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User Review: Bike Route Planning – Google Maps & Ride the City

14 Aug

One of the main challenges of using a bicycle for transport in a city with limited bicycle infrastructure is route planning. These are the tools which are meant to help. Being a low-density city Perth has the advantage of having a good network of quiet backstreets. The problem with backstreets are that you have to zigzag often to go where you need to while cars get to drive straight to their destinations. If you are making a transition from driving to cycling, it may take a bit of getting used to, as you might take driving down Whatever Highway for granted.

I will have to admit, I was a little bit excited when I saw that Google has activated their bicycle direction function. It is still in beta mode though, so I expected some hiccups. I also discovered ‘Ride the City’ from someone who commented on my ‘About’ page on this blog, and I’ve used it a couple of times, with mixed results.

So for the purposes of this review I decided to issue a challenge to both websites – to get me from my neighbourhood, Bayswater, to a bar in Leederville to meet my friends for an after work dinner and drink (Kitsch Bar, which is on Oxford Street).

The challenge is that the area is filled with some fairly major roads that I didn’t want to use, as it was a wet evening and as I was heading out there would have still been a bit of traffic heading home from work.

Google Maps

The first thing I did was enter the from and to addresses and hope for a miracle when I pressed the little bike button.

This was Google’s suggestion.

Google as usual offered 3 alternative options. The best, and closest to the route I used was the third and most direction option, which Google had measured at 8.3 kilometres, and estimated it would take 35 minutes which was remarkably accurate.

I took some different streets around Walcott Street to avoid riding down it for any length but really the google route was very close to what I actually did.

Ride the City

I had problems with Ride the City this afternoon. It has a handy ‘print’ option but it kept hanging and wouldn’t print. It was also stalling when I wanted to zoom in. To be fair this could be because I have an outdated browser at work, but Google worked, so it wins in the reliability stakes.

Ride the City offers ‘Safe’, ‘Safer’ and ‘Direct Route’ options.

The ‘Direct Route’ was pretty much identical to google’s route. The ‘Safe’ and ‘Safer’ routes were remarkably similar, and were 11.1 km instead of 8.3 km as they stuck to the principle shared path network and took you right in to the city and out of the city again to Leederville. I think the Safe/Safer options are far too conservative when the route that Google chose was really quite pleasant to ride along and very quiet. They might even put people off riding when they are a few kilometres longer.


What I did

Here is the route I actually took on Bikely.

Chelmsford Ave has crazy double parking almost the entire length of the street, I guess the houses there don’t have enough parking spaces. It makes it a little narrow for cars to squeeze through, effectively making a two way road into a one way road. This is OK on a bike because cars go slowly and it’s pretty easy to duck out of the way if there happens to be an oncoming car.

The crossings over the main roads are a bit of a problem though as there are no pedestrian refuges, I am not sure I would be able to get across if it was busy. Fortunately it was not as busy as I expected on the way out, and on the way back at 9:40pm on a weeknight there was barely any traffic!

Also, Oxford Street Leederville has great bike parking, there are U-rails bolted into the sidewalks everywhere, so I got to park directly outside of Kitsch. Big props to Leedy!

Conclusion

Both Google Maps and Ride the City – Perth are really useful tools for plotting routes. I probably wouldn’t bother with the ‘safe’ options on Ride the City though.

Ride the City seems less reliable than Google, but that is to be expected, but I think I will always visit RtC first just to support the new guy.

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