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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Google Maps can now give walking directions!

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 23, 2008

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These guys are amazing.  Google Maps has refined their mapping and travel-directions tool so that a user can now seek not only driving directions but also walking directions.

To see how it works, I asked Google for driving directions from my office at NRDC to EPA’s Smart Growth Office.  Here are the verbal directions and the route, which is 1.3 miles in length:

driving directions from my Office to EPA (image from Google Maps)From: 1200 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005

Drive: 1.3 mi – about 5 mins.

1. Head northeast on New York Ave NW toward 11th St NW 0.2 mi

2. Turn right at 9th St NW 0.7 mi

3. Turn right at Constitution Ave NW/US-1 0.4 mi

To: 1301 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004 

I then asked it for walking directions which, because I no longer needed to avoid one-way streets going the wrong way, produced a more direct route of only 0.8 mile, saving me half a mile:

walking directions from my office to EPA (image by Google Maps)From: 1200 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005

Walk: 0.8 mi – about 17 mins.

1. Head southwest on New York Ave NW toward 13th St NW 0.2 mi

2. Turn left at 14th St NW 0.5 mi

3. Make a U-turn 144 ft [note: this is odd; see below re beta] 

4. Turn right at Constitution Ave NW/US-1 249 ft

To: 1301 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004   

The tool will even pick routes through pedestrian-only passages and take terrain into account:

“Starting today, you can tell Google Maps that you want walking directions, and we'll try to find you a route that's direct, flat, and uses pedestrian pathways when we know about them. Just get directions as you normally would. If you're going 10 km or less (some call this 6.2 miles), we'll show you a link that you can click to get ‘Walking’ directions.” 

In some locations, though Washington doesn’t appear to be one of them, Google Maps will even give you transit directions and, now, combined walking-and-transit directions.  I love it.

Andy Schwerin, software engineer at Google, stresses that the new feature is in beta (someone please tell me why it’s called “beta”; thanks) and that there are some relevant features (sidewalks, pedestrian pathways, etc.) that are not complete in GM’s database.  For example, I wonder what prompted the totally unecessary direction to make a U-turn in instruction #3 above.

But, quirks notwithstanding, it’s a great start.  Google welcomes your feedback as they work to improve the tool. 

I bet MapQuest and other mapping services won’t be far behind on this one.


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KirstenJul 24 2008 10:08 AM

Actually, maps ( had this up several months ago.

I like Google Maps better, though, so I'm glad they've added this. Now if only they could get public transportation info in there, too, THAT would be really awesome.

MarcJul 24 2008 10:30 AM

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (FOLDOC) has a good definition of "beta." Essentially, the beta version is a pre-release version that might have major bugs or need significant revision before the final release. In some formulations, beta is the phase of product testing in which the entire product is tested, with the "alpha" phase consisting of tests of the various components of the entire product. In other cases, alpha is the in-house testing and beta is testing with real users (sometimes a carefully selected group, sometimes the general public, as in the case of this Google map).

Kaid @ NRDCJul 24 2008 11:21 AM

Thanks, Marc - obviously, I hadn't heard that before. I apparently have been out of the "alpha" loop, which hurts my ego a little, but I'm going to stay strong.

Kirsten, Google does have public transit info and directions embedded for many cities. Click the "some locations" link in my post and you can see them. It does appear to be a work in progress.

Kim @ NRDCJul 24 2008 11:47 AM

Great post, Kaid! I also recommend Hop Stop (, a site that gives walking and public transportation directions for a handful of cities (New York and DC, included). I use it all the time in New York and love it.

Richard LaferriereJul 28 2008 10:36 AM

Google Maps and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority ( are currently working together so that users can get driving directions and public transit directions.

I've used the feature several times and you can even plan ahead for a trip a few days in advance as well as be given three options for making your trip connections, including walking to the bus stop.

Pretty nifty.

Kaid @ NRDCJul 28 2008 11:10 AM

These are fabulous trends - thanks for the input, Richard!

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