Google beefs up navigation to help you avoid Memorial Day jams

From a traffic standpoint, this year’s Memorial Day weekend promises to be a nightmarish one — AAA projects that 37.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home, a 4.7 percent increase from last year. It’s likely many of those folks will rely on the Google Maps app for navigation, which Google’s acknowledging with a minor update to its Android and iOS client. Starting today, Maps will provide more detailed alternative routes and heads-up notifications about traffic conditions.

Maps has been able to route you around crowdsourced problems such as road closures and accidents for a while now, but its methods were opaque — it wasn’t always clear why, exactly, Maps chose the alternate routes it did. Now, the app will tell you exactly how conditions are impacting its decision-making — in a dismissible notification. It’ll explain the recommended detour is faster, for instance, or that it takes you around a particularly nasty stretch of gridlock.

Maps is also gaining better route planning. Inputting a destination will yield a page with real-time traffic, theoretically helping you to better avoid congestion. And when you’re driving, Maps will notify you of potential jams ahead and how long you’re likely to be stuck in them.

Looking to prepare for a speedy commute to the latest barbecue, beach, or parade? The new Maps features begin rolling out to everyone starting today.

After several weeks of negative publicity, the Google Maps team could probably use a little R&R themselves. A few maps users yesterday discovered that typing the racial slurs “n—– king” or “n—– house” into Maps directs to the White House, and just last week an image of the Android mascot, Bugdroid, urinating on the Apple logo appeared in Pakistan. Google’s blamed those transgressions on its crowdsourced Map Maker tool, which it’s temporarily disabled as the company “[works] towards making the moderation system more robust.”

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