Bikers get the respect (and routes) they deserve — with Google’s help

In the United States, designated bike lanes and a growing bike culture have started to garner mainstream attention. And bicyclists now have a giant ally””Google, as explained in this CAP repost.

At the 10th Annual American Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. last week, Google announced their maps feature will include bike routes for 150 U.S. cities. The feature includes 15,000 miles of off-street bike trails gathered by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has collected trail info for its website since 2007.  [Image Source: Flickr/Hugger Industries.]

Google made the decision after receiving a petition with more than 50,000 signatures for bike routes to be added to its maps. Google Maps introduced driving directions in 2005, and in 2007 the site added transit routes. Pedestrian navigation followed a year later. Now, it’s the bikers’ turn.

Online tools for mapping bike routes have existed for years, such as, which also points out bike shops along your route. But with an organization as enormous as Google collating bike-friendly travel information, two-wheel enthusiasts hope city planners and politicians will take note and improve bicycling conditions across the United States, like Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) aims to do with his proposed Active Community Transportation Act. The bill seeks to make active transportation, such as walking or biking, more accessible and safe.

Promoting bicycle travel for utilitarian purposes, in addition to recreation and exercise, has become a federal objective since Congress opened new sources of funding for bicycle facilities with the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, or ISTEA, in 1991. This continued over the next decade and now federal planning requirements must consider bicyclists in state and Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, long-range transportation plans.

The League of American Bicyclists, who sponsored the American Bike Summit, hopes the Google feature will encourage wary would-be cyclists to get on the road, give more seasoned bikers the respect they deserve, and curb unnecessary motorist pollution by highlighting safe routes:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling but without dedicated lanes

The tool is far from perfect, however. It does not yet work for mobile devices, so bikers will have to map their routes from home or the office before setting out. And Google’s algorithm that combines input from bike lanes, topography, and traffic signals is still just an algorithm. Some New York Post writers reported being led the wrong way down one-way streets and onto off-limits sections of Central Park, and many routes in the District of Columbia are missing, such as the bike lane on 15th Street NW, the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Silver Spring to Union Station, and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.

Luckily, you can suggest a route change or make a correction using Google’s “report a problem” feature. Google is fielding these requests and working out the kinks in the system.

Traffic congestion and vehicle pollution is a massive problem, and many would-be bikers are put off by the lack of designated bike lanes in many U.S. cities. Hopefully, the added Google feature will get more people on bikes and force cities to designate more bike lanes. Cities with a higher level of bicycle infrastructure””paths and lanes””see higher levels of bicycle commuting, which then increases state and local spending on such infrastructure to keep those people on their bikes.

Additionally, bike infrastructure should connect to popular destinations””already marked on Google Maps””to increase pollution-free commuting. And more commuters should be educated about bicycling through individual bike ownership or shared programs such as SmartBike, which could be coupled with adequate and safe parking at work. All these steps could help give the United States a greater share of the world’s most bike-friendly cities.

7 Responses to Bikers get the respect (and routes) they deserve — with Google’s help

  1. dhogaza says:

    It doesn’t do that great in Portland, OR. The city produces a bike map (and on Hawthorne Blvd the bus shelters feature walking and biking map graphics). The local daily compared google recommended routes with the bike map and found that the google routes tended to be weird. In one case, part of the recommended route was on an interstate!

    I’m sure it will get better, though. And not as bad as the incident some years back where a microsoft mapping service recommended a crazy route between one town in Norway, another in Sweden, about 50 KM apart IIRC. The route recommended taking a ferry to the mainland, driving through much of europe, then to the UK, and another ferry back to sweden, something like that. Wish I’d kept a screenshot of it, it was great.

  2. Perry says:

    In my hometown this one works pretty good It’s made for bycicles

  3. Rick Covert says:

    Riding on a bicycle in Houston Texas in the designated “bike lanes” is to walk the edge of a straight razor and survive. Houston has the highest cyclist mortality rate of any city in the state of Texas. Houston needs real bike paths like the ones we have at our parks and not a painted lane on a regular street where the driver of the single-occupant Hummer H2 can play chicken with any cyclist he pleases.

  4. cbp says:

    These type of things make a huge difference.

    Bikes are incredibly easy to cater for – often an entire cities bike paths cost less to build and maintain than a couple of kms of highway.

    And whilst Rick is correct, a painted line still makes an order of magnitude difference to safety.

  5. fj2 says:

    This is an important event and Verizon has had this capability on its cell GPS for a while.

    Elsewhere, the 430 million chinese cyclists and additional 120 million chinese that use electric bikes are huge numbers for the types of services provided by Google and verizon.

  6. The Wonderer says:

    First of all, we prefer to be called cyclists or bicyclists, not bikers. The latter, on average, tend to have more tattoos and generally don’t advocate separate paths for themselves.

    On the subject of bike paths, yes they may remove the stress of riding alongside cars, but often through poor design, increase risk to cyclists as they frequently cross driveways and other roads where cars don’t have normal street awareness, and especially under these conditions, these paths tend to be very slow going for cyclists.

    Bike paths are ultimately not available everywhere one wants to go, and so often have the unintended consequence of making the motorist even more angry when she/he encounters the cyclist using “her/his road.”

    There are many wonderful bike paths, including the Mount Vernon Trail and the C&O Canal in the DC area. However, bike paths are not a substitute for “share the road” policies and awareness.

  7. fj2 says:

    Since bicycles have about 1% the environmental footprint of automobiles and require an infrastructure with significantly less than 1% they are one of the most important technological strategies for scale-appropriate emissions reductions. This is here-and-now technology that can be broadly implemented immediately with much more advanced quick-build designs to follow.

    Derivative vehicles provide higher accessibility, efficiencies, comfort, practicality, performance, safety, and ease-of-use such as recumbent tricycles with optional electric assists and faired enclosures.

    Roads can be reinvented that have less than 1% the environmental footprints of roads required by automobiles — oversized vehicles greatly amplify requisite environmental footprints — to better accommodate such vehicles that include “complete streets” strategies and systems based on elevated veloways, rails, and guideways such as that found at

    These new roads can provide for comfort, practicality performance, low cost, speed, range, and safety much more advanced than automobiles.

    This type of high mobility at low cost on a global scale will provide a major solution to the environmental crisis and a terrific improvement in the advance of human civilization.