Saturday, November 13, 2010

Google Biking Directions is Very Responsive

With this kind of rapid response to user suggestions I bet Google's "Bike There" routes end up being pretty good in most cities. Google impresses me. I sent them a suggestion and they got back to me within the week saying they would check it out. They then updated Google Maps the next week and sent me the following email. (This was in June 2010, by the way).

Hi Herbie,

Google Maps has been updated to correct the problem you reported. You can see the update here, and if you still see a problem, please tell us more about the issue:  Link to view and/or reopen issue

Report history
Problem ID: A1CC-89C3-E0EF-7B06

Your report:
The directions suggest a route that is much more unsuitable for biking than an alternative route just near the one google suggests. I am not sure if this is out of the scope of your capabilities, but average daily traffic on Olympic (the road suggested) is much, much more than ADT on 9th, which is just North of Olympic. If I were giving bicycling directions I would suggest 9th.
Thanks for your help,
The Google Maps team 

Do folks out there know of other crowdsourced bike route databases? I'm intrigued by the idea, since lots of bicyclists I know choose their routes based on word-of-mouth. The complexity of the route data seems to resist an internet platform: for example, I'll get word that a certain street is good to ride on, except during rush hour; or vice versa - some streets aren't bad to ride on during rush hour because they are so congested; or I'll get word that I should avoid a street at night, etc. Nonetheless, I think crowdsourcing has been both effective and self-reinforcing in Google's case. I've noticed an uptick on Carmelita Ave. (near UCLA, parallel to the much crappier Santa Monica Blvd through Beverly Hills) in particular, and at least one rider told me she learned about the street through Google biking directions. But Google's routes are not openly crowdsourced, they're controlled internally. When I have time I want to learn more about true and open crowdsourced bike route programs and how they perform. Thoughts?

Also, how do folks out there think Google's "Bike There" option is performing in LA? What are places where Google really gets it right? Or wrong?

Hmm... and: Can we tell what Google's routing criteria are based on the routes it suggests? If they have some magic routing algorithm for bicycling I most definitely want to see it. My guess is that it (1) routes on city-designated bike lanes, paths, and routes, whenever possible, and has some tolerance for routing out-of-the-way (i.e. away from the shortest distance path) to get on them. It has some trade off between hilliness and directness built in. It knows major boulevards and avoids them. What else?


Heather said...

Interesting questions! And it's good to know Google is so responsive. Although I'm not living in LA anymore, and when I was, Google did not have the "Bike There" route suggestions, I decided just now to punch in my old start and end locations (Marina del Rey and UCLA campus) and see what Google suggested. The route was pretty good--it kept me on streets with designated bike lanes when possible, and kept me off of major roads. Some observations:
- Freeway intersections. In trying to modify the route, it would not let me go under the 405 at Wilshire. This is one of those areas that has merging many merging vehicles and is heavily trafficked. However, a predictable rider comfortable riding with traffic (and along side of it) can maneuver well when the traffic is standing still.
- Pedestrian paths and one-ways. My proffered morning route actually was to parallel the beach bike path in the pedestrian walkway (as there were no pedestrians before 8AM) or ride against one way traffic on Speedway (as I never saw more than 3 cars driving on it at that time of day). I recognize this is breaking the law, and I was prepared to face those consequences. Just a note that it's something that Google (obviously) won't incorporate into their suggested routes. :)
-Turning left. I much prefer to make right turns when cycling, both to avoid getting out into traffic and having to wait for a smaller window for when it was safe to turn. Does Google account for this? I think so... At the Wilshire and Veteran intersection it suggests the rider to jog east onto Midvale then continue north to cross Wilshire, rather than go right on Wilshire and then have to make a left onto Midvale/Gayley.
-Crossing busy streets. Likewise, I'd rather ride on a busy street that cross one, especially ones with long lights. Avoiding intersections with long wait times at lights is something incorporated into word-of-mouth route suggestions, does Google incorporate this, too? Perhaps, but not so strongly when there are other factors to consider (like when the alternative is to make a left turn).

Alan said...

Boston's first Bike Czar used google maps to develop the Bicycle network. Rather than look at where they thought the routes should be, they went out to the cycling community and asked them to trace where they actually rode everyday.

Vicki said...

Hi Herbie,

I sometimes use Map My Ride to keep track of routes that worked well. The site is more geared for athletes, but it can be used by anyone to find routes from one place to another that others have used and recommend.