Google & Bicycling

The bicycle blogosphere has been abuzz the last few weeks with news from Google. Two major announcements have been made by the company that pertain to bicycling in the United States.

The first announcement – made on Google’s Lat Long blog – is a major step forward for cycling enthusiasts. The announcement was cleverly hidden within a long post about new data sources that Google has been integrating into their map of the United States. Google quietly stated:

The best part about this new dataset is that we’ve been able to add a lot of new, detailed information to Google Maps – information that helps people better explore and get around the real world. For example, college students will be pleased to see maps of many campuses; and cyclists will now find many more trails and paths to explore. Soon we even plan on providing you with biking directions to take advantage of this new data. Of course, in the true Google spirit of “launch and iterate,” we plan to work with more data sources to add new features in the map.

This announcement came shortly on the heels of the 50,000th signature on the Google Maps Bike There Petition (which if you haven’t signed, you should). The group advocating Google to add the Bike There feature was quite excited, but what remains to be see is the method Google uses to obtain and integrate this new data and when it will actually be available.

The second bicycle-related announcement from Google is a call for suggestions as to where Google should send their new Street View Trike. The Street View Trike idea came about when one of Google’s Street View mechanical engineers was mountain biking. He realize that collecting imagery for Google Street View could be done via bicycle – or tricycle – and the street view trike was born.

Google is asking for suggestions, and I highly recommend going to their site and contributing your thoughts.

Here are the categories that Google is looking for:

  • Parks & Trails
  • University Campuses
  • Pedestrian Malls (e.g., outdoor shopping areas, boardwalks)
  • Theme Parks & Zoos
  • Landmarks
  • Sports Venues (e.g., golf courses, racing tracks, stadium grounds)

Nominations will be open until October 28. We’ll then comb through all of the suggestions and let all of you cast your final votes on a winner from each category for the Street View trike to visit. For any privately-owned or operated location, like a campus or theme park, we’ll work directly with the relevant organization prior to collecting the imagery.

These two announcements have not been directly related to each other (to my knowledge, anyhow), but I am suspicious that they may, in fact, be related. My main question is whether the new Street View photos will constitute Google’s foray into the bicycle mapping world? This is definitely an important first step, but certainly not the “Bike-There” option that is currently available on Google Maps for walking, driving, and public transit. In order to have a successful “Bike-There” option, Google is going to need to communicate with cycling organizations in every city in order to determine which routes are bikeable. Roads throughout the U.S. are already mapped, it is just a matter of determining which ones are the most bike friendly.

What suggestions do you have for a Google Bike-There option? Google is clearly open to suggestions for new data to incorporate, but what is the best way to get comprehensive and accurate bike route information? It appears that Google is starting by incorporating bike path information, which is a huge step in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done. Let me know what your thoughts and suggestions, and I will write an open letter to Google!

Oh and P.S. – Google, if your employees get tired riding that trike around, I’m available to provide some pedal power!

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