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.
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 data.gov.uk, 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'.