Despite Google making headlines recently with the addition of bicycle directions in Google Maps, a New York City startup called Ride the City had already been offering their bicycle mapping service for two years, earning a loyal following among cyclists there. Now, Ride the City is live in San Francisco, with route maps and features they hope will earn the respect and loyalty of San Francisco bicycle riders.
"We want to focus on bicycling as commuting," said co-founder Vaidila Kungis. "Our emphasis isn’t on the
lycra boys or the fixie crowds. We’re focusing on the bicycle commuters."
San Francisco is the ninth city where Ride the City operates and Kungis said they had initially hoped to expand to San Francisco immediately, but data acquisition was tricky.
"Quite a few cities own their data and they can give it away for free," he said. "San Francisco doesn’t own its street data, it licenses it from Tele Atlas, one of the largest owners of data."
Kungis noted their product uses a base map from Open Street Map (OSM), which is an editable open source map of the world, essentially the Wikipedia of maps. "We’re very proud to be using OSM as our base map," he said.
Kungis also pointed out that merchants or others who want to encourage bicycle commuters to ride to their destinations can get a URL on their site that will automatically give bicycle directions via Ride the City.
While Ride the City has some advertising, Kungis admitted he and his team have gone into debt to make the network of sites possible. Quick to downplay any competition with Google, Kungis nevertheless said the small size of the company allowed them to be responsive to feedback to help tailor routing guidance to reflect the way bicycle riders actually travel.
To change route guidance that doesn’t match your daily commute, said Kungis, you should register with the site and then select the legs of your route, rating them and replacing segments that don’t fit your travel patterns. With enough local knowledge and feedback, Kungis hoped Ride the City will be the most useful mapping service for San Francisco cyclists.
To this end, I told Kungis I found a route discrepancy on both his service and Google Maps for bicycles that didn’t reflect the way cyclists use a street near my house. When riding north along San Jose Avenue to Valencia, I’ve seen most cyclists turn right on 29th Street, then left on Tiffany Avenue, taking advantage of the bicycle pass-through in the traffic calming median at the intersection of Tiffany, Duncan and Valencia Streets. This de facto bicycle boulevard block seems to be far preferable to riding on San Jose to Cesar Chavez and then trying to cross three lanes of racing vehicles.
Kungis and his team made note of the pass through in the median, changing it to be a class-one facility, and the mapping guidance now encourages the route.
Of course, thousands of people read Streetsblog every day, so maybe they were giving me special treatment. And I could be wrong: Maybe that route isn’t the way most people navigate those streets. Check out the site and let the developers know how you use the streets and how they can improve the service.