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Great Google-y Moogly
I received an e-mail first thing Wednesday morning.
Then one of the RSS feeds to which I subscribe broke the news. Then another. And another.
Later, the news hit a listserve I follow.
I’m sure it was all over Twitter and Facebook and every other online social-media phenomena, too: Google maps now is offering bike-route information.
At first, I have to admit, I didn’t give a rip.
I mean, I’ve ridden all over Lawrence and the surrounding counties. I don’t need to go to Google maps to plan my bike routes.
I pretty much know the best way to get around on two wheels in the city, and I can get around passably well outside it as well. And I’m not going to be planning a Los Angeles-to-New York trip anytime soon.
But the more I looked into it, the more I realized Google’s new bike-routing feature isn’t for me, specifically. It’s more for the new-to-two-wheels set, folks who don’t ride because they don’t know the best car route isn’t necessarily the best bike route — and aren’t sure how to reconcile the two.
So I decided to check it out.
I headed over to the Google maps site, and bike routing — at least at the time — was the default setting. (Users also can find routes for walking, driving or using public transportation).
I read the blather about the algorithm the Google magicians use to plot their routes. Allegedly, it looks for bike lanes and designated bike routes, considers traffic and tries to find the flattest possible route between the two points. (OK, I have to admit I scoffed a little reading about how cyclists abhor riding up hills because it’s draining, and they hate riding down hills because they have to ride their brakes the whole time. Whatever.)
Then I had Google plot a course between my home out on the west side of town to my workplace downtown.
The resulting course was about the worst route I could imagine. It had the would-be cyclist almost immediately jumping on Sixth Street, taking it until just past Iowa, and only then taking lighter-trafficked side streets.
Personally, I avoid Sixth like the plague.
In fairness, Sixth isn’t an awful place for bikes. Only that stretch between, say, Mass. and Wakarusa.
If anyone had asked my advice for a route from my home to downtown, Sixth is the last place I’d have him or her ride.
So Google struck out at first.
Then I started playing around.
I love the way Google lets you click and drag your route to suit your needs, so I did just that. Starting near my home, I started the commute running parallel to Sixth, starting with Trail Road.
Google snapped the route over, adjusted here and there … and, to my amazement, duplicated my regular route almost identically.
I’ll admit I’m easily impressed, but it was uncanny how closely the tweaked Google route matched my own. I realize there are only so many parallel routes available, but Google recommended things like Wisconsin instead of Michigan, for example, which I consider to be a shrewd move for a cyclist, but not for a driver.
The only deviation came when the route reached the verge of downtown. Google didn’t recommend the shortcut I regularly take through Constant Park, but since that’s on sidewalk and, technically, illegal, I didn’t expect it would.
So, yeah, maybe Google isn’t infallible, but like so many things in that franchise’s array, given a little nudge in the right direction, the Googlers do a pretty awesome job.