A surprising rural waymarked walk in the heart of a city

Dudley, in the heart of the Black Country in the West Midands, is not the sort of place you’d envisage a rural walk. The Black Country is so-named for its iron and coal and industrial might. Some  have claimed the furnaces and mines of the Black Country were the basis for JRR Tolkien’s Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Most of the industry has now disappeared and left lots of brownfield sites, crumbling industrial buildings and a struggling economy, with its associated social problems.

I have recently walked, surveyed and mapped the Limestone Walk. And  what a delight it was!  It was easy to forget the adjacent presence of a dense urban environment. The walk is poorly publicised and poorly mapped (the waymarking can be poor in places also). I could find little on the web which could act as a practical guide for anyone wanting to walk this route. The best I found was from the excellent Discovering Britain resource provided by the Royal Geographical Society.

So I thought – here’s an opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of OpenStreetMap. This is the result of my efforts, taken from Lonvia’s Waymarked Trails

Limestone Walk

The walk commences at the ruins of Dudley’s mediaeval Priory and ascends Castle Hill (unfortunately Dudley Castle and its zoo are a paying attraction so the walk has to avoid them). Castle Hill is riddled with collapsed limestone mines and also with canal tunnels. A small diversion to the Black Country Living Museum is well worth the effort: it provides an extensive depiction of the industrial and social history of the Black Country.

But the jewel in the crown of the walk has to be its passage through the Wren’s Nest National Nature Reserve. It has been a national nature reserve since 1956 and there is currently a bid to place it in  wider regional GeoPark. It is world famous geologically for its well-preserved Silurian coral reef fossils and is one of the most diverse and abundant fossil site in the British Isles.  It is also famous historically for here it was  that the Scottish palaeontologist Sir Roderick Murchison studied the fossils and rock formations that led to him defining the Silurian System. 

The crater Murchison on the Moon and at least fifteen geographical locations on Earth are named after him. These include: Mount Murchison in the Mountaineer Range, Antarctica; Mount Murchison, just west of Squamish, British Columbia, Canada; tiny Murchison Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands in the same province; Murchison Falls (Uganda); and the Murchison River in Western Australia. The town of Murchison in the Tasman Region of New Zealand’s South Island was also named after him. It would be interesting to discover how many of these are mapped in OpenStreetMap.

The walk culminates on Sedgley Hill.  At 277m, reputedly the next highest point East is in the Ural Mountains. There are stunning views over much of the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Worcestershire; Birmingham’s city centre with its cluster of tall buildings can be seen in the distance squatting as it does on a low ridge.

Dudly Council, under severe financial pressure, is doing it best to improve the infrastructure of the walk and to promote its use.I hope OpenStreetMap’s resource can be of use to them.


Colonisation by street cabinet

posted in: Observations | 0

Man_made=street_cabinet is not the most popular tag or object to map: there are only 753 instances in the UK according to taginfo.

However ……they are proliferating at what seems a high rate judging by my recent surveys. I started noticing street cabinets as part of a traffic management project which Birmingham City Council invited OSM to design a tagging scheme for  traffic sensors associated with controlling traffic signals and assist in editing and quality control (more on this later, but probably after SotM 2016, where it will feature in a talk I’ll be giving)

Even if you don’t have a local project like this, traffic signal cabinets usually have  a reference number on them to identify a set of signals and are useful for identifying them. For our project the reference number matched the sensor node  reference number on the traffic management network – so it was a useful way of OSM  mappers on the ground cross-checking centra data held by the Council. Who knows, if you map enough of them in your area, someone will find a use for the data?

By the way  individual traffic signal poles can also have reference numbers, but I’m not advocating they all get mapped!

But back to proliferating street cabinets- always communications cabinets adjacent to phone masts. Not only are they proliferating – they’re growing in size. Some are now the size of refigerators. The  collection shown here was definitely not there when I first surveyed this phone mast several years ago. The smallest one second from the left was all that was there. I guess the proliferation is down to the phenomenal growth in mobile data traffic, and possibly the sharing of masts by mobile network providers. I have seen one surrounded by 7 such cabinets! Can anyone beat that?

street cabinets

Should we bother mapping these? It’s down to individual preference I guess, OSM is not going to be deficient without them.

Perhaps when they become covered in graffiti and are transformed into tourism=artwork? The local taggers have already made a start on these.

But they are a significant physical presence and we do map other objects which are much smaller (most of which, it has to be said, are immediately useful, like benches, mailboxes, litter bins etc). I shall periodically amuse myself by adding significant clusters of these to OSM data.

The things you notice once you start surveying and editing with OSM!

Visualising Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) and OSM data

Greg Swinford has  developed some tools for visualising Food Hygiene Rating Scheme (FHRS) and OSM data, finding possible matches between it and importing useful tags into JOSM.

FHRS data is a useful source of postcodes and addresses, and it can also be a helpful reminder of local establishments to add to the map. The tools will  help us to efficiently add and verify data in our local areas (rather than importing large amounts of data automatically).

FHRS is a central government scheme run by the The Food Standards Agency: the inspections are carried out by local authorities.The food hygiene rating or inspection result given to a business reflects the standards of food hygiene found on the date of inspection or visit by the local authority. The food hygiene rating is not a guide to food quality.

Greg has  created a set of maps (one per OS Boundary Line district) for the West Midlands and uploaded them here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/42978572/FHRS%20West%20Midlands/index.html <https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/42978572/FHRS%20West%20Midlands/index.html>.

Greg doesn’t have the time or computing resources to update the data very regularly or to widen the geographical area beyond the West Midlands, but the code is freely available at http://github.com/gregrs-uk/python-fhrs-osm <http://github.com/gregrs-uk/python-fhrs-osm> if anyone would like to use it.

The tools are a fantastic resource, enabling you to find estbalishments that haven’t been mapped and also for adding addresses and postcodes for thos that have already been mapped

FHRS 1 When you click on a POI you get the FHRS data:


Summer Programme

posted in: Mapping Party, Participate | 1

To take advantage of the good weather and light evenings during the summer months we tour around the region mapping areas which look either interesting or not well-mapped.

So far this year we have visited Stratford-upon-Avon where we attempted to map all the tourist accommodation (it is the 400th annivarsary of Shakespeare’s death and this town is a global tourist destination). The ongoing project is to map all the buildings – help appreciated!

Last week saw us in Atherstone where our mapping effort was eclectic to say the least

We have mapped out the remainder of the venues:

June will be Kidderminster on a Saturday ( pub & date tbc)

July will be Tamworth Wed July 6th (Globe Inn, Lower Gungate)

August is the 10th anniversary of mappamercia so we’re going to map as much of WR10 as possible, centred on Pershore (pub & date tbc)

September will be somewhere in Herefordshire (some input from mappers in Herefordshire appreciated – given the distance involved for most attendees this will probably be a Saturday too)

Unusual Objects – an occasional series

posted in: Uncategorized | 3

Whilst surveying to collect data your day might be enlivened by spotting something out of the ordinary which might be of some interest or amusement to fellow mappers.  (Sharing with family or friends usually just confirms their view of your strangeness!)

So here’s one I spotted in North Birmingham

Dovedale Road Perry CommonWhy is this unusual? British pillar boxes (post boxes for depositing mail for non-UK readers) are usually painted bright red which has given rise to the generic marketing name of “Pillar Box Red” for pigments in a wide range of consumer goods.

Why this one is painted pink and who painted it are mysteries.

I know of only two other colour variants for Royal Mail pillar boxes:

The first is gold for some pillar boxes to celebrate the London 2012 Olympics ( are they all mapped in OSM I wonder?)

The second are the ones painted green in Ireland after independence (are they still there, or have they been replaced in a wave of modernisation?)


“Real Time Mapping” – an update

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

Birmingham City Council is now well into its project to convert many of its streets to a 20 mph speed limit (see previous blog here). We’re receiving regular weekly updates as to what work will be completed in the current week and what work is planned for the upcoming week. These are in fact the internal reports used by the City Council Cabinet to review progress. So, every Friday the map gets updated with new 20 mph maxspeed tags. This map shows which roads have been updated by the contractors. So far we have added 3 weeks’ worth of work

Not quite “real-time” but a significant first step in showing how organisations can use OpenStreetMap to create dynamic up-to-date maps. Thanks are due to Birmingham City Council’s staff in trying something new and co-operating with us.

Towards a real-time map?

posted in: Map Improvements | 1

Birmingham City Council has started rolling out a speed limit reduction on many residential roads and in some local centres to 20mph. This presents a great opportunity for local OpenStreetMap mappers to demonstrate the power of OpenStreetMap in keeping pace with the speed limit reduction programme as it progresses.

Phase 1 covers parts of central, south and east Birmingham. The scheme will install signs and lines only – no new traffic calming (e.g. speed bumps) will be introduced as part of this scheme. Road signs and markings will be installed from December 2015 to March 2016 and the speed limit will come into effect once works are complete.

20mph is part of a broader package of measures aimed to give people, especially children, more confidence to walk and cycle. Over the next 5 years the Council intends to put 20mph speed limits on 90% of Birmingham’s roads. Most main roads will keep their existing 30mph or 40mph speed limits.

20 mph zones are starting to be rolled out across Birmingham and we are keeping OpenStreetMap up to date.

According to Council consultation in the areas covered, 49 per cent of people were in favour of 20mph limits and 35 per cent opposed. Council data show that the minor roads (mainly residential) in this particular scheme were the location for 508 casualties, including 68 deaths or serious injuries between 2011 and 2013. That is roughly one casualty every two days.

OpenStreetMap locally has worked with Birmingham City Council Transportation over the past year to understand how we could achieve a “realtime mapping” of the changes.

The Council estimate related annual costs from injuries, hospital and ambulance services, would reduce by up to £870,000. The total cost is £1.025m, with almost 80 per cent coming from a Department for Transport grant to encourage cycling.

OpenStreetMap locally has worked with Birmingham City Council Transportation over the past year to understand how we could achieve a “realtime mapping” of the changes. They have provided a suitable opendata shapefile of all the roads affected and we have access to weekly project reports on works scheduled and completed, so we should be able to reflect the changes as they take place. Not quite “realtime” but a huge step towards it. It’s taken a deal of persistence on our part, but once we secured some internal sponsors, things moved forward consistently.

We’re still to decide how best to display all this but we have a map of the project’s scope and will also be using ITOWorld’s speed limit map.

Although the Traffic Regulation Order enacting the new legal speed limit doesn’t come into force until the project is completed, the signs will be visible. On the basis that we map what is visible we will be adding 20mph tags as work progresses. Whilst we’ll be reliant largely on progress reports from the Council, there are sure to be some sightings as we move around the affected areas.

2016 first quarterly project: schools

Happy New Year! (and Happy New Mapping Year!) The first Quarterly Project for 2016 is now under way and is Schools. There are really two strands to this project.

The first is to remotely (armchai)r map and get an increase in coverage of the number of schools

The latest government data is for January 2012 which shows 24,372 schools in England (including nursery schools, state-funded primary schools, state-funded secondary schools, special schools, pupil referral units and independent schools.)

For Wales that data is from January 2015 : 13 Nursery Schools; 1,330 primary schools;6 middle schools;207 secondary schools;and 37 special schools.

For Scotland data is from September2011 and shows 2,553 pre-schools, 2,081 primary schools, 367 secondary schools and 158 special schools.

For Northern Ireland data is from October 2015 and shows 96 nursery schools; 827 primary schools; 202 secondary schools and 39 special schools. Additionally there are 14 independent schools and 1 hospital school.

That gives a total of 32,318 schools. Taginfo shows 27,191 schools which is 84.1% coverage in OSM. However 6,348 are represented as nodes only. It would be great to have these as polygons and associated buildings. It would also be great to have close to 100% coverage.

This data comes from a cursory web search. If anyone has better or newer data, it’s welcome.

Schools can be remotely mapped (armchair mapping) by using Ordnance Survey OpenData StreetView(OSSV) data where school buildings are individually identified (but not always named). This data needs to be cross-checked with Bing aerial imagery which can often show OSSV schools as either having been demolished with a resultant brownfield site or housing redevelopment, or with buildings having been demolished and rebuilt in a new configuration. Often where a school site has ceased to exist, a completely new school site has been constructed nearby.

The second strand is for those who prefer surveying: existing school names change (e.g change to Academy Status, amalgamations); there will schools in OSM with no name, and with the advent of free schools, new ones will be appearing constantly.

So there’s plenty to do over the next few months!

There’s a progress table already established. You’ll need to access the sheet marked Schools.

Birmingham New Street Station

Surveying and editing the new  mainline multilevel station in Birmingham proved to be a mapping challenge; involving as it did keeping a lot of the existing edits, modifying most of them and then layering on the new developments. Very similar in mapping terms  to the physical work in actually renovating the stations whilst keeping it running.

The mapping is complete apart from a few pernickety errors, omissions and problems like the late completions of the taxi rank to the South of the station and the Metro Station to the North. The main improvement needed is  smoothing the curves of the platforms and  tracks. Getting them aligned to the lifts, escalators and stairs from the concourse above was bad enough!

One thing I haven’t been able to address is the  goods delivery access to the shopping mall above the station. Previously there was a service road on the roof  for delivery which was accessed via the ramp to the multistorey car park, but most of the roof is now a huge glassed dome. If anyone knows how it’s done please let me know.

The rendering limitations of OpenStreetMap meant some compromises were in order: mainly the prominence given to the pedestrian way for the Grand Central shopping mall as opposed to the pedestrian concourse underneath for the station concourse. Tagging the mall pedestrian ways as bridges was a possibility but that was really too much mapping for the renderer and not what’s on the ground.

To rectify this inability to render multiple layers, I thought I’d produce some floor plans of each level, selecting in JOSM layers various tagged levels. They’re only screenshots from JOSM as my  mapping skills don’t extend to taking the data and rendering as a map- and it would just take too long to learn. If anyone else wants to have a go then please feel free! I’ve produced two versions of each, one with a dark background and one with a light background. I have done some post-editing to make the concourse more prominent rather than relying solely on the footways in the original OSM data. The plans  may prove to be more useful separated like this than trying to interpret the complexity of the standard OSM map.

First New Street Station Concourse (at level 0)

New Street Station Concourse 4 New Street Station Concourse 3

Next the platforms underneath (at level -1)

New Street platforms 2New Street Platforms 1

Grand Central shopping mall (above the Concourse at Level 1)

Grand Central 2 Grand Central 1

And finally Level 2

New Street Sation Level 2 2 New Street Station Level 2

Some of these plans might make it to our mappa-mercia maps section, as a regional resource.

A few suggestions for improvements  in rendering complex public buildings like this:

  1. Display an icon and name for the entrances
  2. Display an icon for emergency exits
  3. Differentiate rendering for stairs and escalators
  4. Show direction of travel for escalators and stairs
  5. Display an icon for ticket barriers (turnstiles)
  6. Tagging schema for internal concourses and thoroughfares (maybe just add indoors=yes to highway=pedestrian and area=yes)
  7.  Opacity differentiation for multiple concourse/thoroughfare levels (even  just two would be useful)
  8. Specifically for railway stations – get the platform rendering to behave as if it understood OSM layers!

And apologies to anyone involved in indoor mapping – I found the documentation just too complex and confusing, but I’d like to learn. If anyone can review the data and demonstrate how to make a complete 3-D multilayer model I’d be very appreciative.

Birmingham New Street Station re-opens

posted in: Map Improvements | 2

20 September saw the re-opening of Birmingham’s New Street Station after 5 years of redevelopment costing £750m. The  project involved the demolition of Stephenson Tower, a residential tower block; and the removal of 6,000 tonnes of concrete in order to increase the station’s capacity; whilst keeping the station undernaeath operational. A new shopping mall, Grand Central, was also constucted on top of the station, with John Lewis as the flagship tenant. Grand Central is due to open 24 September. A new metro line from Snow Hill station to New Street station is also underway and scheduled to open at the end of October.

New St 4

  • 170,000 passengers a day use Birmingham New Street, nearly triple the 60,000 a day it was designed for when it was last rebuilt in the 1960s
  • The new station can now handle 300,000 passengers per day
  • New Street is the busiest station outside London, with a train leaving every 37 seconds
  • 36 new escalators and 15 lifts, serving every platform, have been installed
  • About 60% of rainwater “harvested” from the new-look building’s facade will be used to flush the station’s toilets
  • About 1,000 workers were on site, 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the five-year revamp – increasing to 3,500 in its final months

Source: Network Rail

New St 2

Needless to say OpenStreetMap was there on opening day and our map is now updated to show the new layout as far as pedestrian entrances and approaches is concerned. But there’s lots more to do yet. And the contractors (as always) haven’t quite finished so some detail can’t be mapped yet.

New Street station has a complex layout which will challenge us in representing its multiple layers.

Starting from the bottom layer we have

1.railway lines and platforms

2.Station concourse

(multiple lifts,stairs and escalators joining 1 and 2 above)

3.Shopping mall

(multiple lifts,stairs and escalators joining 2 and 3 above)

4. Car Park

In addition there is a 10 storey office block on part of the building and the North and South entrances are at different levels.

New St Atrium 2

So we need to do some head scratching and planning to get it right: so PLEASE can  non-local mappers  offer your advice  and not just enthusiastically start adding multiple POIs and footways otherwise we’ll end up with an undecipherable jumble.

There’ll be a discussion thread up soon on talkgb where contributions can be planned. Help from public transport, railway and 3D mappers will be greatly appreciated.

New St Atrium3  New St Atrium 1

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