Google can’t cure the cold, mop up puddles or purge incompetent drivers from the road, but it has managed to make getting where you need to go on a bicycle a little easier. On Wednesday, the company added information on bike lanes, paths and bicycling directions to Google Maps.
By incorporating 12,000 miles of dedicated bike paths and trails through data from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and preferred biking roads in 150 cities, Google Maps will now display a bicycling layer with dark green lines for dedicated bike paths, solid green lines for roads with bike lanes, and dotted green lines for preferred biking roads.
Besides taking the newfound paths into account when calculating directions for cyclists, Google’s new algorithms for bikes will prioritize slower roads, dodge busy intersections, and even calculate the physical work cyclist has to do – taking into account wind resistance and elevation – to determine whether it’s worth taking a slightly longer route to avoid a hill.
And by our own initial estimates, Google nailed it. Besides picking out the exact route we already bike to work on when we asked for directions, it correctly estimated the time within minutes and even made use of small city features like a pedestrian bridge with a ramp. But it’s still a beta: Another time we asked for directions to a common destination, it routed us through a train yard and over a steep overpass with stairs we would have to carry a bike up, rather than just sticking to the streets.