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Archive for September, 2010

OpenStreetMap – the data behind the apps

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

We're really thrilled by the response to our iPhone app and the other apps using our routing.

What is also just as pleasing is seeing people discovering OpenStreetMap as a result, and saying that they're interested in getting involved. OpenStreetMap is the brilliant open data map that provides the data that CycleStreets and other projects use.

For those not familiar with OpenStreetMap: It's basically like a 'Wikipedia of maps' – anyone can contribute to it, and each such contribution is a valuable addition that adds to the collective knowledge of what exists, where. CycleStreets (and others) regularly take this data and import it into a compressed format that we then use to route over. We apply subjective scoring over this objective data in order to route you from A-B. Mobile apps springing up basically work by sending details of the required journey (i.e. start/finish points and type of journey, e.g. quiestest/fastest) to our service, and our data endpoint (called an 'API') returns the route solution.

So how can people get involved?

Starting with the most easy thing, a good way to start is by adding Points Of Interest (POIs) to the map. For instance, if a bike shop or a spot for cycle parking isn't present, you can go to the map and add it.

We've written a guide on How to add a bike shop to OpenStreetMap. Once you're used to the (currently) slightly quirky interface, it's very easy and addictive. And our friends in OpenStreetMap are busy working on a new-generation editing system (called Potlatch 2) which will make things even easier.

Another way of editing information in OpenStreetMap is MapZen, which is also available on iPhone. It certainly makes it nice and easy to add information to the map, especially on the move.

If you have a GPS device you can also go out mapping! Basically this involves cycling/walking around and obtaining a GPS trace from where you go, and recording on your journey things like street names, points of interest, information about the street itself (which is very important for cycle routing!) and so on. When you get home, you can use a tool such as JOSM (the Java OpenStreetMap editor) to straighten out the GPS traces, to enter the metadata you've collected, and then finally upload it to OpenStreetMap itself.

The OpenStreetMap Wiki is the gold mine of information about OSM and how you can take part. Over 300,000 people around the world already are involved, and we hope you'll join them.

Be warned, though, mapping is addictive!

We also feed back problems in the data, highlighted in route feedback we get, back into OpenStreetMap. We always need volunteers for this, and we are working on a better system for making this route feedback more accessible to people (currently our backend is rather poor).

Got some existing data?

Local Authorities and others may have existing data that they'd like to see CycleStreets use. To do this, they need to get this data into OpenStreetMap, not CycleStreets itself, so that everybody benefits.

A key issue is confirmation that other parties such as the Ordnance Survey do not have rights in the data. Secondly, you need to agree to the OpenStreetMap license, which basically gives other people the right to use the data, to share it, and to modify it. Of course, you also have the right to do these things with the modified data too.

The second issue is preparing the data in a suitable format. OpenStreetMap is a community of volunteers, and are quite rightly is wary of mass imports of data, because they often duplicate existing data that people have painstakingly collected on the ground, and such datasets are not always as up-to-date as a real survey. However, such data can be extremely useful as a prompt for where physical attributes exist, so that people can then pull across data from your dataset into the live OpenStreetMap data after manual observation.

An example of this is the new Bike Shop Locator tool which OSMers Shaun and Andy have written. This contains a great dataset of the 2,500+ independent bike shops in the UK. The tool provides a way of merging in this data, and we encourage people to do so, so that OpenStreetMap is as full-featured as possible.

Only this week, CycleStreets has received two offers of datasets, which we will respond to positively and refer to our OSM contacts. We are also seeking funding to channel money into creation/maintenance of tools for OpenStreetMap that enable such observational merging to be done more effortlessly.

If you have cycling-related data that you'd like to see included in OpenStreetMap – and therefore be used by CycleStreets – please do contact us and we can put you in touch with suitable people to help make things happen.

Mobile apps in the works: Android and others

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Since we released our iPhone app a few days ago, we've had a quite a number of enquiries about other platforms. The funding that helped pay for the iPhone app included in large part a sum to develop the routing API generally, so mobile apps on a whole range of platforms now are possible.

We have two initial priorities:

cyclestreets.mobi small-screen version of the main site

A small-screen version of the main site is being prepared, which will be available at cyclestreets.mobi.

We are aiming to ensure this is as compatible as possible with a whole range of devices, and we welcome offers of testing help.

Android app

As previously mentioned on this blog, we have an Android app in the works, with the code on our GitHub repository. We don't have a timescale yet, as it depends on volunteer help, but if you're interested in helping out, do get in touch!

We're particularly keen to ensure through the Android release that people can upload to the Photomap given the Photomap's use for www.CyclingSorted.org and soon a similar portal for London.

One of the developers has sent us a screenshot of the work-in-progress. We hope to have more screenshots very soon.

Java (Nokia/Sony-Ericsson/Blackberry)

We don't have plans as yet to do a dedicated Nokia app, but if someone is interested in doing one for us, do get in touch.

However, the TrackMyJourney app for Java (runs on Nokia/Sony-Ericsson/Blackberry devices, though not Android) includes CycleStreets routing already amongst its many other features.

Our API

We have an API that developers can sign up for. We're particularly keen to see the API used in Android apps now that the iOS arena is reasonably well-covered.

Press release: Nearest thing to a ‘SatNav for Cycling’ launched for iPhone

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Cambridge, 22nd September 2010

CycleStreets, the community-based UK cycle routing people, have today released their much-anticipated CycleStreets Journey Planner & Photomap app for iPhone. And it's free!

www.cyclestreets.net/mobile

Created by cyclists, for cyclists, the free iPhone app is the nearest thing to a SatNav for cycling, enabling people to plan journeys anywhere in the UK with an innovative and quick "three-taps" interface. The app includes a full placefinder, postcode search and turn-by-turn directions.

Not just a journey planner, it has a campaigning edge too. The other half of the app is a Photomap, so that people can help address the legacy of poor cycling infrastructure around the UK, simply by snapping a picture and submitting it. Local Authorities and cycling bodies are signing up to use these pictures and prioritise areas for improvement, with Cambridge and soon London the first on board.

Three different routing modes in the journey planner are available: fastest (for more confident cyclists), quietest (for newer riders) and a balanced mode that aims to suit most users. Hills are no problem – the routing knows about how to avoid an uphill struggle and take advantage of downward slopes where practical alternatives are available.

People using other mobiles aren't being left out – a small-screen web version of CycleStreets is being developed (CycleStreets.mobi) and an Android app (which powers many new phones coming out in the shops) is also being worked on. People can also go to www.cyclestreets.net via a standard web-browser.

CycleStreets for iPhone has been developed by Isomaly Ltd and has been made possible thanks to grants from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund and Cycle Cambridge.

Community roots

Despite this SatNav-like functionality, CycleStreets and the iPhone app have been developed not by a large company, but by what is a community-based group working on a not-for-profit basis to get more people cycling, more often.

CycleStreets' 'Routemaster', Simon Nuttall explains its roots:

"As cycling advocates and campaigners, one of the things we hear most often from people who don't cycle is their fear of traffic. We've built CycleStreets to help them discover cycle-friendly routes and cut-throughs you never knew existed. CycleStreets aims to be like a knowledgeable cyclist but in the palm of your hand, wherever you are in the UK."

Developer Martin Lucas-Smith added:

"CycleStreets has been made possible by the brilliant OpenStreetMap project, dubbed the 'Wikipedia of Maps'. Cyclists and others all around the UK collect and update street data that enables us then to create routing that thinks like a cyclist. Unlike traditional SatNav data, OpenStreetMap data is controlled by its user community. Anyone can get involved in OpenStreetMap, and over 300,000 people around the world are already doing so."

CycleStreets powering other apps' routing

CycleStreets routing is also being used within other cycling apps that include a route viewing amongst other features: it is already being used by the three leading iPhone apps for the London Cycle Hire Scheme, the BikeHub app and TrackMyJourney for Nokia/Java. New developers can apply for an API key.

Images:

These images may be used royalty-free and do not need to be credited.

Click on any image to get the highest-resolution version available.

Main loading screen and icon:

   

Journey planner screens:

    

    

Photomap screens (e.g. reporting lack of cycle parking):

    

Full feature list:

 

Plan cycle-friendly routes from A to B anywhere in the UK!

  • Innovative & quick "three taps" system: Set current location, tap the map to set destination, and plan!
  • Or search for any location in the UK, including full postcode support and local/national placefinder
  • Turn-by-turn itinerary view
  • Choose from different types of routing – fastest/quietest/balanced
  • Takes account of hills automatically
  • Plan journeys up to 100 miles (160km) long
  • Routes automatically saved for later viewing
  • Choice of map styles (including OpenCycleMap showing contours)
  • UK-wide (NB some areas of OpenStreetMap are better than others)
  • Routing for cyclists, by cyclists: your input to OpenStreetMap welcome

Photomap photo facility

  • Need some cycle parking in your area? Take a picture and add it to our Photomap
  • Obstruction in the way? Report it! Or found an example of great infrastructure? Add it!
  • Browse the existing library of 25,000+ photos
  • Full category and caption support
  • Fully-integrated upload with automatic geolocation
  • Locations used by campaigners around the UK
  • Integrated signin facility

Links:

Details:

  • Works on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

  • Free of charge

  • Requires mobile/wifi internet connection

For more info please contact us.

CycleStreets iPhone app now available!

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

iPhone app

The nearest thing to a SatNav for cycling is now available on your iPhone. Download it from the App Store now – for free!

And it's free!

Our OpenStreetMap-based routing, for cyclists by cyclists, is now available on the move, complete with full placefinder, tap-to-set and with turn-by-turn directions.

Read all about it on our new mobile page!

Brought to you by CycleStreets, the UK-based cycle routing people, run on a not-for-profit basis.

Plan cycle-friendly routes from A to B anywhere in the UK!

  • Innovative & quick "three taps" system: Set current location, tap the map to set destination, and plan!
  • Or search for any location in the UK, including full postcode support and local/national placefinder
  • Turn-by-turn itinerary view
  • Choose from different types of routing – fastest/quietest/balanced
  • Takes account of hills automatically
  • Plan journeys up to 100 miles (160km) long
  • Routes automatically saved for later viewing
  • Choice of map styles (including OpenCycleMap showing contours)
  • UK-wide (NB some areas of OpenStreetMap are better than others)
  • Routing for cyclists, by cyclists: your input to OpenStreetMap welcome

Cycle campaigners will love it too: Photomap photo facility

  • Need some cycle parking in your area? Take a picture and add it to our Photomap
  • Obstruction in the way? Report it! Or found an example of great infrastructure? Add it!
  • Browse the existing library of 25,000+ photos
  • Full category and caption support
  • Fully-integrated upload with automatic geolocation
  • Locations used by campaigners around the UK
  • Integrated signin facility

We'd particularly like to thank the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund and Cycle Cambridge for their grants towards this app, plus our developer Alan Paxton who put in an enormous amount of work.

Our long-awaited iPhone app is now available! Download it from the App Store now – for free.

You can still vote for us!

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Future Friendly have informed us that the voting deadline has been extended by a week, to 26th September, so if you've not yet voted, please do!

This week is the last week to vote to get OpenStreetMap-based CycleStreets a bursary of £10,000 in the Future Friendly Awards! We're one 5 groups in the national finals. Such funding would make an enormous difference to the project.

To win, we need as many votes as possible, though you can of course only vote once, so please spread the word!

To vote, click on the logo near the top-right of their website:

Go to the voting site! »

Have a look at the great film they've made about our work, as well as the other films about other great projects around the UK.

 

Guest post: Bike Hub app

Monday, September 20th, 2010

This is a guest post from Carlton Reid, executive editor of BikeBiz.com and the editor of BikeHub.co.uk, who commissioned and helped designed the great new Bike Hub app which uses our routing!

Less than 24 hours after hitting iTunes, the Bike Hub journey planning and bike shop finding iPhone app snuck into the top ten free navigation apps. Result!

The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. 10 out of eleven reviewers gave the app the top score of five stars (one curmudgeon gave a lowly one star but that's tinternet for you).

Wonderfully for Cyclestreets, the majority of the reviews have been praising the routing.

Bike trade veteran Nathan Bellamy (an iTunes reviewer of note, having rated 18 previous iPhone apps) wrote:

"I've got to hand it to you, this is good. I've checked the route to my local town 7 miles away that has a choice of 4 similar routes but some are riskier or hillier than others. This app will be invaluable in London and has introduced me to the OpenStreetsMap project, which I will help update."

Double result.

'SpokesWithNoakes' wrote:

"I've tested this on half a dozen of my carefully 'optimised for cycling' routes, some including off road paths/cut throughs and it's returning routes very close to the ones I use. A strong first release."

Clearly, people love the routing and many appear to believe it's a bespoke build for the Bike Hub app rather than being an app powered by the algorithmic wonderfulness of Cyclestreets.net.

Not that we keep it quiet. There are Cyclestreets mentions all over the app but the mobile nature of the app is clearly adding something potent to the mix.

The app is free on iTunes because it was funded by Bike Hub, the UK cycle industry's levy scheme. 

Over on Twitter, the reaction to the app has been almost overwhelmingly positive, and not just because it's free. Blogger Karl McCracken wrote "app looks amazing – very, very impressed!"

Mind you, you can't please everybody. Industry veteran Brant Richards of Shedfire fell into Grumpy Old Man mode when he quipped:

"How on earth did we survive before we had iPhone cycle planning apps?"

I replied "… or before we could get cut-through advice from local riders? There's now an app for that."

There are tons of extras on the app, but the routing-that-feels-like-you're-a-local is the app's key strength. I found this out last week in London. I planned a route from Kings Cross to the Look Mum No Hands bike shop on Old Street. The app took me on a route I wouldn't have otherwise taken and I had to trust in the app rather than my own judgement on one section of the ride.

I had over-shot a three-way junction and felt the map and the app must be wrong. There was no junction, just a left-hand turn. The old me would have ploughed on, blaming technology. The new me with a beta app to test backtracked to what I thought was going to be a 'ghost' junction. Lo and behold there was a ten-metre long cut-through, which I'd have to walk. I hadn't noticed the cut-through at the turning point. It was still pretty small and insignificant. Entering it, the cut-though opened up like a cross between Diagon Alley and The Land That Time Forgot.

I walked through and on the other side a new vista awaited: a dog-leg street that led to some quiet, hidden roads I couldn't quite believe existed so close to the traffic-choked thoroughfares I'd normally chose to navigate along in London.

That cut-through was added to the OpenStreetMap by somebody; a local probably. Using the Bike Hub app is like being able to call on a friend who knows all the clever short-cuts. 

I commissioned and helped design the app so if *I* had that sort of epiphany, I can imagine this app – and the one from Cyclestreets itself – will help tens of thousands of people to find new and clever routes. More cycling, more often – the catchphrase of Cycling England – could very well be the result.

Cyclestreets in the palm of your hand is liberating.

Carlton Reid is the executive editor of BikeBiz.com and the editor of BikeHub.co.uk, the levy funded news-and-features website taking over from Bikeforall.net

Get it at: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bike-hub-cycle-journey-planner/id391782662?mt=8

Save Bikeability and Cycling England

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

As we recently¬†wrote, rumours are circulating that the government’s cycling body, Cycling England and its excellent initiatives such as Bikeability, may be axed due to government cuts. These rumours are getting stronger by the day.

We think shutting down Bikeability and Cycling England would be disastrous for the future of cycling in the UK.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign (the body from which CycleStreets was born) has written an Open Letter which we strongly support. (In fact, one of us was the main author):

www.SaveCyclingEngland.org

Like many others, we urge everyone to write to your MP urgently regarding the points in that Open Letter.

Press release: Cambridge-based cycling project in finals for national environmental award

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

A Cambridge-based cycling project is in the running for the Future Friendly Award, a national environmental award, and needs votes from the public to win!

CycleStreets enables anyone to plan cycle routes at www.cyclestreets.net from A-B. The system gives three route choices: A quiet route, a fastest route, and a 'balanced' route which is intended to be happy medium between these two.

CycleStreets is one of five groups nationally that have been nominated for the Future Friendly Awards. The winner gets a bursary of £10,000 towards the project.

Simon Nuttall, one of the two creators of CycleStreets, said:

"Funding of £10,000 would make an enormous difference to our work. It would help us expand the project, add much-requested new features, make the system faster, and promote it much more widely. Everyone who cycles in Cambridge can benefit from using the CycleStreets website, so we hope that people will vote in the Future Friendly Awards for what is a Cambridge-based project."

Martin Lucas-Smith, the other lead developer, said:

"To win, CycleStreets needs your vote! Simply go to www.futurefriendly.co.uk, and click on the blue "Future Friendly Awards" link near the top right. Our project is listed together with a Vote button. There is also a great video about our work! Please help the project obtain funding from this national Future Friendly Award scheme."

The site has had almost a quarter of a million journeys planned on it so far, with usage increasing continually. A Cambridge-specific version of the site is at www.cambridge.cyclestreets.net and is the most heavily-used local section.

We hope people will vote for Cambridge-based CycleStreets in the Future Friendly Awards!

Notes:

1) CycleStreets is the UK-wide cycle journey planner. It started as an off-shoot project of Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and is now run as a separate legal entity, on a not-for-profit basis.

2) Voting in the Future Friendly Awards closes at midnight on 19th September.

3) A mobile phone version of CycleStreets is about to be launched. More details at www.cyclestreets.net/mobile

4) Photographs of Simon Nuttall, lead developer, are available at:
http://www.cyclestreets.net/location/19015/

http://www.cyclestreets.net/location/19016/

Click on each image to get the full resolution version. These photos have been given a public-domain license so can be used royalty-free and without the need to credit them.

5) For more information, please contact us.

Bike shop data in OpenStreetMap: your help needed

Friday, September 10th, 2010

 

OpenStreetMap, the project whose road/cycling data makes CycleStreets possible, has recently acquired a dataset of all bike shops in the UK from the Association of Cycle Traders, for the purposes of merging this dataset into the OpenStreetMap database. We are enormously grateful for the ACT for this data.

We need your help to merge this data into OpenStreetMap fully! Andy and Shaun from OSM have created a webapp for the specific purpose of merging this data into OSM.

The bike shop locator is a simple web app to help OpenStreetMap contributors to map all of the bike shops in the UK. As all of the shops supplied are only as accurate as the postcode, an import would not be good. This app is also a significant improvement over the previous method of using a wiki page to track whether all of the supplied list is in the OpenStreetMap data.

To use it:

  1. Go to the map view of the new tool.
  2. Click on one of the orange circles in your area and follow the link to that shop's location.
  3. Go to the link at the bottom of the page ("Show local area") and click on the Edit tab to go into the OSM editing view. You can then add/remove/edit the bike shop location in OSM.
  4. This guide to adding a bike shop may be useful for novice OSM editors.
  5. Once the data in OSM is correct, on the bike shop page of this new tool, click on either "This is in OSM" or "Not found on the ground".

 

 

CycleStreets acted as the go-between between the ACT and two of our OpenStreetMap contacts Shaun and Andy, both of whom are great supporters of our project. We are enormously grateful for the ACT for the data, and it is to be used in the forthcoming new (and free) Bike Hub iPhone app, which we're really looking forward to, not least as (like our own app, now in review at Apple) it features CycleStreets routing!

OpenStreetMap as a community tends to be cautious about mass imports of data because it can clash with existing data. A fair number of bike shops are already in OSM, and so this data should help get full coverage more quickly.

At present the bike shop data coming from the 'places' part of our API is the raw dataset we received from the ACT, as merging into OSM naturally takes time. Once that is done, however, we will internally switch to pulling the data from OSM as it will have increased accuracy then.

Technote: Versioned routing database

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

A techy post, since we've not had one for a while!

Over the weekend we rolled out some new infrastructure that has taken most of Simon's time for the last month.

And thanks to donations and grants that we received, we now have a machine that works primarily to churn out imports without slowing down the main server in the evenings, as used to be the case.

Versioned database for routing

We now run a versioned database for the routing. Effectively each import of the OpenStreetMap data to make a routing database is now a dated and separate database. Previously we prepared an import and moved it into place, then shortly removing the old one.

The main benefit of this is that when a new set of data has been imported from OSM we can switch to using it instantly without having to shutdown the database.

The other benefits are that it is much clearer where the routing tables are – and has also resulted in a useful purge of some unneeded data.

The ultimate intention of this work is to enable us to run a much more frequent import cycle. Currently the data is refreshed weekly.

More efficient route generation

The itinerary listing details that you get when you plan a route are extracted from tables generated during the import (rather than re-calculated for each route).

There were quite a few inefficiencies here, and we've restructured how the data is extracted to make it quicker. This forms the conclusion of work to speed up the system for mobile use.

This will mainly be of benefit to API (e.g. mobile phone) users, as the website version itself still has to generate the maplets (which we plan to change in some way in due course, following user feedback).

These changes should not have affected the API output, except hopefully making it faster!

Turns details

The routing output also now includes text like 'bear left', 'sharp right', or even 'double back' with the segments as it did quite a while ago. (This is the cs:turn data in the API output.)

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

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