As Ottawa undertakes new initiatives to improve bike paths and lanes in the city, Internet juggernaut Google is helping make the routes easier to navigate.
The company recently launched a new feature from Google Maps that allows users to map bike routes by entering a place of origin and destination. Users are offered different routes that are most convenient for cyclists, including roads with bike lanes or bike paths.
The new feature was announced in Ottawa at the Sustainable Mobility Conference in November. The launch occurred in seven cities across Canada, including Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto.
Dave Woodbridge, publisher of the website OutdoorOttawa, says this is a step in the right direction for getting more Ottawa residents on their bikes.
“If you know that you could hop on your bike and anywhere you are, you can punch in your route and Google will give you a nice car-free, traffic-free route, it might encourage you to get on your bike,” says Woodbridge.
Woodbridge says the feature is beneficial for recreational cyclists who may be encouraged to bike more often if they could avoid busy roads or those without bike lanes.
NCC spokesperson Jasmine Leduc says the federal agency for the capital and the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau have all worked together to improve the region’s bike routes and agrees that the Google feature will encourage people to use them.
“The new feature provides a route that is optimal for cycling and it enables the user to take advantage of all the recreation pathways, bike lanes and the bike-friendly streets,” says Leduc.
Mona Abouhenidy, the City of Ottawa’s program manager for transportation planning, says 150 kilometres of bike lanes and multi-use paths will be created in the city by the end of this year.
Other cycling initiatives include the recently approved pilot project to create a segregated bike lane along Laurier Avenue.
More projects to improving cycling routes are being planned, and as the city adds more bike lanes, Google will update the map information.
Abouhenidy says the goal of Google bike maps is to encourage more people to become comfortable with cycling in the city and knowing appropriate routes.
“The people who are confident in traffic are already on the roads. We are trying to attract people who feel less confident cycling in traffic, by going to Google Maps and looking at the options,” says Abouhenidy.
Abouhenidy said not all routes follow paths or bike lanes, but notes that Google clearly indicates when a cyclist must take a street without bike lanes.
She says this allows cyclists to decide on a preferred route, adapted to their cycling abilities and confidence.
“Now they can go and try different options and make a more intelligent and educated decision on which road they can take based on their skill-level,” says Abouhenidy.
Though enthusiastic about the feature, Woodbridge acknowledges some shortcomings of the Google Maps system. When Woodbridge tried mapping a route through Ottawa, he says the site directed him to cycle along the east side of the canal, along a strip that is currently under construction.
To help prevent such glitches, Google encourages users to send in updated information so changes can be made to route recommendations.
Woodbridge says it’s important to take into account that the site can provide incorrect directions and bikers should not feel overconfident.
“There’s already tension between bikers and drivers, and if you’ve got Google Maps backing you up, you might be more emboldened as a biker,” says Woodbridge, explaining that bikers still need to respect car traffic.
Despite potential problems, Woodbridge is optimistic about the future of cycling in Ottawa, pointing to the various cycling initiatives as signs of progress.
“The segregated bike lane and the bike paths on Google maps, these are two huge steps forward for cycling in our town,” says Woodbridge.
“I’m looking forward to see how they play out.”