This is your map on bikes
Google Maps just announced that it's added a feature to map optimum bicycle routes. So now when you hit the "get directions" button you can choose "By car," "By public transit," "Walking," and now: "Bicycling."
Marc Caswell, program manager for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, was excited by the news: "Absolutely this is a wonderful development," he said. But he also sounded a little rueful: The Bicycle Coalition has been working with regional transportation planners and the city of San Francisco to develop their own bike mapping tool. They are currently in early stages of testing. Nonetheless, this is ultimately good news for Caswell's cause. "Having one uniform tool that anyone can use throughout the nation will be really important, especially for new bicyclists," he said.
San Francisco isn't the only one upstaged by Google. Caswell noted that his hometown, Broward County, Florida, just released a web-based bike mapping tool on Monday. Clearly it's an idea whose time has come.
This news doesn't mean that other bike mapping systems are now obsolete. At the very least, these systems will inform each other and set the bar for improvement. A number of the immediate reactions to the news have noted that Google recommends riding down busy streets or over hills.
"It's just not an easy task for a computer," Caswell said. "For years, people have been asking, why hasn't Google done this? Well, it's really hard for a computer to understand hills, and traffic speed, and how far people are willing to go out of their way to get to a bike lane."
If you don't want to be one of the guinea pigs working out the technical bugs, there are a lot of Web 0.0 solutions: The Bicycle Coalition gives out printed maps and it has a Bike Buddy program for people new to the area or new to biking. Just shoot them an email, and they will set you up with an experienced cyclist who lives in your neighborhood who can show you all the secret routes.