Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Google Bike Directions From The North Side

I was playing with the bicycle routes now offered by Google Maps. (It's in beta, but then, funny enough, so it most everything Google makes.) Before you try out the directions, open Google Maps and go to Spokane, click on the More button and select Bicycling.

The bike lanes show up on the map as solid green lines. The dotted green lines might mean designated bike routes but I don't know for sure. I haven't taken the time to compare all of them with Spokane's Planned Bikeways (PDF), but I did notice that Google put dotted green on Francis between Wall and Standard. I don't think riding on Francis is a good idea. There's a lot of traffic focused there and the lanes are tight.

I live north of Spokane not far from where Farwell Road and Hwy 2 meet. I asked for directions from my home to my work address and it gave me three routes to choose from. The first route is the longest. It followed Hwy 2 to Nevada, east on Magnesium and then south on Crestline to Upriver Drive and takes the Centennial Trail the rest of the way. I avoid North Nevada because it's a four-lane highway for all practical purposes. Taking a lane in 45 mph traffic is not the best idea.

The second route is essentially the one I used to take until a couple of years ago. Hwy 2, Country Homes Blvd, Wall and Post. It's not bad in the mornings, but afternoon rush hour traffic is very crowded. After Wall was repaved a couple years ago they evened out the lane width so they're equal. The northbound lane used to be wider which was nice because it gave me more room during rush hour. But you can't have everything.

The third route is pretty close to the one I take with a couple of exceptions. It takes Hwy 2 to Nevada--too crazy for me--and then west on Magnesium to Standard. It follows the Addison-Standard north-south route to Division and then it turns left onto Division. I avoid that section of Division you are allowed to ride on--just because you can doesn't mean you should--which extends from Foothills to downtown. Instead I cross Division and stay on Buckeye and then follow Howard to Riverfront Park. It's much quieter and less stressful.

Trying out a couple of other ideas, the first suggested route to my Mom's house in the West Central area had me take Hwy 2 to Country Homes but then turning west from Ash onto Francis and then three blocks later making a left turn across all four lanes onto Decatur. I prefer to stay on Ash because the right lane is very wide. The second suggested route followed Hwy 2, Country Homes, Wall and Post. I could go along with that one.

The first suggested route to my sister's house in the Indian Trail area wisely recommends taking Five Mile Road and Woodside to get from Country Homes to Indian Trail and avoiding Francis completely. Nice.

Overall, it's not perfect but you can help. Google wants feedback. Plug in your own commuting start and end points. or other routes you're familiar with, and let 'em know if there are spots that should be avoided. Don't forget to provide an alternative.


Traditional Bike Club Curmudgeon said...

Sounds like a ready made excuse for being late to work.

Pat S said...

Appreciate the post, Hank, as I've been playing with it myself.

Yesterday I google-bike-mapped the route from my house at roughly 25th and Bernard to my parents house at roughly Wall and Country Homes. It sent me right down the Ruby/Division corridor, from downtown all the way past Francis. It was good for a giggle.

Today, I mapped the route from my house to North Division Bike and it diverted me over to Addison. Much more reasonable.

I like google and I think they will get it right. Definitely not for avid bike nerds who know every route nuance and every shortcut, but I think it will evolve to the point that it will be a useful and accurate tool for pointing out decent bike thoroughfares. Which is a pretty great.

Anonymous said...

The algorithm that chooses routes considers exertion, per a column in the Seattle Times.

So, routes tend to avoid hills, which may in turn may also mean that it tends to choose larger streets.

To me, an improvement would be allow the user to choose a fitness level or input whether hills are desirable, or to input traffic levels to avoid.

I'm happy to see it though, can only improve.