This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 90.
CycleStreets is the UK-wide cycle journey planner website, created and run by two members of the Campaign, Simon Nuttall and Martin Lucas-Smith. It originated as a smaller system on the Campaign’s website. It offers A to B journey planning anywhere in the UK (but especially Cambridge!). There is also a ‘Photomap’ which enables anyone to add photos of cycling-related problems or good practice – a key campaigning tool which the Campaign makes heavy use of. It is truly a system created for cyclists, by cyclists.
We’ve just celebrated our first birthday, so we thought an update was in order.
Cycle journey planner
The UK-wide cycle journey planner (covering England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), enables you to plan a cycle route from A to B. Route planning is one of a number of things which help people to start cycling. Select a start and end point, in each case either by clicking on the map or searching by name or postcode.
The journey planner will return three choices:
- a fastest route (generally suitable for more confident cyclists),
- a quietest route (generally avoiding busier roads), and
- a balanced route giving the best of both (generally suitable for an average cyclist).
The journey planner will do its best to avoid hills where possible. The route listing includes photos that have been submitted to the Photomap (see below) to help illustrate the journey.
We aim to provide the leading cycle route planner in the UK. As cyclists ourselves we are familiar with the real needs of cyclists undertaking their daily journeys.
Almost 150,000 journeys have now been planned around the UK, and usage is increasing.
The Photomap is the second half of the system. It is basically a map with cycling/transport-related photographs added and pinpointed to a specific location on the map. The Photomap is intended for cycle campaigning purposes, to enable people to highlight problems (e.g. a lack of cycle parking or a poor-quality cycle lane), or to give examples of good practice that others can point to.
The Campaign strongly encourages members to add photos! To do so, first create a free sign-in account (top right) and then use the ‘add a photo’ link in the Photomap area. Once a photo has been added, you will be asked to pinpoint it on the map, as well as adding a category (e.g. ‘cycle parking’, ‘road environment’, etc.) and whether the photo shows something good or bad. You can also import photos from Flickr.
The Photomap enables CycleStreets to have automatic listings such as ‘show me all the cycle parking problems in Cambridge’. which are useful for campaigning. You can also group photos together in a gallery, and add keyword ‘tags’ to each photo so that they get automatically grouped.
Over 20,000 photos have now been added, and more are being added daily. Give it a go!
Homepages for 1,500+ places
As well as the UK-wide version of CycleStreets at www.cyclestreets.net, local versions of CycleStreets have been set up for towns, cities, metropolitan districts and boroughs all around the country. The Cambridge-specific version is at cambridge.cyclestreets.net.
These versions of the site focus the map on that area, and limit the photos in the Photomap to within a 5-20 km radius. (Route-planning is not restricted to the area concerned, however.) The local versions are otherwise the same as the UK-wide version.
Where do we get the map?
We use open data! CycleStreets uses map data from surveys conducted by volunteers, who add their data to OpenStreetMap. This is like a ‘Wikipedia of maps’. In Cambridge, many of the details were added by our very own David Earl. The information here is really top-notch – very comprehensive, consistent and accurate.
Anyone can contribute by adding map data to OpenStreetMap, at a variety of levels. Most easily, you can go to the OpenStreetMap website and (after registering, free) click to add points of interest (e.g. a bike shop). At a more advanced level, if you have a GPS device, you can record road and cycle route data from your riding and, on return home, upload these to OpenStreetMap, adding information that you have collected such as road name and type.
You can also contribute by fixing any errors you spot in the data (e.g. a one-way street marked the wrong way – there shouldn’t be any in Cambridge though!), and we have a group of volunteers who handle route problems and correct map data where necessary.
People sometimes ask why we don’t use Google Maps. The reason is simple: Google Maps only provides a picture of an area and not raw data. Without raw street data (i.e. lists of all streets/paths/locations in the UK), routing is not possible. Although Google provides a route-planning interface, it is not specialised for cycling.
The other main map provider in the UK is the Ordnance Survey. However, we are unable to use their data because (1) we do not have the funds to pay for a licence fee; (2) their data lack key cycle route information, though this is gradually changing; (3) unacceptable licensing conditions are attached; and (4) cyclists cannot contribute.
What features have we added recently?
One of the most-requested features around the country was dealing with hills. Because the system was originally written for Cambridge, which (arguably) has precisely one hill, hills were never a priority. But in other areas of the country, hills make quite a big difference! The routing now tries to avoid hills where possible, and a hilliness profile of each journey is now shown.
There’s now full postcode searching and an upgraded name search facility. The search accepts all kinds of place searches, such as streets, locations, business names, town/city names, and postcodes. This upgrade was funded earlier this year by Cambridge Sustainable City, and CycleStreets is grateful for their support.
You can now add videos as well as photos. There have been some great videos from the Netherlands added, for instance.
Another great improvement recently has been the addition of Google StreetView excerpts. When you plan a journey, you can click on a ‘Street View’ link and see what the street is like in that area. This supplements the existing ‘Photos-en-route’.
Check out our blog, at: www.cyclestreets.net/blogfor the latest news!
How can I help?
There are lots of ways people can help, and we’d love to have more volunteers.
For full details, have a look at www.cyclestreets.net/getinvolved .
- Test routes in the Journey Planner and give us feedback. Ideally we want it to produce the route that you would take, so try out a known route, and let us know of any errors – however small.
- Add photos to the Photomap.
- Donate / fundraise – see below.
- Contribute map data to OpenStreetMap: particularly from areas outside Cambridgeshire (since the county is mostly complete now).
- Become a feedback reviewer: We are keen to hear from people who can act as a feedback reviewer in their area, as we receive lots of useful feedback now.
- Coding: join the coding team. The journey planner is written using Open Source technologies such as MySQL, object-orientated PHP and a whole range of other technologies. Do get in touch if you would like more information about joining our coding team. We had a successful Developer Day recently, and are keen to have others joining in.
- Spread the word! Do you have a website that could link to us, or a work Intranet that could encourage people to cycle?
We’re also currently developing an iPhone app, and other mobile platforms will follow, if we can find funding.
We desperately need funding to pay for hosting and ongoing development costs, so donations are welcome. We also need a fundraiser!
So far we’ve received funding from:
- Cycling Scotland: To develop a version of the site for Edinburgh, which Cycling Scotland are now promoting as a Scotland-wide system
- Cambridge City Council – Cambridge Sustainable City
- Co-op Community Fund
- The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, for our new mobile phone version!
- Individual donations.