DIE WELT (Germany)


BERLIN - Google Maps is now calculating routes for German cyclists, meant to enable people to get where they’re going “more simply and more safely” on their bicycles, says product manager Kai Hansen.

Sounds like a nice new App indeed. Just don't forget your helmet -- or compass!

Google’s map-makers got detailed information about German cycling paths and routes from the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC) and incorporated these into their maps.

But route planning is miserable, and in some cases downright dangerous, reported Die Welt, which took part in random tests of the new mapping feature. A finished product this new service is not, and it should have been launched as an alpha pre-release.

When Die Welt editors tried out Google’s suggestions they made the frightening discovery that they were more likely to end up on a noisy high-traffic road than an idyllic bicycle path. Particularly in cities, Google users are oriented to main throughways with heavy traffic instead of quieter parallel streets. But in the countryside too, Google prefers to indicate main roads even when there are beautiful routes just a few hundred meters away.

The Google software is apparently a victim of its own optimization strategy: detours are avoided, even when they are prettier or safer, in the interests of the most direct route.

A Die Welt correspondent in Belgium reports that the service there came up with a route that required him to push his bike along for a 1.3-kilometer stretch.

So a word to the wise: anybody using the Google service in an area they are not familiar with should never blindly trust it. That’s particularly true if you’re using it on your smartphone: following the audio instructions is the fastest way to end up on a main throughway.

Questioned about this by Die Welt, Google pointed to the beta status of the service, and advised cyclists who know the areas they will be cycling in to use Map Maker that enables them to enter their own routes.

Cycling in Berlin is nuts. Photo 8bar BIKES