As you may have heard, Google Maps began offering cycling directions this week. While some people are already wondering what's left for Google to offer directions for after this, I decided to take Google's computerized bike routing out for a spin.
A few things from my first Google-biking experience worth mentioning:
Generally, Google's bike routing is very, very good. It may be a little too good. For my morning commute, instead of taking me from Milwaukee Ave. into downtown via Kinzie St.—a route so widely used, there are often 5-10 cyclists waiting to make the turn at any given time during rush hour—Google suggested turning left two blocks earlier at Grand, then right at Kingsbury, then left again at Hubbard.
This seems unusually convoluted for a Chicago bike path. But it wouldn't seem at all out of place in Google's close-to-home city of San Francisco, where cyclists have to follow winding paths locals refer to as "the wobble" to avoid that town's epic-size hills. Chicago does have hills, but only on my laziest days have I considered changing my bike route to get around one of them. Though, on the plus side, I did get to see what the front door to the East Bank Club looks like.
Additionally, there were at least two spots where Google Maps might have been trying to kill me. The first was at Kingsbury & Halsted, two streets you might not have known even met. Technically they do, but that last 30 yards of Kingsbury before the intersection is a swamp of potholes, mud puddles and broken glass that the pizza-and-rib joint at the corner seems to be using as a warm-weather junkyard.
The other death spot was in the Loop at South Water St & Garland Ct., coming from Wacker Drive. You probably don't know this part of the Loop as well as I do — my office is less than a block away — so I'll just tell you: there is no intersection of South Water & Garland Ct. Or rather there is, just not from upper South Water. Garland is a lower-level street, South Water is bi-level, and Google Maps usually seems to grok the distinction when you're driving a car.
Apart from these and a few other quibbles, the bike directions work great, and I'm gonna use the crap out of them from now on.