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CycleStreets blog

News from CycleStreets

Transition Black Isle embeds CycleStreets into its website to help cut one million car miles

April 8th, 2014

CycleStreets has worked with Transition Black Isle to provide an embedded cycle journey planner for their website. Peter Elbourne, project officer for the Million Miles project explains.

Million Miles logo

Transition Black Isle is a community organisation and registered charity that aims to take local action on issues relating to peak oil and climate change. The group decided to undertake a bold project to make local travel more sustainable and, in March 2012, they were awarded a grant of £195,000 from the Climate Challenge Fund. Transition Black Isle’s Million Miles project aims to cut one million car miles by 2015 by encouraging active travel, improving access to public transport and promoting greener car travel.

One of the key objectives of the Million Miles project is to create an active travel map of the Black Isle to signpost less confident cyclists along quiet off-road tracks through farmland and forests. However, the group had some significant hurdles to overcome:

  • The Black Isle is a large rural peninsula with a dispersed population, which makes gathering information about routes a time-consuming and arduous process and it is also difficult to know what journeys local residents make.
  • Active travel routes will change over time (e.g. alteration of forestry tracks, new purpose-built paths), which means that a map could be out-of-date soon after printing.

Transition Black Isle cycle journey planner

Transition Black Isle’s solution was to ‘crowdsource’ mapping data by asking local people to contribute information to the online map, OpenStreetMap. This innovative approach means that the group has access to a digital map that can continually be updated. A diverse network of contributors – including keen walkers, weekend cyclists and even remote mappers without a particular connection to the Black Isle – have been adding to the map since early 2013. Huge amounts of progress has been made and the peninsula is mapped on OpenStreetMap with valuable detail for walking and cycling, providing information such as track surface, barriers, access and bike parking.

Transition Black Isle is now looking to create a printed map to distribute locally, but a single map cannot convey all of the information that is available through OpenStreetMap. The group had been promoting CycleStreets locally as it was a great application for the information they collectively contributed to OpenStreetMap. Their experience of our bespoke lift-sharing website highland.liftshare.com demonstrated that it is important to promote an online service with a local connection, so Transition Black Isle decided to take advantage of an offer from CycleStreets to embed a version of the journey planner into their website. After a quick and hassle-free set up, cycleroutes.transitionblackisle.org went live in April 2014!

Peter Elbourne, project officer for the Million Miles project said:

“CycleStreets now fits seamlessly into our website and with the homepage map centred over the Black Isle, selecting the start and end points of a route is straightforward and you can toggle between a selection of useful background maps and aerial photography.”

“Quiet, Fastest and Balanced are the ideal categories for routes options from A to B because people using the journey planner will take different approaches to cycling: one cyclist may want to stick to the roads and get somewhere as quickly as possible and another may be happy meandering through the forests free from traffic.”

Culbokie Journey on embedded CycleStreets planner

The screenshot below shows some of the work that has been done to improve the OpenStreetMap map data in the area. Peter said:

“It’s particularly satisfying when CycleStreets routes you along a forest access road or farm track that you added to OpenStreetMap – it completes the circle!”

OSM Culbokie Apr 2013 to Jan 2014

Transition Black Isle will also ensure that their printed map heavily promotes OpenStreetMap and the new online cycle router. In a sense, the printed map will be an elaborate flyer for cycleroutes.transitionblackisle.org. There’s a lot going on in the Million Miles project – visit the page on the group’s website for more information.

Want an embedded cycle journey planner on your website? Read our page to find out more.

What do you call a path alongside a road?

November 28th, 2013

Cycle routes very often use un-named paths. These create a headache for anyone who tries to give directions to a cyclist:

“take the cycleway alonsidge this road, at a junction with two other paths turn right under the bridge, then go down a snicket on the left …”

It’s a key issue for us trying to produce intelligible itinerary listings — and even more important for our sat nav users where the names are called out!

Showing a fork in a cycle path.

“Bear right onto un-named link.”

Some examples include:

  • short links from a cul-de-sac onto one of a town’s radial routes
  • useful permeability links or short-cuts often known by colloquial phrases such as jitties or snickets
  • paths across open spaces
  • roads that begin paved but farther down revert to a track
  • bridleways
  • redways in Milton Keynes, cycleways in Stevenage
  • old railway lines that have become cycle routes (though these usually get a name)
  • short links addded to join cycle routes – often forming the hypotenuse of a triangle

Direct tagging

CycleStreets uses the street name if directly tagged in OpenStreetMap. If the name is not available any cycle route tagging from the way or any of it’s relations is checked. This results in names such as NCN51 or CS3.

Using only direct tagging still leaves an awful lot of un-named ways. As a fallback they can inherit names from the ways they join. Depending on how many joins there are we’ve used names following these patterns:

  • Link with …
  • Link between … and …
  • Link joining …, …, …

This has always been rather awkward and only slightly better than leaving them un-named. But when our sat nav apps call out such long conglomerations it sounds really painful — and something we just had to sort out!

Shared use path between Fulbourn and Cherry Hinton.

What’s a good name for the shared-use pavement cycleway between Fulbourn and Cherry Hinton?

Inferring better names

We’ve tackled this problem by using indirect data to invent more useful names. The result is that you’ll see the following phrases appearing in the street names of our itinerary listings:

‘Alley off …’

Where there’s a short un-named spur off a named way, for instance: Alley off Braithwaite Cresecent

‘… continuation’

An example is Gairbraid Avenue in Glasgow, the criteria used to identify these cases include:

  • Short: up to about 100 metres – renaming very long ways that match stretches the credibility of the idea
  • Only has two joints
  • Continuations of ways join to only one other way at one end
  • Cases where the joins at both ends are more complex are ignored.

‘… Blind Alley’

Like continuations but have connections only at one end, Canberra Close for example

‘Alongside …’

Some very useful cycle routes often run alongside roads, and are also often un-named in OpenStreetMap. We detect these cases by checking that the name of the nearest road at several points along the length of the cycleway. If the same name matches at least 70% of the length then the cycleway inherits the name of the road by being prefixed with ‘Alongside’. As an added bonus, we added a little easter egg relating to road names with ‘Drive’ in them.

A good example of the alongside names are shown in this route and this one.

Other names

The techniques above result in more sensible names for many tens of thousands of ways in the British Isles. We use some more techniques for fixing names across open spaces and inferring names of very short links between named ways.

As a general principle we try to make best use of what data there already is in OSM rather than suggest new rules about how it should be used. But in doing this work we’ve noticed that some ways drawn in OSM carry on round the corner to run alongside differently named roads. Such cases won’t inherit the ‘Alongside …’ name because of the 70% quality threshold. To fix that those ways should be split at the corner. We did split the long cycleway between Cherry Hinton and Fulbourn at the point where the adjacent road changed its name.

The second street named in this route shows that we’ve still got a way to go to cover more cases for choosing better names, but as ever this work is ongoing.

Latest update to CycleStreets for Windows Phone

October 17th, 2013

The latest update to CycleStreets for Windows Phone is now available.

We’ve done some significant work on improving the user interface for plotting routes in the directions screen as well as adding a quicker tap destination and find directions from my current location option on the home screen. We’d really appreciate your feedback on this change and whether it improves things or not. Here is the full changelist:

What’s new in version 1.3?

  • Improved the accuracy of the GPS
  • Draw location accuracy around my location dot
  • Fix for missing submit button in feedback form on some devices
  • Reworked the route plotting and added “tap to add waypoint”
  • Navigation and UI improvements on navigation page

A hotfix release will be available soon to fix OpenCycleMap overlays displaying OpenStreetMap overlays instead.

As always we really do appreciate your feedback especially if you use the app regularly. Our developer, Dave Conley, is fixing things that annoy him when using the app, but it is great to get feedback from other users. If you think the app is perfect as it is then don’t forget to rate us 5* so other cyclists can find us easier. Thanks!

State Of The Map 2013 – Cyclestreets presentation

September 7th, 2013

Martin giving our presentation - Photo by Alexander Kachkaev

State Of The Map is the annual conference of OpenStreetMap (OSM), whose fantastic data we make use of to provide cycle routing.

We gave two presentations at State Of The Map 2013 which this year was held in Birmingham.

It’s the annual gathering of people who collect street data as well as those who, like us, make use of it.

We gave two presentations, one on the range of websites and apps that use our cycle routing. The other was on a project within the OSM community that we’ve been running to encourage OSM members to merge in cycle route information from the Department for Transport.

You can view our two presentations here:

CycleStreets – more than a router (State Of The Map 2013):

England Cycling Data Project:

Windows Phone app update adds leisure routing, route saving, and more

August 14th, 2013

3D view

The first update for CycleStreets on Windows Phone is out now! As well as fixing the usual bugs, version 1.1 adds some great new features.

The new release brings along leisure routing, which is a great feature that can find a circular route around your current location that is of a distance or time of your choosing. Great if you’re training and want to get in a 20 mile ride for example.

We’ve made big improvements to the reliability of the place name search when routing and also to the tutorial flow improving the overall usability of the app.

If you just want to save the route for later you can do that too and you won’t need to be online to load it. And you can now share routes with friends via email, text message or social network (and they don’t need the app to be able to view it).

We also have a free 24 hour trial that allows you to try all the features of the app with no restrictions for a day. After that you can choose to get in touch and let us know what you thought or hopefully go on to pay for the full app (only 99p!).

You can download CycleStreets for Windows Phone 8 from the Windows Phone store. We’ve got more updates coming soon to bring it in line with the app on iOS and Android but please get in touch to let us know what you want to see.

  • Added circular leisure routing
  • Load and save routes for offline use
  • Added a free 24 hour trial
  • Major improvements for location search and general navigation
  • 3D navigation now has 3D buildings visible where available
  • Added share this route option
  • Added feedback form
  • Added rate this app prompt
  • Improvements to tutorial
  • Fixed lots of bugs

 

Leisure route planning   Leisure route display

Thanks again to Dave Conley who has created the app!

LiveRide for CycleStreets Android app

July 21st, 2013

We’re pleased to announce a significant new version of the CycleStreets Android App (version 2.0). It brings a much requested feature – LiveRide sat-nav voice navigation.

LiveRide provides

  • Turn-by-turn voice instructions as you ride
  • Automatic rerouting if you go off course
  • Can run in the background with screen off
  • Option to keep screen on and prevent phone from sleeping

Once you’ve planned a route, simply tap the Start LiveRide button to get going. Once it’s established a GPS lock, it’ll start guiding you on your way. The display shows where you are and your direction of travel. The panel at the top shows the next turn and the distance to it. Your speed is shown at the bottom of the screen.

The padlock icon at the top right controls the screen lock. When locked, the screen will stay on. When unlocked, the phone will turn the screen off as normal. I use a handlebar mount and for short city journeys, I find it useful to keep the screen on. For longer rides, letting the screen turn off as normal helps preserve the battery. I’d also recommend using the off-line map pack too.

Planned route   Live Ride

Unlike many drivers over the past few years the chances of a cyclist getting stuck following satnav directions seem slim but do take care when using LiveRide.

- Jez

Beds for Cyclists on the Move

July 20th, 2013

Beds for Cyclists, the UK’s cycle friendly accommodation community, has teamed up with us to offer cyclists on the move cycle-friendly accommodation information on their mobiles. Cyclists can now find cycle-friendly hosts on the CycleStreets app and Bike Hub cycle journey planner apps.

Beds For Cyclists

Beds for Cyclists is the UK’s cycle friendly accommodation community created by cyclists for cyclists. It’s a fantastic resource for cyclists, and to have this information at your finger tips when you’re out on the bike is going to help a lot of tired riders find a good place to stay.

Both apps use the same OpenStreetMap data to provide the best cycle journey planner facility on the market. The A to B route planners offer three different routes; the Fastest, Balanced and the Quietest Route, giving riders of different experience a chance to find a route that suits them.

Sam Howard – Beds for Cyclists Marketing Director said “I’ve been using and recommending these route planning apps for years and have yet to find an app that tops them. I am delighted to combine the accommodation information we offer with the cycle route app market leaders.”

Carlton Reid – Bike Hub Editor said “It’s great to see innovative uses of the cycle satnavs available in the UK. The Bike Hub app already directs users to bike shops and now people can use the app to locate bike-friendly accommodation.”

Beds for Cyclists has also been utilising this journey planning software. Each cycle-friendly host now features a journey planner directly to their door powered by the CycleStreets journey planner. This allows users to plan route from any location to the cycle friendly host’s door with a few clicks.

Beds for Cyclists’ hosts also now have local cycle hire providers shown on their profiles. In partnership with Cycle Hire Info the three closest cycle hire centres within 20 miles are listed on the host’s profiles. It is notoriously difficult in the UK to travel on public transport with bikes and this will overcome that dilemma for many people wanting to have a cycling holiday. Beili Neuadd B&B and bunk house shows off these new features very nicely.

Sam Howard said “We want all sorts of cyclists to use the site and adding cycle hire providers allows people that aren’t too fussed about riding their beloved bike to get away and be able to cycle too. We’re always keen to support those encouraging cycling and cycle hire providers play an understated role in that.”

With the world’s biggest bike race underway and the cycle season in full swing, Beds for Cyclists is pedalling at full pelt to help others get away this summer on their bikes.

Beds For Cyclists

How far would you ride to avoid a busy right turn?

July 12th, 2013

The graphic shows work in progress to improve the quality of CycleStreets routes by taking into account the cost of making a turn.

This is part of routing enhancement work being undertaken by Codex Cambridge with us as part of the Technology Strategy Board Innovation Vouchers scheme.

Maps showing routes through a junction

Top: balanced route (amber) recommends turning right across busy Perne Road.
Bottom: by including turn cost the advice changes to straight on at the roundabout.

The upper frame shows three routes for a journey along Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge from west to east. The quietest route in green avoids the busy roundabout by using the shared use footway and toucan crossing of Perne Road. The fastest route in red goes straight across the roundabout. The balanced route shown in amber takes the first roundabout exit and then uses the service road marked Adkin’s Corner to connect with the shared use pavement.

The problem with the balanced route is that it is rather awkward to make that right turn off Perne Road. A rider willing to make such a right turn would likely be equally confident to have gone straight on at the roundabout.

Turning right from a major road into a minor road usually requires looking behind and moving out into the road to get into the right position to make the turn. If there is a lot of traffic it may require stopping at an arms distance from the middle of the road and waiting until it is safe to complete the turn. These factors amount to an extra delay and make the route feel more busy.

The lower frame shows the situation when the cost of making a turn has been included in planning the route and shows the balanced route going straight on at the roundabout.

Choosing the numbers

In the case of the fastest route the cost of turning right can be estimated as a number of seconds. The estimate has to be for a typical rider and represent an average time. In reality the amount will vary by the time of day, amount of traffic, the type of roads involved and the rider. In CycleStreets the only data we can easily access are the types of road. So as a starting point we can create a table with the following columns:

  • from road type (e.g. primary, secondary, service)
  • to road type
  • turn type (eg. turn left, turn right, straight on)
  • estimated delay in seconds

So for instance a right turn from a primary road into a service road could have a delay of eight seconds, whereas a left turn from a residential road to another residential road might have only a one second delay.

Turn delays in seconds only affect the fastest routes, and have no affect on the quietest routes which are only concerned with how busy the route. To account for turns in quiet routes involves comparing a right turn with an equivalent cycling distance. Eg. are you prepared to cycle for an extra 100 metres to avoid a right turn off a busy road into a service road?

Choosing the right numbers for that is a bit of an art and a lot of experimentation. This is work in progress, and there’s a bit more to do before we can include this in CycleStreets routes.

CycleStreets cycle routing on Windows Phone 8 now available

May 31st, 2013

CycleStreets cycle routing app is now available in the Windows Phone Store in the UK and costs only 99p. Less than a puncture repair kit and just as useful!

Get the CycleStreets for Windows Phone app!

For Windows Phone we redesigned the app to take advantage of Windows Phone’s unique interface design resulting in a beautiful, clean and simple to use interface that will feel instantly familiar to users of other mapping applications on Windows Phone.

For the first release we have included cycle routing, navigation waypoints, routing information (such as time, distance, calories etc), points of interest and step by step navigation using the Nokia Maps 3D view. In time we will add additional CycleStreets functionality such as Photomap, OpenStreetMap overlays, leisure routing and we also plan to add voice guided navigation.

Features include:

  • Plan cycle routes from A-B
  • Add waypoints, e.g. A-B-C-D
  • Turn-by-turn directions
  • Nearest points of interest
  • Search for names, places, towns, postcodes
  • Replan as quietest/fastest/balanced route

Route planning and display:

Route overview   3D view

Journey details:

Journey facts   Itinerary

Find nearby points of interest, e.g. bike shops, cycle parking, cash machines, etc:

Points of Interest   Nearest POIs   POI location

Coming soon:

  • OpenStreetMap & OpenCycleMap overlays
  • Voice Guided Navigation (satnav)
  • Photomap

If you install the app then please let us know your thoughts on it and report any bugs via our usual feedback page.

Thanks to Dave Conley who has created the app!

Routing developer needed for short-term work

May 15th, 2013

We’ve obtained a £5,000 grant from the Technology Strategy Board’s Innovation Vouchers scheme, to work on some interesting routing challenges to help increase the quality of the routing we can offer.

Our core aim with CycleStreets is to create “routing that thinks like a cyclist”. One of these aspects is the way that cyclists treat junctions and turns, something that is not currently modelled in the engine. Another challenge that the grant can cover is our desire to incorporate changes to OpenStreetMap data into the routing engine shortly after they happen, rather than after a one-day import period. Both of these are challenging in the context of a routing engine that works over a heavily pre-compressed network and in an environment where expansion of hosting capacity is cost-constrained.

We’re therefore looking for someone with a computer science approach (as distinct from purely “web development”) who can work on these interesting challenges. However, we’d hope that a suitable person can help work on the website (e.g. backend/frontend integration, general web development, refactoring) as well where this is required to implement these changes.

If you are interested to discuss this further, please contact us (by Friday 24th May 2013).

The work must be completed by 31st July 2013, and we are required to work with a company we have not worked with before. The £5,000 includes any VAT we are required to pay by the supplier. The supplier must be a public sector provider or a registered company.

Background info: about our routing engine

The CycleStreets routing system finds, quietest, fastest and balanced cycling routes between two points in the UK (and other countries being added). It does this by building a route planning version of the map (known as a graph) for each of these types of route.

Each graph consists of vertices and edges that correspond to junctions and streets. On each graph the length of an edge corresponds to the cost for that route type of travelling along a street. So, roads and wide cycle tracks will have relatively short links on the graph for fastest routes, but the links that represent footpaths and bridleways where the cycling speed is slower will be longer. By contrast, on the graph for quietest routes, cycleways and park paths will be short relative to busy roads.

The optimal route of a certain type will then be the shortest path on the graph for that type.

So there are two main parts to the CycleStreets routing system: (1) Building the graphs (2) Finding the shortest path. The quality and performance of CycleStreets is governed by how well we do 1 and 2 respectively.

The current OpenStreetMap (OSM) map of UK & Ireland contains millions of paths and nodes. Streets are usually represented by their centre line, with nodes at junctions. The characteristics of each street, including for example the type of road, whether it is hilly, has a cycle lane, or is a one-way street are used to measure the suitability for cycling. In graph theory speak, they translate into the cost of an edge.

These costs are measured during our daily translation of OSM’s data into a graph by application of a series of rules.

Junctions – reducing wiggly routes

Simple graphs constructed from maps of street centre-lines lack are limited in their capacity to express how easy it is to cycle through a road junction. This series of photos introduces the problem.

In essence, the simple graph cannot represent banned turns, and nor can it indicate that a right turn across a busy road might incur quite a wait until it is safe to cross. However, some of the turn delay modelling can be derived automatically, knowing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ street types, and the turn angle. We believe that accurately representing that sort of information has the best chance of improving the quality of routes recommended by CycleStreets.

The way this route wiggles on and off Glasgow Road is a good example of this problem. (NB Click on the + button in the top-right corner of the map and switch to the OpenCycleMap view to get a better map background.)

Implementing turn delays at every node presents real challenges in terms of the use of a standard A* routing engine. This is further more difficult given the need to avoid very large amounts of RAM being needed.

Solving this problem is a significant technical challenge. It needs to be transparent so that there is a clear link between each piece of data and each rule used in the solution and the decisions that a knowledgeable cyclist would make. The solution must also be scalable, so that neither the amount of time taken to find a route nor the amount of data required to represent the problem, increase significantly. That will make it attractive and manageable. A solution also needs to avoid creating excessive hardware cost requirements.