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CycleStreets blog

News from CycleStreets

Archive for July, 2011

Using OS OpenData

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

CycleStreets makes heavy use, as many people will know, of OpenStreetMap data as the basis of our street/path network for route planning. For us, the ability of the community of cyclists and others to contribute to this data is an important part of the effectiveness of CycleStreets.

OS OpenData logo

But, lesser-known, is that we also make use of several OS OpenData datasets for various parts of the site.

OS OpenData is part of the many datasets offered by the Ordnance Survey. But unlike many commercial datasets, they are open data, allowing not-for-profit groups like ourselves to use them. The first release of OS OpenData was announced on 1st April 2010, a decision by the government and the OS that has been widely welcomed.

We thought we'd outline the datasets we use in various ways.

Firstly, the postcode database, Code-Point Open®. This enables us to translate postcodes to a point on the map. We were the first users of this open data – implementing the postcodes within hours of it being released. MySociety have helpfully converted the Code-Point Open dataset into latitude/longitudes rather than grid co-ordinates.(Code-Point Open is not to be confused with the Postcode Address File (PAF), which is a commercial product of Royal Mail, and which we do not have funds to purchase. The PAF enables individual house/address locations to be accurately located.)

Secondly, we use the Boundary-Line™ dataset to enable photos added to the Photomap to be assigned automatically to London boroughs and soon other boundaries around the UK. This dataset will also come in useful soon for our Cycle campaigner toolkit project.

Next, the OS Street View® dataset is being used by some OpenStreetMap volunteers to augment areas of OSM in the UK whose level of completion of street coverage is lacking.

Lastly, we're using a projection of the Street View dataset in our Android app and forthcoming mobile web site.

The OS OpenData datasets have enabled us to improve the facilities on CycleStreets. The postcode data in particular has been invaluable. It has helped us as a community organisation create a useful facility at low cost.

Update, Sunday 31st July: The Street View tileset is also now available as an option on the main site – just click on the blue (+) button in the top-right corner of the map panel:

PS Steven Feldman: here's one for you: OS OpenData™ :)

Cycle campaign toolkit – spec published

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

We’re pleased to publish an updated specification for the campaigner toolkit, following consultation with groups.

There’s been lots of useful feedback submitted by e-mail, twitter, blog replies, and in meetings we’ve had. These comments were turned into about 5 pages of bullet-points for working into the spec.

Many of the points raised were useful points for clarification, or small new features, and a few raised issues relating to group structure. There were no problems raised with the substantive direction and nature of the toolkit.

The Description of the toolkit and what it will do is still available and has not needed to be updated. However, the full detailed specification has been updated and is below.

We were delighted to receive various positive comments which very much reflect our hopes for the system. For instance:

“One great advantage I can see is that it’ll potentially help balance out the workload within our cycle campaign by allowing the latest status on any particular issue to always be seen on the system. Getting more campaign member involvement will also help with our committee’s workload.”

“I like the push/pull options of mail list and forum. Can’t think of anything you’ve missed. I’m hopeful that this will encourage common issues to do with rules or conventions to float to the top and be tackled at source.”

Things that have been updated or added in the spec, as a result of the consultation are:

  • Clarification of the idea of a ‘Library’ of best practice
  • Presence of tips to help best practice in campaigning
  • Specification of the polls and petitions components
  • Issues relating to federated/overlapping groups*
  • Committee privacy basis
  • Notion of groups having democratically-agreed policy stances that members must adhere to
  • Clarifications about grouping and splitting of threads
  • Ability to involve elected Councillors rather than just officers
  • Tightening of a few areas regarding mail integration
  • Emphasis on outcomes rather than endless discussion
  • Notion of cross-member ‘recommended campaign’ topics
  • Daily digest
  • Removal of the notion of a compromise objective, which could undermine a group’s negotiating position
  • Addition of avoidance of uploading very large volumes of documents, which could create costs
  • And various other minor changes

The updated specification is now published. From this point on it will become a living document that incorporates updates in the light of implementation as we move into the coding/design phase.

One thing we still haven’t got is a name for the toolkit! Stay tuned…

* This aspect is subject to some continuing consultation and discussion and will be resolved for the start of the code spec.

Detailed cycling attribute data for better cycle routing

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

We're aiming with CycleStreets to provide the highest possible quality cycle routing, to give people trust in routes they plan. We've heard from many users how our routing is helping them give the confidence to use a bike for their journeys, and from people who've discovered cut-throughs and safer, easier routes for their existing journeys.

Increasing the quality of the routes found by CycleStreets means using more sources of good quality data. For instance, a cycle lane can improve a planned cycle journey, but not if the cycle lane is too narrow. On the other hand if the cycle lane is wide and has a good surface, it can be better than a shorter route on a busier road.

OSM logo

The information that CycleStreets uses to base its route recommendations comes primarily from the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project. Over time that data has become more detailed in both depth and breadth, and it continues to do so.

Over the last 18 months, the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) has undertaken a GPS-based survey of cycling infrastructure in towns and cities around England. This has been used for a related project, the Transport Direct multi-modal journey planner.

The DfT is keen to see this data used more widely and we've been talking to them about using it in our routing, by making it available as open data that could be merged into OpenStreetMap.

We're delighted now to announce that we're helping the DfT with its laudable objective to make this data more widely available. We’re working with its contractor, CycleCity Guides, who are well-known for producing a wide range of Local Authority cycle maps. The release of this data is one of a number of other datasets that the Cabinet Office has recently announced will be made available.

Rather than merely dump the data on, the DfT is going a step further to help it be used, a development it should be highly commended for.

Respecting the way the way the OpenStreetMap community works, the DfT is planning to:

  • Make the data available in a fully OSM-compatible format, aligned to OSM geometry with converted attributes.
  • Simultaneously publish a dataset aligned to Ordnance Survey's (OS) Open data
  • Use a standard, OSM-compatible license (the Open Government License), with the data unencumbered by OS derivative data issues.

This data, which has mostly been collected by surveyors on bicycles, has the potential to significantly improve the quality of routing in some areas of England. We are well aware, however, that data collected by other agencies can undermine the work of OSM volunteers in the area if not handled sensitively, and so we've stressed that automated, bulk imports would not be accepted by the OSM community.

Instead, useful data needs two things if it is to be used in OSM. Number one is a way of inspecting and accepting/rejecting the data on a street-by-street basis via the simplest and quickest means possible. Secondly encouraging routing engines and renderers to use the data. Therefore:

  • Funding we've obtained will pay for a month or two of solid work on Potlatch 2, the default editor on the OSM website. We've engaged Andy Allan, one of Potlatch 2's core developers, for this. The funding will lead, amongst other improvements, to a generic tool to enable donated data to be merged in (or rejected), street-by-street via manual inspection and approval. A range of general usability improvements (such as those in the P2 buglist) will also be funded.
  • We'll be implementing support for many more advanced routing attributes, which Andy and hopefully other OSMers will be helping with. This will demonstrate the difference that really detailed data can make to the quality of cycle routes found by engines like CycleStreets when the community merges in (by inspection) this type of data.
  • A range of other improvements will also be made, for instance, changes to our feedback system so that errors in OpenStreetMap, found as a result of people using the routing, can be more easily discussed and fixed in OSM.

We hope the OSM community will react positively to these developments.

With community support, this data should help get lots more useful data into OSM and help it become a superbly detailed dataset ever more quickly.

We've been particularly impressed at the way that our contacts at the DfT have been open to learning about the way the OSM community works. We particularly hope that the success of this project will act as a demonstration and lead to more trailblazing open data initiatives where government learns from existing communities to 'do open data the right way'.

Cycle campaign toolkit – comments sought

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As we announced recently, CycleStreets is one of the winners of the GeoVation contest, with our bid for a comprehensive online campaigning toolkit to assist cycle campaign groups around the UK.

The first phase of this project is finalising a specification for the toolkit. Here is the description of what it will do. This outlines what the toolkit will do, how people and groups will be able to use it. The full specification also has a prioritisation of these features.

We warmly welcome comments from groups around the UK on this draft, and will be publishing a further more finalised draft, incorporating comments received, in a week's time for our deadline of 24th July. Please do contact us to give us your views.

We've tried to include as many of the ideas we've received and come up with as possible. We hope the attached draft will give cycling groups an idea of how much the toolkit will assist their work.

We hope also its themes of bringing campaigners together and, where possible, involving Local Authority contacts will help usher in a collective spirit of work to improve cycling conditions around the UK.

Let us know your thoughts.

Older versions:

CycleStreets iPhone app – new version now out

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

We're pleased to announce the launch of our updated iPhone app – version 1.5.

So what's new? Well, it's mainly a tidy-up release (looks prettier!) with a few new features. We've also been getting the app ready so we can add new stuff next.

  • The itinerary shows route summary details – a much-requested feature
  • Addition of Shortest route as new route type – for those who like hills (since this mode ignores hills!)
  • Fewer geolocation requests, so battery lasts longer
  • Nice new icons throughout (thanks to designer Jamie)
  • New settings page
  • Various screens redesigned
  • Tidier interface for planning
  • Tile refreshing more frequent, to avoid stale map images
  • Clearer 'Start' and 'Finish' markers
  • Confirmation dialog when setting a marker
  • Various bug fixes
  • Code rewrites to enable future new features

Download the updated version from the App Store, and please do review the app!

This release has been the hard work of Neil Edwards, who also wrote the great Red Nose Day app earlier this year. Neil's contribution to the CycleStreets project has been tremendous, and his changes set the scene for future improvements.

The top priority feature for our next release will be the ability to switch directly between different route types, e.g. change to fastest route having planned the quietest route. We've added this to our other apps for Android and mobile web (under testing).

If you'd be interested to help develop the code, please do get in touch! Here are the features we'd like to add – can you help?


The itinerary screen is now a bit more helpful, with the route summary shown and walking bits more obvious:


We love Jamie's new icons for the Photomap (which have also been used in our other apps)! :

Settings and saved routes are also improved – and you can see that Shortest route is a new option now available (though in practice the routes are not as usable, since it's not a very clever form of routing – it really is just the shortest route!) :


New promotional flyers available

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

We've got some great new promotional flyers done! They're in a z-fold format.

To order some, just use the order form.

Thanks to Ayesha Garrett who has, yet again, done some great design work for us and who is a real pleasure to work with. Thanks also to Frederik Ramm, whose great OSM leaflets provided inspiration for the format, and Shaun for the idea.

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

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