Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

I’m leading a Transition Town project to bring Legible London to Crystal Palace. You’ll have noticed these signs around central London, conspicuously absent across most of the rest of the capital:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

At the local Transition Town AGM, somebody suggested we should try to bring these to Crystal Palace.

But why wait on TfL? Using OpenStreetMap and TileMill, we can try to produce our own similar map style and stick them up ourselves!

Here is my prototype for the wide area map:


You’ll notice dark blue lines along the edges of roads and though the park. Those are pavements and footpaths, and indicate where you can walk.

Here’s a prototype for the more detailed map of the local area, with local points of interest, pedestrian crossings and bus stops:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

You’ll notice that some roads don’t show any pavements. Eagle-eyed locals may also spot missing cut-throughs and wonder about missing points of interest.

To that end, this Saturday I’m running a stall at the Crystal Palace Food Market on Haynes Lane from 10.30am-1.30pm where people can help us gather data for footpaths, pavements and other useful features for pedestrians.

I’ll also be getting feedback on the cartography. One idea I’m pondering is producing themed maps. For example, we could omit pavements where air pollution is over legal health limits, or we could draw on political boundaries and colour-shade the infamous five boroughs that meet in the area, or we could add blue plaques.

Any mapping and cartography enthusiasts are welcome! I will have printouts of the local area for people to scribble on and bring back to the stall, or to drop off in a local cafe where I can collect them later in the week.


Robert commented that he has seen Legible London outside of central London. It’s true, I said, they do go further afield to some major town centres. Well, courtesy of the latest evaluation report for the scheme here is a map of their extent:

Bringing pedestrian maps to Crystal Palace

Just imagine if that map could be absolutely covered with yellow dots, courtesy of a community-led, low-cost OpenStreetMap solution!

Mapping for pedestrians

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 put in all the footpaths through estates, making OSM the only map that reflects the reality for pedestrians in the area.

It was our coverage of footpaths that led to OpenStreetMap being used by parents challenging a school’s decision that they were outside the catchment area.

I also regularly see OSM used by cycling campaigners, for example this presentation on a cycling campaign that’s also about the Elephant & Castle area.

Then there was my collaboration with residents local to the Heygate Estate who wanted to map the trees that under threat from the redevelopment of the estate. That, I’m happy to say, has resulted in many of the mature trees being protected in the new plans.

So we have useful maps, and powerful tools for community campaigns if there’s an OSM expert about to help out.

But as I wrote last year, there’s a whole other world of data we could be adding, especially for groups concerned with streets that are designed for pedestrians and cyclists.

ITO have been beavering away on lots of amazing maps that show off this kind of data. These are two maps showing the “walkable city” on the left (the blue lines show footpaths and pavements broken up by black roads) and speed limits on the right (green is for 20 mph, orange for 30 mph).

Here are a few in an area I’ve done some work on, just to show what’s possible:

With a few tweaks to the Potlatch 2 editor on the OpenStreetMap homepage, anyone could easily add all this metadata to streets. There are presets for speed limits and surfaces, but not – yet – for sidewalks. If we could get them in – here’s the enhancement request – I think all those community campaigners already using screenshots of OpenStreetMap might just get interested in contributing data.

How great would it be if Southwark Living Streets could print out a special “walkable city” map of Elephant & Castle for their next presentation to the Mayor of London’s transport advisor?

Routing around pollution – any help?

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.

Another hazy air pollution episode in London

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, around Heathrow and City airports, and in congestion hot spots dotted around the rest of London. We have some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

Long term exposure to these critters is obviously a bad thing, so it would be nice if we could find routes to walk or cycle without being affected. To some extent it’s just a matter of avoiding main roads, but some are much worse than others and in central London there are plenty of non-A roads that should be avoided as well.

WalkIt has a neat little feature that lets you choose a “low pollution” route. This basically tries to avoid roads with high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide. But it doesn’t cover the whole of the city, it doesn’t take account of nitrogen oxide or particulates, and it’s only for pedestrians.

So… who fancies taking the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory maps, delivered in 20m grid shapefiles, and plugging them into one of the various OpenStreetMap routing engines to provide a walking & cycling “avoid polluted roads” option for London?

Bonus points could go to anyone who uses live data from the London Air Quality Network and Defra’s air quality monitoring web site (with its latest readings from a few monitoring stations) to give more or less priority depending on conditions.

Southwark’s cycling revolution

Those who are inclined to compromise can never make a revolution – Kemal Ataturk

Every day I set off on my bike for a pleasant three mile commute to work. I love cycling around London, it’s cheap and fun, and I particularly enjoy the spring when lots of “fair weather cyclists” swell our ranks along cycle routes.

Much of London is crap to cycle around, but politicians of all colours claim to support a “cycling revolution”. To achieve that, you’d need to make people from all walks of life feel safe – the number one barrier – and make cycling seem pleasant.

Southwark Council did an audit of their roads recently and found that it was impossible to get further than a few hundred metres without using a road requiring “advanced” cycling skills. You need to be happy using “busy roads” with “complex junctions and road features” to cycle to school, to the shops or to work. Not much good, is it?

For a graphic illustration, watch this BBC journalist’s video cycling around Peckham.

The manifesto for a revolution

If we really want a “cycling revolution”, in which grannies and kids and beginners and road warriors all feel happy cycling around London, we need the right roads. Southwark cyclists have drawn up some great policy on road design. They state, right at the top, the need for:

Safe cycling on main roads, whether Transport for London’s roads or borough roads, by wherever possible, segregated and protected cycle lanes which are at least 1.5 metres wide but preferably wider; where not possible, because of road widths or other factors, maximum traffic speeds of 20 mph, well enforced by speed cameras or otherwise, or other safety features endorsed by a reliable road safety audit; and bicycle friendly junctions.

In other words, make it possible to get around on less busy roads, or to get around well protected on busy roads, with road junctions and features that an inexperienced cyclist could navigate.

So you would imagine a council committed to a cycling revolution is putting in cycle lanes, reducing traffic speeds and making sure junctions are friendly for cyclists, particularly on major cycle routes. Sadly, recent decisions by Southwark Council are making things worse.

Peckham Rye west, heading north

This is a stretch of road I use every day heading north into Peckham town centre (map link). It’s not quite on the London Cycle Network route 22, but a lot of people use this main road coming up from Honor Oak, Forest Hill and East Dulwich towards town. It had a 30mph speed limit and no cycle lanes, so obviously needed some work to fit with Southwark Cyclists’ policy.

The council recently carried out some road works here. Can you spot the difference?


They have widened the pavement on the left hand side of these pictures. That’s it. The net effect is that there is less space for cars and buses to overtake cyclists.

The council’s reasoning is that cyclists should share the road with cars here, joining the main stream of traffic instead of hugging the kerb. But the road has a 30mph speed limit. Who cycles that fast? Who is confident enough to hold up a white van man on a 30mph road? Almost nobody, that’s who. Every day I see cyclists weaving through traffic jams and putting up with cars hurtling past at 30mph. My wife, a recent convert to the bike, hates this stretch of road.

As for the pavement, it’s a lightly used stretch that was already comfortably wide enough. If anything, the council could have taken the decision to introduce safe cycle lanes on this road. I would even have supported them nipping a thin strip off the common if needs be, because there is no safe and pleasant space for cyclists on this main road.

Peckham Rye east, past Scylla Road

Cyclists heading south towards Nunhead and Crofton Park get to stay on the London Cycle Network route 22 the whole way down this road (map link). Cyclists heading that way used to face a useless little bypass that separated them from the stream of traffic for a few metres when the road diverged with its east and west branches. Heading west (off the right side of the picture) you’d get cars cutting across you thinking you were going east the same as them. Heading east down the little bypass you’d emerge for a few metres only to find cars cutting across you to turn left into Scylla Road (the so-called “left hook”).

The council decided to improve this by moving the bypass onto the pavement and making it much longer. For me, heading west, it at least makes it obvious that if I’m on the road I’m heading west. People heading east are probably going to use the bypass. I thought it sounded like a good solution. But…

Here you have it. They have made the bypass longer – great – but made it virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the pavement. Can you see a cycle lane? What’s worse, you now come off this lane straight onto a junction with Scylla Road with no clear priority – are you supposed to wait for cars turning into Scylla Road, or can you move off and make them wait? Every evening cyclists and cars get into a pickle with this one. You can just make out a cyclist in this photo, who had to suddenly brake as a small 4×4 pulled right across her.

Long gone is the cycle lane across the mouth of Scylla Road giving cyclists clear right of way.

Peckham Rye east, heading south

This final stretch of road is just a few metres further down from the Scylla Road junction. It used to feature a nice dedicated cycle lane, breaking only for the bus stop further down the road. A pro-cycling council would have removed that car parking and put in a safe cycle lane for people heading north on this cycle route, right?


Sadly, wrong. The council have removed the cycle lane, even though there is ample space, and left the car parking intact. They now expect cyclists to head down a 30mph road without any safe dedicated space.

Apparently most people supported this

In their report to councillors, officers stated that 93% of people supported the changes. This is because the consultation asked for an agree/disagree view on all the positive changes. Several people – myself included – naively said we liked the proposals subject to some changes but these views were simply reported as “agree”.  Their headline figures disguised the amount of disagreement with the details, and with the wider problems people experience.

I put in a Freedom of Information Request asking for the full responses, and got it remarkably quickly. Here are a few excerpts:

There is a major problem with the proposals for junction of Peckham Rye East and Scylla Road. The cycle bypass cars turn left onto Peckham Rye East and then immediate left onto Scylla Road straight across the cycle lane, without properly checking for cyclists. These proposals do not solve this. Cars should be prevented from using Syclla Road and Old James Street as a cut through to Nunhead Lane.

I believe that this is the wrong way to tackle this danger and unlikely to be effective.

I think it is worse for pedestrians that the road will be 2 way at that point with no island, as I think islands make it a lot easier to cross.

We would like to ensure that this scheme seeks to calm these sections of road to 20mph. Given the ambition of the borough for its roads to become 20 mph and especially the borough roads which it controls, we are concerned that there is insufficient calming.

The current designs could make the rat run, speeding and dangerous left hooks more common, onto a road with a church and a primary school.

The designs miss the opportunity to create a more coherent network of cycle lanes along roads that form part of a strategic London Cycle Network route. Currently they stop and start, sometimes with dashed lines and sometimes mandatory solid lines. This creates a confusing and unpleasant environment, particularly for less experienced cyclists.

The lead officer very kindly debated the merits of the scheme via email, and met Southwark Cyclists on site to make some last minute changes that improved the scheme. But the underlying problems in the area, and the tendency to compromise on cycle safety and pleasantry for the sake of cars, were never up for debate.

It’s council policy, so please change it

Since these works were carried out Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Council, wrote a blog post responding to The Times’ safer cycling campaign. He said:

I recognise that if we are going to persuade people to cycle and really increase the number of journeys made by bike, we need to make the routes for cyclists around the borough as safe as possible.

The trouble is that the council’s own Transport Plan includes the very policies that led to these crazy decisions on Peckham Rye, decisions that are being replicated in other parts of the borough. Their rejection of cycle routes and cycle lanes in the Transport Plan even led to the London Cycle Network being airbrushed out of draft local planning policy for the Peckham and Nunhead area.

Until Peter John amends his Transport Plan to reflect Southwark Cyclists’ policies, and delivers similar changes to this planning document, his pledge to “make the routes for cyclists… as safe as possible” will ring hollow. The revolution will continue to be stymied by compromise for the sake of cars.

Trip Stylist review: stroll around the City

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.

Our brunch, just the ticket to start the day

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 us from the days of the hippopotamus wandering around the unpopulated Thames valley, through our hunting the aurochs to extinction, past Saxon and Viking and Roman and Norman invasions… well you get the idea.

A good mix of social history and Great Figures, including a fascinating collection of newspapers, pamphlets and placards from the turbulent early 20th century. I’d never heard of the Green Shirts, a left wing movement who wanted to end wage slavery and free man from the machine so we could enjoy more leisure time!

We then walked via a few other hidden treasures to the Guildhall Art Gallery, an altogether more establishment view of the world. The collection featured the usual heroic battles and religious scenes telling the ruling class version of English history, along with Victorian representations of classical scenes such as a large striking portrait of Klytaemnestra shortly after she committed her gory deed.

Our late afternoon stroll took us to the ruined church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, a lovely little haven and a reminder of the City’s deep and convoluted roots. Built in about 1100, it sheltered black death sufferers, was damaged in the Great Fire of London but saved from destruction by local schoolboys, expanded with designs by Christopher Wren, rebuilt again in the early 19th century, bombed out during the Blitz, and finally turned into a garden in the 1960s.

St Dunstan-in-the-East church in the City of London

From here we were advised to take the bus over to Whitechapel for our evening meal and drinks, but having time to spare we kept walking. It was surprisingly enjoyable strolling around an area I’m normally scurrying or pedaling through. The curry, at Tayyabs, was of course delicious, rounding off a fun day out.

The only thing I missed was a street map of the wider area. We occasionally hit temporary road closures, or got slightly confused, or needed the loo, or wanted a cup of tea. Knowing where to nip off to would have been a great help. A tool that could print off a map taking data from OpenStreetMap with just this useful info would be the perfect complement to the guide.

Why map data sometimes matters

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…

Routes to the school from two locations using CloudMade maps, the home on the right wins by 500m.

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!


Because they are calculating distances using a model that measures the distance as if you are driving a car. If you try that, you get a totally different result:

Routes plotted for cars to get to the school, the home on the left wins by 400m.

The school’s model uses the Ordnance Survey ITN maps, and apparently doesn’t account for this short footpath at the end of one road. It was pedestrianised 25 years ago.

Happily OpenStreetMap has all the relevant data (and a few minor corrections the parent, Jasia, pointed out to me) so anybody can plot the route to prove the point.

Incidentally, if you fancy showing your support for this campaign download this letter to the governors, sign it and send it to the address at the top of the document.

Making open data maps the almost-easy way

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.

Making open data maps the almost-easy way

(Click on the images to see them on Flickr, where you can look at full sized versions).

Another hour messing around with the settings file and I had a nice map of an area my new father in law likes to go walking, the Long Mynd in the south of Shropshire. This time I aimed for something familiar to users of the Ordnance Survey walking maps.

Making open data maps the almost-easy way

The latest beta of Maperitive also allows you to export a 3 dimensional model using elevation data, and a flat image of the map. You can import these into a modelling tool, laying the map image over the 3d model, to produce nice graphics like this one of walking routes up Snowdon:

Making open data maps the almost-easy way

If the NASA elevation data works for you and you don’t want to change the style of the maps, it’s already a fantastic and fairly usable free-to-download tool. It’s a shame it isn’t free software with the code open sourced.

UPDATE: I completely forgot about this, you can download my Ordnance Survey-inspired stylesheet here.

Getting speed limits into OpenStreetMap

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 sessions on my evening commute, using ITO’s excellent tool:

Orange roads are 30 mph, green are 20 mph or lower, grey are main roads without any data; all the minor roads without speed limit data just show through from the background. Getting more roads down to 20 mph will make them much calmer, more pleasant and safer for people on foot and bike.

Not a bad start, but we have a long way to go! I could probably get data out of TfL and Southwark Council. But I’m interested in seeing what I can actually find on the ground, both because the two sometimes don’t match up and because it made me aware of just how varied the signposting is.

With some roads it’s very obvious – it’s a short residential road with a signpost and a huge “20 mph” painted onto the road. On other roads you could easily miss it. Walworth Road has a 20 mph limit, but if you missed the single signpost going either north or south past endless distracting shops, signposts and shoppers, and buses that often block your view, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s 30 mph like most other roads.

Back to OpenStreetMap, it would be good to get better coverage of speed limits. I notice that some parts of the country like Norwich are very well mapped, while London – with the exception of my experiment, Islington and a little bit of Tower Hamlets – barely has any.

One for a winter mapping party, Harry? Or maybe another good reason to get cycling and pedestrian groups interested? I’ll talk to the Southwark campaigners…