Efficient Partitioning of Road Networks

Posted by Ali Kemal Sinop, Senior Research Scientist, Google Research and Mahmuda Ahmed, Senior Software Engineer, Google Maps

Design techniques based on classical algorithms have proved useful for recent innovation on several large-scale problems, such as travel itineraries and routing challenges. For example, Dijkstra’s algorithm is often used to compute routes in graphs, but the size of the computation can increase quickly beyond the scale of a small town. The process of “partitioning” a road network, however, can greatly speed up algorithms by effectively shrinking how much of the graph is searched during computation.

In this post, we cover how we engineered a graph partitioning algorithm for road networks using ideas from classic algorithms, parts of which were presented in “Sketch-based Algorithms for Approximate Shortest Paths in Road Networks” at WWW 2021. Using random walks, a classical concept that is counterintuitively useful for computing shortest routes by decreasing the network size significantly, our algorithm can find a high quality partitioning of the whole road network of the North America continent nearly an order of magnitude faster1 than other partitioning algorithms with similar output qualities.

Using Graphs to Model Road Networks
There is a well-known and useful correspondence between road networks and graphs, where intersections become nodes and roads become edges.

Image from Wikipedia

To understand how routing might benefit from partitioning, consider the most well-known solution for finding the fastest route: the Dijkstra algorithm, which works in a breadth-first search manner. The Dijkstra algorithm performs an exhaustive search starting from the source until it finds the destination. Because of this, as the distance between the source and the destination increases, the computation can become an order of magnitude slower. For example, it is faster to compute a route inside Seattle, WA than from Seattle, WA to San Francisco, CA. Moreover, even for intra-metro routes, the exhaustive volume of space explored by

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