Google Inc. will announce today that it is adding local biking routes to its Google Maps service, making Austin one of about 150 U.S. cities whose residents will be able to use the Internet search giant's Web sites to find bike trails, bike lanes and roads appropriate for bicycling.
Nine other cities in Texas, including San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, will receive the service. But Austin was one of a handful of cities that Google looked to specifically when five engineers began working on the project in earnest in October.
"Austin was one of our very first cities in Google Transit," said Shannon Guymon, the Seattle-based product manager for Google Maps. "There's a very nice community of public and alternative transportation."
Guymon and members of her team were expected to unveil Google bike routes in Washington this morning at the National Bike Summit, and the service is expected to become available today on Google Maps.
Bike routes do exist on Web sites like Bikely, MapMyRoute and even AustinBikeRoutes.com, but Google Maps has many more users, and the company has been pushing into navigation.
In Google Maps, dedicated bike routes will appear as dark green lines. Light green lines will be used for bike lanes alongside roads; dotted lines will indicate roads that lack bike lanes but are appropriate for bicycling.
About 12,000 miles of trail data across the U.S. comes from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, but bikers will be able to submit their own biking information and routes to Google, which will review the data and potentially add it to the general database.
Google employees in town for the South by Southwest Interactive Conference and Festival will be showing off the new service at several events, including a "Mobile Social" bike event on Saturday.
Austin also figures into the new service in another way: In 2008, former Austinite Peter Smith started a Web site while he lived here called "Google Maps `Bike There,'" which mushroomed into a 50,000-signature petition asking Google to provide the service.
Smith's idea was inspired by a bike ride down Red River Street, where Smith was scared by passing pickups. "I thought: `This is crazy! Wouldn't it be easier if, when I was using Google Maps, I just had this available right there?'"
Guymon said the Google team had been aware of Smith's site while working on the bike routes project.
Smith, who now lives in San Francisco, said he was thrilled to hear his idea might become a reality. "It's going to influence a choice for people to drive or take a bike."
Annick Beaudet, bicycle program manager for the City of Austin, said she'd been in contact with Google on map projects and wasn't surprised by Google's move.
"Having mapping capabilities for all modes is going to help our traffic problems in Austin," she said.
Beaudet said the 2008 census showed that bike commuting rose 50 percent from 2000. She added that more information on safe bike routes will only help more people choose that mode of transportation.
"I get calls and e-mails every week from people saying, `I wish I could get here to there or from my house to my friend's house'" by bike, Beaudet said. She usually offers to send them a bike map but said she thinks the Google bike routes, especially when paired with mobile phones, will be more useful.
"It can't hurt, put it that way," she said.
Robin Stallings, executive director of the advocacy group Bike Texas, had heard Google was testing bike routes in Washington. "We think it's a great thing," he said.
Hill Abell, owner of Austin's Bicycle Sport Shop, said the routes will be "an enormous boon for the bicycle community, nationwide, worldwide, wherever they roll it out."
Abell says that short of such an online service, bikers have had to rely on the kindness of other bikers to get information on routes.
"Most people think the shortest route is the best route, but on a bicycle that is certainly not the case," he said. "Most cyclists would be more than willing to ride out of their way to have a safer, calmer ride with less traffic."