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News from CycleStreets

Archive for December, 2011

Merging tool – new cycling data

Monday, December 19th, 2011

As previously announced, we are working with the UK’s Department for Transport to make advanced cycling data attributes available for incorporation into OpenStreetMap.

Rather than organising this along the lines of a bulk import, we are taking advantage of new technologies in Potlatch 2 and have commissioned Andy Allan, creator of OpenCycleMap, to develop new features to allow volunteers to collaborate on inspecting and merging the information into OSM.

This merging tool will also be of use for other external data that could be manually inspected and merged into OpenStreetMap.

Background

The DfT commissioned survey work in various cities around the UK for their Transport Direct product. In 2011 they released the results of the surveys as Open Data, in a complex GML format based on Ordnance Survey ITN data – unsuitable for use with OSM. However, in addition, they have funded work to convert the survey data to be based on OSM geometries suitable for incorporation. This has been done through brilliant work by Ralph of CCG.

The kinds of things surveyed include cycle routes, cycle parking, cycle lanes and their widths, surfaces widths and lighting conditions of cycleable paths, and so on. We are working to add support for these attributes into CycleStreets, so that routes are further improved.

In the UK wide areas of the cycling infrastructure have been mapped in OpenStreetMap, often more recently than the data from the DfT. Also, with the development of Vector Background layers in Potlatch 2, there was an opportunity to create an improved process for dealing with external datasets.

Further background information is available in blogs and on the mailing lists.

The demo

We’re pleased to announce that a demo is now available, and we’d like people to test it.

A demo is now available. It contains sample data for Nottingham and Cambridge, but it’s deliberately unable to save the data back to the main OSM server. When the final version of the data conversion is complete and available, this will be updated and fully able to work.

Two test areas are currently loaded:

How to use the merging tool

The merging process works as follows:

  1. Click ‘Map style’ > ‘Wireframe’ to make things much easier to work with.
  2. The background data is highlighted either orange (needs attention) or blue (already processed).
  3. Click the background features to select them.
  4. Ctrl+click (or cmd+click on a Mac keyboard) the relevant OSM feature (line) to see a side-by-side comparison.
  5. Click on ‘Advanced’ in the left panel to see the merging controls.

Feel free to play around with this – the snapshot data is being reloaded from time to time as we get better imports, although we think we’re almost at a stage where the data conversion is fairly bug-free.

The merging tool is currently a beta and further improvements are planned. See the main Merging tool page on the OSM wiki.

The first screenshot shows the thick gray line (DfT data, as a background layer) highlighted. It shows the attributes it has:

The second screenshot shows what happens if we now control-click (or cmd+click on a Mac) on the OSM line – we now get a merging interface where we can accept/reject each attribute, and click the button at the end to accept all the changes:

 

Feedback on the data

We would really welcome feedback as to any errors you spot in the data conversion. The aim is that the data is pre-processed and snapped to the OSM geometry as effectively as possible, so that merging is merely a case of manual confirmation of each attribute according to your local knowledge.

Issues we have fed back so far on are:

  • Alignment. The data was originally snapped to an OS Open Data, and has been geographically aligned via advanced GIS techniques to OSM. It’s already well over 90% matching and further improvements are being made.
  • The issue of streets being broken up but having the same data. Our GIS contact plans to merge when the street name and data matches.

The software

A number of software components are used to make all this work

  • Potlatch 2 is used as the editor, and can load data from both OSM and the DfT data. The splash pages and other resources are available on github
  • Snapshot Server is used to serve the DfT data for each user, saving them from having to load the whole country at a time
  • Some scripts are used for loading data in and out of the server. These use Osmosis to read/write between XML and Postgres.

License

The data is expected to be released under the Open Government License. We have been seeking an early letter of confirmation from the DfT on this and will update this page and the OSM Wiki accordingly. (The ITN-referenced dataset is released under the OGL already.)

Feedback

We’d really appreciate it if you could try out the beta and add comments below, or contact Andy Allan with any feedback you have. Did you figure out how to use the tool? Did you manage to merge some data? What doesn’t work? How could the tool be improved?

If you have local knowledge of the areas in question, it would be great to hear back from you on the datasets themselves – do they match reality? Are the tags appropriate?

CycleStreets in 2011 – a year in review

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

We’ve had a busy year, and we’d like to thank everyone who has helped out with the CycleStreets project – whether that’s helping with development, design, promotion and word-of-mouth, mobile coding, and more.

As you can see, since our launch in March 2009, usage has grown very considerably this year.

We’ve planned almost 1.4 million cycle journeys, covering some 23 million km as the crow flies, equivalent to cycling to the moon 60 times!

It’s been incredibly heartening to see so many great comments from users of CycleStreets on how it’s helped them find better routes or start cycling.

Major projects this year

The year for us has been dominated by a number of funded major projects.

Work for the bicycle industry to create a Leisure Routing mode for the great cycle satnav app, Bike Hub (which uses our routing). Leisure routing is a new kind of routing, exclusive to the app, which enables you to plan a circular route lasting a specified time or distance. Read more about this great new addition to an already brilliant app.

Work with the Department for Transport to open up their cycling data. We’ve been helping the DfT with their very laudable objective to open up the cycling data they collected as part of their Transport Direct system. This detailed cycling attribute data has the potential to enhance the quality of cycle routing, by adding things like surface quality, cycle lane widths, missing pieces of data. We’ve funded some development work on a merging tool for the main OpenStreetMap editor, Potlatch 2, which we hope will be of wider benefit for other datasets also. The data is now almost ready for release following a lot excellent work by the DfT and its main contractor – stay tuned.

Cyclescape, a comprehensive online campaigning toolkit to assist cycle campaign groups around the UK. We’re able to create this thanks to funding from GeoVation. Earlier this year we won a Dragon’s Den -style contest to create a website that would build on our Photomap of 30,000 images, and provide a way for cycle campaign groups around the UK to work more effectively to solve cycling infastructure problems in their area. The website will be launched shortly, and we’re moving into beta with it after months of solid work. You can read more about this on the Cyclescape blog.

Work with Cycling Scotland to improve cycle journey planning in Scotland. We’ve been undertaking a range of projects to help motivate improved data collection and usage. This work will be finished shortly, and will see a journey planner on the Cycling Scotland website and a new guide to assist local communities with data collection for OpenStreetMap.

Hosted journey planners for London Cycling Campaign, West Sussex County Council, Bike Hub and others soon to launch! Read more about our offering of customised cycle journey planner sites and see the brochure for Local Authorities we created.

Other projects

As well as these funded projects, we’ve been working on several other areas of our core offering:

Continual improvements in route quality: We’re continually tweaking the routing engine to make the routes better and better, partly in response to the great feedback we get from users. In the summer we added partial support for surface quality data (something we’ll be building on soon), and earlier we undertook some work to make routes more ‘sticky’ to the Sustrans and Local Authority cycle networks where they exist.

Faster routing: The routing engine is now much faster than a year ago. Even when we’ve had a load spike, the hosting has barely flinched!

Mobile apps on all the major platforms have been released. As well as our free iPhone app, which has seen many improvements over the year, we’ve released a well-received and fully-featured Android app and a Mobile web site which works on Blackberry and other platforms. All of these are open source projects, and we encourage people to join our brilliant volunteers who have been working on the apps so far.

A lot of work on resilience: Simon has worked extremely hard since the summer to improve the resilience of the system in many ways: Backup, fallback, easier importing of data, scripting various administrative tasks and so on.

Points of Interest: We’ve got a new set of webpages and an API for points of interest (shops, cash machines, leisure locations, etc.). We hope to integrate this much more closely with other parts of our offerings in coming months.

Lots of other little changes: Addition of CO2 and calorie counts, an increase in the journey planning limit to 200 miles, little usability fixes, reworking of the Photomap pages, railway station codes in searches, new Photomap listing modes, promotional flyers you can order, clickable icons for the London Cycle Hire website, a ‘cycle to us’ link facility, an integrated map editor installed, etc.

Photo of the day: We hope you’ve enjoyed our Photo of the day feature, if you’ve been following us on Twitter!

What about next year?

The main areas we’re going to be working on are:

  • Support for advanced routing data (work in progress) according to an advanced ruleset we’ve been considering
  • Drag routing (waypoints in the interface)
  • Expanding to other countries
  • Open sourcing (the main barrier at the moment being lack of modularity in older parts of the code)
  • Reworking the feedback system so that we can get lots of OpenStreetMap volunteers involved

OpenStreetMap – a solid foundation

CycleStreets wouldn’t have been possible without the brilliant OpenStreetMap (OSM) project, whose data we use. OSM has gone from strength to strength, with many areas of the country seeing far more detailed data than this time last year.

It’s a volunteer project which anyone can contribute to. So whether there’s a newly-added cycle lane near where you live, a bike shop has opened, or whether the surface of a path is unsuitable for cycling, you can contribute that information – just edit away.

If you’ve appreciated the work of the people who’ve created the map, please donate to OpenStreetMap to help keep it running fast.

User feedback helps improve Bike Hub app

Monday, December 5th, 2011

This is a guest post from Carlton Reid, executive editor of BikeBiz.com and the editor of BikeHub.co.uk. He writes here about the great new facilities in the Bike Hub app, which uses our routing and OpenStreetMap POIs feed.

The latest version of the Bike Hub cycle satnav app is 2.2; I’m currently testing 3.0, due for release soon. The new version will be packed with extra features, many of them suggested by app users.

I’m conflicted by all the additions. On the one hand I’ve always wanted to keep the app plain, simple, focussed. But users have said they want it to be feature rich.

2.2 – released at the end of October – was enriched with a GPX download feature so plotted routes could be emailed to a user for later use, perhaps in a route visualisation programme, such as Google Earth.

I’ve used this feature a couple of times but it’s not what I’d consider the app’s core function: this core function is to be a cycle-specific satnav. We have also been asked to include other ‘performance monitoring’ features but there are many other apps out there that do this well.

It’s a fine balancing act: making the app feature-rich but not so complex that it becomes hard to use or worse, buggy.

The app is a standard satnav in that it routes from A to B. Version 3.0 adds what could be a world exclusive and that’s A to A routing. This makes the app into a touring tool: arrive at a railway station with your bike, fire up the app to guide you on a three hour trip sticky to country pubs and off you go.

Part of this functionality was added to 2.2. You can navigate to and from Points of Interest: ATMs, places of worship, parks, castles and many other PoIs.

Version 3.0 uses this growing database as a tour suggester.

     

Also in version 3.0 – and a much requested feature – is dynamic route recalculation. Stray from the route and the app will suggest you make a u-turn. Stray a bit further and the app will create a new route, on the fly. This is standard on car satnavs, and it’s finally on Bike Hub version 3.0, thanks to app coding work from app developer Tinderhouse and routing tweaks by CycleStreets.

     

Version 3.0 also has tighter integration with CycleStreets, adding a box to input a CycleStreets journey number. This will be useful if you prefer to pre-plan your routes via desktop and then want to transfer the same route to your smartphone.

The most requested feature from users is added in version 3.0. This is map cacheing. Map tiles can be downloaded to a smartphone when in range of wifi or a good 3G signal. Users will still require a phone signal to call down the route from CycleStreets but maps – which can take a while to download in a poor signal area – can now be stored locally. (And deleted later, if wished).

     

I know I’ll use this feature for cycle tours in Northumberland.

The app has evolved greatly since launch and will continue to evolve, thanks to funding from the Bike Hub levy fund. If you have other features you’d like to see added, get in touch. editor at bikehub.co.uk

Carlton Reid

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

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