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News from CycleStreets

Archive for October, 2011

Upgraded hosting for CycleStreets (Technical post)

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

We’ve recently completed a switch over of the whole CycleStreets system to upgraded hosting. Our previous primary server has been extremely reliable and, having just checked, I find it has been up for 795 days, and has only been rebooted once in the last two-and-a-half years.

The new primary server is needed to support expansion of the journey planner, to handle the growing amount of data we manage in the CycleStreets system and to provide increased reliability of our services,  as well as for our new project, Cyclescape. We now also have additional redundancy.

The switchover has turned out to be a rather more complex procedure than expected as there are quite a number of different components that are required to make CycleStreets all work smoothly. This recent switchover it has helped to tighten up a number of areas. This will make future switchovers easier to handle, and a major benefit has been a restructuring of our documentation.

We have tighted up how we handle file permissions and this means that developers no longer need sudo access to rollout code onto the live server. The structure we’ve got for that feels a lot cleaner and has improved the security of the system.

The hardest part of all this was the moment of switchover itself. As the system is live and being used to generate thousands of routes per day we aimed to have as little downtime as possible. The data on both systems was synchronised before turning off the live server and switching over the DNS. This was done in the small hours and because of careful prepartion was completed in about 15 minutes. When the new server became live it was impossible to tell that anything had changed. Only a few things were missed out in the switchover – the automatic tweeting of our photo-of-the-day, and the updating of a missed DNS record – but both of these are now fixed.

The system does feel more responsive now, and we’ve noticed that some of our scripts run twice as quick as previously.

We are very grateful to our hosts, Mythic Beasts, for their continued support and technical advice.

Funding for this upgrade has been partly helped by a grant from Cycling Scotland and from donations.

Cycling Scotland

Designer needed! – Cyclescape design brief

Friday, October 28th, 2011

We are seeking a talented designer with strong user interface abilities to undertake design work for the new Cyclescape website. Timescales are tight. Cyclescape is to be a website (currently under construction) aimed at helping cycling groups around the UK. The work will involve the creation of an overall design concept, plus user interface templates for each of the user pages, and an icon set.

Read more on the Cyclescape website …

Merging tool for external data for OpenStreetMap

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Back in July we wrote about our work to assist the DfT with the opening up of their cycling data, a dataset featured in the Telegraph this weekend. Over the summer, much progress has been made.

Andy Allan, who is perhaps best known for his excellent OpenCycleMap project, has been working for us to create a merging tool (within Potlatch 2) for helping to combine external datasets into OSM on a street-by-street basis. This tool will be useful not only for the DfT data that is becoming available soon, but also for other datasets.

The DfT 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, the approach taken is a method for OSM volunteers to inspect and merge the information on a street-by-street and attribute-by-attribute basis via the simplest and quickest means possible, using their local knowledge to enhance the end result.

Surface type, cycle lane widths and other data are amongst the attributes in the dataset, and these will shortly be supported in the routing engine.

The code for the beta release of the tool [included in this diff] has been reviewed and merged into the main Potlatch 2 codebase, and is already in the latest builds. We expect further changes to be made as we get feedback from initial testers.

OSMers should be able to try out the beta and the data soon as we have confirmation of the Open Government License for the data. Here are screenshots of the beta:

What’s the Cyclescape of your city like?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

We’re pleased to announce the name of our new cycle campaign group toolkit:

Cyclescape

We had over 70 suggestions (including some humorous ones), many of which were excellent ideas.

It became clear that many of the best ideas started with Cycle, and we liked the idea that the name would be co-branded with CycleStreets, i.e. Cycle-s-something.

We also thought it was particularly important to emphasise the geographical aspect of cycle campaigning. We thought that inventing a new word, Cyclescape would be a catchy and unique brand that emphasises the idea of improving the landscape for cycling across our towns and cities.

Having fixed on a shortlist, we began the process of trying to obtain domain names. This took a surprising amount of work as we wanted to ensure we got all the variants (.com/.net/.org) by way of brand protection.

Unlike three years ago when we bought the name CycleStreets, many Cycle+<something> names have now been taken and reserved by domain brokers. After approaching some domain holders, it was clear that some of the best names were going to be prohibitively expensive, in the thousands of pounds, which was well beyond an already-tight budget.

In the end we spent more than we wanted to acquiring the name, but we’re very pleased with it. We hope you like the name too!

Cyclescape.net is currently under development and we’ll be setting up a blog there shortly. @Cyclescape will also be the site’s Twitter identity, so do follow that also.

Andy and Andrew, our developers, have been making excellent progress. Many of the core concepts of the site are in place, so we’ll have screenshots of  the system at ‘alpha’ phase in the next few days. If you’re a coder, follow the code work in progress on Github.

Now we need a logo…

Now we need a logo! We like the idea of a curved section of city, with markers on and a bicycle going upwards. Anyone able to help with that?


CycleStreets has secured £27,000 of funding as a winner of Geovation – GeoVation is an Ordnance Survey initiative and forms part of the Ideas in Transit project with funding from the Technology Strategy Board and the Department for Transport.

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

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