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Online Bicycle Maps – Google vs Viamichelin.com

March 13, 2008 – In February, Peter Smith of Austin, Texas, took a short bike ride to a local book store and found it to be a harrowing experience. As a result, he initiated a petition, requesting that Google Maps include bike route information in addition to the car driving and public transportation directions already provided for most North American destinations. By March 7, some 20,000 people had signed the online petition.

Smith wrote to Pedal, explaining that he is doing this to:
– fight against obesity
– alleviate people’s frustrations from sitting in traffic
– alleviate auto traffic/congestion/gridlock
– reduce costs for financially struggling people/families (lower auto/gas/fuel/maintenance/other costs associated with autos)
– reduce carbon footprint, slow/stall/reverse climate change.
– reduce smog, especially in big cities

Meanwhile, Viamichelin.com, a French based website, already seems to offer the services that Smith is requesting of Google.

The first page of the Michelin site offers the choice of large number of countries, including Canada. On the left side of the screen is a box to be checked for those people traveling “by bike.” A few test runs of the website by Pedal produced adequate bike riding directions between various Canadian locations, including this reporter’s apartment in Montreal and the Prime Minister’s residence in Ottawa. While Michelin missed a few bike paths and shortcuts along the way (the bike paths are not cleared of snow at present), it certainly avoided major highways and gave detailed information about the travel directions. The total 190km trip was estimated at 13 hours and 34 minutes. By comparison, the Trans Canada Trail bike path between Montreal and Ottawa takes the scenic route at about 400km.

These virtual directions by Michelin correctly suggested leaving Montreal Island to the north, following unofficial bike routes such as Ste Croix and O’Brien Streets before briefly following Quebec Highway 117. The suggested route then follows Highway 148 and many secondary roads around Mirabel Airport and crossing the Ottawa River at Hawkesbury and following Ontario Highway 17 to Ottawa. This reporter, who has produced a guidebook of bike routes around Montreal, was astonished at the precision and veracity of this suggested route.

The company behind this website has a long pedigree in bicycling. Michelin, the second largest tire manufacturer worldwide, developed and patented the world’s first removable pneumatic (air-filled) tire in 1891 reports Wikipedia. That first pneumatic tire was for a bicycle, but the company has since expanded into producing tires for motorized vehicles, road maps and travel guide books. ViaMichelin reputedly produces some 400 million online maps and routes per month.

Smith concluded his communication with Pedal by thanking “everyone who takes the time to be involved in their local bicycling community – working with your local bicycle advocacy group to create memorable cities like Montreal and Toronto and Vancouver – cities that many Americans aspire to live in, or re-create south of the border.”

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