Google Maps adds 'Bicycling' option

Big news for US online journey planning but Google Maps isn't the only planner. Watch out for a raft of iPhone apps, too.
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Google Maps has added the long-awaited 'Bicycling' tick-box option to its turn-by-turn journey planner.

The bike journey option joins the public transit, walking and driving options. It has been expected since 2009, with the Google Maps Bike There blog leading a campaign to get Google to add the option as soon as possible.

Originally called 'Bike There', Google's bike routing service is now called 'Bicycling' and is available only for US cities at present.

12,000 miles of bike routes were supplied by cycle campaign groups and route specialists such as the Rails to Trails organisation, the US equivalent of Sustrans.

The new Google Map bicycle layer can also display a StreetView pane: some of the bike route images were shot with Google's StreetView trike.

Routes are marked in three shades of green. Dark green denotes a bike trail. Light green denotes an on-road bike path. Dotted green denotes roads without bike paths but which have been flagged as suitable for cyclists.

A reporting feature allows cyclists to submit new routes and advise on which routes to avoid.

Future third-party mash-ups will no doubt include crime stats overlaid on the bike route data so cyclists will be able to see which routes go through less than savoury areas.

'Bicycling' was turned on a few hours ago but will be formerly announced at Wednesday's opening of the US National Bike Summit in Washington D. C.

There will be a follow-up announcement at tech conference SXSW in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Some of the Google Maps bicycling options developers will be joining BikeHugger.com at a Mobile Social at SXSW.

The 'Bicycling' option routes cyclists on bike trails, quieter roads and, where possible, less hilly options. Google has released a YouTube video to demo the service.

As with StreetView, Google is rolling out its new service in the US to begin with but will likely extend to other countries in due course. However, the information for the 'Bicycling' option is supplied by cycle advocacy groups and it has taken two years for the US option to be populated with data. Google has not yet requested mapping help from UK cycle campaign groups.

Google's 'Bicycling' team is made up of five people based out of Seattle.

In the UK, the Department of Transport has an online journey planner with data on the Cycle Demonstration Towns.

Cyclestreets.net, run by two members of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, has a UK bicycle journey planner using OpenCycleMaps. Cyclestreets has a "wiggliness" feature for routing new and hesitant cyclists on cyclepaths and roads likely to be carrying less traffic.

In June, Bike Hub, the UK cycle industry's levy scheme, will be launching an online journey planner using Google Maps, the DfT's Journey Planner and Cyclestreets' map data. There will also be an iPhone app.

Google's Bicycling layer will not be on this app becuse it's US-only and because as of now the layer does not link to GPS data. Google is said to be working on this and there will be apps for US-specific smartphones in due course.

The BikeHub iPhone app will feature Cyclestreets as the main map. The online journey planner and app will be available from BikeHub.co.uk, the new site taking over from Bikeforall.net. BikeHub.co.uk will launch in June.

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