Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Helicopter owners and tech-savvy birds, rejoice. You can now map the literal shortest distance to your destination.
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.