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National Cycle Network added to hill-avoiding routing tool

We've all used Google Maps to generate a route and a (usually slightly optimistic) ETA for a long car journey, and from today you can do the same thing for a bike journey.

In the US, Google Maps has had an option to navigate by bike since March 2010, routing riders away from freeways and on to bike paths where possible. For the UK service, Google has worked with charity Sustrans so that Google Maps knows about the National Cycle Network.

To promote the new service, Sustrans has made a rather cute little romantic video:

The service wasn't supposed to go live till 5 pm his evening, but by the clever journalistic trick of 'having a look' road.cc has learned that it's already ben turned on. And it works – asking for a route between our Bath HQ and Bristol Temple Meads station takes you along the Bath-Bristol cycle path rather than the misery of the A4.

Google Maps bike navigation also tries to route you around big hills, though it'll be interesting to see how the algorithm balances that against keeping you on minor roads.

As with Google Maps' walking directions, it's billed a beta service and you should use common sense not to follow the directions into hazardous situations.

The National Cycle Network saw its biggest ever incease in use last year, so this Google Maps feature should help build on that growth.

Google Maps already has competition in the form of Simon Nuttall and Martin Lucas-Smith's very useful Cyclestreets.net, which takes into account traffic to offer you three different route options. It's to be hoped that having a rival will spur both on to better things.

Right now, bike navigation for the UK only works through a browser, as far as we can tell. That means you can access it via Safari on an iPhone, but the Android and Blackberry apps don't appear to have been updated yet.

Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google UK said: "We know how popular cycling is in London and the rest of the UK, especially ahead of a busy summer, which is why we are thrilled to bring cycling directions to Google Maps.

"Thanks to Sustrans, we now have thousands of miles of trails and routes, as well as bike lanes and recommended streets for cities across the country.

"We'll continue to add new trail information and urge commuters to swap their car for a bike as they can now find a convenient route that makes use of dedicated bike tracks and avoid hills whenever possible."

Sustrans' Chief Executive, Malcolm Shepherd said: "Google has given cycling equal status to driving and using public transport – we need our politicians and local councils to do the same."

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

11 comments

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Gashead [33 posts] 4 years ago
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A very welcome development. As with most Google products it is in beta, let's hope we can plan Land's End to John O'Groats without the compulsory ferry from Aberdeen in future, not to mention the optional ferry to Belfast on the way back.

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liangford [13 posts] 4 years ago
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glad it's finally happened, but some routes may need assessing. cambridge to london or cambridge to ely brings up a route going along the really quite dangerous A10, when there are several smaller B roads running alongside

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fatbeggaronabike [823 posts] 4 years ago
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Now if they could allow you to plan your routes on tow paths (where permitted)and bridlepaths that would be fantastic.

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a.jumper [846 posts] 4 years ago
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So now the brilliant CycleStreets Ltd, a UK not-for-profit, has competition from American/transnational capitalists Google as well as the Westminster Government's mediocre TransportDirect? Shame on both of them. Stick with the original and the best, cyclists helping cyclists: http://www.CycleStreets.net

And what the heck are Sustrans playing at? Buddying up to Google instead of working with UK cyclists? Are they hoping for a donation? And is it the death knell for the awful Ordinance Survey map viewer that used to be on the Sustrans website?

(Disclosure: I've no connection with any of the above services, although I think I met CycleStreets's sysadmin Wookey once. You don't tend to forget a name like that and I doubt there's many of them around Cambridge.)

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Doctor Fegg [143 posts] 4 years ago
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@a.jumper: I'm no fan of Google but you can't blame Sustrans for doing it - it's much more exposure for the NCN.

Still, I would like to see them donating their data to OpenStreetMap, which powers CycleStreets, as well as to Google.

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slow-cyclo [72 posts] 4 years ago
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I've not found cycle streets great via the iPhone app. However the BikeHub app happily routes me along local bridleways and through Swinley Forest no trouble at all

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PaulVWatts [111 posts] 4 years ago
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I would suggest that people compare your known local routes with that displayed by Google versus CycleStreets.net. versus Sustrans. In my case around Prestatyn national cycle route 5 disappears halfway across Prestatyn golf course on Google before reappearing in Gronant. Route is correct both in the Sustrans and CycleStreets map. Also a lot of local routes shown in both the Sustrans and CycleStreets maps are not even shown on the Google map. My conclusion I've got to agree with a.jumper the Google map is hype over substance. Stick with using the Sustrans and CycleStreets maps. Also these are both more readily changed by local feedback if you notice an error. On a personal use note being allergic to steep hills I like the contours on the CycleStreets maps  1

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AleT [53 posts] 4 years ago
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Personally I think this is a great development, especially if it feeds through to the android navigation app. Cyclestreets app can't quite do the turn by turn voice navigation yet, especially if you make a mistake and leave its suggested route.

No one is being forced to use Google. If you don't like it, stick to cyclestreets, or even use both! Personally I'm a massive fan of being able to drag the suggested route on google maps. Don't like the suggested A10 route to Cambridge? Just drag it over to the Hadhams.

And if you find an error on the map, you can right click on the map and report it to Google. They might even fix it!

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adriank999 [77 posts] 4 years ago
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Cycle streets for South Gloucestershire knocks
spotts of Google.

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Chris [158 posts] 4 years ago
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Does this mean the Google Streetview camera car will have to go down all the towpaths? Or something.

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a.jumper [846 posts] 4 years ago
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AleT wrote:

Personally I think this is a great development, especially if it feeds through to the android navigation app. Cyclestreets app can't quite do the turn by turn voice navigation yet, especially if you make a mistake and leave its suggested route.

No one is being forced to use Google. If you don't like it, stick to cyclestreets, or even use both! [...]
And if you find an error on the map, you can right click on the map and report it to Google. They might even fix it!

Oh what a surprise(!) Google's maps can drive the navigation app on Google's Android better than cyclestreets can. Just another example of how Google are all talk about corporate social responsibility and don't actually deliver equivalent access for not-for-profit projects like Cyclestreets.

We're not being forced to use Google directly, but that's clearly the aim of adding this feature to Google maps instead of helping the Cyclestreets project. Google can probably burn more money than any other mapping provider to get a dominant market position.

And if you find an error on the cyclestreets map, head over to openstreetmap.org, zoom in, click "Edit" and fix it yourself. No need to beg Google or anyone else to fix it!