Margaret Southern, Cool Green Science’s green blogger, is posting about getting ready for spring biking season.

After a long, cold, wintry, long, dark, long winter…spring is finally here! And that means it’s time to get back on the bike and out of the house and out of the car.

And just in time for the season, Google Maps has added a brand new biking feature. Now, you can choose to get directions by car, by foot or by bike. When you ask for directions “by bike,” it automatically chooses the best streets for biking – including streets without steep hills and those with bike lanes or light traffic.

Of course, how well does it really work?

I just tested this out for my ride to work and was shocked at how accurate it was – down to the little shortcuts I take on the side streets. It put me onto a street with very little traffic that I use, rather than the parallel four-lane road with a bike lane that ends abruptly. It also routed me around construction on a side street that’s been going on for a year – although I’m not sure it was because of the construction or to get me to a stoplight one street over.

And how did it know it takes me almost exactly 19 minutes to bike door to door? That’s almost creepy.

For my husband’s commute it gave him two options – one route being 6 miles and the other 8.5 miles. The problem with the 6-mile route? It takes him through Arlington National Cemetery, where bicycles aren’t even permitted. Oops.

But the second option was pretty spot-on. Although someone should probably tell Google Maps that riding on the walking paths of the National Mall is next to impossible during tourist season. Perhaps cities without so many monuments and memorials to get around would be a little easier to map.

But besides just directions from Point A to Point B, the maps show:

  • Dedicated bike paths with no motor traffic (dark green lines);
  • Streets with bike lanes (light green lines); and
  • Other popular biking streets (the dotted lines).

This looks like it would be a great tool for figuring out the best way to explore a new city by bike, or even just venture to a new part of town. And what better way to spend a beautiful spring day?

(Image credit: FlickR/Notfrancois via a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. I feature requested this like a thousand times. I wrote it in at first and then eventually there was a checkbox for common feature requests and I checked the biking directiosn feature request at least once a week.

    My personal experience is quite a testament to Google Maps accuracy. I ride a century a month and when I first moved to Chicago I had to hunt and dig for information on the numerous, lovely bike trails to piece together a 112 mile ride. I had to get maps of varying quality from the different park districts that the trails I needed fall under, piece it together and figure it all out myself. Now, its easy. Also, I checked and Google Maps picked the right trails. For my commute and errands rides in the city, I used the free Chicago Bike Map from Active Transportation Alliance. Now, the same info is in Google Maps and its perfectly accurate.

    Things I think should be added:

    Transit/Bike Combo Trips. For example, you can take your bike on the Metra train then ride the remainder of the way. I think this is an important option in the suburbs of Chicago. Unfortunately, there are exclusions on the Metra excluding all of rush hour on the weekdays.

    Support for my Blackberry. I google map things on the fly from my mobile all the time. It would be nice to have biking lanes including on my device.

    An option for trail route. Some people are willing to go a few miles farther to not ride in traffic. It takes a bit to get over the fear of traffic.

    Anything that gets more people in human-powered transit is great news. : )

    Make sure to check out my second favorite charity, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy who partnered with Google Maps to provide the most content for the new bike mapping feature.

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