Alternatives to the Best Way to Discover a Strange City

True, Google Maps can give you audible turn-by-turn directions for a route it determines is the best route based on speed. Lacking a bike mount to hold my iPhone, I have yet to try using an app telling me how to get somewhere with cycling directions. I have, however, used audible walking directions few times. Google Maps cannot yet accept an existing route in machine-readable format it and speak out turn-by-turn directions for that route.

Patrick Collison's idea for experiencing a strange city is sound if you know points A and B and want the most efficient route. If you want an inefficient way to experience a strange city, assuming you know points A and B, you can use Plot A Route (see below), where you can set the starting and end points, a total distance to travel, and it will generate several alternatives to choose from.

If you want to end up where you started, and don't want to take the beaten path, you could let a computer could decide for you where to start and where to go. I wrote instructions to use web-based tools to pick a random starting point within a city and then, using that point, create a randomly generated route loop. Using the resulting GPX file, you can import it into your favourite turn-by-turn directions app. You can be guaranteed to see parts of the city not highlighted in tourist guides. (Technically, you can't really be guaranteed anything.) The only iOS app I know that can do this is Co-Rider by Applied Phasor, designed for use only when cycling. (I've used this for jogging a few times. You might remember that I wrote about random running routes from random starting points.)

Some interesting tools:

  • RouteXL takes multiple points (i.e. more than 2) and finds the most effecient route between all of them.
  • OptiMap generates efficient round trips (it assumes you’re coming back to your starting point) for multiple desitnations in between.
  • Plot a Route takes 2 points and a distance and plots out a route of that distance. As example, say you live near Vancouver General Hospital and you work on Granville Island. You want to jog to work, but the "commute" is too short. The most effiecient route from VGH to Emily Carr University is not 5 kilometers, and that was how much you wanted to run. Presented below is one of the many options it gave me: