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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wiggle Me This: Google Cycling Directions Snub Famous San Francisco Bike Route

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 12:40 PM


We bike commuters here at SF Weekly have eagerly awaited the launch of Google's bicycle-directions feature on its maps site. As of today, the wait is over. Along with suggested routes by car and public transit, Googlers in 150 cities can now query the best way to get from Point A to Point B under pedal power.

After taking a spin through Google biking directions this morning, we're pretty pleased. The function offers useful information on potential routes, such as whether they include dedicated bike lanes, or simply bike-friendly roads. And it doesn't seem prone to the sort of topographical blunders that might be expected in San Francisco -- no suggestion, for instance, that a trip from Civic Center to Fisherman's Wharf follow a direct but quad-crushing uphill path through Chinatown.

Still, we couldn't help but wonder how Google, which for all intents and purposes is a hometown company, managed to mess up the most famous trick there is among San Francisco bicyclists for avoiding tough up-and-down terrain. That's right: In a number of cases, Google's preferred east-west route across town is not the famous route known as The Wiggle.

We keyed in a request for directions from the downtown area to Golden Gate Park, at Stanyan and Fell. Rather than sending us up Market Street, behind the Castro Safeway, and then north along the flat, zigzag route through the Haight that is known to any serious bicyclist in the city, Google advised us to bike straight up McAllister for a mile to the west -- an uphill and decidedly less convenient trek.

This is a significant flub, given The Wiggle's eminence in San Francisco bike lore. Still, on the whole, we can't complain. We wish you joy of Google biking directions, fellow cyclists -- but for God's sake, please remember to wear a helmet and stop at red lights.

UPDATE, 2:17 P.M.: An alert reader informs us in the comments section that The Wiggle is listed as one alternative route when seeking directions across town from some locations in SOMA. We punched in a few other starting points and got varying results. The Wiggle is listed, for instance, when leaving from 7th and Market, but not from 2nd and Market; when the point of departure is 3rd and Market heading to Fulton and Stanyan, also on the eastern edge of the park, Google directs you to take McAllister or Page Street the whole way out. It appears The Wiggle is also mentioned specifically in a promotional video on the bike directions feature -- thanks to commenter Jim for pointing this out -- so we're guessing its absence in some results is a technological glitch.

SECOND UPDATE, 9:37 A.M., 3/11/10: We got an e-mail response from Google spokesperson Elaine Filadelfo this morning to our queries about the puzzling variation in Wiggle suggestions on Google bike directions. Here you go:

Hi Peter,

Thanks for checking in. We have indeed included the Wiggle in our biking map
for San Francisco -- many of the folks on the team live there and bike in
the city every day so they made sure of it! However, it does not appear for
every search because we factor into account a very wide range of variables,
like how busy the roads we route you on our, how many large intersections
you'd have to cross, how large the hills are, one way streets, where we can
get you onto a bike trail, and then balance all that against the
inefficiencies that come out of routing you around those various things. So
each destination even within a nearby area can have a different route, since
it might be on a busier/less busy road, on a one way street in the opposite
direction, etc.

All that being said, we know that locals have the best knowledge of the most
effective routes, so we encourage riders to leave us feedback via the
"Report a Problem" link at the bottom of the map.

Hope that helps!

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Peter Jamison


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