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Archive for the ‘Elsewhere’ Category

Sustrans routes and Google

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

The announcement today that Google are to include Sustrans cycle routes alongside other transport modes is welcome confirmation that cycling is becoming more mainstream. Pitching the various transport options side-by-side will allow people to discover that, for instance, a 3-mile journey across a city can be much quicker to cycle than to drive. Making cycling an equal player helps people discover their local cycle network and help make the case for greater use of bicycles.

It is genuinely heartening to see that, 7 years on from the creation by Cambridge Cycling Campaign of one the first-ever cycle journey planners, that this concept has moved on so much. Indeed, that precursor to CycleStreets that we created used version 1 of the Google Maps API.

Google joining the peleton of websites that show National Cycle Network routes, such as CycleStreets, OpenCycleMap and OpenStreetMap, is another step forward in recognising the existence of the ever-growing cycle network of the UK.

2005: The launch of Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s journey planner, which later become CycleStreets – how things have moved on! It used the Google Maps framework.

Cycling on the national stage

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The last few months have seen a big resurgent movement of people wanting to see better cycling conditions around the UK. We couldn’t let this pass without some brief comment!

Cities Fit for Cycling – Times CycleSafe

The Times newspaper has been running a fantastic campaign, Cities Fit for Cycling, which has massively raised the profile cycle safety issues, with its 8-point manifesto that echoes many of the key issues often raised by cycle campaigners.

As a search for #CycleSafe on Twitter will show, Cities Fit for Cycling has really captured the imagination and interest of cycle campaigners – and increasingly the general public – around the UK, and especially in London.


A series of articles has really upped the pressure on decision-makers, leading to parliamentary debates, and London Cycling Campaign have helped pile on the pressure by organising The Big Ride.


Through our own project Cyclescape we are hoping to enable the enthusiasm of campaigners to be facilitated more at a local level.

Summer of Cycling

This summer sees the Summer of Cycling. It’s a great opportunity to encourage someone you know to get on their bike!

The Summer of Cycling is a national campaign running this summer which aims to encourage more people to cycle. The All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and The Bicycle Association, alongside the force of 23 cycling organisations are aiming to double cycling this summer.

It’s about encouraging everyone with an interest in cycling to share the fun and introduce just one friend, neighbour, colleague or family member to cycling.

Who’s your +1 ?

Go Dutch! says London Cycling Campaign

London is seeing a resurgence of interest in the idea of Going Dutch, thanks to cyclists led by London Cycling Campaign, of which we are proud to be members, and others.

LCC have done a brilliant job over the last year in challenging decision-makers to do better in places like Blackfriar’s Bridge and Parliament Square, and to do what virtually no other group has done, and actually showcase actual alternative designs, putting forward a wonderfully positive agenda. From our own experience in cycling around the Netherlands, we know how much this would benefit every Londoner, and so we fully support LCC’s efforts.



Have a look at more Photos from the Netherlands in our Photomap, some of which were from our own trip with Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

We hope some of the above will inspire you to get more involved, wherever you are!

— Martin and Simon

CycleStreets – review of the year

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Today is our second birthday – CycleStreets was launched on 20th March 2009.

The last year has seen a huge amount of development work, leading to new features, speed improvements, and more. However, the next six months will be even busier as the project really ramps up!

In the first year, CycleStreets planned 67,000 routes. In our second year, around 437,000 routes have been planned, and the rate of increase continues to climb. By November we had planned enough routes to cycle to the moon ten times, and in February, we reached the milestone of half a million journeys planned.

CycleStreets usage levels rising

Dover to Cape Wrath

A major challenge we faced a year ago was the technical challenge of generating the routes fast enough.

A year ago, CycleStreets used a routing engine written in PHP (!) that we created for the Cambridge-only predecessor of CycleStreets – the Cambridge Cycling Campaign journey planner. It was slow, taking half a minute to plan a route across London, and taking up most of the system resources. Effectively, it was the wrong technology and didn't scale to UK-wide routing.

We held our first Developer Day, which lead to very productive discussions about the routing engine and how we could provide routes to users of the site faster. A friend of the project, George, wrote us a new engine (using Python) which lead to a massive speed-up. Then Robin, another volunteer, took the Python engine and created an even faster version in C++. This has been in place for most of the year and has quietly sat at the heart of the system, planning routes in a few GB of RAM while barely challenging the processor.

The work on the routing engine meant that we have been able continually to increase the maximum planning distance, which is now 200 miles (320km), which is well above a day's cycling! The development version of the system can even now do Dover to Cape Wrath!

Improving the routing speed was a key requirement for mobile apps, several of which signed up to use our routing through the year. These include the leading app for the London cycle hire scheme – London Cycle: Maps & Routes, plus two other excellent 'boris-bike' apps, the briliant and world-first 3D bike satnav app, Bike Hub, BikeRoute for Android and, of course, our own CycleStreets for iPhone app.

Bike Hub app  Cycle Hire app  London Cycle: Maps & Routes  London Bike app  BikeRoute for Android

Our own iPhone app was made possible thanks to two grants we successfully applied for.

Our Android app is nearing completion, and like the iPhone app is being developed as an open source project. Thanks to our mobile developers for their brilliant work on these.

CycleStreets app

Through the year we have given various presentations and got involved with various social enterprise -related activities., such as WhereCamp EU, CamTechNetCambridge Geek Night and Net2Camb amongst others. These events lead to interesting discussions and also resulted in useful new contacts, such as people helping out with our mobile apps.

It was a particular plesure to give a presentation to Net2Camb as it gave us the opportunity to speak about the challenges faced by us as a not-for-profit social enterprise, rather than purely talking about technical challenges.

We have launched a funding drive for £130k to raise funds for two full-time developers. Such funds would enable the project to move forward much more quickly.

The DfT has this year been collecting cycling data which we are keen to see added to OpenStreetMap. We have since had informal discussions with Cycling England about use of the data, and how conversion of the data might be undertaken and at what cost. Discussions have been positive, and we feel this data would improve the quality of routes that we can deliver to users.

Over the year, more and more governmental bodies have been linking to us. For instance, in April, Cycling Scotland linked to us, and we are keen to work with them to help motivate people to improve OpenStreetMap data in Scotland. Others, including some of the Cycling Demonstration Towns like Chester and Lancaster now link to CycleStreets, and we have just sent a new brochure to councils around England.

Increasing the flexibility of the CycleStreets platform has been an ongoing priority.

West Sussex Cycle Journey Planner

In February we created a customised cycle journey planner for West Sussex County Council, building on work we have done to make it easier for organisations to have a journey planner within their website. Another has been created for the Bike Hub website, and a demo Local Authorities site is available.

The year has also seen a few developments on the Photomap. This is an area we would like to do much more on, as explained in our GeoVation bid for which we have now been shortlisted.

We created, under contract for Cambridgeshire County Council, a site called 'Cycling Sorted' to help manage the shortage of cycle parking in that area. We are keen to create similar sites for other Local Authorities. We have also created a similar system to support the great work of London Cycling Campaign.

OpenStreetMap is the backbone of our project, and we have been pleased to promote OSM and encourage more mapping for it. Over the summer we helped obtain a database of all the bike shops in the UK, for use in OSM, from the Association of Cycle Traders. Much of this has been merged into OSM, but more needs to be done to complete this crowd-sourcing exercise.


CycleStreets' use of open data saw it being featured on the front page of the government's new data website –

Throughout the year, we implemented many smaller improvements and innovative new ideas, such as the new shortlink domain, our new Photo of the Day on Twitter (featuring the best of the 25,000+ pictures in the Photomap), a new gallery viewer, better facilities to link to the journey planner, adding an integrated editor (Potlatch 2) as well as various ongoing design/usability improvements (though there is much more to be done, time/funding permitting).

Routing quality work, however, remains our highest priority. Our aim is to provide the highest quality routing possible for cycling, using our knowledge as cyclists. Various improvements have been made recently, and we are currently working on new routing attributes and reducing the wigglyness of some routes, which is proving a difficult problem to solve with limited hardware resources.

Simon and Martin, lead developers, would like to thank a range of people who have helped out in various ways, such as Andy, Shaun and David from OpenStreetMap, George and Robin for work on the routing engine, huge support from Chris in Edinburgh, George from Camden, our mobile developers – Alan, Neil, Jez, Theodore, Christopher and Jonathan, advice and a free dev server from our brilliant web hosts Mythic Beasts, our designer Ayesha, Jeremy for occasional advice on business matters, support from key individuals at the CTC, LCC and Cycle Nation plus others in our stakeholder group, Carlton and Bike Hub, helpful ideas and data from cycle campaign groups around the UK, and of course the amazing community of OpenStreetMap contributors whose mapping makes everything possible.

Lastly, we would like to thank our users, whose cycling needs provide us with the inspiration to keep going, and who provide us with much feedback and many great ideas.


CycleStreets discussed in Parliament

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Friday 21st January 2011 saw a short Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on the subject of "Cycling in England". A question was raised as to the government's support for use of tax money (£2.4 million) on the TransportDirect cycle journey planner when CycleStreets (£28.1k spent) already exists.

This debate on cycling was secured by Julian Huppert MP, a long-standing supporter of cycling. His excellent speech covered a range of issues – many of which are raised by contributors to our Photomap – such as the issue of poor signing of contraflow streets, parking in cycle lanes and pavement parking, lack of cycle parking at stations and much more.

The MP ended his speech with this question:

"If I may finish on a suitably austere note: Other cycling enthusiasts have noticed, that the Government, in its Sustainable Transport White Paper, plans to spend more money on developing its own cycle journey planner. In the spirit, perhaps of the Big Society, could I point the Minister and her Department to the CycleStreets website, which already provides such a service, reliably and efficiently, and without requiring millions of pounds of government subsidy. The website was developed by two of my constituents, both avid cyclists, very much involved with the excellent Cambridge Cycling Campaign, and it cost a total of around £40,000 to cover the whole country. I hope the minister will consider the value for money of supporting and utilising their work, rather than inventing a new wheel. I look forward to her comments. Thank you."

— Julian Huppert MP

The Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers MP responded, towards the end of her speech:

"My Honourable Friend for Cambridge concluded his remarks by expressing a degree of concern about the DfT developing its own cycle journey planner when websites, very good websites like CycleStreets, are already available. Well, I think, given the importance of this issue there is room for government action in this area to complement the websites provided by the private sector, particularly with our focus on giving novice cyclists the information they need to encourage them to go out cycling, so they've got the confidence that they can identify, able to identify, the easier and the safer routes."

— Theresa Villiers MP

[Actually, only £28.1k has been spent (compared to £2.4m allocated to TransportDirect) and of course the project depends on the excellent work of OpenStreetMap mappers. Also note that CycleStreets is a not-for-profit project.]

You can watch video of these two speeches online:

[Watch the video online]


[Watch the video online]

Screenshots from

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):

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

Support Cycling England

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

We are alarmed at the news that Cycling England may be facing the axe, and that the future of the excellent Bikeability cycle training scheme and other important initiatives is therefore uncertain.

Cycling England is the arms-length agency of the Department for Transport which deals with cycling. Its remit is to get "more people cycling, more safely, more often", something we feel it is achieving, and very well.

Since its formation in 2005, Cycling England has triggered a wave of initiatives to get more people on their bikes. Cycling England's premier initiatives, the Cycling Demonstration Towns, and Bikeability cycle training have shown what can be done when dedicated practioners put real resources and effort into promoting cycling. And its work on technical standards for design have been useful for campaign groups around the country.

The amount of funding for Cycling England is absolutely tiny in comparison with other transport schemes such as road and rail initatives. Its budget has been £160m in total for the three-year period leading to 2011. And Sustrans' work on economic appraisal has shown that benefit:cost ratios for cycling schemes are between 15:1 and 33:1 – that is, for every pound put in, some £15-33 pounds of benefits come back. Road/rail schemes produce nothing like that level of return. Yet this level of around £50m/year is well under what places like the Netherlands spend. So there is much more that could be done.

Cycling England is not a full quango, and employs only around 5 people. However, this tiny number of employees effectively have acted as catalysts for work to improve cycling by a much larger number of people 'on-the-ground' and in Local Authorities. As a 'lean' organisation, one which is well in touch with local initiatives, and an organisation which we feel has acted in a creditably open and accountable way, it should be a model of an organisational structure for government. And being a dedicated organisation at arms-length, it has had the ability to focus on cycling.

Cambridge, the home of CycleStreets, is one of the Cycling Demonstration Towns, and a variety of long-needed improvements to infrastructure have been made, including on Gilbert Road, Hills Road Bridge, and links to villages. Cambridge, like many other areas, is also seeing considerable success with the Bikeability cycle training scheme. The Cycling Demonstration Towns have seen increased ridership and many other successes.

Cycle training for children and adults has been transformed under Cycling England. The former 'cycling proficiency' schemes often failed to train people in real-life traffic conditions, with non-cyclists sometimes doing the training. By contrast, Bikeability has been run in a professional manner, marketed well, with huge uptake by children, being taught valuable road-safety awareness early in life, giving then much-needed freedom. Cycle training at an early age must surely have the effect of creating better and safer drivers later on in life.

Perhaps the only area which Cycling England has faced any significant criticism is its fledgling journey planner, through an FoI request. As we have previously commented on our blog, we have no real comments to make ourselves on that, believing that people can judge for themselves. But this smaller initiative aside, Cycling England has been responsible for a big step forward in starting getting the UK cycling again.

The government must, we feel, back up its commitment to the environment and public health by retaining Cycling England and by repeating a similar level of funding (around £50m) for each of the coming three years, which would fund projects UK-wide. This amount represents a tiny fraction of merely a single road scheme. Yet the benefits to society and the environment of getting more people cycling are immense: not only environmentally, but also in terms of reduced congestion (and thus a more efficient transport network), improved health, fewer accidents, and more. Cycling is also highly accessible to a large number of people, and can thus help with accessibility in economic and social terms.

We urge everyone reading this to write to their MP to ask him/her to write to the Department for Transport and the Coalition government to keep Cycling England, repeat its funding, and thereby to demonstrate much-needed commitment to cycling.

Guest post: Introducing Cycle Hire App

Friday, August 13th, 2010

This is a guest post from Alex, creator of Cycle Hire App – for the London cycle hire scheme, who is using our routing interface in his app. We asked him to tell our readers about his app, as it's one of our favourite apps of the seven(!) that have been released, and that's not just because it's using our routing API – it's very polished and has a wonderfully clean interface with some innovative ideas! The use of an offline map is also a great advantage. It was also the first to be announced.

Hi there, this is Alex, designer & developer of Cycle Hire App. As we've just released the first version of the app in the app store (, I'd like to take a moment to introduce the app and thank CycleStreets for opening up their service for mobile apps like ours.


Cycle Hire App & CycleStreets

I built this app (and I'm giving it away for free) because I want to help people in London who like cycling. That's why when I started work on the app a couple of months ago, I integrated CycleStreets as a way to help those who wanted to use the cycle hire scheme but weren't familiar with the road network in Central London. Unlike the directions offered by Google Maps, CycleStreets/OSM knows about cycle paths & all sorts of shortcuts for cyclists, e.g. when you can push your bike along a pedestrian path for a while, instead of cycling around a block.

We're looking forward to working with CycleStreets as our app evolves, and we'd love to help them improve their online service and their own iPhone app.

Other features

Apart from the flexible routing, the app has all sorts of ways to help people find docking stations, such as searching around tube/rail stations and tourist attractions. There's also a postcode search, which is based on the recently released OpenData from Ordnance Survey. When you find locations that you frequently use, you can save them in your 'Favourite Locations' list for easy access.

I also wanted this app to be the most user friendly out of all the other cycle hire apps out there. This means giving as much space as possible to the map, making sure all functions are accessible with a couple of taps, and focusing on making the app very fast (after all, who wants to stare on an iPhone screen when they could be on a bike?). One way we made the app faster is by pre-loading all the maps. This means no endless waiting for the maps to load when you've got a bad signal. As a bonus, the maps also work when you're underground with no signal, or if you have an iPod touch.


We have an exciting roadmap with many more features coming up, including live bike availability data and a timer to remind you to return the bike before the end of the free 30 minute period. If you have any more ideas, we'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment on this blog, or email us on


An interesting Freedom of Information request

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Cambridge resident and democracy activist, Richard Taylor has written today about a Freedom of Information request he made recently on the subject of the government’s efforts to create a Cycle Journey Planner, available through the Transport Direct portal. For the avoidance of doubt, Richard is not involved with CycleStreets, though our database shows he has a user account.

We cannot let the outcome of his FoI request go unmentioned, as it overlaps with some of our own interests in open data and cycling community issues, and his blog post makes comparisons with our own system.

Key findings

In his blog posting, he outlines the key findings:

“The response to my [Richard Taylor’s] freedom of information request revealed that the “Find a cycle route” feature on the Transport Direct website will have cost us [taxpayers] £2,383,739 (£2.4 million pounds) by the end the current financial year, and there are plans to spend a further £400,000 on adapting what has been produced to provide route planner for a Cycling for Schools programme. The figures given in the response can be used to calculate that each cycle route planned using the government website has cost the taxpayer about £57.”

and in a comment restates the table of figures for the cycling part of Transport Direct:

Financial Year Design Feasibility Software Development Software Licences
Data management Data collection Project management
07/08 £91,595 £16,156
08/09 £334,115 £62,930 £13,850
09/10 £17,608 £79,323 £184,671 £309,000 £133,000
10/11 £82,491 £293,000 £548,000 £115,000
Total £91,595 £367,879 £224,744 £594,521 £857,000 £248,000

Figures are Ex. VAT
Source (PDF).

The relevant documents are worth reading. They outline the request that Richard made, followed by the response from the Department for Transport. It is a credit to the DfT that these detailed documents seem to have been issued in response to the Request without sign of any resistance.

Interestingly, Richard Taylor has also found another figure covering Transport Direct more widely, when he writes:

“The £2.4 million spent on the government cycle route planner is just part of a much bigger “Transport Direct” project which cost £55 million between 2003 and 2007.”


As we wrote following Google’s announcement of cycle routing in some US cities last month, dealing with the question of competition between different systems:

“The simple answer is that more availability of bike routing is a good thing [for cycling]. There is undoubtedly space for CycleStreets, Google and others to co-exist: each will have their own benefits and niches, and competition means that everyone ends up with a better product.”

We hold the same view with respect to any system, including government-based ones. We have no complaint about the existence of competition.

We also support the principle of multi-modal journey planning. The idea that someone asking for directions could see cycling amongst options as part of their overall journey, e.g. from a house in Cambridge to a London train station, that includes cycling to the station, is a good thing for making cycling the mainstream activity it is and should more widely be. Multi-modal planning could of course be achieved through an API approach also (though we have never approached Transport Direct on that suggestion).

The issues as we see them

The issues raised in the FoI request by Richard Taylor, as we interpret it, are however different ones to that of competition.

1. The question of spending public funds on systems which compete with commercial and community-based systems that are achieved at much smaller cost to the taxpayer.

We are taxpayers ourselves, and we have a valid interest in ensuring that our taxation is spent efficiently. It is perfectly valid for government to be running services of various kinds if they are useful and provide value for money. Our only comment here is to present the facts and leave others to make their own judgements.

Figures for the government system are stated above in the quotation from Richard Taylor’s blog above, and total £2,383,739 by the end of the 2010/11 financial year. In terms of usage, according to their own papers, “Usage of the [Transport Direct] planner remains very low” (Programme paper, 12/Feb/2010), at 23,608 journey plans.

Our own project has been achieved at a cost of under £12,000; however, time spent has been completely unpaid (which is not sustainable; we would like to be able to pay 1.5-2.5 salaries for the coming 12-18 month period and are seeking funding to enable CycleStreets (which is set up as a non-profit-making entity) then to be self-sustaining). Some 76,107 journeys have been planned in what is still our beta phase – during which we are deliberately not promoting the system heavily while known problems are ironed out. An additional 47,000 journeys were planned on the previous Cambridge-only system.

2. The involvement of communities within government-led initiatives.

In our view, the success of any cycle routing system will in large part be dependent on the level of involvement it harnesses from the cycling community. The latter is something we are certainly working hard on, and it is an integral part of our system. Much of the data in OpenStreetMap data has been surveyed by cyclists, and cyclist involvement remains key throughout many aspects of our project, though we know that we always have more to do. CycleStreets would have been impossible without cyclist involvement.

It was originally intended that the cycling community would be one of three sources of data for the Transport Direct project (the other two being Ordnance Survey and newly-commissioned surveying to fill in the gaps in OS data). We know this because were early advisors to the Transport Direct project at a much earlier stage of their project, and attended a meeting where they decided this. We were invited to attend because, having created one of the very first ever online cycle journey planning systems in the world, in the form of a precursor Cambridge-only system, we were recognised as having expertise. Sadly, it is clear from one of the documents released in the FoI publication that the cyclist involvement aspect has been “deferred indefinitely” (Programme minutes, 17/Feb/2010).

3. The Open Data debate: availability of data which is collected at taxpayer expense.

If we have any fundamental issues with regards to the Transport Direct project, it is this issue.

As is clear from our own views on freeing of Ordnance Survey data, we are strong advocates of open data approaches. As individuals, we believe in the fundamental principle that data collected at taxpayer expense should be freely available in return. Doing so means that anyone who wishes to use such data can operate on a level playing field, creating competition and innovation.

This is an issue which we raised last summer with a contact we have at Cycling England (who to some extent are constrained by national policies on Ordnance Survey data, something which is at long last starting to change).

Government spending tax money to create a dataset usable only with a license payment, but which is competing with an open dataset is a somewhat unsatisfactory state of affairs in public policy terms. In this regard, we do feel it is unfortunate that Cycling England authorised and paid for the surveying of (for instance) Cambridge cycle-related data surely knowing that such surveying had already been done to an exceptionally high standard by OpenStreetMap volunteers, although we acknowledge this is a necessary corollary of competition by a system based on Ordnance Survey data rather than open/varied data sources.

Open data is clearly not well understood within government, but government will have to change. (We refer to a non-partisan meaning here!)

Concluding, these three themes do not change the fact that CycleStreets has to compete on its own merits, as it should. We are proud of our own product. We do not claim it is perfect, and the deficiencies we know about (principally routing which sometimes is either over-wiggly, over-busy, or slow) are things we are working hard to solve, despite meagre resources to do so.

Cycling England’s other initiatives

Both of the principal developers of CycleStreets are fans and active advocates of the work that Cycling England more generally is doing, as we know through our roles elsewhere as campaigners that it is achieving results.

Cycling England’s flagship Cycling Demonstration Town and Bikeability programmes are excellent. By raising standards and aspirations, these have achieved enormous benefits for cycling, at relatively low cost compared to many other government programmes. It is extremely important that these successful initiatives continue to be funded – and indeed that funding for them is increased – following the general election.

We should acknowledge that Cycling England is amongst a range of bodies to whom we are finalising approaches for core funding for CycleStreets, so that our project can then run on a self-financing, stable footing. Our remits of promoting cycling are clearly well-aligned. Naturally we will report back on any successful funding outcomes, as we have done with our other smaller grant applications.

Ordnance Survey data freed (partially)

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Easter came early this year!

In the last few days there has been a blaze of activity around the long-awaited changes by the Government to the way the Ordnance Survey’s data is controlled. A significant number of its excellent datasets have been freed up, which we think is excellent news for the UK geographical community.

The principle at stake is whether collected at public expense should be available to the public (including businesses) free of charge. This is a principle increasingly being accepted in the UK, through the launch of the excellent and London Datastore portals, and throughout the US where public data has long been freely available.

This change – strongly welcomed by many in the web mapping community – follows years of pressure by the Guardian’s Free Our Data campaign, and by many others who, like us agree that public data should be public.

The government announced the outcome of its consultation, to which we also responded, and the day after, some of the Ordnance Survey’s datasets were freed up, so they can now be freely downloaded. (Other more detailed datasets, often for more specialised uses, remain restricted.)

Creating value through open data

Although Ordnance Survey data collection/management is partly also paid for by license fees (many of which come from Local Authorities, i.e. from the government anyway!), ‘the Cambridge Study’ effectively argued that freeing up such data and paying the remaining costs through taxation would lead to increased taxation from businesses who are able to create innovative uses of this data. The quality of Ordnance Survey’s data has a reputation as being amongst the best in the world, and it is important that government funding remains so that quality remains high.

Open data facilitating community-based innovation

Furthermore, it has also been argued by some (ourselves included) that making data open means that private/community-sector groups can more cheaply and quickly create products that traditionally the government would spend millions creating in a ‘top-down’ fashion. As community-based social entrepreneurs, we believe that community-led projects are more likely to work most effectively.

An example of this is our own project, CycleStreets, which has been achieved at a fraction of the cost of the Government’s Transport Direct project that is competing with us and whose costs, usage levels, and restrictive data access terms have just been revealed as a result of a Freedom of Information request.

‘Derived data’ issues

One issue which many respondents to the government’s consultation raised is the problem of ‘derived data’. This is the way that the Ordnance Survey’s license believes that placing your own data over one of their non-free datasets, e.g. overlaying a set of crime points, gives them rights over your data. (This is a different issue to wholescale tracing of non-free maps, which is indeed copying.) The Ordnance Survey’s rules effectively create lock-in, because having overlaid data over a dataset, it then becomes non-portable to use elsewhere.

This kind of restriction is unacceptable in a world where web ‘mash-ups’ are widespread and where there is ever-increasing competition. Issues relating to derived data have yet to be tackled, but the consultation response acknowledges that this needs to be tackled.

What happens now?

We moved our own postcode finder to the OS Code-Point database within hours of it being released, and we believe we are the first public user of OS Free data (albeit only for postcodes).

Some of the new OS street data may well make its way into OpenStreetMap (whose data CycleStreets uses). The new data will surely help OSM achieve completion of UK street data more quickly, as there are still areas of the UK where OSM data is not sufficiently complete, though that is changing rapidly. CycleStreets currently suffers considerably from the lack of even basic data in some areas still.

We have no plans to move to Ordnance Survey mapping data, because the OpenStreetMap data is often richer than the data that has been released, and OSM has the benefits of being community-based. Crucial amongst this is ability for the cycling community to update and augment the data themselves.


We think there are several bodies who have been instrumental in getting the OS’ data release terms changed:

Google bike there

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Google have just launched bike routing in various cities around the United States, after involving the cycling community there. A few people have asked us (and our US-based equivalent, Ride The City) what we think.

The simple answer is that more availability of bike routing is a good thing.

There is undoubtedly space for CycleStreets, Google and others to co-exist: each will have their own benefits and niches, and competition means that everyone ends up with a better product.

Google’s US bike routing sends an even clearer message that cycling is a normal and realistic form of transport, something which we as campaigners have argued for years. It also increases the use-case justification for online cycle routing being part of the interventions needed to help get more people cycling as part of their everyday lives.

In other words: systems like CycleStreets and whatever Google may come up with in the future in the UK are good for promoting cycling, which is the only reason CycleStreets exists.

If anything, when Google decide to do UK cycle routing, we think it will be more of a threat to the Government’s Transport Direct portal, who will find it increasing difficult to justify spending public money on a closed system while commercial and community enterprises are doing the same thing better and more innovatively – in ways which involve the cycling community.

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

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