Cycling: Milton Keynes – Watford

Last Saturday I took a train from Selhurst to Milton Keynes and started cycling back home. (At the moment you can get 15% off off-peak Southern tickets when you buy them at least 2 hours before travel, online.) I’d been thinking about doing that cycle since the Milton Keynes Mapping Party back in May last year.

The first part across Milton Keynes to the Grand Union Canal, and then down to Leighton Buzzard went fairly well as the towpath is paved and some of it is part of the National Cycle Route 6. South of Leighton Buzzard however, the towpath turned to grass and for some of it mud. There were patches where it was paved nicely. There was one point the mud had got so bad I had to stop to clean the bike.

These bird didn't want to let anyone past on the pathHeading through Berkhamstead there were some birds that  really didn’t like anyone going along their path, so had to hop off the bike and walk around them.

Past the M25, and almost into Watford and I find another pile of mud in the path, so I stop to take a look at TrackMyJourney’s map viewer to see if there is an alternative route that may be better. Via the help of the OpenCycleMap (from within TMJ), I seen that there was the National Cycle Network Route 61, that hopefully would have been less muddy. About to move off and notice I had a puncture. So instead of trying to fix in the dark, with a muddy bike to hinder things, I decided the best option was to push the bike to Watford Junction station to get the train home and deal with the puncture once the mud had dried a bit, thus the mud would flake off.

Also on the way to the station pushing the bike I manage to map a couple of missing street names, post boxes, benches, bike parking and found a street name that was mis typed into OSM.

After the first attempt, I found that I had a slow puncture. It was another puncture elsewhere in the tube rather than the repair failing. It was a total of just shy of 40 miles, which is about half of the distance I was expecting to do. Considering that I’ve been doing very little cycling at the start of this year due to the bike being serviced from the accident at the end of last year, and the not so great weather, it’s not too bad. I suppose I’ll have to just postpone my annual maddly long first long cycle of the year until March. I also got a bunch of nice photos to add to the CycleStreets Photo Map, and test a new method that makes it faster to import photos from Flickr. This will mean that there will be photos of the route, when someone plans a journey that takes part of the route that I took.

OpenStreetMap Shortlinks

Shortlinks were introduced to OpenStreetMap at the end of June 2009, by Matt Amos, as a way to have a short url to get to a specific point on the map. It is a method to go from the code to a latitude, longitude and zoom. It also works in the reverse direction too. You will see the shortlink in the bottom right hand corner of the map on osm.org. If you have a location that you want to show to people, say on twitter, then the shortlink may be a nicer method than using the standard tinyurl services.

Here is an example of the difference:

http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=51.5046&lon=-0.0774&zoom=13&layers=B000FTF

http://osm.org/go/euu6Ari

You can even add markers by appending ?m to the end of the short link and the marker will appear in the centre.

If you are a developer you may want to include support for the shortlink, in addition to or instead of the standard permalink. A good example is if your app sends twitter messages with your current location, where there is a limited number of characters that can be used, thus a shorter url is needed.

For some code take a look at the bottom of the site.js file, site_controller and the shortlink library.

Update: With the move of the OpenStreetMap codebase having moved from svn to git the new file locations are: sites.js, site_controller.rb, and the ruby shortlink library.

OpenStreetMap Job Search Alert

As part of my recent job search I setup a few job alerts. One of which was with the keyword OpenStreetMap on CWJobs. I wasn’t expecting there to be anything coming up.

Out of the blue a job alert did appear, and it sounds rather interesting, though I have just started a new job at Headshift.

It is for a three month contract, and is asking for some quite high requirements, such as requiring to be security cleared; experienced using Ordnance Survey data; OpenLayer; Python; and optionally Mapnik; OpenStreetMap and QGIS. Based on the job description, I’m speculating that it is a contract for some government job. I’ll let you readers to speculate about the details of the job in the comments.

See a PDF of the Job Advert: 20091214-OpenStreetMap GIS Developer – CWJobs.co.uk

On a side note, I found that putting my CV on CWJobs yielded quite a high number of recruiters phoning, however the recruiters seem to all be chasing for candidates for the same handful of jobs. My current job was found through the help of the wonderful people who use twitter and directly talking to the potential employer.

Edinburgh OpenStreetMap meetup on Tuesday

This Tuesday 8th December 2009, there will be another Edinburgh OpenStreetMap meetup. Unfortunately I won’t yet be able to enjoy another cycle out along the coast from Edinburgh to map some more of North Berwick, and return back to London on the Caledonian Sleeper. Not forgetting the significantly more people who came to the meetup than I originally expected. It’s great to see such great enthusiasm for a regular meetup in another UK City.

When I was buying the sleeper tickets for the return leg of the last meetup, I found that phoning got a better deal than buying the tickets online and picking them up online.

A week in Dumfries

At the start of October I took a week’s holiday up north in Dumfries in the run up to the Dumfries Mapping Party. It was a great week of mostly cycling, sightseeing and ended with a mapping party, held in the local leisure centre, DG One, which has some council meeting rooms.

Heading out I was waiting on the Royal Mail delivering some OpenStreetMap reflective vests, which were supposed to have been delivered a few days earlier, though unreliable mail delivery is one downside of strike action. It meant that I had to delay my departure from home, thankfully I had bought the flexible train tickets from London to Dumfries, rather than the advance fares where you can’t change the train your travelling on and were only a couple of pounds cheaper when I was purchasing my tickets.

The original trains that I had planned to get had a short, reasonable delay between them, however the train I ended up getting from London meant that there was over an hour wait in Carlisle. I couldn’t be bothered waiting, so I decided to set off towards Dumfries following the National Cycle Network Route 7, which at the time was only mapped to the edge of Carlisle. When I crossed the border, I checked the train times from Gretna Green on my phone and realised that the train that I would have got from Carlisle was due in about the time it would take me to get to the station. Sure enough I had a minute or two to wait on the platform before the train (with space for six bike at one end of the train, yeah ScotRail do know how to transport bikes unlike some other train companies I can think of) appeared. Later on in the week I completed the rest of the NCN7 from South of Dumfries to Gretna Green which hadn’t already been added to OpenStreetMap.

Cycle track from my week in Dumfries
Cycle track from my week in Dumfries

I’ve had a little play with the Party Render scripts to produce the lovely image on the left. I customised the place names that were shown a bit to make it clearer.

On the Wednesday meeting up with the local OSM contact (who goes by the name disgruntled, or known in the real world as Sally) for the first time at the Wednesday Wheelers meetup. It was quite interesting to see and hear the older generation happily cycling 10-30 miles for their regular weekly meetup. I felt quite at home considering my normal commute (well at the time) was 8-10 miles in each direction, and most people I speak to are surprised at the distance I cycle each day.

Then on the Thursday I took a rather long ride over the hills of Ae and added the lcn 10 from Dumfries to Moffat. Sally had already mapped the first section of the route, which was a really nice cycle track, which had been converted from an old railway line. It was fairly flat until I got to Ae, where there is the Forest of Ae mountain bike trails, with some really steep hills that I wasn’t expecting. Thankfully just before the climb, and in time for a late lunch there was a nice little cafe, with a bike shop in the same building. Heading over the hills there were some really pretty views. It was also nice being in the middle of nowhere and only being able to hear some birdsong, and the light breeze in the trees. Once I hit the downhill, I found it pretty scary, as I wasn’t used to going down such a long hill with that style of track and occasional cattle grids.

P1030991 P1030999 P1040021 P1040041 P1040057 P1040059

On my return I took an earlier, but late running, train to Carlisle and cycled round Carlisle to get a bunch of it mapped.

I was really impressed with the way that Sally had managed to write and get published an article in the local paper. She’s also been a great local contact and mapper. Dumfries council organised the nice venue, with the event being part of the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme in Scotland.

I’ve been uploading the photos I’ve taken to Flickr in various sets. Then importing them into CycleStreets, so that they will appear in the route listings when you plan a route in the Dumfires area.

Bristol – Newbury Cycle ride

Last Sunday (30/8/09) Simon Hewison and myself took the first train from London Paddington to Bristol at the fairly early time of 8am considering that we had to cycle across London first. We had purchased advanced fare tickets which were about a third of the price of the walk up fares.

Full trace of the route

Total distance for the main part of the route was about 80 miles. I also cycled just over 10 miles in each direction to and from London Paddington. I was originally planning to continue into the M25 and get a train from there or even continue through the night home. However the weather was very overcast and damp, and we were covering a greater distance than originally anticipated due to taking a bendy route and sometimes missing the directions signs for the National Cycle Network Route 4 and having to backtrack. We avoided mapping so that we could get a much greater distance. There were some roads that weren’t in OSM, and we found that the NCN 4 had been re-routed with part of the original route being renumbered.

Here’s some photos of the day:

P1010805This appears to be a variant of the Sustrans signposts, specific to the Bristol – Bath cyclepath on an old railway line.

P1010834Here was the big staircase of locks that we cycled past.

P1010845 Having the current OSM data on my phone means that I made Simon rather curious as to what the junction at the end of the road was. There was a sign stating that there was a roundabout, however there was just a simple T-junction in OSM. He raced off and caught a trace. I had been taking various photos of other little bits of data to add to OSM.

P1010854There were several roads that we went along where there were signs that stated you were on a “quiet lane”. Do these have any special status?

P1010862

There was a bit of a problem of knowing the way at this junction until Simon beat the foliage down so that the ncn4 direction sign was visible.

P1010879 When we arrived in the aptly named Hungerford, it was time for dinner so we found a hotel restaurant and collected the postcode and a couple of other POIs in passing, such as the bike parking in the centre of the village.

The Crap-O-Surface Detector

Even in this day and age, the roads the general public cycle on are riddled with potholes, speed humps falling over themselves, or general unevenness around man hole covers and drains. I’m fed up with having to look at the road in front of me for these bicycle damaging unevenness and potholes instead of at the surrounding traffic, which to be honest is more important.

There is already a service in the UK for reporting these defects to the local council, called FixMyStreet. There is even have an iPhone app for reporting problems while on the ground. However I felt that not enough people knew about FixMyStreet, and even fewer were reporting problems. So I decided to come up with a way to automate these reports to the local councils even further.

I believed that these uneven roads could be crowd sourced through recording a GPS track, and a storage of seismograph by using the accelerometer in the iPhone or iPod Touch. These tracks are merged together and tied to the road network automagically, now that there are enough tracks in the system, analysis is running constantly to find places where many people regularly have a high vibration, when flying over a speed hump, or just about halted as though you have hit the kerb straight on by finding a conspicuous pot hole in the middle of a bus lane, about one bus length away from a sunken drain.

Some of the crowd sourcing community have taken this a step further and provide a video stream of the whole cycle ride, which again is synced up with the GPS trace, and used as evidence of poor quality road surface. The whole sync process is done automagically after you upload. It is even more accurate if you up load a photo of the time on the GPS and the seismometer.

OpenStreetMap is now using this data to enter all the traffic calming, in a few months time the Crap-O-Surface Detector service will start automatically suggesting places where there are speed humps, and giving the appropriate, err smoothness tag* for every road.

CycleStreets have found the data to be so good, that they have decided to postpone implementing traffic lights, specific routes, fixing the OSM to Cycle Streets types, and of course hill avoidance, in favour of using the data from the Crap-O-Surface Detector service. Don’t worry, all the other items are still on the todo list.

So I’m please to announce that the Crap-O-Surface Detector is now out of the private pre-Alpha, and today entering the Beta stage in the software cycle, please head over to Crap-O-SurfaceDetector.com to see how you can participate, while watching more roadworks in the places that really, really need them. Once the roadworks are gone, you should (if the council contractor has been doing their job properly) see a marked improvement in the road surface.

GLLUG Mapping Party

Yesterday I presented to the Greater London Linux User Group (GLLUG) how to edit the OpenStreetMap data, with a short field trip. Apart from running a little late, I think it went fairly well with some good participation from the audience. Things I’d do better the next time include:

  • preparing the slides more, particularly the server side ones for this audience;
  • giving the 2 minute introduction to OpenStreetMap, as there were people who didn’t know the basics about OSM in the crowd;
  • also doing it as a lab session, rather than rushed example demonstration of the editing before being thrown out of the lecture theatre.

I have made my slides from the talk available below.

http://docs.google.com/Presentation?id=ajc2v9mk3cvb_4cf9wsthd

Cycling: London to Dover via Margate and Ramsgate

Yesterday (Saturday) I done one of my rather large February cycles. I didn’t go quite as far as last year’s 150 mile cycle, though I still done more than the 70-100 miles I was anticipating doing. In total it was about 115 miles (the last 4 miles were from Bromley South station home). The total journey time to Dover was about 12 hours. When I set out I decided that my camera would stay at the bottom of the pannier, otherwise I’d spend too much time taking photos, rather than getting somewhere.

The route I took was heading out fairly direct to Faversham, via Bromley, Swanley, unmapped Cobham, Rchester, Rainham, and Sittingbourne. After Faversham I headed to the coast all the way round to Ramsgate, where I hit the A256, and then the A2 to race down the road to Dover to get the last direct train back to Bromley South.

I hadn’t prepared quite enough with my GPS tracking. For those who don’t know I use a private beta of TrackMyJourney on my Sony Ericsson K850i with a bluetooth GPS for most of my location logging and mapping. I know that my main 5Hz bluetooth GPS lasts only about 8 hours, so I got my older, less reliable on cities, GPS partially charged, but not enough to last until the phone ran out of power. After I ran out of power I was using a fast direct route, so it was easy to get the route’s distance using CloudMade’s routing. I did have a GT-11 GPS as a backup, however the 16MB card is too small for my extravagant cycle journeys, though the battery did last for the whole journey. Ah well, couple of lessons learnt.

It’s been great to be able to have live re-routing over the web,  constantly updating my ETA, and the ability download map tiles live, thus able to have the cycle map wherever I am within mobile phone signal range.

I did find a part of the NCN1 to the east of Sittingbourne, where the route took you into a pile of trash at the side of a traveller camp, with no further signage.

I really enjoyed cycling along the coast, I found it quite rare to be able to go for so far that close to the coast, because usually you have private properties next to the coast for much more of the coastline. There was one place where I saw a sign telling cyclists to slow down and give way, where you would normally just get the irritating and unnecessary “cyclists dismount” sign. I really should have taken a photo of it, but then would I have had to go via London Bridge?

In the future I’ll hopefully get around to cycling from Margate to Folkstone at a more leisurely pace to be able to take in the scenery.