Google Maps Takes a Walk on the Healthy Side

Google is calling it a beta, but we're calling it a breath of fresh air (depending on where you live, of course, your air might a bit more fresh than the air we breathe here in New York City). Today, Google has added walking directions to its popular Google Maps page. Whenever you use Google Maps for directions, if the destination is within 10km (about 6.2 miles) of the originating point, walking directions will be offered as an option in addition to the traditional driving directions.

Google Software Engineer, Andy Schwerin announced the feature on the Google Lat Long Blog this morning. He warns, however, while the feature is now available, it comes with some caveats:

"Walking directions are a new feature for Google, and while I'm pretty excited about it, there are some rough edges that compel us to release it in "beta." Walking directions work well for short trips in urban areas, but we don't always know if a street has a sidewalk, or if there's actually a special pedestrian bridge for crossing a busy street. There are still a lot of pedestrian pathways we don't know about, and they might save you some time if you find them. We're working on collecting new data on pedestrian pathways and on more effective ways to solicit your feedback, so that we can steadily improve this feature and get you where you need to be as efficiently as possible."

 Credit: Google
For the meticulous among us, we suppose that one could always use the Google Maps' Street View feature to confirm that the route is actually fully walkable. As with driving directions, you can drag the walk directions route to manually change the route or add additional stops. In fact, we discovered that by dragging the route, origin, or destination, we could extend the walking directions far beyond the 10km limit. For example, we were able to get Google Maps to show us walking directions from Montauk Point to the Santa Monica Pier. Apparently, such a trip is 3,141 miles and would take almost 43 days. Google Maps walking directions broke the trip down to 1,439 steps, with the longest single stretch, 48.4 miles though the Mojave Desert. Obviously, we gamed the system to do something that no one in their right mind would actually do. At least we hope not.

(Click to see walking directions)

In all seriousness, if you give yourself the time and the weather permits, walking relatively short distances can be good for your health and show you places you might have missed otherwise. Also, as Schwerin points out, "city centers are always a maze of one-way streets and no-left-turns;" so sometimes walking can get you to your destination just as quick as driving--especially when those streets are heavily congested with barely moving traffic. Heck, if you can walk instead of drive, you might even be doing your part to help the global climate.