For many of us, a morning jog is a means of maintaining good health, enjoying the great outdoors, or getting that daily dose of cardio. For James Chevalier, founder of the app CityStrides, running is a hobby that has become his life’s work.
Founded in 2013, CityStrides is a running app promoting a unique goal: to run, jog or walk down every street in your city. With more than 47,000 runners in over 90 countries, CityStrides began as a passion project of Chevalier’s as a way to scratch a creative itch.
A Holyoke resident for 42 years, Chevalier went to school for computer programming and English, though he claims his technical skillset is mainly self-taught.
While working in the world of technical support, Chevalier craved a creative outlet. “Web development seemed like a great opportunity,” Chevalier said.
With that in mind, he began looking for a project that would both challenge and inspire him. During a night out for drinks with his wife, an idea came to mind: He wondered if he could figure out exactly which streets he had run in his city, and which he hadn’t.
And so CityStrides was born.
The first aspect he had to figure out was how to acquire the necessary street data. He came across the project OpenStreetMap, a free, self-moderated database that functions like a Wikipedia for maps. According to its website, “OpenStreetMap is built by a community of mappers that contribute and maintain data about roads, trails, cafes, railway stations, and much more, all over the world.”
Users can add streets and structures in their respective city, and errors are reported and edited on an as-needed basis by the surrounding community.
“I had to figure it out all by myself,” Chevailer said. “I figured out they exist, how the data was stored, and how to manage it for my project.”
He then worked with the app Runkeeper to correleate data from OpenStreetMap with a run-tracking system.
Chevalier says this is when the project began to expand from a personal endeavor to something everyone could enjoy. He first opened CityStrides to Holyoke, then to all of Massachusetts, and finally to the rest of the world.
The app experienced its biggest increase in user engagement in the spring of 2020, coinciding with the pandemic lockdowns — boredom and stagnancy brought CityStrides 32,000 new users. As of this May, 47,127 runners have completed nearly 4.3 million streets across about 75,100 cities worldwide.
Chevalier says he hasn’t really marketed the app, aside from handing out flyers during the Saint Patrick’s Day Road Race in Holyoke.
“The biggest push has been through word of mouth; through friends and running groups,” Chevalier said.
Still a one-person team, Chevalier hasn’t let the growth of his creation go to his head. In fact, he asserts his business has never been a priority and he’s enjoyed watching the app reach the lengths it has.
“I can’t really conceptualize what 40,000 people look like on their own. I haven’t really grasped that,” Chevalier said.
To celebrate Global Running Day on June 1, and the growth of CityStrides, Chevalier has launched a new challenge within the app: He wants to see how many streets users can complete within 24 hours. He says there are currently users in 98 countries registered for the challenge.
Chevalier, who moved from Holyoke to Easthampton in early 2020, says he has no plans for the expansion. He enjoys “running” the app alone, helping runners around the world discover the mileage they can accomplish without leaving the streets of their own city.