Biking Home by Google: Indirect Route?

Google maps for bikersGoogle Maps was already a great, free tool for city-dwellers, with its embedded public transportation, walking and driving directions. Now, the company's gone and made the app even better by including bike route navigation for the first time.

According to Wired, the feature factors in bike lanes, terrain and incline to find the fastest, safest route, and will eventually be available in 150 cities nationwide. Google Maps' product manager told Wired this has been an option heavily requested by Google users for years.

And this is no small product rollout. Google's blog explains the enormity of this project and how they intend to expand in the future:
Thanks primarily to our partnership with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we now have more than 12,000 miles of trails included in biking directions and outlined directly on the map. We also have data on bike lanes and recommended streets for 150 cities across the country. We'll continue to add new trail information and encourage riders to send feedback (biking directions is in beta, after all) and route information for inclusion via the "Report a Problem" tool. When Map Maker is available in the U.S., all riders will be able to directly contribute their local knowledge about trails, bike lanes and suggested routes.

City life is all about self-reliance, and for years Google Maps has empowered urban dwellers with the information they need to get where they need to go. Biking epitomizes that desire for freedom, and as the trend steadily climbs, the need for a stable mapping program is there. And while real time bike mapping is not yet available through Google, expect the final piece of the domination puzzle to slide into place in due time.

Upon first glance, it seems the bike route feature requires a little bit of faith in the cars sharing the road and the greenness of traffic lights. I gave it a whirl by mapping the route to my old job - it was always difficult to figure out the best route. After much trial-and-error, I figured out that taking major roads with bike lanes added much more time than necessary due to an overabundance of cars and the constant start-stop of intersections; the best route, I found, took Chicago's lakefront bike path all the way into the Loop. But Google Maps tells me to take Halsted for the most speed, even though it's about as congested a street as they come in Chicago, especially on a work day. My bike-path route, however, was listed third.

It's great to see all my options laid out in front of me, but like most advice from computers, you need some real-world experience to balance it out.
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