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CycleStreets blog

News from CycleStreets

Archive for August, 2010

CyclingSorted.org – new site for Cambridgeshire County Council

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

We’re helping get Cycling Sorted, thanks to a new site we’ve created for Cambridgeshire County Council which has recently been launched!

Cycling Sorted

Cycling Sorted is a project run by the Cycle Cambridge team at Cambridgeshire County Council to find out where you would like to make improvements to cycling facilities in Cambridge and the surrounding villages, in terms of new cycle parking and removing on-route obstructions.

How does it work?

The site allows members of the public (including cycle campaigners) to:

  • easily request and identify where you think additional cycle parking is needed
  • flag up obstructions on cycle routes and infrastructure.

While not everything requested can realistically be done, it’s an easy way to collect and prioritise the information from the people who know the area best – you!

Photos that have already been added to the CycleStreets Photomap will have been picked up, so there’s no need to re-enter those.

So if you have a suggestion for where cycle parking could be added, or would like obstructions removed, go and help get Cycling Sorted, at www.cyclingsorted.org to let Cambridgeshire County Council know!

What’s unique about Cycling Sorted?

There are three key differences with Cycling Sorted compared to other great initiatives like FixMyStreet and Fill That Hole:

  • Firstly, it’s intended for both absent infrastructure, i.e. desired infrastructure (e.g. lack of cycle parking) as well as reporting problems with existing infrastructure;
  • Secondly, it is intended to enable the Council to deal easily with prioritisation of problems, rather than just addressing them as they come in;
  • Lastly, it is dedicated to cycling infrastructure only.

The prioritisation system

There is a backend prioritisation system to which the Local Authority has access.

This part of the system enables prioritisation of each area by scoring and adding a note:

  • A score for desirability
  • A score for feasibility
  • Notes about progress
  • And a response to the public, which will appear later on www.cyclingsorted.org.

Prioritisation is worked through in submission order or by browsing a map and clicking on a button to edit all the suggestions in the area:

   

For instance, a city centre area which is desperately short of cycle parking might get 9/10 for desirability, but 2/10 for feasibility due to lack of space (realistically). Thus its score would be 18. By contrast, an area outside a row of shops on, say, Hills Road in Cambridge (a reasonably wide road with lots of shops) is fairly desirable (perhaps 8/10) as well as very achievable due to the wider pavements and side-roads (8/10). So in this hypothetical example, it would get a score of 64.

There is then a screen where the scored locations are listed in order (highest score first, i.e. most desirable and achievable), and these are then worked through for political approval and commissioning with contractors.

How about other areas of the country?

If your Local Authority would also be interested in a similar site for asking the public for locations needing improvement, and a way to prioritise these, do get in touch with us. We are keen to take on work to generalise the system for other areas.

PS We’re also working on a project on a similar theme for London … more news soon!

What we’re working on …

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

This summer has been ridiculous busy for us. We've had a large number of projects, which has felt a little overwhelming at times!

Simon is our 'routemaster', and he's been working solidly over recent months on a range of improvements to the journey planning engine:

  • Main focus has been speeding up the routing engine performance. Thanks to the generous grant from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, Simon has been able to dedicate a lot more time than usual on this aspect, such that the system is now fast enough and scalable for mobile usage with a lot more traffic. We're finishing off a final improvement to reduce the response time further.
  • Working on improving the translation from OpenStreetMap (OSM) into our optimised routing network format (codename 'Cello');
  • Working to fix the 'ferry routing bug' (where routes in London sometimes end up using the Thames ferries rather than cycling!);
  • Reducing wigglyness of routes – which is becoming our main focus as the performance work is concluded;
  • Speeding up the import time so that we can reflect changes in OSM more quickly. (We're a little way off 'live routing' but that's our ultimate aim!);
  • Simon will then be moving on to supporting more advanced data types in OpenStreetMap.

Martin, who tends to deal with usability, code structure and the project management side of CycleStreets, has been working on a range of things:

  • A problem-reporting system for Cambridge,  www.cyclingsorted.org – which has just been launched and which we'll blog about soon
  • Managing mobile app development, with our iPhone app about to be released (and Android offerings hopefully very soon after – thanks to our volunteers working on that!)
  • Starting work on a mobile HTML version of the site … stay tuned!
  • New interfaces that use the same database, e.g. www.londoncyclehire.org and others (watch out for blog posts on this soon)
  • Working on adding bikeshop data views to the system
  • Reworking the Photomap interfaces (thanks to funding from Sustainable City)
  • Work which will enable the map size to be increased and related interfaces improved (ditto)
  • Adding new functions to our API (used by mobile and other developers)
  • A large amount of cleaning up the code behind-the-scenes. Over time, the codebase has had structural problems which has meant adding new functionality and design changes had become too time-consuming. Much of this is now done, but you won't have noticed any changes – other than (hopefully) things appearing faster! This has really been the enabling work for a lot of other projects.
  • A London-based project to deal with the cycle parking deficit across the city, to be announced shortly!
  • Information for Local Authorities
  • Grant funding applications (we could definitely do with a fundraiser still!)
  • Shortly starting work on a better feedback interface to make this area and map-based rather than table-based.

We've obviously also other voluneers working on various areas including:

  • Working on the mobile versions
  • Responding to feedback
  • Bike-shop related things for OpenStreetMap, using data we brokered
  • Various outreach opportunities

Cycle routing websites for Local Authorities

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

We've received several enquiries from Local Authorities recently about using CycleStreets in some way.

We're busy creating a set of pages, including a demo site, for Local Authorities to explain various options available to them, including:

  • Hosted versions of CycleStreets within the Council house style
  • Simply linking to us (which of course is free, and will always remain so!)
  • Customised routing modes, perhaps emphasising particular routes
  • Websites to obtain information from the public about where new cycle parking and other infrastructure is needed (e.g. cyclingsorted.org)
  • Use within multi-modal journey planners

We hope to have these pages available soon. (We're a little behind schedule on this due to booked holidays at a time of finishing off a number of grant-funded/consultancy projects.)

CycleStreets' use of open data, in the form of the excellent OpenStreetMap is, we feel, very much in line with the government's objectives: low-cost, use of open data, and good embeddedness with the community.

The information we're assembling will also explain about getting Local Authority routes into OpenStreetMap (OSM), so that they appear on the OSM cartographic maps as well as used within the routing. There are various resources on the OpenStreetMap Wiki which we want to pull together in a format more suitable to the specific needs of Local Authorities. Issues relating to compatibility with Ordnance Survey data will be covered also.

In the meanwhile, we encourage Local Authorities to link to their area's version of CycleStreets, as others are now doing.

Please drop us a line if you'd like us to notify when the new information is available.

Support Cycling England

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

We are alarmed at the news that Cycling England may be facing the axe, and that the future of the excellent Bikeability cycle training scheme and other important initiatives is therefore uncertain.

Cycling England is the arms-length agency of the Department for Transport which deals with cycling. Its remit is to get "more people cycling, more safely, more often", something we feel it is achieving, and very well.

Since its formation in 2005, Cycling England has triggered a wave of initiatives to get more people on their bikes. Cycling England's premier initiatives, the Cycling Demonstration Towns, and Bikeability cycle training have shown what can be done when dedicated practioners put real resources and effort into promoting cycling. And its work on technical standards for design have been useful for campaign groups around the country.

The amount of funding for Cycling England is absolutely tiny in comparison with other transport schemes such as road and rail initatives. Its budget has been £160m in total for the three-year period leading to 2011. And Sustrans' work on economic appraisal has shown that benefit:cost ratios for cycling schemes are between 15:1 and 33:1 – that is, for every pound put in, some £15-33 pounds of benefits come back. Road/rail schemes produce nothing like that level of return. Yet this level of around £50m/year is well under what places like the Netherlands spend. So there is much more that could be done.

Cycling England is not a full quango, and employs only around 5 people. However, this tiny number of employees effectively have acted as catalysts for work to improve cycling by a much larger number of people 'on-the-ground' and in Local Authorities. As a 'lean' organisation, one which is well in touch with local initiatives, and an organisation which we feel has acted in a creditably open and accountable way, it should be a model of an organisational structure for government. And being a dedicated organisation at arms-length, it has had the ability to focus on cycling.

Cambridge, the home of CycleStreets, is one of the Cycling Demonstration Towns, and a variety of long-needed improvements to infrastructure have been made, including on Gilbert Road, Hills Road Bridge, and links to villages. Cambridge, like many other areas, is also seeing considerable success with the Bikeability cycle training scheme. The Cycling Demonstration Towns have seen increased ridership and many other successes.

Cycle training for children and adults has been transformed under Cycling England. The former 'cycling proficiency' schemes often failed to train people in real-life traffic conditions, with non-cyclists sometimes doing the training. By contrast, Bikeability has been run in a professional manner, marketed well, with huge uptake by children, being taught valuable road-safety awareness early in life, giving then much-needed freedom. Cycle training at an early age must surely have the effect of creating better and safer drivers later on in life.

Perhaps the only area which Cycling England has faced any significant criticism is its fledgling journey planner, through an FoI request. As we have previously commented on our blog, we have no real comments to make ourselves on that, believing that people can judge for themselves. But this smaller initiative aside, Cycling England has been responsible for a big step forward in starting getting the UK cycling again.

The government must, we feel, back up its commitment to the environment and public health by retaining Cycling England and by repeating a similar level of funding (around £50m) for each of the coming three years, which would fund projects UK-wide. This amount represents a tiny fraction of merely a single road scheme. Yet the benefits to society and the environment of getting more people cycling are immense: not only environmentally, but also in terms of reduced congestion (and thus a more efficient transport network), improved health, fewer accidents, and more. Cycling is also highly accessible to a large number of people, and can thus help with accessibility in economic and social terms.

We urge everyone reading this to write to their MP to ask him/her to write to the Department for Transport and the Coalition government to keep Cycling England, repeat its funding, and thereby to demonstrate much-needed commitment to cycling.

Guest post: Introducing London Bike App

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

This is a guest post from Nic Wise, creator of London Bike App – for the London cycle hire scheme, who is using our routing interface in his app. We asked him to tell our readers about his app, as it's another of our favourite apps of the seven(!) that have been released! He doesn't mention it, but there's also an ingenious surprise that you get when using the app … Well worth a download!

When I first thought about designing London Bike App (iTunes link: http://bit.ly/ldnbikeapp), I came up with a few simple things that I wanted in a mobile cycle app. First, I wanted to find bikes that were close to where I was right now. Second, how to get from where I am (with or without a bike) to somewhere that has bikes (or places to put a bike)? And lastly, how do I do this without getting charged (or keeping charging to a minimum)?

The main focus was always on the user riding the bike, not the user using the app. How can I get the user to a bike, on a bike, and then back to a dock with the minimum of fuss and cost?

After 2 releases, that's pretty much exactly what London Bike App does. It's not the all-singing cycle app, it's very much focused on the casual user, someone who thinks "oh, I need to go there, lets use a bike", and as such, I think the interface is simpler and easier to use for it.

There are a couple of things I still want to add, but most of those sit around this core design goal of "nearest available bike/dock to me, right now". Some people have asked why I am charging for this app. The reason is very simple: 59p is a very small amount, and it means I can dedicate some (normally paid) time to making the app the best it can possibly be.

Adding routing was something I was a little apprehensive about. I'd not used the iPhone MapKit before (which provides a lot of the grunt work for doing maps, scrolling, caching and annotation, from pins to lines to anything you can draw), or a routing engine like CycleStreets. In the end, it was quite easy – the integration between the iPhone (Google) maps and the OSM-derived CycleStreets map couldn't have been better.

CycleStreets provides a nice list of lat/lon coordinates (and a load of other stuff, which I didn't need – and thanks to Martin for creating as an API option the removal of the extra metadata, which made the download 95% smaller), and MapKit just happens to take in a set of lat/lon coordinates, so it was an easy fit. In the end, adding routing took about a day from "who even provides this data?" to fully working and debugged code. I think it's a tribute to CycleStreets API and site just how quick and easy this was.

One of the other features – unique at release, but since added to a number of other apps – is the timer. The cost of using the bikes goes up quite sharply when you go over the free period, so a timer was always a major feature from day one. One still-fairly-unique point of the timer in London Bike App is that it works even if your phone is off, in your pocket, or you are using another application. So regardless of what you do, you will always know when the hire period is about to expire.

The current version (v2.0) of London Bike App is out now, with v3 about to go in for review.

v2 includes retina display graphics (looks fantastic on the iPhone 4), as well as the much-demanded real-time updating dock information. I hope you enjoy it – I've enjoyed creating it, using it, and also seeing what all the other app developers have come up with. v3 has a few interesting features which I'm sure people will have fun using.

If you have any feedback, please visit the site and leave a comment on the about page, or tweet me (@fastchicken or @londonbikeapp, or even good, old-fashioned email (nic.wise@gmail.com).

Photomap contributors’ usernames now shown

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

When adding a photo and associated comment to our Photomap, your username is now shown on the page.

This applies to new contributions added from today onwards.

For existing photos, contributors have been notified that this change will be applied to those images on 19th September (i.e. one month from today).

We are happy to change usernames or to split groups of photos into different usernames if wanted by users.

This change effectively brings CycleStreets into line with most other sites like YouTube, Flickr and others, which allow user contributions. Most photos have the CC-BY-SA license, which basically allows others to re-use the photo, but only if attributed. But at present there is no way of attributing.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us. As contributors to the system ourselves, user privacy is a very important concern to us.

We're gradually rolling out changes to the Photomap as a result of a large code-cleanup that is taking place behind the scenes, and will report on these changes here soon!

Guest post: Introducing Cycle Hire App

Friday, August 13th, 2010

This is a guest post from Alex, creator of Cycle Hire App – for the London cycle hire scheme, who is using our routing interface in his app. We asked him to tell our readers about his app, as it's one of our favourite apps of the seven(!) that have been released, and that's not just because it's using our routing API – it's very polished and has a wonderfully clean interface with some innovative ideas! The use of an offline map is also a great advantage. It was also the first to be announced.

Hi there, this is Alex, designer & developer of Cycle Hire App. As we've just released the first version of the app in the app store (http://bit.ly/getcyclehireapp), I'd like to take a moment to introduce the app and thank CycleStreets for opening up their service for mobile apps like ours.

   

Cycle Hire App & CycleStreets

I built this app (and I'm giving it away for free) because I want to help people in London who like cycling. That's why when I started work on the app a couple of months ago, I integrated CycleStreets as a way to help those who wanted to use the cycle hire scheme but weren't familiar with the road network in Central London. Unlike the directions offered by Google Maps, CycleStreets/OSM knows about cycle paths & all sorts of shortcuts for cyclists, e.g. when you can push your bike along a pedestrian path for a while, instead of cycling around a block.

We're looking forward to working with CycleStreets as our app evolves, and we'd love to help them improve their online service and their own iPhone app.

Other features

Apart from the flexible routing, the app has all sorts of ways to help people find docking stations, such as searching around tube/rail stations and tourist attractions. There's also a postcode search, which is based on the recently released OpenData from Ordnance Survey. When you find locations that you frequently use, you can save them in your 'Favourite Locations' list for easy access.

I also wanted this app to be the most user friendly out of all the other cycle hire apps out there. This means giving as much space as possible to the map, making sure all functions are accessible with a couple of taps, and focusing on making the app very fast (after all, who wants to stare on an iPhone screen when they could be on a bike?). One way we made the app faster is by pre-loading all the maps. This means no endless waiting for the maps to load when you've got a bad signal. As a bonus, the maps also work when you're underground with no signal, or if you have an iPod touch.

   

We have an exciting roadmap with many more features coming up, including live bike availability data and a timer to remind you to return the bike before the end of the free 30 minute period. If you have any more ideas, we'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment on this blog, or email us on feedback@cyclehireapp.com

   

CycleStreets mobile app: almost there now!

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Our mobile app is nearing completion. Unfortunately the schedule slipped by a month as we were keen to complete our backend work to ensure the routing was fast enough to support it, something that is now in place. Also, we've been held up slightly by EXIF-related issues (so that uploaded photos get the correct position even if they were taken a while ago).

Here are screenshots from the latest work in progress, with a few bug fixes due to be implemented by mid-August before we submit to Apple.

Thanks to everyone who has offered to be a beta-tester. We'll be in touch soon – sorry for not acknowledging each offer individually yet!

We've lots of ideas for new features to go in a future release after the initial release. We'd like to create a team of two or three volunteers to work on the app on an ongoing basis. If you'd be interested, please do get in touch.

Planning a route:

Following a route:

Browsing the Photomap:

Adding photos to the Photomap:

Settings and other pages:

We welcome your feedback, especially to report bugs or give us route feedback.

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