GPS for Urban Living?
May 31, 2007 5:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to NYC soon and given my history of getting lost half the time I leave my house, I'd like to get a GPS to help me navigate my new city. However, I'm sort of stumped to as to whether or not I can actually get what I want...

I'd like it to have support for public transit. I know this is probably not entirely possible, since I'd imagine the unit can't communicate with satellites while underground. I'd like to be able to enter my destination, have it tell me where the closest stop is and what the best route is (to the subway, and which subway line(s) to take once I get there), and then when I exit the subway, it would tell me how to get to my final destination. It would be similar to DC Metro's Trip Planner, but in the palm of my hand. If it can't do that, is there some sort of map I can load or some other software I can buy for a normal GPS that will do something similar?

Or do I have to get creative? For example, I have an older Palm OS so perhaps this software might work? Another possibility is that I think my cell phone (Verizon LGVX8100) will support VZNavigator, but that doesn't appear to have transit information. If anyone has experience with those or knows of some other device/software that will solve all my problems, by all means let me know.

Overall, I think I would prefer GPS since it will have common things like the closest grocery store or bank, but will also allow me to input specific addresses. I have a tendency to wind up places and not know where I am, so something that can pinpoint my location would be useful too. I'm not too concerned about cost.

I've looked at this thread which was helpful but not quite what I had in mind. I've also looked at this CNet article and the accompanying reviews and this recent story on GPS subway support.

I understand that getting lost is half the fun of learning a new city, but it is particularly frustrating and if I'm on a time-table, I'd like to not be late. Thanks for any suggestions or input, I'm pretty open as long as it will keep me from getting lost.
posted by ml98tu to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
well can give you the directions you want for buses, subways, etc... , and assuming you have a web-enabled cell phone, apparently hopstop has a mobile web site that you can use whereever you get cell phone reception. More info on their mobile site here. Also, I'm not sure if you'll be living/working in Manhattan or elsewhere but if you're in Manhattan it's pretty hard to get lost. Everything is a grid, and once you know the couple of exceptions and little tricks you'll be running across to the express tracks like everyone else in no time.
posted by jourman2 at 6:01 PM on May 31, 2007

When I first moved to the city, the Not for Tourists guidebook was my GPS system. I carried it everywhere. That and HopStop keep me from getting lost.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:07 PM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't need GPS for New York. It's (mostly) a grid. Get a good subway map and (maybe) a compass. Eventually you'll learn to tell uptown from down by looking up the street toward the tall buildings.
posted by libraryhead at 6:44 PM on May 31, 2007

Seconding libraryhead. I'm a Torontonian who gets lost in shopping malls, but I've been to NYC a few times and I've never been lost there. Avenues run north-south, streets run east-west (although all points from SoHo south are an exception t the latter).

Now if GPS intrigues you because it's such a neat toy, then people will be along to offer advice. But you probably don't need it.
posted by rosemere at 6:53 PM on May 31, 2007

Getting really lost in in NYC takes some doing,

there is an algorithm to the find most addresses in the city here

The Street lights in Central Park also has the nearest corresponding street printed on them.
posted by kanemano at 6:53 PM on May 31, 2007

you might get lost in outer brooklyn, bronx, or queens, but if you're living in a neighborhood where you can rely on public transit, i wouldn't worry too much. you can get a little lost in greenwich village, i suppose, because the grid breaks down, but honestly, it's so small that you can't go very far before you hit some orienting landmark, like the hudson river.

the streetwise map series makes excellent subway and bus maps for new york city (get maps for the individual boroughs--better detail) and street maps as well. don't feel like a dope--i carried one around for years. i don't think gps will work in subways, and honestly, after a couple of months you'll be a pro.

if you are confronted by an address, just ask what the cross street is, and what the nearest subway stop is. that's how everyone navigates there. (chances are, if someone gives you an address, they will automatically supply this information anyway.) that's what everyone does there.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:19 PM on May 31, 2007

FYI, many GPS units won't work when there are a lot of tall buildings around, they can't get a lock on the signal. You may find yourself without adequate reception to be much use.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:08 PM on May 31, 2007

seconding what everyone else says about the difficulty of getting lost in NYC. My sense of direction is so bad I can get lost going from my bedroom to my bathroom, but it's really not too difficult to orient yourself in NYC.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:23 PM on May 31, 2007

Overall, I think I would prefer GPS since it will have common things like the closest grocery store or bank.

A lot of GPS map packages have spotty "Point of Interest" information. It's not anything like complete, so you might walk past three banks to get to the closest one that the map knows about. And you might get there to find that it was a bank three years ago, but the map company hasn't gotten around to noticing that it closed.

For that part of it, I'd suggest a cell phone with a data plan and Google Maps Mobile. Since you're in a city, you can find out where you are by just looking at street signs, and use "Find nearby businesses" to find a bank or grocery store. It won't help you with transit directions, though.
posted by aneel at 9:28 PM on May 31, 2007

Hagstroms makes the best book form map of the five boroughs.
posted by brujita at 10:47 PM on May 31, 2007

heh. when I first moved to NYC I got lost. My company was putting me up in an apartment down in the financial district. Every day I would take the subway home and walk out the same exit and down the streets to my place. One day I took a different exit and got completely turned around. I kept circling the block and could not figure out where I was. I ended up calling my boyfriend and telling him my cross streets. He looked it up on a map and came to my rescue. I had already been living there for maybe 6 weeks when this happened. So it is possible!
posted by apostrophe at 7:28 AM on June 1, 2007

Nthing NYC's easy-to-navigate grid. It may throw your for the first couple of weeks you're here, and if a GPS device will help you through those weeks, by all means get one. But I bet you that, starting on your third week, it will languish in a drawer.

One great thing about finding your way around here -- if the grid isn't enough help -- is that NYC is always teeming with helpful people. Most New Yorkers are used to being asked directions and most pride themselves at being good at giving them. I once worked my way to one of the few off-grid, confusing spots by going a block, asking directions, going another block, asking someone else, etc. A chain of nice people got me right to where I was going.

The same thing works on the subway. People are always leaning over and asking strangers, "does this train go to such and such"?
posted by grumblebee at 7:40 AM on June 1, 2007

there is a great software package for palm and windows mobile called vindigo. you enter your location (generally just cross streets) and it will help you find restaurants, bars, movies, music venues, etc (also includes movie/restaurant/bar reviews and BATHROOM reviews) nearby or elsewhere in the city. it will also give you great walking directions, a map, and tell you where the nearest subway stop is, and the location of the closest station to your destination. its pretty sweet software and i recommend it. it always works great for me when i go to nyc.

of course you could just old-school it, and carry around a subway map and learn the grid. (as others have said)
posted by kneelconqueso at 8:37 AM on June 1, 2007

Thanks everyone about the insight into the probability of actually getting lost in NYC. I'll be living and (hopefully) working in Manhattan. I haven't been yet and assumed it would be a scary place to navigate. I think I'll forgo the GPS and try hopstop with my web-enabled phone as well as a copy of NFT (ordering it now!) and maybe a subway map. Plus I'll save money, which is always good. Thanks for all the great answers!
posted by ml98tu at 11:25 AM on June 1, 2007

You can easily get lost below 14th St. so plot your trip before you go here.
posted by Kensational at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2007

I also get lost extremely easily and found NYC pretty easy to navigate. My two lifesavers have been and the wallet-sized maps found at Anton Miles has both subway and street maps that were useful during my first few months here. Good luck!
posted by LittleLisi at 12:26 PM on June 1, 2007

Here is a nifty web app that might be able to help you. The Manhattan Address Locator provides cross street and closest subway stop info. Enjoy NYC, I've only been there twice...and I cannot wait to return.
posted by bach at 8:09 PM on June 1, 2007

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