Google Maps launches bike route feature for National Bike Summit

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John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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You can switch from street view to bike route view in the Google Maps view pulldown menu.

Ever the experts at timing, Google has literally rolled out a new mapping feature in time for the National Bike Summit, going on through the 11th in Washington, D.C.. Google is adding a bike lane with its latest online mapping option.

The new bicycling directions available on Google Maps starting today break down available bike lanes in 150 U.S. cities.

Google spent the past six months tweaking its mapping service so it could recommend routes that would steer bicyclists away from big hills and heavily congested streets - gearing the feature less toward the more adventurous two-wheelers. The feature can be used to pinpoint bicycling trails.

Google's bike layer for maps comes after more than 50,000 people petitioned the search giant for a cycling feature, its most requested addition. Google combed existing urban bike trail maps and worked with Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to develop a basic feature set, but they're looking for bikers using the maps to help add new routes and features.

In fact, the routes Google is featuring now aren't necessarily the most straightforward, A-to-B line to a destination. They take into account topographical features and scale toward an easier ride - not that mountains are a huge concern for cyclists in Chicago.

"We really are thinking of all this data as a starter set," Shannon Guymon, project manager for driving directions and lead on the bike routes, tells the Seattle Times. "Sometimes we get feedback from Googlers who say 'you should take this one, it's faster,' but they're more aggressive cyclists than the style we're targeting."

If the suggested route is too easy for your tastes, though, they are adjustable. And Guymon tells the Times that they're still working on adding features, like bike shops marked along routes.

Bike directions already have been available on some smaller Web sites, but Google is the first major Internet mapping service provider to add the option.

Of course, you can still depend on the excellent official bike route map from the city of Chicago, but the Google addition really shines when traveling, particularly to areas that don't keep a city map.

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