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GCN : October 2014
24 GCN OCTOBER 2014 • GCN.COM With an annual subway ridership of 1.7 billion in 2013 and the 11th largest bus fleet in North America, New York City’s transportation system is one of the world’s largest. Even in this public transit-friendly city though, 10 percent of the city’s residents and visitors are lost at any given time, according to the city’s Transportation Department. To help them find their way, NYCDOT developed the first web app with actual, not scheduled, transit information. That means users can use iRideNYC, built on HTLM 5, to see real timetables using data streams from New York state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), New York City’s CitiBike vendor, user geographical data and “online urban guide” Yelp.com. “It recreates the experience of a local app, but you always have up-to- the minute information,” said Cordell Schachter, chief technology officer at NYCDOT. Within seconds, iRideNYC finds users on the map and offers transit options. Before, New Yorkers had to go into subway stations to check times or use information sources that lacked addi- tional transit options. iRideNYC consolidates data on the Big Apple’s 6,000 of miles of roads, 12,750 miles of sidewalks, 6,000-bike sharing program and robust car-for- hire to make it useful. It can take into account roads affected by construction or maintenance, for example, and lead users to more efficient routes. Additionally, iRideNYC can suggest nearby sights, CitiBike station locations and real-time bike availability as well as upcoming events within walking distance by time. The latter was part of the development team’s goal to promote neighborhood exploration through the app. The team built the app in 450 hours over six months at a cost of $50,000, well under the contractor estimate of $2 million. It worked with the same mobile development platform NYCDOT used to document damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. For interactive maps, it uses Esri and Mapbox products in addi- tion to the Entity Framework 5.0 object- relational mapper and an open source stack that includes QGIS geographic information system code and Mapbox’s TileMill. To process data in real time, the de- partment uses Python 2.7 programming language and SQLITE, an open source relational database management system. P’arry Drew, GIS developer at NYC- DOT, said the MTA provides a series of files that get updated whenever the authority provides a live feed, which is about every 30 seconds. The data stream must include GIS information so it can be plotted on a map. “We’re able to take that using a Python script and fold it into our database here, and then we’re able to make that into a web service,” he said. The whole system is hosted on Amazon Web Services Elastic Compute Cloud, Elastic Load Balancing, Auto Scaling and CloudWatch. One challenge Schachter and his team encountered was fitting every- thing on a smart phone screen. Their solution was a mobile-first strategy that also incorporated responsive web de- sign, which means that phones, tablets and desktop computers access the same HTML 5 code base that formats a map optimized to the size of the screen in use. iRideNYC works on most Internet browsers: Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. “Mobile devices are really the true personal computer in that we have them on our person, we take them with us,” Schachter said. “It was ver y impor- tant that it work for mobility. Really, we had the vision before we had the technology.” Chandrima Pal, a senior GIS develop- er at Esri who consulted on iRideNYC, attributes part of the app’s accomplish- ments to collaboration among people who hadn’t worked together before. Faced with a procurement process that required the project to be com- Transit info in a New York minute Using open-source technology, in-house developers and the cloud, NYC built a transit app at a fraction of the estimated cost iRideNYC incorporates live data streams on public transportation, CitiBike and Yelp to help residents and visitors explore New York City.
November and December 2014