MapQuest Launches International Bike Routing API on Open Data

Online mapping and directions innovator MapQuest has been building new web services on top of data from the publicly-editable OpenStreetMap project since the company announced a new open platform initiative in August. Now MapQuest has a new addition to its family of open data–based services, bike routes:

If you’re asking yourself, “what does MapQuest mean when they claim a more bike friendly route?” Well, we will route you on paths that are not vehicle accessible and also try to not let you do anything illegal, like riding on an interstate : ) On a more serious note, the following list provides some specific rules that are applied to bike routes:

  • Avoids roads where bicycle access in OpenStreetMap is set to false
  • Avoids all limited access highways
  • Favors bike specific paths (road segments that have bicycle access only – no auto or pedestrian)
  • Favors walkways with no auto access
  • Applies various weights to roads based on the maxspeed tag (ex. favors routes where maxspeed <= 30 mph)

Providing bike routes is a particularly interesting use case for open map data because there are likely to be plenty of serviceable bike paths that are known to only a limited number of people familiar with their local area. The OpenSteetMap project gives those people a structured way to share that information, and now MapQuest is giving developers a way to access it in a bike-specific fashion.

Like its other direction services, MapQuest's Open Direction API bike route Resource is exposed through a simple REST interface. For the moment, all of the new open Platform tools are available without an API key.

It's especially important for a company in MapQuest's position to make it easy for developers to try their new tools. Not only is MapQuest not quite as visible a player in the mapping/directions space as competitors like Google, but using user-contributed data for directions might not feel as reliable as other alternatives to some users. There might not always be an alternative in every case, however. Google, for example, does provide bike routing but only in the US. CycleStreets, another new bike routing API, is only available in the UK.

MapQuest has done a lot of work recently besides adopting new open data sources to regain a stronger market position, including a comprehensive rebranding and the launch of an entirely new website. Those are pretty straight forward steps, staking out a position in support of open map data is a bit more radical. Cases like bike routing illustrate that there are clear benefits to be had—access to local contributed knowledge and better global reach, just to start with.

MapQuest is positioning itself to use these benefits and others provided by open map data as a differentiator, but they'll have to make the case to developers and users that it's the right way to go for directions.

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Foursquare API v2 is Public, v1 Deprecated