We are pleased to unveil the new Galleries front page, which brings your beautiful photos and content to the front and centre. Galleries is a really neat feature to group cycling-related media for presentation or campaigning.
There is also a lot more flexibility available while adding a new gallery – you can now navigate away from the Create Gallery form to find more photos to add, and when you return all the fields will be exactly as you left them. You can even close your browser window and come back later, and the gallery creation form will still show your data as you left it.
We’re delighted that the CycleStreets Mobile web site has been judged one of the “Best Application Designs”, by renowned web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen!
The mobile site was one of the winners in the Lightweight Applications category. You can read the report announcing the winners on his site, and a fuller downloadable report is available (for a fee).
The site is a small-screen version of our main site, and is intended to work on a range of mobile devices, such as iPhone, Android, modern Blackberry devices and more. (We haven’t quite got full compatibility for Windows Phone 7.5 Mango yet, but if you can help, do contribute to the codebase.)
As the report outlines, our aim with producing a mobile web browser app was to enable quick and simple planning of journeys on a small screen, offering the key functionality of CycleStreets with a minimum of fuss, a quick download time, and providing clear large buttons. We were able to include much of the usability learning from the main site and the iPhone and Android apps in creating the site, and as such it includes many of the best elements of each of them. For instance, there is a quick way to switch routes directly and to see the details of the route without going to a different screen. Also, the crosshairs concept enables quick and accurate planning and avoids problems with large fingers obscuring the start/finish points.
Or perhaps no-one's added a location's website yet? Click on the 'add it' link in the popup shown above. Follow the link, click on the icon, click on 'Advanced' and then enter 'website' on the left and the URL on the right, and click Save. You'll need to create an OpenStreetMap account if you don't have one already.
You must not copy things from other people's maps, however – additions and edits must be based on your local knowledge of an area.
This data is now all available through our API so that it can be integrated into your cycle routing app.
Built in jQuery Mobile and HTML5, this extends CycleStreets’ mobile support beyond our well-received Android and iPhone apps to cover other platforms, including iPad and BlackBerry.
Just like the other apps, you can plan cycling routes while out and about, upload photographs you take along the way, and find photos others have uploaded nearby.
The mobile HTML version has an experimental change from the native apps and desktop CycleStreets. Instead of tapping the map to add a draggable marker, we use fixed crosshairs in the middle of the screen. We hope this makes route planning a little easier, by reducing the possibility of accidental clicks.
Once you have a route planned, it’s easy to compare the different journey types that CycleStreets offers – fastest, quietest, or balanced – and see individual turns.
In a somewhat alpha feature (as HTML5 doesn’t yet offer brilliant phonecam integration), you can also upload photos you’ve previously taken of cycling problems nearby. And you can see photos that others have added to CycleStreets.
We automatically save your routes for future reference, and your preferences for cycling speed, route type, and preferred map type – OpenStreetMap, OpenCycleMap, or Ordnance Survey.
For me as a coder, this was pretty much a dream project: a meaningful application, a cutting-edge platform, and a supportive project lead, in the form of Martin, to manage it all.
My goal for the mobile HTML app was to create something easy to use and as accessible as possible – while being realistic about the fact that CycleStreets routing, with its maps and polylines, is inevitably going to work best on a smartphone as a native app.
To that end, technical readers may be interested in the following notes:
jQuery Mobile: As we were using jQuery anyway, I chose jQuery Mobile for its lovely look and feel, its clever Ajax page transitions, and its sensible graded browser support – plus a general good feeling about the project. Now in beta, it’s perhaps a little slow (they’re working on it), but definitely a project to watch.
HTML5: We use geolocation (ahem) plus localStorage to save user details – though the app should still function if neither are available. There’s clearly also scope for offline route storage, which we hope to add in v1.1.
Responsive design: This would obviously have been nice (for an example, visit FixMyTransport in a desktop browser, and then resize it so it’s really small). However, it would also have required changes to the CycleStreets desktop CSS beyond the scope of this project – though I believe it’s still in the longer-term CycleStreets world domination plan.
Browser testing: Technically, the most challenging part of the project was not coding, but finding the emulators and real devices to test on. We’ve tested in Android, mobile Safari, iPad, and BlackBerry (led by the UK browser stats), plus Opera Mobile and Fennec on Android, but we want to hear more from Nokia and WinPhone7 users.
Help us improve!
This is still very much a beta. However, mobile HTML is a long-term play for CycleStreets, so we expect to add lots of improvements in the coming months and years.
We've added a mini-feature to our website and mobile apps that some regular train-using cyclists may find useful.
You can now enter train station codes (e.g. KGX for King's Cross) in the search box, and the location of that station will be found. It just avoids lots more typing, and is useful if you use particular stations regularly.
LCC are the leading cycling advocacy group in London. Their work over many years has really helped keep up the pressure to improve cycling conditions in London – so you should certainly join LCC! (LCC is in fact the first NGO that Martin joined.) Most recently, LCC has led the charge over the Blackfriar's Bridge debacle.
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.
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.
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.
Through the year we have given various presentations and got involved with various social enterprise -related activities., such as WhereCamp EU, CamTechNet, Cambridge 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.
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 – data.gov.uk.
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.
We really enjoyed the January Net2Camb Meetup event, where one of our lead developers, Martin, gave a talk 'Our Story'. Thanks to Claire for organising the event and everyone who came!
It was particularly enjoyable as it was a rare opportunity to talk about the business and competition aspects of CycleStreets, about the challenges we face, and the future opportunities for the project.
We were also pleased that a couple of people came forward as new volunteers!