Unusual Objects – an occasional series

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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?)


“Night School” status report

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Yesterday the mapping community in the UK held an online “Night School” mapathon to hep map schools. So how did we get on?

We did it! Yesterday we set the record for the highest number of edits to amenity=school features in the UK. Between us we edited 405 schools beating our previous high from 18th January.

Looking at the detail we created 202 new school polygons (a 33% increase on our previous daily best) and modified 191 ways. The other edits (12) were to nodes.

We are now at 75.5% of all UK schools mapped as ways (according to Robert W’s fantastic progress tool). This is up from just 62.8% when we started this task at the start of January. All but 10 postcode areas are above 50% complete. When we started there was 30 below 50% (8 below 40%). At the top end we have 24 postcode areas 95+ percent complete. Compared to zero when we started!

A total of 38 people edited during the day – again, another record! And the edits of those who used the #OSMschools comment in their changesets can been seen here.

Thanks for the amazing effort today. I hope the MapRoulette task is proving popular and will encourage more edits in the least loved parts of the UK OSM map.

Who’s involved? Edits to OpenStreetMap

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We have many ways to follow the progress of the fifth quarterly project – schools. One such method is to look at the changesets that include the comment “‘#OSMSchools”. We can visualise these as a map, or in this case by a simple total of the changesets completed per user.

As the list has now grown to over 40 people, I am posting it here rather than on the wiki. There are of course other ways to see who is involved, including the school edit tracker provided by Harry. This counts edits to features tagged “amenity=school” therefore getting round the problem of needing to include #OSMSchools in the changeset comment. Where a changeset can include any number of school edits, Harry’s tool counts each on individually.

Please continue to use #OSMSchools in your changeset comments. I will update the wiki to link to this post and to retain user comments (e.g. where you are mapping, how you are helping).

Username Changesets
brianboru 277
ecatmur 276
EdLoach 191
lsces 165
Hobgoblin 164
southglos 159
RAC_UK 111
bogzab 110
Yorvik Prestigitator 84
sdoerr 81
Gregory Williams 77
Mark_S 57
LollyMay 53
SpillerC 50
Fledge 48
ACM 45
trigpoint 44
blackadder 40
Portree Kid 36
lakedistrict 30
DaveF 29
GinaroZ 29
sjreynolds143 29
robbieonsea 19
Jez Nicholson 13
RobJN 13
SK53 12
will_p 8
LivingWithDragons 6
The Maarssen Mapper 6
Tom Chance 6
RAytoun 4
seumas 4
BCNorwich 2
Chris Fleming 2
JonS 2
jpsa 2
mcld 2
fitzsimons 1
ndm 1
Richard 1
Total Result 2289

“Real Time Mapping” – an update

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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.

Kirkcaldy postcode leads the way

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It has been amazing to see the level of activity for the fifth OpenStreetMap UK quarterly project – schools. So far nearly 300 schools have been mapped or improved by 22 people. The Kirkcaldy postal area – KY – leads the way with over 30 schools mapped.

At just 10 days in, the community of mappers have:

  • created a number of amazing tools to help identify missing or incorrectly mapped schools;
  • agreed on new tags to allow us to reference the English Edubase and Scottish Executive Education Department data; and
  • made massive progress on mapping.

So which area is leading the rest? Based on Robert W’s comparison tool, here are the top 10 most improved postal areas. This is measured by the increase in OpenStreetMap objects that “match” the government data between 2016-01-05 and 2016-01-10. Other measures are of course possible and may show a different picture.

KY leads the way in our list of top 10 most improved regions.
KY leads the way in our list of top 10 most improved regions.

Well done to the Kirkcaldy postcode area, KY, for heading up our leadership board. Great work!

There is still plenty of time to get involved with adding schools to OpenStreetMap, the worlds largest crowd-sourced and most up to date map. A list of useful resources can be found here. Not sure how to map? No worries. Check out our tutorials, get in contact with us, or if you are in the West Midlands why not pop along to our next social and find out how.


Improve OSM – Traffic flow direction

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At the end of October Telenav released a tool to help identify incorrectly tagged, or missing, one way streets in OpenStreetMap. The tool makes use of the data they collect through their Scout Navigation app and compares this against OpenStreetMap data. If the scout data shows that drivers only travel in one direction down a street it the tool checks for a corresponding oneway=yes tag in OpenStreetMap. If it doesn’t find it then it flags up a potential error.

The potential errors can be viewed at the Improve OSM website, but the best way to use it is with the “trafficFlowDirection” plugin for the JOSM map editor:

  • Download the “trafficFlowDirection” plugin for JOSM.
  • After restarting JOSM add the Bing background via the Imagery menu. The Traffic Flow Direction layer should add itself to the list of visible layers automatically.
  • Zoom to a potential oneway error as identified by the orange circles (when zoomed out) and the orange arrows (when zoomed in).
  • Download and fix the OpenStreetMap data if appropriate.
  • So others know the error has been fixed (or marked as invalid if appropriate) mark the issue as Closed (or Invalid). Do this by first making the TrafficFlowDirection layer active and selecting the issue you just solved:activate

    Then click the green lock in the plugin panel, add a comment, and close the issue.

  • Don’t forget to upload the improved OpenStreetMap data when you have finished.

Full instructions can be found here.

The Current Situation

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The Current Situation is a collection of work by artist Yara el-Sherbini, whose centrepiece is an interactive sculpture of a map of the world. It is large, 7.8m wide and 3.5m high with steps leading up to the rear. I saw it at its current location in Wolverhampton Art Gallery. I popped in whilst I was surveying some listed buildings (heritage buildings for readers not in the UK).

The work is an impressive sculpture but its true nature is not revealed until the audience engages with it. As you can see from the picture it emulates a children’s game where you have to trace around the object with a metal implement without touching it. Here you trace around the national borders and should you touch one, red lights flash onto the sculpture, buzzers sound and the metal implement in your hand vibrates strongly. Just as in real life, navigating borders becomes a matter of tactics and skill and should you transgress the rules, alarms and shocks await you.


Again as in real life, some people participate and some watch from the sidelines. It’s only when you play that the real dynamic of conflicts, dangers and exploration becomes apparent. What if no-one plays? Then the sculpture just becomes a beautiful metal map of the world, a static monument which might be seen in many public places around the planet, representing a harmonious, static view of a united world, one that is controlled and restricted.

I found it a clever and thoughtful piece which questions the unspoken cultural components and geopolitical struggles present in a map. You can study a map and only see a small representation of its true content. As the exhibition guide says: ” El-Sherbini’s shock tactic speaks to the physical and legislative strategies used by governments to reinforce and control their borders: from walls, barbed wire, electrical fences, manned and unmanned surveillance, to visa restrictions and immigration curbs.”

The collection is on tour nationally so watch out for it

June meetup

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June 4th saw us meet at the Digby pub in Water Orton after an evening of mapping footpaths, listed buildings, shops, postboxes, addresses and well, just about anything interesting we saw -but not the detective who subjected Matthias to a stop and search , as mapper behaviour of taking notes and photos was regarded as “suspicious”!

What a way for Matthias to end his stay in the UK! Good Luck Matthias back in the Netherlands and thanks for all your hard work with  mappa mercia.

We’ve also decided to setup a Facebook page as a way of reaching a new audience.

Dealing with OS Locator road name data: special cases

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This is a mini-tutorial presented as part of the UK Quarterly Project to fix road names.

There are occasions when along a long stretch of road the name changes several times. In the absence of a survey confirming that the local authority precisely defines where the name changes by placing road name signs adjacent to each other, you need some method of determining where the name changes. If you don’t have a helpful placement of road signs then a change in the house numbers is a good indication.

However, armchair mapping  can make use of the OS Locator data layer whilst editing. In the example shown, there is a stretch of road with 3 names. The geometry of the OS Locator blocks is a good indication of where the road name changes.

Long Roads in OS Locator

East Side (at the foot of the image above) shouldn’t be added because it’s already named something else in OSM and needs a ground survey, but it’s likely East Side is correct , given the nearby roads running from it, named South Side and North Side.

Hutton Bank and Rudby Bank can be named as OSM has no name for them. There’s a slight added complication that the road name seems to change in the middle of a bridge. So we can split the bridge and add the names up to where the OS Locator boxes indicate, not forgetting to add the tag source:name= OS_OpenData_Locator.

Result: one small improvement to OSM road name data.

There are occasions when the OS Locator data just throws up something that is unresolvable! Is this OS adding a sense of humour to its data? Were the staff just bored? Or is there really a road with no name called No Name Road? This has to be the special case of all special cases!

No name road

Fix that road name! Progress Report

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Well done to the folk in:

City of Leicester, Bradford, Darlington, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool, Shetland Islands, Sheffield,  Berwick upon Tweed, Rutland and Guildford

You are our leaders in our first quarterly project.

How about Liverpool, Fife, Rotherham, and Manchester, all with over 200 road name errors, getting up amongst the leaders?

A challenge to anyone with coding skills:

Can we take the data on which ITOworld work, from where  the data shown above comes, to make it personal, so we can see who is doing the editing- similar to the daily “leader board” for Irish townlands?

We have corrected 247 road names in the last week. So if we continue at this rate we should have completed another 2,223 by the end of the quarter. Let’s see if we can build on this and make a bigger dent in the task. Otherwise we’ll still have another year and a half to complete it – and that’s without the OS Locator updates adding more corrections

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