Improving the Google Maps bicycling layer

Last week was the Google Map Maker North American Conference in Montreal.

What is Map Maker? It’s a web-based tool that lets you modify and add to Google Maps.

However, unlike Wikipedia, there is a change review process. New users can expect all of their changes to require a review while more experienced users can get some changes published immediately.

What changes can made? The Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance has added missing pathways for the Detroit RiverWalk, Conner Creek Greenway, and Midtown Loop. All of the City’s bike lanes were added. There were also a number of trails shown for Detroit that simply don’t exist or are sidewalks. Those were removed.

The Google bicycling layer, which is selectable in Google Maps is now looking fairly accurate. We’re using it on this site with an overlay of bike parking locations.

Nonetheless, there are some improvements Google could make to improve their bicycle and trail data.

Here are some suggestions that were shared with their development team at the Montreal Conference.

  • Show unpaved roads differently – This would make it easier for road bikers to determine their routes.
  • Bicycle routing – Similarly, it would be useful if bicyclists could get biking directions using only paved surfaces if they prefer. This would be similar to the motorist directions which let you avoid expressways.
  • Add more trail surface descriptions – The popular crushed limestone surface seen on trails like the Paint Creek isn’t an option when describing a trail surface.
  • Add paved shoulders – Google Maps lets you describe bike lanes on a road, but not paved shoulders that make biking more desirable. For example, Edward Hines Drive should not be shown with bike lanes based on Google’s map policies.
  • Add bike racks – Points of interest can be added to Google Maps, but there’s not a category for bike racks. We heard that it will be available in the future.
  • Add abandoned rail corridors – There isn’t a way of properly showing abandoned rail corridors on the map. This is perhaps more useful for planners than riders, but it would be useful to add.
  • Exporting data – If we put all the bike rack locations in Google Maps, we want to be able to pull it back out. That information is needed for Bicycle Friendly Community applications. It would also be useful if we Google Maps could tell us the miles of bike lanes or trail within a city.

The U.S. Bicycle Routes were discussed. Those can be added now. For example, we’ve added the Conner Creek Greenway name to its on-road segments, e.g. ?St. Jean.

There was also a question of bicycles using ferry service. At the time, it was unclear if that was integrated into Google’s bicycle routing software. A different Google development team is responsible for routing (as well as rendering.)

However, getting bike directions from Detroit to Windsor does take you to the ferry in Algonac. City hall to city hall is 127 miles by bike — or 2 by car.

Mapping delays

One word of warning. There is a delay from the time your change is published in Map Maker to the time it shows up on Google Maps. That delay is dependent on many factors, including the size of the change and where the change is made.

There’s also a delay before changes affect the routing. Google’s bike routing tries taking advantage of trails, bike lanes, and preferred bicycle routes. If you add these features in Map Maker, it can take up to a couple months before the routing routines know about them. The Google engineers said there were working on reducing this delay.


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2 Responses to “Improving the Google Maps bicycling layer”

  1. Dave Says:

    It’s a coincidence that just before this post, within a few days, I was trying to experiment with Google and had discovered one can edit Google Maps.

    My original goal was to try to see if it was possible to create a custom map to:

    1.) Remove place labels of non-interest to me (like a cemetery) and

    2.) Have more of a balance between more and fewer street name labels, even at a lower zoom level.

    Goggle Earth seems to be able to accomplish the first task but appears to be more a light switch, as “Places” is a layer and it can only be ON or OFF. Is there any capability I’m not aware of that would allow me to accomplish the first goal and only remove some places of non-interest. Google Maps is (not sure of the technical term) such that editing it requires it to be published if it will appear as you edit it. However, neither seems to be able to really accomplish the second task. It appears to have any non-major roads appear, I must be on a smaller scale/zoom level.

    Also, since discovering a little bit of Google Maps capabilities as a user, I went ahead and added a bicycle route as part of the Downriver Linked Greenways that starts just south of Toledo St. and Jefferson Avenue. The imagery shows that the route was still being paved, and the image date displayes as being from May of 2010. It looks like it will be a couple of months before it’s published though.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    Google Maps doesn’t let you customize. The maps are stored in graphic tiles and to allow users to have their own tiles would be very significant. As you mention, Earth is an on/off switch for the various types of map features. I’m not aware of anything that customizable unless you use ESRI GIS software or the equivalent.

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