Mapping a New Town being developed on a vanished national landmark

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

It’s not often you get the opportunity to map a completely new town from the ground up, so mappa-mercia volunteers (all four of us)  descended on Houlton, next door to Rugby Warwickshire to do just that on a wet Saturday 1st December. Houlton is the name for a new town of 6,200  homes that is growing on the site of the decommissioned Rugby Radio Station, whose large antenna masts were long a major landmark on the journey north and south along the M1 motorway. Houlton had been marked as a construction site for some time in OpenStreetMap, but a trawl of local news sites suggested it was fast being developed with residents  already moving in – so time for some mapping action!

Its name mirrors the name of Houlton Maine USA , originally the other end of the transatlantic radio telephony and telegraphy circuit which received the very first transatlantic voice broadcast from Rugby Radio Station in 1927.

First opened by the General Post Office  in 1926, at its height in the 1950s it was the largest radio transmitting station in the world, with a total of 57 radio transmitters, a network of  820ft masts, 27 miles of copper cable in the suspended antennae covering an area of 1600 acres.

It used so many water cooled valves  that two reservoirs each with a capacity of about quarter of a million gallons of water were necessary  to feed a  heat exchange system.

Rugby set vast numbers of radio-controlled clocks in Britain  with the National Physical Laboratory’s time signal -but its strategic significance was the use of VLF transmissions to communicate with Britain’s submarine fleet

Technology marches on however and its functions were transferred elsewhere in the early years of the 21st Century and the station’s physical infrastructure dismantled. All that remains is ‘C’ building which is a protected heritage building and will form the nucleus of a new commercial town centre.

So big is the development that it will take almost 20 years to complete and is involving multiple development and finance partners. We spotted at least three development groups constructing houses on the site. There’s already a new primary school on site, together with  a community centre, visitor centre and an excellent restaurant – the Tuning Fork – named after an essential frequency tool.

In fact to walk round the completed section of the town  recording street names is to walk through a historical gallery of names famous in the development of radio: Marconi Close (naturally), Maxwell Road (naturally),  Walmsley  Road(senior Post Office engineer), Hughes Drive (inventor of the microphone and the printing telegraph),  Angwin Avenue (senior Post Office Engineer and first Chairman of Cable &Wireless),  Faulkner Road (senior Post Office engineer), Shaughnessey Way (senior Post Office engineer)

We decided to survey in a team rather than individually – it was less efficient but more sociable. We discussed and agreed as we went round that it was better to tag Houlton as a separate town rather than a suburb of Rugby (no objective criteria- it just felt right) and it enabled Rob to explain the  structure of the electricity distribution network. It also enabled us to establish the restaurant as excellent as we had to retreat there mid-morning to escape the cold drizzle and sample their coffee and cake!

The site is well-provisioned with cycle paths and what will become a network of footpaths along linear parks. What we didn’t see were any bus stops so it’s either going to be a car-centric development or there are just not enough occupied homes yet to make it worthwhile to run any bus services.  It was tempting to walk past the open barriers on what was a slack working day to explore more of the road network that is under construction, but we thought it would be prudent to observe the safety warnings- maybe at a later date  we can gain permission to survey beyond completed sections.

There’s another large infrastructure project underway, adjacent to Houlton, across the A5 trunk road with a massive expansion of the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal.

Judging by the number of nearly finished homes, the site will be changing rapidly so we’ll be revisiting at regular intervals to map the progress of the new town. in the meantime anyone who’s passing and can map will save us work and further demonstrate the power of crowd-sourced mapping  to keep a map up-to-date.

UK Defibrillator Map

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Over the last few days there has been significant national press attention to a project to create a map of the locations  of public defibrillators. The project is a collaboration between the British Heart Foundation , Microsoft and the NHS.  One of the pilot areas will be the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

OpenStreetMap already has a large database of the locations of these devices, and in fact devoted one of our UK Quarterly Projects to the theme. Of course there is a map to visualise the data. There is also a useful set of tools and information to help mappers

Taginfo returns a total of 1765 defibrillators mapped in the UK in OpenStreetMap

We sincerely hope the the project speeds its delivery by building on our data and using OpenStreetMap’s crowdsourcing network of volunteer mappers.

Joy Diversion: Mapping in Manchester

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Saturday 19th May saw the UK OpenStreetMap community and Open Data Manchester join forces for an afternoon of exploring central Manchester. Several mappers from the Midlands made the trip and boy, did we have fun!

Our hosts had prepared some great “Explorer Backpacks” and we soon broke off in to teams for our expeditions into the unknown. From the waterways to historic relics, the missions were wide ranging – we even had a Geiger counter on hand to find the spot with the highest background radiation!

After soaking up the sun we headed back to Federation House to share our findings before heading for a well earned drink.

Dan S: It was ace, in particular the slightly whimsical mapping trip we did, following psychogeographic suggestions prepared by the Joy Diversion organisers. That was a good way to get new mappers and experienced mappers working together on an equal footing.

Samantha: I really enjoyed the event on Saturday. I’d love to get out and about around Manchester and learn more about the city in general. If anyone else is local and wants to go exploring, to add to the map or otherwise please let me know.

Tony Shield: Really enjoyed the ability to meet like minded people and get a deeper understanding of the OSM project. Going out and surveying then placing the information on the map was great. Seeing some of the uses the data could be used for was really interesting.

Martyn: Joy Diversion was a great afternoon, I’ve just updated OSM with the Team Crocodile survey (cycle and car parking, playgrounds, water taxi, footpaths and more). Keep on improving the map.

A big success then! Partnering with Open Data Manchester worked really well. Nice folk and a good opportunity to spread the word about OSM without having to arrange a venue and drum up attendees from scratch.

Post content: OpenStreetMap United Kingdom CIC (with minor amends). Local mappers Brian and Rob are Directors of the community interest company, which focuses on supporting OSM in the UK.

The streets they are changing

posted in: Uncategorized | 2

The streets they are a changing

 

The view along our streets is about to change thanks to the mobile phone and OSM mappers are presented with a vast new challenge.

BT are scrapping half of the 40,000 phoneboxes on our streets over the next five years, citing  a drastic drop in useage.  One third of phoneboxes never have anyone make a call from them, and BT measure call volume from all kiosks at a mere 33,000 a day. Phonebox numbers reached their peak in 1992, when there were 92,000 of them.

Reducing the estate  will save BT £6m a year in maintenance, mostly repairing vandalism and removing graffiti. More than half of phoneboxes lose money and the number of calls is declining by more than 20% per year. However, phoneboxes are still used by people who can’t afford mobile phones, and in emergencies when mobile phone batteries are dead or there is poor mobile phone coverage ( in many rural and mountainous areas)

7,000 of the  phoneboxes are the  world-famous red phone boxes designed in the 1930s by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed  Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, and Bankside Power Station (now the Tate Modern).

Many of the red phoneboxes which have already been decommissioned have been re-purposed  as mini-libraries and art galleries or to house defibrillation machines, information centres, shops or exhibitions.  About 2,400 are preserved by Historic England as Grade II listed buildings.

The rules of the government regulator Ofcom govern  how BT may remove phoneboxes, and addionally there may be planning regulations from local authorities to satisfy. If there are two kiosks within 400m walking distance of a site, BT is allowed to remove one, as long as there is one left. But if BT seeks to remove the only phone booth on a site, it must inform the public and consult with the local authority which has 90 days to object, which is known as a local veto.

According to taginfo data there are 18,000 phoneboxes (amenity=telephone) in the UK, so we’ve managed to map about 50% of them, taking 14 years to do so. So our data is set to degrade over 5 years as the estate shrinks and we need to keep up to date with which ones are being removed (and also of course to map those that are missing!)

To add to the scale of the challenge  1,000 phoneboxes will be replaced in major UK cities by  new structures called Inlinks from InLinkUK. Each InLink provides ultrafast, free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging and a tablet for access to city services, maps and directions.

The services are free because they’re financed by large digital screen advertising on the structures.

As well as the challenge of locating and mapping these structures is the tagging challenge. Which or all of these?

amenity=telephone

wifi=free

internet_access=wlan

advertising=screen

amenity= device_charging_station

tourism=information

Inlinks have been rolled out already in London and Leeds, and are scheduled for Birmingham in 2018. If you want to find the locations they’ve been provided here by InLink. Because they’re provided using Google Maps the data is useless for OSM except for using as a guide to go out and map them. So I asked BT, via  Business Development, if they could provide me data that would be suitable for adding to OSM. Here’s the  astonishing answer:

” Have heard back from the InLink (and payphone) team and they have a policy position – which is they don’t share locations of either Payphones or InLinks with mapping organisations as it would then make it easy for vandals and criminals  to determine the location of our estate and conduct attacks against it.”

Quite frankly this is a ludicrous position worthy of the fifteenth century when maps were regarded as military secrets.

Firstly, it’s discriminatory. Do they know they’ve already published an online map of Inlinks? Do they know that for several decades Ordnance Survey have published paper maps showing the location of phoneboxes in mountainous areas for emergency purposes?  Do they know that many local authorities publish online map service using Ordnance Survey data that locates every phonebox with the acronym TCB (for Telephone Coin Box)? Quite where this stands under competition laws is an interesting point, but way beyond our pockets to explore.

Secondly, it’s hardly a great method for letting potential customers know where to access the services.

Thirdly, what’s the profile of your average vandal? Someone who  is a node on the globalised corporate network and uses online resources and data  tools to ensure they optimise available resources for their campaign of  vandalism?  Why waste time wandering about looking for targets and forfeiting valuable vandalising time? Why waste valuable time going out to vandalise something that’s already been done by a rival crew? Or is it some antisocial human node with who-knows-what chemicals coursing through their brain, opportunistically trashing their local community because they’ve got neither the desire or means to travel.

I suggest BT planners look beyond the sphere of their corporate bubble with its group-think managementspeak and bring some appreciation of the real world (aka commonsense) to bear.

BT are now promoted to mappa-mercia’s Hall of Shame, along with West Midlands Fire Service and Severn Trent Water for refusing to provide data on the spurious grounds of protecting publicly visible infrastructure  against attack.

 

 

 

Tracking our progress mapping petrol stations

posted in: Uncategorized | 2

When we did the highly successful quarterly project to map schools we tracked the progress using a script that collated data on a daily basis from TagInfo UK. This enables us to see how we are getting on, both in terms of total features mapped, but also the split between nodes, ways and relations. We can then produce charts like the one for schools shown below.

UK Schools mapped in OpenStreetMap

 

This script was also used on the following quarterly projects up to the end of Q1 2017. Unfortunately I failed to set it up for the following quarterly projects, and worse still, failed to notice that the script stopped running in May 2017. It looks like the reason behind this was a change in the server that we are hosted on causing a 32bit vs 64bit error – but I’m no expert!

The important thing is that I have it up and running again and have added tracking for petrol stations. You can view the data by following this link.

Birmingham is the Bus Stop Capital of Europe

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

The city has more bus stops per kilometre than any other city in Western Europe according to an article published in the Birmingham Post.

The revelation comes from a press release issued by Transport for West Midlands which is responding to passenger criticism of  its recent decision to suspend 60 bus stops on major bus routes in a bid to speed up bus journey times.

There are more than THIRTEEN bus stops per kilometre in Birmingham, which  compares to  to three-and-a-half in Barcelona, two-and-a-half in Paris and less than one per kilometre in Berlin.

The three leaders according to the data presented are Birmingham (13.5), London (12.6), Manchester (9.9). Budapest is the closest European city, with just over eight.

It does have to be said that Birmingham and the West Midlands suffer  in comparison to other European cities from not having complementary rapid transit systems such as metro lines and tram lines (there is only one surface metro line in the West Midlands). Our main means of “rapid” transit remains buses which is probably why there’s such a large density of bus stops. Culling the number is an attempt to return the description “rapid” to our transit system which has to compete with the congestion from cars.

 

Massive Release of Highways Asset Data in Birmingham

posted in: Uncategorized | 1

This month Amey released a number of  open datasets to Birmingham City Council, which has published them on its Data Factory site under an OGL licence

Amey maintains Birmingham’s highways under a 25 year Highways Maintenance and Management Service, which is Europe’s largest local government highways partnership.

It covers 2,500km of roads, 4,200km of footways, 95,000 street lights, 76,000 street trees, around 1,100 traffic light signals and over 1,000 bridges, tunnels and highways structures. Winter services involve gritting 1,200km of road every night during freezing weather, maintaining 1,265 grit bins and treating priority pavements in icy conditions.

The datasets cover: trees, traffic signals, streetlights and gullies (points where surface water drains off the highways) as at December 2016

The tree dataset seemed the most interesting to us, especially with relation to other datasets for air pollution that are being generated. A review of the data showed its positional accuracy to be pretty good: none of us have specialist knowledge about tree species so we are accepting the accuracy of Amey’s data.  Amey’s data contains details of the species, estimated age and shape of the trees as well as other identifiers.

Currently we’re engaged in importing the tree dataset which we’re doing on an area basis so that we can do a human review and delete existing trees which have been added from various aerial imagery sets. One of the benefits of  this method is to eliminate trees in the Amey dataset that are identified as “assets to be de-accrued” – these refer to trees that have been removed either because of highway improvements, storm damage, disease or safety.

It’s a great shame to pass a highway junction where you’ve just imported the trees to see the tree surgeons at work felling them all in preparation for a junction improvement!

We have of course raised with the Amey the question of how the dataset is to be maintained as open data. It would be such a shame for our hard work and their welcome initiative to degrade over time because there is no mechanism for updates of additions and deletions.

We’re not sure yet what to do with the other data. The traffic signal data is probably the next most interesting. We’ve taken a brief look at this and our current thinking is to import the data as untagged nodes and gradually manually transfer the UIDs to adjacent traffic signals, deleting the imported node. We’re pretty confident that with previous work we’ve done in collaboration with Birmingham City Council we’ve captured most of the traffic signals; and any way trees are going to keep us occupied for a few weeks.

We’ll keep you posted.

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:

FHRS 2

End of our JOSM paint styles

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Several years ago we created JOSM paint styles to help with the task of mapping gritting routes. The styles made it easier to identify which roads had the gritting tag.

The recent versions of JOSM have changed the requirements of these style plugins therefore breaking our code. If you still use the style you will see the following message that gives the reasoning and how to fix the problem. The style plugin would need to be updated to the latest MapCCS code.

Warning

This applies to both our josm-style.xml and josm-preset.xml code. Currently we have no plans to update these style plugins to the latest MapCCS code, however we welcome support from others to complete this update. If someone can come forward we will upload the new code so the functionality continues to work. For now, to prevent the warning message popping up each time you start JOSM, simply go to “View -> Map paint styles -> Map paint preferences” and delete “Winter Gritting” and “Winter Gritting2”.

We apologise for any inconvenience this causes.

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?)

 

1 2 3