Streetscast: Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft Explains Google’s Bike Map


The wait for bicycle directions on Google Maps has finally ended as the company announced a beta version of its new bicycle directions feature at the League of American Bicyclists National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. this morning. The new mapping software includes an elegant overlay of bicycle routes based on priority bicycle streets and paths in the 150 cities where Google is debuting the service.

Streetsblog San Francisco Editor Bryan Goebel sat down with Google Engineer Scott Shawcroft today to discuss the new software and Google’s plans for enhancing it. 

google_rep.jpgScott Shawcroft demonstrates Bike Map for a summit attendee. Photo: Bryan Goebel.

Shawcroft said the software gives bicycle directions that take into account the grade of a road, the priority of a road (based on traffic volumes), as well as bike lanes, recommended routes, and bike trails. Shawcroft also said the map interface de-emphasizes driving routes and streets that are not friendly for cyclists, and shows various bicycle class designations in shades of green, from fully separated bike paths to streets with sharrows.

Data gathering was a difficult part of the process, according Shawcroft, and he encouraged users to try the mapping service and give Google feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Users can report problems directly to Google in a box on the left-hand navigation bar in the bicycle directions section of Google Maps.

You can listen to Bryan’s full interview with Shawcroft here:


You can also watch Google’s video after the jump:

  • rockin interview! very cool.

  • SO cool.

  • Jeannie Collins

    So nice! Will be so helpful in reviewing travel plans… and planning around the hills is so important.
    I picked up Moon’s “Bay Area Biking” and want to try out some of the trails as they fit into commutes.

  • patrick

    I applaud Google for creating this service, I hope that it will encourage more people to bike now that they can find easy directions.

  • Schtu

    Great first step. It seems to underestimate the slope of some of the hills on its routes. Looking at my work commute it suggests I go up a 5-10% slope rather than travel one more block on market and take a flat street. But I assume that is the very feedback they are looking for to perfect it.

  • I like the various levels of green to indicate the class of bike route. This is wayfinding for the digital age.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Javascript and Flash in order to play an audio clip?

    It’s almost as if the geniuses behind (and yes, they want your $$$$ to do schedules, arrival times, and maps, including bicycle maps, far worse than the average high school student in his/her spare time, all courtesy of MTC’s generosity to its special friends) were involved in this marvel of technology.

  • tea

    Very nice. My favorite feature is the de-emphasizing of the driving routes / freeways.

  • I hope they can link the bike directions as a component of transit directions!

  • Dustin White

    Cool! But yikes what’s up with all the “trails” shown in north beach? It will be interesting to see how it improves over time as users weigh in…

    I wonder if the routing problems are more related to the algorithm weighing grades/traffic volumes/bike facilities, or if they are more related to the lack of quality data on what constitutes a busy road. For example, searching for auto directions from 20th/Mission or 20th/Valencia to the Presidio gives identical results, but searching for bike directions gives two different routes – one via Masonic (seems that the traffic volumes aren’t playing into the equation here!), and one via Steiner…neither of which are the preferred route of cyclists i know (who generally take the Wiggle to the Panhandle to Arguello).

    As I played around with various routes, I was routed the wrong way on one-way Fell street, so it must not be pulling from the same road info that is used for autos.

    Also funny to search for directions from SF to Oakland…”Take the Oakland – San Francisco Ferry Bldg to Oakland” – I feel like I’m in Star Trek!

    Luckily they have a handy error reporting tool.

    Anyone know who developed this – Google should pay them:

    It’s been around for awhile, and I like the feature where you can select if you want a route that is more “bike friendly” or more direct, and also can specify the max grade you are willing to traverse.

  • Moochie

    “It seems to underestimate the slope of some of the hills on its routes. Looking at my work commute it suggests I go up a 5-10% slope rather than travel one more block on market and take a flat street. ”

    Gosh, maybe San Francisco isn’t an appropriate place to commute by bicycle?

  • @Dustin, I was just looking at North Beach too. I think they are defaulting to the Barbary Coast Trail so some tweaking will be needed. My route down Stockton to Caltrain has me going through Union Square, down Fifth, then over to Caltrain. Also, they recommend you get off and back on Columbus about 3-5 times as you travel from North Beach to the FiDi.

    I think it is a great first step. Toss it out to the public and see what sticks. Google will have this humming by summer.


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