So Google announced that they’ve added bicycling directions to Google Maps. This is tremendous news for everyone in the biking community… and it couldn’t have come at a better time: spring! The past few days have been incredibly mild here in New York City and everyone has been taking their bicycles out of storage. (I mean, it reached 60°F yesterday! There was very little wind chill to boot. If that’s not the perfect biking weather, I don’t know what is.) As such, more and more people are trying to find routes that make sense on a bike. Since Google (and, by extension, Google Maps) is so ubiquitous, it’s inevitable that these folks will turn to Google Maps for help. Up until this point, the only alternative was to route the path using walking or driving directions while making adjustments based on the cyclist’s existing knowledge of the streets. (Of course, there are other bicycle direction applications out there, such as Ride the City and MapMyRide… but they are not as well-known as Google, especially among the casual bicyclist communities.)
However, the bicycling directions are very much in beta. For example, I mapped a route from an arbitrary place on Staten Island to Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn… and it tells me to go over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. In doing so, Google Maps fails mention that bicyclists (or pedestrians, for that matter) are not permitted to cross the bridge. Those not in the know will learn too late that they are not welcome on the bridge. Happily, Google Maps relies on its users to report problems with directions and/or maps. (Of course, I’ve already reported their incorrect — and, indeed, illegal — use of the VZ Bridge as a bikeable path.)
Here’s hoping the Google Maps team continues working on this feature to make it as robust as possible. (Perhaps enlisting the help of the creators of Ride the City, who have done such a fine job with their service?) I have high hopes for this app and expect bicycle usage to grow as a result of it. Users will see that bicycling is a totally mainstream way of getting around and reconsider taking their car for a 1- or 2-mile trip to the post office or library or wherever it is they’re going. For example, this morning, I biked 3.3 miles to a public library to return a book (and then I biked the same 3.3 miles back home). Once I got home, I changed and drove to work.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I cannot figure out a way to bike to work without killing myself. The college is located in the hilliest part of Staten Island. This is difficult in and of itself… but it’s made worse by the fact that most of the streets that lead to the campus are carved into this hill and are, therefore, very winding and very narrow. There are no sidewalks, either. It’s dangerous no matter how you look at it.
Aside from this dilemma, though, I’m able to bike to most places: post office, farmers market, grocery store, library, restaurants and diners, cafes, etc. They are all located within 3 miles of my house and I have little fear about bicycling to these destinations. I hope that the bicycling option in Google Maps will encourage others in my ‘hood to do the same.