the world a better place, and yet as of now doing so can still be very challenging in some places. That’s my take.

Ride the City’s clean, crisp, very pleasant and easy-to-use interface seems to suggest, “Cyclists and pedestrians deserve the best, so here you go.”   :)

Gothamist covers Ride the City here, and StreetsBlog covers them here.

Right now they only cover New York City, but our hope is that they will be able to expand coverage to all of our towns and countries, eventually.

The site does not actually do walking directions yet, but maybe we can convince them to work on that as soon as they’ve managed to make sure the bicycle directions functionality is top notch. Another petition! Kidding.

Ride the City uses Google Maps to show you your bike route, and it even uses the same simple one-line address entry-type system that Google Maps uses, so entering an address is super-quick and easy, and it’ll be familiar to all of us Google Maps users.

I tried some directions from a place I stayed in Manhattan, “350 W 18th St.” (see screenshot below), over to a place I stayed in Brooklyn, “5th and 1st, Brooklyn,” and it seemed to work. Already included is the ability to see bike shops along the way, to navigate by the most direct, safe, or safest routes, and the directions show which segments are bike lanes and which are greenways. Very cool stuff.

I’m very excited about Ride the City. It is pretty much exactly what we’ve been hoping for: a Google Maps-based bicycle directions application. It’s just awesome. As they continue to ramp up functionality and tighten up the service, it should be a huge boost for the City, and a huge positive for all of us who hope/expect to have this available in our towns in the future.

A website like Ride the City has direct benefits to lots of people, of course, but I particularly like the idea that it proves an application like this is possible, and it can be very useful to people. It seems like the possible is mostly taken care of; now, we just need to wait for reports from New Yorkers to find out if the useful part is true, too. I suspect it will be.

There are myriad features Ride the City can and probably will add over the coming months and years ( it already seems they’re busy improving and adding features), but this is a tremendous start. I’d highly recommend breezing through their very informative FAQ—it answered the first five questions that popped into my head.

Question #14 is very important because they basically told us how they did it, which is very cool of them:

14) What kind of technology did you use to build Ride the City?

Ride the City was built almost exclusively from open source software and tools. Here are a few technologies worth highlighting:

    • A Postgresql database with the PostGIS extension.
    • pgRouting components for route optimization: There would be no Ride the City without it!
    • OpenLayers mapping library for drawing markers, vector lines, and popups.
    • Google Maps API as a base map in OpenLayers. We also use Google’s geocoding service.
    • uDig Desktop GIS: uDig connects directly to our remote PostGIS database. A few quirks, but total genius overall. It was a lifesaver in terms of data cleanup since I could run it on my MacBook.

The whole shebang runs on a linux server hosted by Micro Resources. Special thanks to Gary Sherman for his expertise and support on getting all these things to work together.

The blog/faq are Drupal. All the custom development was done in PHP and javascript.

Of course, we’re still hoping that Google will eventually see the light and implement bicycling and walking directions in the main Google Maps interface, but this is a great great start. I think it’d be awesome if Google just went ahead and acquired Ride the City and BBBike so we can accelerate this whole “bicycling lifestyle” thing a little bit.   :-)

Oh. One thing I forgot to mention was Ride the City’s very cool feedback form. If there is a particular road segment that you don’t like, just click it on the map, rate it, and add any comments. It supposedly ties right into their back-end data, which presumably means it can directly affect the routes that get provided. They already show little warning signs next to segments where people have reported potential dangers. I read about their feedback form on their initial blog post. I’ve never been crazy about the “wiki” style of bicycle routing—that is, routes would be recommended based on everybody rating particular routes or roads—but Ride the City seems like they may have actually found a manageable, intelligent way to do it. Time will tell, but this particular piece of technology alone, in my opinion, is extremely noteworthy. So, I’ll be anxious to see how it works out.

We’ll definitely be following Ride the City closely. And don’t forget to check out and subscribe to their blog in case you don’t want to wait for us to report on the latest goings on with Ride the City.

This is a great great development. Bravo to Ride the City, BBBike, and everyone else pushing to make this functionality available to bikers everywhere.


June 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

About three and a half months ago, we received an email from Markus Heller (English) of Berlin, Germany. He mentioned that there was a great bicycle directions tool available for Berlin, and that it was called BBBike (English language version here). We wrote back and said something like, “Thanks! We’ll be sure to check it out!”

Well, I’m not sure if I ever checked it out. It’s possible, but I don’t remember it.

So, apologies to you, Markus (and to the developer(s) of BBBike), and thanks!

[Markus seems to be pretty heavily involved in the carfree living movement, which is very cool. The one word that excites me as much as bicycle is car-free. Check out his website/organization, autofrei wohnen (in English), which I believe stands for car-free living. And don't forget the Towards Carfree Cities 2008 conference going on starting Monday, June 16, in Portland, Oregon, and lasts all week. And big score if they can manage to pull off the live webcast. This looks like it's going to be a great event.]

I just happened to be going back through my Gmail inbox and stumbled upon our initial conversation and I quickly realized that I’d overlooked a very important site. I noticed it this time because John Pucher mentioned the existence of such a site, if not by name, in his presentation. The initial notes I took while listening to the talk looked approximately like this:

  • Bicycle route mapping (in Berlin, Germany)!!! This is the text from the relevant slide:
    • Free internet bike trip planning in Berlin:
    • Cyclists enter origin, intermediate stops and final destinations of their intended bike trips.
    • Cyclists can indicate preferences:
      - desired speed of travel
      - direct arterial streets or secondary roads
      - type of pavement
      - volume, speed and mix of traffic
      - on-street lanes, off-street paths, parkways

If I had realized what Markus had sent a few months ago, I would have been very excited. But, I’m just happy to know it’s out there and helping people, and helping to push the boundaries of what is possible for bicycle directions.

Here is a screenshot of the web version of BBBike:

BBBike Web Interface Screenshot

I tried BBBike and it definitely seems cool; seems like it works pretty well. There is an online web version, and there is a downloadable version, too (screenshots). I only tried the online option. I just started picking random starting and end points and then looked at the routes produced. I can’t say for sure that it was picking the correct routes—either the safest or fastest or whatever—but I was very impressed that it seemed to route me on greenways, through parks, and so forth. It allows you download all the GPS information for your mobile device, and can produce a map as an image, as a Google Map, and more.

And, as far as I can tell, it’s completely open source, so you can download and modify it. I perused the source code (mostly in PERL), and it seems very clean and readable. There aren’t many comments in the code, but that might even be a good thing—me trying to decipher German would not be pretty. :) I can’t say the source code made a whole lot of sense to me, as I’m still a novice with all this GIS mapping technology stuff, but I definitely think it’s cool that it’s there to download and modify if we want, etc.

The also appears to be various sorts of extensions and plugins for BBBike—for CMS software like Mambo, for web browsers like Firefox, and more. In short, it seems like BBBike has been around for a while and is a solid, mature, sophisticated offering. I mean, it can deal with wind speed and tell you how many traffic lights you have to go through on your journey. How ridiculous is that? Brilliant stuff. It’s the least that cyclists (and pedestrians) deserve.

Contact information for the author of the code/project is below, in German (possibly with a Croatian address (?), but here is an English translation):

Autor: Slaven Rezic
Telefon: +49-172-1661969
Donji Crnač 81, BiH-88220 Široki Brijeg

So, thanks to you, Slaven!

There’s a link to the ADFC Berlin (English) - what seems like the “German/Dutch Bicycle Club.” (Don’t quote me on that translation.) I always think it’s great to see people in countries all around the world working on the same issues we’re working on.

Google's New PDF Viewer

June 15, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Austin Bicycle Map imageMany of us have seen and used bicycle maps—those pretty PDF documents with bike lanes and whatnot drawn on them. (Here is the Austin Bike Map) They help us get from Point A to Point B in relative safety.

Well, now we can almost view them using Google Docs. I say almost because the new feature is still pretty limited— you can’t zoom in on the PDF yet, for instance, making it pretty much unusable as a potential online bike map viewer. And you also can’t share PDFs publicly yet; to share  you have to send Google Docs email invites out. But I suspect these things will (may?) change in the not-too-distant future.

This feature could make getting bicycle directions just a bit easier, because we could avoid having to download and install and figure out how to use Adobe Reader - the free-but-bloated PDF viewer that I suspect most folks are familiar with. (Adobe created the PDF file format)

Viewing a PDF can sometimes be a hassle. You may have to save a PDF to your hard drive before you can open it. You can get different “Download” vs. “View” behavior depending on which browser you’re using, or which computer you’re using. You can get annoying popups from Adobe telling you that you need updates, or that you’re missing some piece of their software, and so forth. In short, viewing PDFs can be a royal pain. I figure it’s possible that Google Docs’ new support for PDFs might help alleviate some of these issues. At a minimum, it could be one less piece of software we have to install on our computers to get the information we need.

So what does this mean for our efforts? Well, not necessarily a whole lot at the moment, but it does represent something: one more step that Google has taken to help “organize the world’s information,” and it could help us bikers in several ways.

By allowing PDFs to be easily viewed online, we’ve taken the extremely valuable data that is locked in PDF-based bike maps and made it easier for people to access. For our particular efforts, of course, we’re most concerned with having easy access to bicycle route information. We want bicycle navigation on Google Maps, but there are plenty of things that can make our lives easier in the interim. This might be one of them.

If you use a mobile device like a Blackberry or an iPhone, this should make it easier for you to pull up a bicycle map when you need it. It seems as though there are PDF viewers available for those devices already, but again, this could be one less piece of software that we have to worry about installing (It’s possible this feature is not available for Google Docs on mobile phones, yet.).

I feel like this small feature of Google Docs also helps to reinforce this very positive notion of making public data freely available, and making it easier for people to use. We’ve talked before about how much free GIS data there is available, at least in America, and how Google is now working with companies like ESRI to make that data easier to access, understand, and use. We’ve mentioned efforts to push governments to open up public data to….the public.

In summary, a seemingly-small step, but a worthy one, nonetheless.

VZ Navigator

June 07, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

VZ Navigator / AtlasBook Navigator

VZ Navigator (wiki) is a GPS navigation software application you can download to your Verizon Wireless cellphone. In addition to the standard driving directions, the program provides bike and walk directions, though I’m not sure of their quality. One of the settings screens allows you to change your “Vehicle Type” from “Car / Motorcycle” to biking or walking.

The application has been around for at least a couple of years, but it is getting new attention these days with the better display capabilities of new phones, and the groundswell of interest in location-based services (LBS).

My roommates just bought bikes and decided to look into using VZ Navigator to get around unfamiliar areas. It does seem to work, in that it claims to provide “bike directions,” but the quality of those directions remains to be tested.

Google is still doing things in mobile maps. They have the cool “My Location” feature for mobile phones, like BlackBerries:

And the Google Mobile Blog just let us know that Google Maps for mobile devices now has Transit directions available—just like Google Maps in your browser.

Now, if we can just convince Google to push a bit more in the direction of bike and walk navigation…   :)


Improving Safety in More Ways Than One

May 29, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Knowing the safest bicycle route from Point A to Point B is a natural concern, but there are other uses for providing bicycle directions on Google Maps…like getting un-lost.

It happened to me just three or so weeks ago. I went “south of the river” to an area I was not familiar with. Of course, it was dark by the time I was coming back, and I lost my way. Not only did I not know where the bike lanes were, but I didn’t even know which general direction I was supposed to be heading. I rode around for an hour or so trying to figure it out, but I eventually caved and asked for directions. Then I got lost again. Then I asked for directions again, and finally made my way back home.

If I had a “personal navigation device”—a Garmin or similar device—I would at least have been able to head in the right direction, but ideally I would have been able to get bicycle directions from wherever I was to wherever I was going.

With the upcoming version of the iPhone, and the first Android phones on their way, we should have compass and GPS capabilities available to us. This is another reason Google Maps should provide a “Bike There” feature.

The Android Community blog is covering the Google I/O Developer Conference. Check out the video below of using Google Maps Street View with the built-in compass feature of an Android-powered phone:

Walt Mossberg, tech columnist for the New York Times, reminds us that it’s possible to get driving directions from google by using simple text messaging from your cellphone, so it’s not even necessary to have one of these newer, fancier cellphones to be able to take advantage of bicycle directions on Google Maps.