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

August 2015 monthly meeting

posted in: Mapping Party | 1

This will take place in Rugby, with the usual format of early evening mapping followed by food and beer and chat in a local pub. We usually gather in the pub for about 8pm but depending on weather and how hungry we are, some people get there early and some later.

Regent Street with St Andrews Church, Rugby
Regent Street with St Andrews Church, Rugby

Date: Wednesday August 5th 2015

Venue:  Bacco Lounge

There’s no shortage of stuff to map in Rugby. Let us know where you intend to map either by comment here or on the talk-gbwestmidlands mailing list

The Current Situation

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

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

A visit to view one of the Sheldon Tapestry Maps

posted in: Observations | 1

Friday saw me on a family visit to Oxford to view the Sheldon Tapestry Map of Worcestershire hanging in the Weston Library (part of the Bodleian Library). It is a magnificent spectacle, being woven in silk and wool, and standing some 4m tall by 6m wide. Although it is assumed that it was woven in Warwickshire at Barcheston, current research throws doubt on this.

The Bodleian Library Map Room is the second largest in the UK and is one of the world’s top ten map collections – so it’s a must-visit for any map  lover.

The tapestry on display is one of  four tapestry-woven maps commissioned in the sixteenth century by Ralph Sheldon, a prominent Midlands landowner, based on the county surveys of Christopher Saxton. Each  tapestry illustrates one of the counties of  Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.  They would have formed a panoramic view of Sheldon’s land when hung in his home in Weston near Long Compton, Warwickshire. The maps are an  important stage in the evolution of cartography.

This tapestry survives in parts only: in fact the only complete one is that of Warwickshire which hangs in the Market Hall Museum in Warwick. You can see what was involved in restoring the tapestry here.

There is an intriguing reference to  an area “whych was dryven downe by the removying of the land” close to a placename of The Worldes End.  The Guardian had a good piece about the tapestry , although the mystery of the “removying of the ground” seems to have been solved – apparently it was a massive landslide.


If  you want an in-depth view of the tapestries see this scholarly article.

It’s good to know that mappa mercia is following an ancient tradition of local map-making although I don’t think OpenStreetMap will ever come close to the beauty and craft of the Sheldon Tapestry Maps.

June meetup

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

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.

OSM UK Quarterly Project No 2 “All things delivery-related”: an update

It’s now May and the project is a month old and with two months to go, it’s time for an update.

Robert Whittaker has an excellent site monitoring OSM data on postboxes in the UK. Here you can see progress (even a league table of who’s contributing). From the history graph you can see there’s been an increase in activity since the project got going. Perhaps Robert might provide some data analysis about the effect of the project.

Enter a postcode and you can find all the missing and incorrect postboxes nearby. I was amazed at just how many were missing in the areas I map regularly: a great incentive to revisit all kinds of places. In doing so I discovered one of those rarities: an EVIIIR royal cypher(OSM node 448635608).

(For non-UK readers King Edward VIII was only on the throne for about 11 months in 1936 before abdicating so there are only about 130 postboxes bearing the royal cypher EVIIIR, these being the ones installed during those 11 months)

How many of these are actually recorded in OSM? It would make a great treasure hunt for the rest of the project. From web research I think there are only 2 in Birmingham so my job’s done.

I’ve been unable to track down some of the indoor postboxes – two in particular are indicated in Sainsbury’s supermarkets near me, but neither exists. This led me to wonder whether Sainsbury’s had some kind of agreement with Royal Mail which didn’t work out so they were removed. But you can’t build a hypothesis on two pieces of data! Does anyone have any knowledge of this? Or replicate my findings?

In the West Midlands we’ve had some fun trying to locate the Coventry ParcelForce depot which is NOT where Google thinks it is. It moved over two years ago and is now mapped in OSM . Thanks must go to our local sleuth: spiffymapper.

Parcel Lockers are poorly mapped – only 8 existed in OSM for the UK at the start of the project. Now there are 11 . It turns out that one of the operators, ByBox, has its national distribution centre in Coventry so time for spiffymapper to get his sleuthing shoes on again!

Any other stories on what folk have been up to on this project are welcome.