Tutorial: Use Google Maps to Measure Distances
By on October 26th, 2012

If you have used the internet at all, you have probably at some point used Google maps. It is probably the most fascinating and under utilized tool on the web. It is great for getting directions from here to there. You can also use the satellite view to get a real life picture of an area on they map. Street view is pretty handy to if you want to know what the landmarks of an area you are visiting look like. Today, I would like to show you a neat tool for measuring distances using Google maps.

I work in the construction industry and we are constantly looking at large buildings and parking structures. So often when you’re bidding work for someone, they don’t have a good blueprint with accurate measurements. Fortunately, Google maps makes this pretty easy. First thing we need to do is have a Google account. If you don’t have one, go to http://gmail.com and sign up for an account. The reason for this is you need to actually login to Google maps to use this tool. Once you have a Google account, go to http://maps.google.com. You should see something similar to the picture below. Beside the “Google” logo there is a search box where you can type an address or significant landmark and do a search. In my first example I typed “Golden Gate Bridge” because I thought it would be neat to see how long that bridge is. Once you type in your search, you will notice a button that says “My Places”. You will need to click this to get to the measuring tools.

Once you click on “My Places”, you will see what is pictured below. To use these tools, you actually create a custom map. Don’t worry, you can delete it later if you don’t want to keep it. Click the red “Create Map” button to start using the measuring tools.

Create Map

Below, you can see my screen. The Golden Gate Bridge is pictured in the middle. In the upper left corner of the map, you will see three buttons. The little hand tool lets you move the map around. The middle tool that looks kind of like a push pin allows you mark places on a map. This is handy for travel planning. The last tool looks like a squiggly line. This tool lets you draw a line on the map and is what we will use to measure distance.

Golden Gate

Below, you can see up close where I selected the “Draw a line” option on the Google map.

 

Line Tool

Below, you can see where I have drawn my line across the bridge. Here’s what I did. I clicked on the first point where I thought the bridge started. Now you can drag if you want to. What I did was just find the ending point of the bridge and clicked there. You will notice when you click, you get a little white square indicating a point where you clicked. Straight lines are easy. If you have something that is curvy or oddly shaped you will need to do several small clicks at a time. Once you have finished drawing your line, you will need to click the last point of your line to indicate you are finished.

Line Drawn

Once you have completed your line, a little box will pop up like the one pictured below. This is where you can give your line a description. Notice at the bottom of the box that it tells you how long the line is. In this case it was 1.05 miles.

description

Now you may be wondering how accurate this measurement is. Well, I was a little skeptical. One problem for me on the Golden Gate Bridge was I didn’t know how far down to click to get an “official” measurement. So I decided to my own little test. I decided to do a search for the place where I work. In the back of our building we have this huge dumpster. I went out and measured and got 21.5 feet on my tape measure. Notice in the picture below, I have a red arrow pointing to the measurement of my dumpster. That is pretty darn close if you ask me!

Dumpster Measurement

There are so many applications I could see this tool being used for. For instance, in the electrical industry it is always important to have an accurate measurement of cable runs so you order the appropriate amount of cable. Copper is expensive and having good measurements can save you a lot of money. Maybe you need to reseed your lawn but you’re not sure how many square feet you have. Google maps would be an excellent way to measure that distance. I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial. As always feel free to comment or as any questions.

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Author: Darrin Jenkins Google Profile for Darrin Jenkins
Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!

Darrin Jenkins has written and can be contacted at darrin@techie-buzz.com.

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