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


Big News

April 08, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Yesterday I spoke with someone at the Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, which is part of Austin Public Works. This person said that there is ‘an ongoing effort‘ on the part of Google and the City of Austin to provide bicycle directions for Austin on Google Maps. Austin is one of the ‘test cities’.


This is not an April Fool’s joke - I promise. I’m as surprised as you.

It’s not as good as a definitive “yes - we are doing this” from Google, but it’s something. A good thing.

The person I talked to on the phone is real - I’ve met them in person.

There’s a lot of information that I don’t know - like all the details about how things happened to date, between Google and Austin Public Works, and what the actual status of the work/project is - but because I was a bit taken aback, I asked the person I was speaking to, “What should I say (on the blog)? What exactly is going on? Is anything going on? How can I characterize things/the situation?” This person said I could describe it as ‘an ongoing effort’.

So, there you have it.

Some time ago (I’m not sure how long), Austin provided Google with bicycle/traffic data in electronic format (see the ‘City of Austin Bike Routes‘ link here), and told Google that, yes, Austin would like to participate as a ‘test city’, and that Austin will provide bike route data, but that they wanted to be able to update the information before anything went live. So, Austin is working right now to update that bike route data. I don’t know what the timeline is.

So, what does all this mean?

Well, from my point of view, this is very good news, but I think we need to continue to build momentum for bicycle directions on Google Maps at least until we get official confirmation from Google that they are working on it. I was supposed to try and call Google today, since we hit 30,000 signatures over the weekend, but I didn’t get around to it (sorry). I don’t really expect to get an answer, but I’m gonna call up anyways. “Hi, yes, this is Peter - can I speak to Larry, Sergey, or Eric, please?”

But, as someone suggested to me via email a week or two ago, there is at least one concrete way to start getting prepared for getting bicycle directions on the web - somehow by someone, whether it’s Google or us or whomever - and that is to get the bike route data for your city/town/area in a digital format.

That’s a bit ambiguous, I know, but that’s about all I can offer at this point - I really don’t understand more than that. I’d strongly suggest looking at the metadata file included in the bicycle data zip file. If you are new to GIS, then this file will help you figure out the questions you need to ask, and possibly some of the key terms you need to use, when you call your public works office. You should be able to point whoever you talk to to this file. If I needed to ask my local public works department what they had going on with regards to all this stuff, I would call up and try to talk to someone who knew something about the bike map - if your town has one (and if your town has one, it’s probably in PDF format), I would ask the following:

“Hi - my name is [your name here]. I’m curious, you know the bike map? - do we have that bike route data available as a GIS layer?”

If your town does not have a bike map, then I’d probably ask something more like this:

“Hi - my name is [your name here]. I’m curious - do we have a GIS layer - the data - with information about traffic volume and things like that? I ride my bicycle a lot and I’m trying to figure out some good routes to use, so I want this data if it’s available.”

If they say, “Huh?”, then you can tell them that you want to know which streets/roads are good/better/safer for cycling, and you’d like to avoid big hills and no-shoulder roads and things like that, and that Austin has sample data that you can send them a link to if they want. You might mention something about street classifications or bike path ‘classes’. This AASHTO organization seems to have something to do with the road classification system. You never know - you might talk to someone who is friendly and helpful - and you might even learn something. At a minimum, just making the attempt will help the cause of cycling.

So, that’s probably the most important thing you could do at this point - make sure your city/town/area has bike route data available in electronic format. Once Google or whoever gets their technology/infrastructure/algorithms in place, they’re going to need data. Some of us think that Google might create and then ask for bike route data in some specific format - like the Google Transit Feed Specification - but bike route/traffic could potentially be more static in nature than Transit data, so maybe we won’t need a new feed spec. The Austin bike data zip file is, I believe, a pretty standard GIS data format - which consists primarily of a shape (.shp) file (with its other corresponding/required files). To view the data, you need ArcView, ArcExplorer, ArcInfo 8 or some other software that can read shape files. All of these ‘Arc’ products are from ESRI (wiki) - they seem to be the big GIS software player.

I just got my evaluation version of ArcGIS 9.2 in the mail - haven’t installed it yet - looks like a beast. I’ve previously installed and used lots of free and trial versions of GIS software, from ESRI and other companies, and I’ve had very limited success. Specifically, I wanted to try to convert the Austin bike route data such that I could automatically paint it on Google Maps (I’d prefer to have this rather than those PDFs). I managed to do this ‘paint job’ to some extent, but the results weren’t particularly pretty or useful. There are tools (ArcView plugins, etc.) to convert a GIS layer to KML (wiki), which you can then get to show up in Google Maps.

So, here are some ways I think we can all continue to help:

  1. Make sure your city/town/area has bike route data available in electronic format.
  2. Digg this petition if you have no done so yet.
  3. Promote the petition in one or more of these other ways.

As usual, feel free to contact me (or just leave a comment, below) if you have questions/comments/criticism/etc. Every email is appreciated, and I apologize if I haven’t gotten back to you yet - don’t hesitate to try again if it’s been more than a day or so - spam filters aren’t perfect, and it’s possible I just screwed up and somehow missed your email.

p.s. Thanks to the folks at the Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. If we’re successful at making Austin a premiere bicycling city, it’s going to be at least partly because we have good people ‘on the inside’ working hard for us.

In other Austin cycling news, there were only 100 people there last night? I’d suggest something closer to 300, myself. [Wow - was my estimate wrong! Looks like the actual number was, indeed, a lot closer to 100 - consensus seems to be at or around 120 or so, depending on when you counted - the room was pretty full, and it got really hot after while, etc. (pic).] Not an endorsement, but Allen Demling gave cyclists something to smile about when he provided, off the top of his head, detailed turn-by-turn bicycle directions for the circuitous route he would take to get to work if he were elected to city council - including many of the difficult features of many of the roads he mentioned. Was pretty funny. And now Austin has this funny-looking contraption.

Bicycle Victoria

March 30, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

bicycle_victoria_logo-header.pngBicycle Victoria (wiki) (representing the state of Victoria, Australia) is in the news:

VICTORIA’S peak cycling body claims a major upgrade of Melbourne’s bike routes could cut car trips into the city by a third.

Bicycle Victoria yesterday released a network map to include possible new and upgraded routes as well as better facilities at railway stations.

It shows a full set of radial routes from about a 15km distance — a 30-minute bike ride — into the city.

The concept has been submitted to Premier John Brumby for further consideration.

“In January the Premier asked for new ideas to tackle congestion and this is our contribution, based on our philosophy that every bike trip that replaces a car trip cuts traffic congestion,” Bicycle Victoria chief executive officer Harry Barber said yesterday.

He estimates it could cost as little as $500,000 to improve a bike route.

“Roads need to have separation barriers and bike paths have to be made wider to cope with extra riders,” he said.

I couldn’t find a link to a map the newly proposed bicycle routes.

Bicycle Victoria has 40,000 members and 45 permanent staff. That’s no joke. By comparison, two of the largest - if not the largest - bicycle groups in the U.S. are the Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle, Washington, with 9,000 members, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, with 8,500 members. Zowie.

[Point of information - the League of American Bicyclists and the Adventure Cycling Association are both based in the U.S., and both have upwards of 40,000+ members. Bravo!]

VicRoads seems to be a quasi-governmental organization that basically serves as the Department of Transportation for the State of Victoria - they have some maps of bike lanes in the standard PDF format, and there is an interactive map tool, too.

I think it’s probably fair to say that the mapping tools and technologies currently available to the people of Victoria are similar in a lot of ways to the people of Texas, and people all over the world. We should all have better, more-effective mapping tools available to us, and I’m hoping Google can help us in this quest.

Our petition has definitely gotten a lot of support from Victoria (which includes Melbourne, and St Kilda, and the Espy) and all over Australia, so to all of our friends down under, good on ya! And good luck getting the funding for those new and improved bike routes.