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Maps

Google Maps Has Finally Added a Geodesic Distance Measuring Tool

Helicopter owners and tech-savvy birds, rejoice. You can now map the literal shortest distance to your destination.

The District's socklike perimeter reveals itself. (Google Maps)

Measuring geodesic distance—that's distance as the crow flies, or the literal shortest route between two points—on Google Maps long required an oddly analog approach: You looked at the map’s scale and used a ruler or thumb to make rough calculations.

Google Maps this week has updated that stopgap method with a fresh tool. Users can right-click on any location on a map, select “measure distance,” click on another location, and see a line displaying the exact mileage between the two points.

If you’re feeling artistic, keep clicking on other spots: A vector marking the distance from the last spot will appear. You can also drag the plot points around to adjust. Bear in mind, these distances aren’t exactly practical for non-avian travelers, unless you’re measuring along an actual street or pedestrian pathway. But why not sketch out the perimeter of your city? Washington, D.C., for instance, is shaped like a sock. 

About the Author

  • Laura Bliss
    Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab. She writes about the environment, infrastructure, and cartography, among other topics.