Tag: OpenStreetMap

One of the odd things about contributing to OpenStreetMap is that you have no idea who is using the maps and the data. You spend hours, weeks, months, years even building up a wonderfully comprehensive database of geographic features in the area, all because it’s fun, because you believe in the project’s ideals or you need the data for your own project. But does anyone else use it? It would be depressing if the answer was “no”. So I get cheered every time I see documents like this: That’s an excerpt from a presentation by Southwark Living Streets. They took the Mayor of London’s transport advisor around Elephant & Castle to show how unfriendly and dangerous the area is for pedestrians, and illustrated the whole thing with OpenStreetMap. The chap who made this loves OSM, he told me he realised how useful it could be when he noticed we had…

Read More Mapping for pedestrians

While we’re benefiting from all this rain in London, which keeps air pollution at bay, I’ve been wondering about including pollution data in OpenStreetMap-based routing engines. The trouble is that I lack the technical skills to implement this, so I’m writing this post in the hope that somebody might be inspired to give it a go. Air pollution is the second biggest cause of premature deaths in the UK after smoking. Here’s a little league table of nasties taken from Department of Health data: Smoking – 87,000 premature deaths per year Air pollution – 29,000 Alcohol – 22,000 Obesity – 9,000 The main pollutants in cities are particulates (PM10, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO). Unlike the pea souper fogs of years gone by, these are invisible to the human eye but very deadly. They’re most concentrated on busy congested roads and around airports – so unsurprisingly in central London,…

Read More Routing around pollution – any help?

Kate Chapman and Mikel Maron have written a couple of interesting posts about improvements they’d like to see in OpenStreetMap. Kate’s is the more interesting to me, being based on various experiences with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team projects. Kate, the prolific Andy Allan and others have extensively covered the usability of editing tools. Frederik Ramm has pointed out that many of the editing tasks are conceptually complex so there are limits to how much software can make it easy for newcomers to get stuck in. But I liked Kate’s point about using data. Along with the fun of editing OpenStreetMap, the principal benefit is supposed to be that we offer all this raw data, whereas Google, Bing and co just offer pre-designed maps. But who can actually use this data? Here are some pen portraits to illustrate a few gaps in our toolsets. They are all based on real people…

Read More All I want from OpenStreetMap is…

A mere eighteen months after it had been given to us, Rachel and I went on our Trip Stylist day out around the City of London, “exploring hidden corners and treasures“. We started out with brunch in a very nice little café tucked so well away that it made me wonder how anyone could find it without a tip. It was a very chilly morning, so a warm start was just what we needed. Rachel had mushrooms and a poached egg on soda toast, I tucked into a savoury pancake mountain. We set off on full stomachs along narrow streets and past a few recommended parks in nooks and plaques in crannies to the Museum of London. I’ve cycled and walked past it innumerable times, that odd bunker in the middle of a roundabout, but never entered before. The exhibition design isn’t all that easy to follow, but it took…

Read More Trip Stylist review: stroll around the City

Similar to Gail Ramster, I went along to the Friday afternoon part of UK GovCamp 2012 without really knowing why. I suspect most people would say the same thing. You go because… well, you never know which useful people you might bump into, and what interesting things you might hear about. Plus a colleague Janet Hughes was going, and I’d cleared my desk of essential work for the week. Here are a few takeaway thoughts from my afternoon. 1. I barely knew anyone It’s years since I was a fish in a geeky pool, active in the free culture movement, the KDE community, software patent activism and other odds and sods. For the past five years or so I’ve moved onto land, or perhaps a coral reef, to be more involved with issues around the environment, housing and pay inequality. The past two or so have been working as a…

Read More Sitting around the data campfire

Being actively involved in my local branch of the Green Party means I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around carrying a map of a local ward. Almost nobody seems to know which ward they are in, often because the names are a bit abstract (e.g. “The Lane” in Peckham, which I presume is because “Rye Lane” runs through the middle) or because almost nobody would say they live in the area described (e.g. “Peckham Rye”, which has Peckham Rye Common and Park in the middle and includes areas normally thought to be part of East Dulwich and Nunhead). Since the Ordnance Survey published open data, including political boundaries, it’s been possible to put this information into OpenStreetMap. I’ve finally bothered to start doing this for Southwark – you can see the results on this nice ITO map. Unfortunately the default map on the OpenStreetMap homepage draws the names of…

Read More Problems and possibilities with ward boundaries

I was contacted recently by a parent campaigning for a local school to ensure its admissions policy is properly applied. Over-subscribed schools like this one are a common source of frustration and worry up and down the country. Here’s the rub. Which of these two homes would you say is closer to the school, and therefore more likely to secure a place?  By the way, I’m not sure that the location on the left actually is within the catchment area, it’s just a place I randomly chose to illustrate the coming point… Parents at the location on the right were told they were too far from the school. The method they use to calculate safe distances to the school actually suggests that the location on the right is farther away than the location on the left! Why? Because they are calculating distances using a model that measures the distance as if you are…

Read More Why map data sometimes matters

One of the annoying things about open data is that you often need ninja skills to do anything with it. OpenStreetMap contains a wealth of geodata, but most tools make you jump through several steps involving the command line and all manner of data wrangling just to produce a custom map. Maperitive tries to make it much easier to create nice looking maps. It has been in gestation since late 2007, and is now close to being easy to use. It took me about half an hour of playing around to produce my first nice hiking map of Snowdon, although a problem with NASA’s elevation data led me on a frustrating journey to get Ordnance Survey open data in there to fill the gaps. I also had to work out Maperitive’s settings file for the way features are drawn to make the maps look a little neater and, well, British.…

Read More Making open data maps the almost-easy way

Here’s to Jenny Newham’s Southern Fried London, a collection of our finest grease merchants and heart attack hucksters. Thanks also to the weird and wonderful world of the South London Press, one of two locals in my neck of the woods, for bringing the blog to my attention. I embarked on my own obsessive photo-documentary project with a friend in an otherwise ordinary market town many years ago, snapping photos of ugly gardens in Bedford. For a year or so I couldn’t walk along a street without noting ugly gardens and trying to remember their location. Perhaps a precursor to my mapping hobby? The project was intended as a loving tribute to the dull places in which most of us live, and a comment on the influence of the endless gardening TV programmes at the time rather than a criticism of the owners. I doff my hat to anyone who makes…

Read More Southern Fried London hits the spot

I’ve started trying to add speed limits data to roads in my patch of Southwark. Two things made me start looking at them… First, I go everywhere by bicycle, which means speed limits and London congestion are of very little relevance to my journey times. But I noticed that journey planners like CloudMade’s offer wildly optimistic journey times for cars. Even ignoring congestion, I thought, they can’t be taking account of speed limits, which across London are lower than the national assumptions. For example, most main roads have a 30 mph speed limit and a growing number of roads, residential and main, have a safer 20 mph limit. The second reason is that speed limits have been a big issue for cyclists recently, featuring in campaigns around issues like Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark’s Transport Strategy. So here’s a snapshot of our data around Peckham and East Dulwich after a few…

Read More Getting speed limits into OpenStreetMap