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Commuting 101: How to find the perfect route using Google Maps

by Commute by Bike

My wife and I are starting the inane search for a new house. As a bike commuter, one of the first things I do when we find a interesting house is look and see what my daily route could look like. One of the recent ones was a perfect example of how you can use the tools on Google Maps to find the perfect route.

Let’s get started…

Click here to go to maps.google.com.

In the top box type the address for your office and click the “Search Maps” button.

The map should zoom in on the address you provided and show a bubble that has several options on it. Click the “To here” link next to Get Directions.

Type the address for your home and click the “Go” button.

You should now see a map similar to this one:

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

This first route is 8.9 miles.

Here I will note that Google Maps has an option that you can choose to avoid highways. You should see the checkbox on the left hand side. This may help in your case, but even with that checked it puts my route taking a major highway through the city. A route that is dangerous and illegal for me to ride.

The portion marked in green is the part of the route that is on a highway. I need to fix this.

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

Google Maps allows you to add points to your map and it will auto adjust the route accordingly. To do this, left-click on any portion of the blue line that marks the route, hold it down and now drag it. As you move your mouse over different points on the map, the route will start changing to match.

There were two portions of my route that hit major highways, so I wanted to take care of the first one. I clicked and dragged the point to the right where I knew there was a safer road to ride on. This route is 9 miles and looks like this:

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

There’s still the second major portion of the highway still on the route (again, marked in green) so let’s get rid of that the same way. Click on the section of the route I want to change and drag it to safer roads. This route is 10 miles and looks like this:

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

As you can see by the arrow, there is a major portion of the road that goes out of the way. Plus, since I know this area, I know that the route that takes is still a pretty sketchy stretch of road with no safe place to ride. So I decide to drag the route a little more to see if there’s a better route. I found this one that cuts the route back down to 9 miles and is on a much safer road:

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

This is a pretty good route I found and would probably be the one I take on a regular basis. But what about those days I want to take my time, cut through some neighborhoods and just enjoy the ride?

You can go through the same steps of clicking and dragging the route to different points on the map to see how Google adjusts the route for you. I found this one that is 11.6 miles and takes me through a lot of quiet roads with just a quarter mile on a major road of any kind:

Commute by Bike: Find a route on google maps for a bike commuter

Google Maps is a great tool for finding and easily planning different routes to your office. Give it a try and let me know what you find!

 
Burley nomad 229

29 Responses to “Commuting 101: How to find the perfect route using Google Maps”

  1. Google Earth is great for this, too, because you can see vertically as well – handy for finding routes that avoid hills… It can show the altitude for any point on the map. IIRC, my direct commute is 12.54km, with a vertical change in altitude of around 90m.

  2. Daniel says:

    You should also pop over and have a look at http://www.bikely.com.

    It uses google maps and takes advantage of the altitude detail and it’s a convenient place for others to learn from your cycling routes.

  3. Dan says:

    It’s neat that you are thinking about the location of your home in relation to your job. I see so many people that opt to live far away from work, and then they complain about the cost of gas and the time they waste. “But I can’t do anything about it!” The time to do something is when the workplace or the home location is in play.

    Live near where you work. Work near where you live.

  4. Nathan says:

    I used googlemaps a lot while organizing a “bike to school day” for the high school where I work. I was able to highlight areas to show who would be riding from different parts of town, etc. It’s a great tool for mapping routes and lots of other things.
    Here’s a link to our event stuff on google maps: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=103948565505309675045.00043c51196b6b1656296&ll=41.917415,-88.3039&spn=0.03749,0.08832&z=14&om=1&iwloc=00043c8be973546c77197

  5. _Russ_ says:

    Thats awesome/funny. I am looking for a new job right now, and one of my main concerns is the distance and route to ride to work. I am hoping a 4-7 mile commute because I want a longer ride than I currently have. reverse situation to yours.

  6. JiMCi says:

    May I suggest you also take into account in your new home search not only where you work presently but also where you may be working in a few years?

    I bought a home close to my workplace. A few months after we moved into the house, the company announced that they were also moving to a new address, 12 miles away. I still commute by bike but I do spend much more time riding that originally planned.

    If I had discussed their future plans with my employers, I would have learned about their plans to move away from town, and I would have bought a house closer to the new company location.

  7. Arleigh says:

    I will say I hated this online program from google until the latest updates. Thanks Tim for making me take a second look!

  8. Jerome says:

    thanks, Tim! this is a very nice explanation of using the basics of this gMaps rerouting feature

    have used it a lot for travel planning, and like the way you’ve applied it to quickly learn about cycling a new area

    imo it’s too bad it’s designed for drivers to the exclusion of cyclists in the following ways…

    - no allowance for differences in cycling “routes allowed to travel” data
    - doesn’t consider elevation (as pointed out above by D’Arcy)
    - “avoid highways” is a binary choice that only seems to affect limited access roadways

    on a 6.25 mile usual route to work (a 3 mile drive) ride a 3 mile stretch of rail trail which can’t be routed using this feature because cars can’t do it – this route uses a ped/cycle only bridge to cross over a congested river of hundreds of shiny metal boxes waiting for a long light on a six-lane below

    on a 4.75 mile alternate route, ride across that six lane half a mile south of the bridge at a light (the entrance to a WalMart, principally) and then roll into the next town’s residential areas by choosing from two different “crossovers” where cars aren’t allowed, but peds & bikes can get through – also can’t route this using this feature

    (at least until reading the comments on this post ;)
    also have found the following gMaps mash-up useful for planning and documenting routes that aren’t limited to the places cagers can terrorize…

    http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/

    it’s surely more work to enter the route and much more difficult to change it, only offering undo

    however, it can go anywhere on the map and provides an elevation graph to go along with the distance figures (though elevation is not much of an issue just west of Chicago)

    –Jerome

    @Daniel
    thanks for the reminder on bikely, just took a look and it’s come a long way since the last did so, will be exploring it more

    @Nathan
    > I used googlemaps a lot while organizing a “bike to school day” for the high school where I > work. I was able to highlight areas to show who would be riding from different parts of town, > etc. It’s a great tool for mapping routes and lots of other things.

    this is very nice – was all of this really done for just one day? seems like enough to get a “bike bus” program off the ground!

    wasn’t aware of these features in gMaps, guess will have to rummage around in the help a bit to find out how to use them, or can you point to some other resources you’ve found useful?

    ps… rode through there a couple weekends ago on a Carol Stream-Elgin-Geneva-Carol Stream loop

    @_Russ_
    > Thats awesome/funny. I am looking for a new job right now, and one of my main concerns is > the distance and route to ride to work. I am hoping a 4-7 mile commute because I want a
    > longer ride than I currently have. reverse situation to yours.

    understand there can be many reasons to look for a new job, and advise keeping the location advantage you have currently if at all possible when you do, as believe having the largest number of options is most important when it comes to consistently riding

    if looking for a longer ride on your way to or from work, suggest finding a nice route and enjoying it – when you don’t have time for that longer route, treacherous weather conditions prevail, or you break down in a way you’re not prepared for, it’s very nice to be closer to home

    imo, looking for a longer distance from work for most (not all) people means looking for more excuses to drive more days, while shorter distances between home and work almost always mean a more consistent ability to ride, and leave more options and time to ride more on top of the commute

    full time over 2 years now, after choosing my current job partly based on how close it is to my home, previous job was 25 miles north, 55-70 minutes in car – rode all the way infrequently, more often split it by driving halfway, parking and biking halfway, but there just wasn’t time then to get to commuting full time

    now could easily ride farther, and surely may need to if ever find a need to change jobs, but glad to be so close and wouldn’t give it up easily

  9. Craig says:

    http://walkscore.com/

    Not sure if it was this blog that mentioned this website or not. But somewhere down the road I read about this site. It gives your location a walkable score depending on how close things are.

    So if you are looking to move you could always check that out…I know they say walking but I guess if you have a lower score. It just might make it perfect for biking.

  10. Arleigh says:

    I used it. I don’t like the fact you can’t point and click. What happens if I don’t have an address?? Or want to figure out a loop by point and click?

  11. Rick says:

    I commute to work and have about a 10 mile ride to work from my house. It’s a great ride because I mainly ride on paved bike paths as opposed to streets. I just found out that My boss has purchased a new office and we will be moving into a business district surrounded by really busy streets with fast flowing obnoxious suburban drivers. I am not looking forward to my new commute this spring.

    But I use google earth all the time to plan routes. I like being able to use their tools like the path tool and the ruler. I will export paths into a .kmz file and email it to others who I ride with to show them planned routes. My only complaint with google earth is that I haven’t figured out a way to show distance from the path tool. I can create lines with the ruler tool to show distance but you can’t save or edit distance lines. I imagine if I used google maps there would be a way, but where I ride (I’m also a mountain biker) I don’t always ride only on roads. Google earth allows you to create paths that aren’t on roads. If anyone knows a workaround to show distances in google earth paths, Please let me know.

  12. mtbman1 says:

    I have used http://www.mapmyride.com. It has a follow roads feature that you can toggle on or off if you want to route off-road.

  13. Geoff says:

    I too second the bikely.com idea. It doesn’t provide much more ease of use than google maps, but if you’re in an area where a lot of people have entered in ideas, you can figure out the best way to ride. This is also great if you want to go on longer rides that people have done and experimented with.

    On the other hand, when i started riding my 15 miles to work, I decided to try driving a few different paths in my car. This helped me determine which routes i would definitely NOT want to ride on (bad roads, no shoulders, too many lights). This isn’t too obvious online, but after i figured my way, I was willing to experiment on my rides home.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m new to commuting ( well I actually haven’t started yet ) and used maps.google to plot my route. Thanks! This worked great.

    I actually drove my route today to see what it’s like before I attempt the ride and it seems like a nice easy route. I was able to shorten the route by 1 mile compared to my drive route. Now if I can stay motivated to make the 12 mile ride to be at work by 6:00am and dodge the comatose AM drivers.

  15. AC says:

    I’m new to commuting ( well I actually haven’t started yet ) and used maps.google to plot my route. Thanks! This worked great.

    I actually drove my route today to see what it’s like before I attempt the ride and it seems like a nice easy route. I was able to shorten the route by 1 mile compared to my drive route. Now if I can stay motivated to make the 12 mile ride to be at work by 6:00am and dodge the comatose AM drivers.

  16. BeeLady says:

    I use my Google Maps on my iPhone while I’m out and about. Can always see the back streets to get where I need to go. And I can tell the distance if I use the “Drop Pin” function to go from intersection to intersection on the map.

  17. mtbman1 says:

    Google Maps, that’s a good idea. I have that on my BlackBerry. I have a good use for that this sunday as I’m going back to a bike trail that I lost in the city and am trying to figure out the route.

  18. Garrett says:

    I second the http://www.mapmyride.com suggestion. It uses Google Maps as its engine, has a checkbox to follow roads and allows you to create paths in off-road areas. It’ll tell you how long your route is and what the elevation gain/loss is (although this is a bit wonky as the two numbers don’t always match up on a there-and-back route). You can also export your route to KML (for Google Earth) or I think some form of GPS receiver. It has a feature to automatically retrace your route but my only complaint is the loop completion feature doesn’t follow the roads. Oh yeah, you can also enter your age/weight/time for some calorie burning estimates. Pretty good site overall, although some times it gets a bit sluggish.

  19. bergerandfries says:

    Use the Satellite view to find bike paths, concrete infrastructure, creek beds, etc that are not traditional commuting routes. I personally go under a major highway on a creek bed and shave 2 miles off my ride!

  20. Dave O says:

    I personally would use MapQuest for the route finding. They have more options regarding routing, including shortest distance route (useful for biking).

    RunningMap.com is also a really useful website for mapping routes. It’s on par with Bikely.

  21. Shari says:

    Mapmyride.com is good also.

  22. Allie says:

    Interesting!! A good resource :)

  23. Justin says:

    This isn’t entirely up to date now. Google Maps now has bicyling in beta as an option for choosing routes that are best for bikes. Has a long way to go but promising that they are looking out for us.

  24. Steven says:

    Google Maps does have an option “by bike” and even “by foot.” It needs a lot of work still, especially if you’re not in a metropolitan area.

    It doesn’t care about one-way streets, and avoids highways unsafe for bikes.

  25. Nate S says:

    Wow, this was really helpful! I have a 15 mile ride to work that I want to accomplish some day this summer, and definitely play to use some of these tips!

  26. Brrr says:

    I find Google Maps to be mostly useless. It won’t allow me to adjust the map for the route I actually take to work. It insists that the paved multi-use pathways that shave several kilometres off my trip do not exist, and cannot be accessed.

  27. vaibhav says:

    i’m using google maps in jsp page.i find shortest path in google maps between multiple location…please help me………..

  28. Hi – am trying to sus out the path of least resistance between home in England and Seville in Spain for a cycle trip I’ve got planned. I cannot for the life of me find a web site which caters for elevation. Your directions above seem to cater only for areas you know – I don’t know where I’m going. Any ideas?

    Many thanks,

    James

  29. Mark says:

    I’ve had great luck with http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/ for running and commuting routes. It uses Google maps and gives you the mileage as you plot the route.

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