Category Archives: OpenStreetMap

Using my Brompton for collecting images for Mapillary

Mapillary is a new project to allow people to collect street view like images easily with their smartphone or other camera. It means that if you want to have street view images of some cycle path or footpath you can easily add it, unlike with Google’s street view.

To make it easier to collect the images on my Brompton I have made a little holder for my phone using some custom cut denim sewn together, adding some buttons and button holes. Adding the trim around the hole for the camera, and a section of fabric to keep the camera out front, were required otherwise the denim was fraying and causing single strands, or a big chunk of fabric, to get into the image. I’ve added a piece of pipe insulation to help cushion and steady the movement of the phone, otherwise the phone moves too much and generates too many blurry images. It now seems to be at the stage where it’s pretty reliable.

I unfortunately don’t have a good view of the screen thus can’t easily tell if it’s working. Here’s some photos of the holder:




Videos of the talks at Rome 2013

In January I was at the in Rome, and recorded most of the talks that happened. I have now uploaded those talks to YouTube for the wider community to be able to watch. Here’s the videos in the order they were recorded:

Friday 18th Jan 2013

Tariffa and problem management in Africa

A demonstration of CartoDB

World Food Programme using OpenDataKit


FOSS4G conference introduction

37 Things you didn’t know about ESRI


Topology with PostGIS

An introduction to R for spatial analysis

The OSGeo Live CD and Virtual Machines


Saturday 19th Jan 2013



A Linear Sense of Place

Updating to the latest Carto in Tile Mill when running on an Ubuntu service

Currently there are some bug fixes in the Carto code base which isn’t in the currently released Tile Mill which I was wanting to make use of. This is the commands that are needed in case someone else needs that info when running Tile Mill as an Ubuntu Service.

cd /usr/share/tilemill
sudo npm install carto@latest

If that fails, read the error messages as some files may be in the way and npm isn’t wanting to overwrite them:

sudo rm /usr/share/tilemill/node_modules/.bin/mml2json.js
sudo rm /usr/share/tilemill/node_modules/.bin/carto

You then also need to restart Tile Mill, which if you are using the Ubuntu service, you can use the following command.

sudo restart tilemill

My Talk at State of the Map Scotland 2012

This year at State of the Map Scotland 2012 I spoke about the ITO Map tool to highlight the more detailed OpenStreetMap data available, which generally isn’t shown on maps. I’ve mentioned a few other services that I find interesting that maybe aren’t so well known. This blog post is a summary of that talk. You can click the map images to see a bigger image.

State of the Map Scotland

First up, was the building classifications and building addressing ITO Map layers. It’s really useful to have address information on buildings as then you can find the specific address rather than just the street.

A lot of the buildings in OpenStreetMap at the moment are simply marked as building=yes, (94% of buildings don’t specify the building type), however if the buildings are marked with what they are used for then more interesting maps showing the building classification can be created, and you have information that can be useful for planning things.

Not many people have come across a speed limit map, as it’s very rare that this information has been readily available until people started adding it to OpenStreetMap. The ITO Map layer is great for showing the current data, and also highlighting where more data is needed, particularly residential streets and smaller roads. Most major roads in the UK already have speed limit data.

Next up I showed the Highway lanes map, which gives an idea of how busy or wide a road is. This data can be used by navigation devices to give advice on where to change lane on approach to a junction if it is required for example. I’ve also had someone suggest that it could be used by pedestrian and cycle campaigners to show how easy it is to cross a road, especially when used in combination with a map showing the pavements/sidewalks.

Having the barriers in an area mapped can be useful in some cases as it can for example explain that two roads don’t join due to a wall being in the way, thus someone who is looking at the data remotely thinking there is a connectivity error won’t try and fix it.

Barrier information is used by routing engines, for example CycleStreets will avoid  taking you across some types of barrier.

Many of the ITO Map layers are specifically aimed at helping OpenStreetMap Mappers to improve the tagging. For example the Building entrance fixup map layer highlights maps that are based on an older style of tagging building entrances. There was a change from simply say that there was an entrance to being able to specify the type of entrance. It’s also useful when people add other info like whether that particular entrance to the building is wheelchair accessible, which can then lead to wheelchair specific routing, and routing to a suitable building entrance, rather than the opposite side of the building which might mean a 5 minute walk.

How good are you at counting? Having the number of steps in a staircase can mean that routing engines can avoid long sets of steps for example. This could be useful for elderly  people who struggle walking up or down large flights of steps. I’m not sure OSM has come up with a consensus yet as to which direction is up or down, so that the routing engine could for example say go down 10 steps, walk 500 metres turn right and up 50 steps.

CycleStreets take the view that dismounting and walking your bike up or down a few steps may be preferable to huge diversion.

Another useful map for walking campaigners is the map showing where the pavements/sidewalks are. This more detailed information of roads is probably not so useful in towns and cities, but more so in more rural areas, where pedestrians will often be expected to walk along side motor vehicles travelling at 40 or more miles per hour, which can be a pretty daunting experience. There can be parts of towns and cities where there are urban motorways where there is no pavement, or only one on one side of the road.

The OpenCycleMap has shown cycle parking in OpenStreetMap for many years now, however it doesn’t highlight the data in OSM that is lacking the capacity of each cycle parking place so that you know how big the cycle park is. The ITO Map of cycle parking specifically highlights data that could be improved with a red dot or area. Gregory Williams from Spokes East Kent has created a heat map of cycle parking.

Do you know where your nearest cash machine is and does it charge a fee?

OpenStreetMap has some data for the ATMs, however I’m sure there are more out there.



Is your local school mapped with buildings, and the schools grounds? ITO have a map for the schools.

Next up I showed some of the Vector Map District comparison maps.

I started off with the main roads VMD comparison highlighting that it can help with showing where there may be some differences that need fixed. Sometimes the Ordnance Survey data sources can be out of date, thus shouldn’t be copied without thinking. The example above highlights the new M74 extension, which opened since the OS VMD data was released. The map highlights a lot of discrepancies in the tertiary roads (what used to be commonly C numbered).

Similarly for the railways, OpenStreetMap is more precise, having more railway types defined, and also having new rail lines, such as the Shotts Line between Edinburgh and Glasgow now open.

Recently at work I’ve been looking at what interesting things that I can do with ITO Maps. It turns out that having a random colour based on the road number works well at showing where there road numbers changing where I wouldn’t expect them, or thin black lines showing where there is a missing road number (or ref in terms of OSM tagging). Someone has gone and fixed up most of the references that were missing in Central Scotland since the talk.

Similarly for railways you can easily see where they change name. In many cases the rail line doesn’t have a name.

Or how about random waterway names? Do some of the names change unexpecedly?

Finally I covered various questions and highlighting other things from the floor. ITO’s OSM Analysis tool is useful for spotting differences between OpenStreetMap and the Ordnance Survey’s OS Locator dataset. OSM Mapper is great for showing what has happened recently in an area, or highlighting the types of data that has been mapped in the area.

ITO are able to create new map layers to support the validation of OpenStreetMap data. The best ways to get in touch are to either add a message to the ITO Map Ideas wiki page where it can be publicly discussed, or to email

Some other OSM tools that you may be interested in:

Who did it? which highlights recent changes that have been happening, and whether you should take a closer look based on some heuristics.

OSMstats shows charts about the OSM data and how it’s changing over time with daily updates.

Richard Mann has come up with cycle map style that is distinctly different from the original OpenCycleMap. It highlights main roads that have residential roads along them as they are likely to be”nicer” for cycling along compared to more rural main roads.

And finally you may not have yet come across the Live OSM Edits site. It can be quite addictive to sit and watch where there are edits happening in the world.

OpenStreetMap UCL mapping party

On the afternoon of Friday 2nd March I was at the UCL mapping party for the MSc students on a development planning course. In a similar style to Andy Allan on various previous occasions, I found it pretty interesting to see the various issues that the students came across when starting to use OpenStreetMap data for their course work.

Here’s a list of things that people had a problem with:

  1. If there is an error loading an invalid GPS trace into Potlatch 2, then Potlatch 2 just stalled during the startup rather than displaying a useful error message and continuing to load.
  2. Many of the users when working in advanced mode managed to enter a value, and with the way that they clicked somewhere else before entering the value, which meant that the key would disappear and confuse users.
  3. It would be nice to be able to give a nice notice when a user enters a key or value in sentence case when lower case would be expected.
  4. It is very hard to select a node at the end of a way.
  5. There was confusion about the 3 editor options in the menu that drops down from the Edit tab.
  6. The lack of accessibility mapping features in the presets made it more difficult to get them up to speed quickly.
  7. Building entrances are missing from the presets.
  8. How are people supposed to know to shift click to add a node in the middle of a way.
  9. Potlach2 can’t handle more than one major feature at a time, for example a building and a place of worship.
  10. No highway crossing preset.
  11. Easier setup of custom Potlach 2 with custom MapCSS. Maybe some form of GUI to create those files?
  12. How do you take a scanned map and put it as a background?
  13. Many people had questions around why the detailed data they were adding wasn’t showing on the map, for example why were disabled parking spaces not showing up with a specific disable parking space symbol in Potlatch 2.
  14. The help font size in Potlatch 2 is a bit on the small side, thus can be difficult to read for some users.
  15. After creating a GPS trace in an app on the mobile, how to get it and the photos into the editor.

Went into one of my jacket pockets that I’ve not been in in ages and found some #openstreetmap stickers that I thought I’d run out of…

Went into one of my jacket pockets that I’ve not been in in ages and found some #openstreetmap stickers that I thought I’d run out of…

Bulk loading data into OpenStreetMap

Some of you who were at WhereCampUK, Nottingham in November 2010, may recognise the discussion in this blog post as it is based on my talk there.

Since the early days of OpenStreetMap, people have been bulk importing data into the database. There have been various issues with many of the previous import methods, which I’ll go through, before explaining the latest methodologies to be employed.

First up was the public domain TIGER data in the US, which is produced by the US Census Bureau. It varies hugely in quality from county to county and was seen as the only way to start the mapping in the US. The prospect of the data being imported delayed many people from starting to create the map in the US. However with the data not being great, it is difficult to improve the data as a newcomer, compared to using clean osm data.

There are on going projects to try and fixup the Tiger data. These were kick started by the CloudMade London dev team when it was realised that you could not route from one side of the US to the other, like you could in Europe. Tools were built to help highlight connectivity problems and make the road network routable.

After a Freedom of Information request the Royal Mail released the rough location of all of their post boxes (they didn’t have the exact locations). Matthew Somerville built an app for making it easier to locate all the post boxes and tick them off the list. The post box data from OpenStreetMap is regularly imported and checked against the list of post boxes supplied by the Royal Mail based on their reference number with the lists updated to show which post boxes we still don’t know the exact locations of. Some mappers have gone and made sure that whole postcode districts have all their post boxes in OpenStreetMap. Over time the novelty has worn off when playing the game of hunt the post box, or it has become an distance issue to try and find some more.

Naptan data is the public transport access point database in the UK. It has been generated by local councils using a GPS on the ground. This means that the data doesn’t have any issues with copyright from the ordnance survey, which they would have if they were positioned using ordnance survey maps. The Naptan data has been imported region by region into OpenStreetMap. There have been a few communities who have taken the checking of the Naptan data seriously to ensure that OSM has every bus stop in the correct position. They have often been in contact with local councils or the appropriate Traveline department to improve the original Naptan data where there are errors.

Novam is a tool that was built to make it easier to see which imported bus stops had been edited with various data added. A few different styles were generated as mappers came up with a consistent way that the data should be. It proved a very useful tool when working with local authorities, as they could see why OSM was valuable, and it highlighted the appropriate data. The tool is primarily used by mappers to see where they need to improve the OSM data.

When the Ordnance Survey Open Data was released on April 1st 2010, there was some discussion about how the data should be used. The consensus is that the data should not be blindly imported, rather local knowledge should be used to update the OpenStreetMap data. There are cases where the Ordnance Survey data that has been released is already out of date due to changes on the ground since the data was last collected or released. There have been cases where people have changed the correct OpenStreetMap data for the out of date or incorrect Ordnance Survey data. This is one of the reasons why you need to have local knowledge to be able to get good OSM data. Some tools have been implemented so that OSMers can improve the completeness of their dataset based on OSM. These tools are being used actively to increase the OSM coverage and accuracy.

The Bike Shop Locator was built by Andy Allan and myself as a tool to show a different method of importing data into OpenStreetMap for cases where there is significant portion of the data already in OSM, some of the data being imported may be inaccurate as the shop on the ground either doesn’t exist or has since changed name, and all of the data only having an approximate location to within a post code. The automation of the ticking off of this list is somewhat hard due to the fuzzy matching required for the names and other attributes. Also when visiting an area again to check to see exactly where the bike shop is you’ll spot other things in the OSM data that needs to be edited in the area.

WhereCampUK, November 2010 location:

For the presentation, I flipped between the following web pages in different tabs in my web browser:

Cycling: London to Dover overnight

With the English bank holiday weekend (Scotland has the August bank holiday on the first Monday instead of the last), I thought that I would go for one of my longer cycle rides and see if I could beat my previous record of 150 miles. On the Saturday morning I packed the 4.5 litre of water, home made pasta, chocolate and extra clothing layers into my panniers. I finally got going at 1pm, which was a lot later than I was expecting.

The first part of my journey was heading north to the River Thames on the Waterlink Way/National Cycle Route 21. Then I followed the Thames to the Woolwich ferry using the NCN4 and 1. I decided to add a little extra adventure to my journey by crossing the River Thames a couple of times. First using the Woolwich Ferry to get to the North bank, which is free. Then following a part of the new Cycle SuperHighway 3, which is a rebranding of the previous cycle path that it runs along, to head east towards my next crossing. To get back to the South bank of the Thames, I used the Dartford crossing. You can’t cycle over, however a free pickup truck service is provided to take cyclist and bike over to the other side.

After a nice chat about traffic and cycling with the traffic officer who took me across, I then re-joined the National Cycle Route 1 most of the way to Whitstable. I decided to follow a straighter new cycle route from just before Gravesend to Strood, which is part of the old A2 prior to it being upgraded.

Shortly after Sittingbourne while following the NCN1, I seen on the right hand side of the road a car with the two door windows smashed a couple of people and another vehicle, which looked rather unusual. I continued further up the road until I was out of sight, as I didn’t know how they would react and then reported the car break-in to the police via a 999 call. As I didn’t know how to describe my current location well, thus I took a photo of the screen on my phone (which ended up against my face while talking thus unable to look at the screen) with the latitude and longitude, and gave the lat/lon to the operator, which worked. On Sunday afternoon I got a phone call from the police following up with some clarifications to the useful evidence. They were pleased that I had phoned in the incident as a witness as most people would have just turned a blind eye.

A bit further down the road I stopped to eat some of my pasta, and suddenly some dark rain clouds came over and the heavens opened. Luckily it was just a fairly short shower and I had managed to find a bit of shelter for it to pass. It did worry me a bit as to how much more rain there would be for the rest of my journey. Luckily once that cloud passed it was clear for the rest of my journey.

From Whitstable I followed the coast, much of which was on the path or promenades that runs along the edge of the sea. As I was getting into Ramsgate at about 2 am after 107 miles, I was getting too tired to be able to continue the rest of the night further round the coast safely, so I found a nice bench and shelter overlooking the sea to put my head down for a few hours. Luckily I had a towel with me that I was able to use as a pillow.

Shortly after 5am I set off again slightly refreshed with the first signs of dawn. The route of the NCN1 down to Deal is quite nice. After Deal however it turns inland a little and into a very long climb that seems to just go on forever. It was nice to be able to get to the top and see the nice view across the English Channel. After a little decent there is the White Cliffs of Dover National Trust site, which has a nice view overlooking Dover ferry port. (Yeah, I’m sure you already know that I quite like travelling by ferry from time to time.)

From there I headed down the short and steep downhill into Dover, the downhill was over way too quick considering the amount of uphill. I then took the train home, going the full length of the straight track from Ashford to Redhill (with a change at Tonbridge). The reason I mention it, is because it does look quite strange or unusual at lower zooms on a map, when there generally is more curves in rail lines.

On the Sunday late afternoon/evening I took a nice 5 hour nap to catch up my sleep, before getting up for a few hours to catch up on a few things before heading back to bed for a full nights sleep.

In total it was 133 miles over 20 hours, which is my second longest cycle in one go. The Dunwich Dynamo was 127 miles including the ride to the start. At some point in the future I want to ride from Dover anti-clockwise round the coast, particularly to try hill out of Dover and the long downhill into Deal. I’d also like to do Dover-Brighton via the NCN2.