Google Maps Bike There…for a safer, healthier, happier world. :-)


Ride the City

June 16, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Bicycle Maps

Ride the City

A brand new website called Ride the City, based out of New York City, is a very nice bicycle directions application. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised at how nice it is.

That makes me very happy because I feel that, as bikers and walkers, we deserve the best. Every time we ride or walk somewhere, we’re helping to make the world a better place, and yet as of now doing so can still be very challenging in some places. That’s my take.

Ride the City’s clean, crisp, very pleasant and easy-to-use interface seems to suggest, “Cyclists and pedestrians deserve the best, so here you go.”   :)

Gothamist covers Ride the City here, and StreetsBlog covers them here.

Right now they only cover New York City, but our hope is that they will be able to expand coverage to all of our towns and countries, eventually.

The site does not actually do walking directions yet, but maybe we can convince them to work on that as soon as they’ve managed to make sure the bicycle directions functionality is top notch. Another petition! Kidding.

Ride the City uses Google Maps to show you your bike route, and it even uses the same simple one-line address entry-type system that Google Maps uses, so entering an address is super-quick and easy, and it’ll be familiar to all of us Google Maps users.

I tried some directions from a place I stayed in Manhattan, “350 W 18th St.” (see screenshot below), over to a place I stayed in Brooklyn, “5th and 1st, Brooklyn,” and it seemed to work. Already included is the ability to see bike shops along the way, to navigate by the most direct, safe, or safest routes, and the directions show which segments are bike lanes and which are greenways. Very cool stuff.

I’m very excited about Ride the City. It is pretty much exactly what we’ve been hoping for: a Google Maps-based bicycle directions application. It’s just awesome. As they continue to ramp up functionality and tighten up the service, it should be a huge boost for the City, and a huge positive for all of us who hope/expect to have this available in our towns in the future.

A website like Ride the City has direct benefits to lots of people, of course, but I particularly like the idea that it proves an application like this is possible, and it can be very useful to people. It seems like the possible is mostly taken care of; now, we just need to wait for reports from New Yorkers to find out if the useful part is true, too. I suspect it will be.

There are myriad features Ride the City can and probably will add over the coming months and years ( it already seems they’re busy improving and adding features), but this is a tremendous start. I’d highly recommend breezing through their very informative FAQ—it answered the first five questions that popped into my head.

Question #14 is very important because they basically told us how they did it, which is very cool of them:

14) What kind of technology did you use to build Ride the City?

Ride the City was built almost exclusively from open source software and tools. Here are a few technologies worth highlighting:

    • A Postgresql database with the PostGIS extension.
    • pgRouting components for route optimization: There would be no Ride the City without it!
    • OpenLayers mapping library for drawing markers, vector lines, and popups.
    • Google Maps API as a base map in OpenLayers. We also use Google’s geocoding service.
    • uDig Desktop GIS: uDig connects directly to our remote PostGIS database. A few quirks, but total genius overall. It was a lifesaver in terms of data cleanup since I could run it on my MacBook.

The whole shebang runs on a linux server hosted by Micro Resources. Special thanks to Gary Sherman for his expertise and support on getting all these things to work together.

The blog/faq are Drupal. All the custom development was done in PHP and javascript.

Of course, we’re still hoping that Google will eventually see the light and implement bicycling and walking directions in the main Google Maps interface, but this is a great great start. I think it’d be awesome if Google just went ahead and acquired Ride the City and BBBike so we can accelerate this whole “bicycling lifestyle” thing a little bit.   :-)

Oh. One thing I forgot to mention was Ride the City’s very cool feedback form. If there is a particular road segment that you don’t like, just click it on the map, rate it, and add any comments. It supposedly ties right into their back-end data, which presumably means it can directly affect the routes that get provided. They already show little warning signs next to segments where people have reported potential dangers. I read about their feedback form on their initial blog post. I’ve never been crazy about the “wiki” style of bicycle routing—that is, routes would be recommended based on everybody rating particular routes or roads—but Ride the City seems like they may have actually found a manageable, intelligent way to do it. Time will tell, but this particular piece of technology alone, in my opinion, is extremely noteworthy. So, I’ll be anxious to see how it works out.

We’ll definitely be following Ride the City closely. And don’t forget to check out and subscribe to their blog in case you don’t want to wait for us to report on the latest goings on with Ride the City.

This is a great great development. Bravo to Ride the City, BBBike, and everyone else pushing to make this functionality available to bikers everywhere.

2 Comments to “Ride the City”

  1. It’s pretty good. It gave me the long route to get from where I live in Staten Island NY to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal (lucky I know better) but seemed to give very accurate directions for the Manhattan leg of my morning commute to the office building where I work. It would be cool if it expanded past the 5 Boros to include routes from NYC into the surrounding area (i.e., NJ once you cross the Bayonne Bridge or the GW Bridge, Westchester and Nassau and Suffolk Counties). Not that I have any plans for any epic intercity biking tours anytime in the near future, but what I’d really like to see is google maps or some similar site give nationwide cycling directions/instructions in case I ever want to bike on over from NYC to Boston or DC-(that actually does seem like a *remote* possibility although I won’t be biking coast-to coast anytime soon). Whether I ever attempt something insane like that or not, why the hell can’t “they” set up a system giving nationwide cycling directions just like mapquest, google maps, etc. do for driving directions???

  2. Peter Smith says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Mike. Glad to hear it’s producing decent directions.

    We’re right with ya on the national bike directions thing. I think Ride the City definitely just helped us raise the bar in a very real way, so I figure if we keep agitating for it, we’ll eventually get it.


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