The wonders of open cycle data or “How about a free cycle sat nav?”

In my day job I produce the website for Liverpool City Council – It’s a nerdy but worthwhile enterprise, which brings me into touch with some of the more esoteric aspects of large scale web site production.

One of the most important tenets currently being espoused, both in government and journalism is the concept of “open data” – this is what the “Wikileaks” furore was all about – it’s more than just the freeing up of data hitherto locked away in dusty filing cabinets, it’s making that data available in a format which can be transformed into something useful. After all, it’s all very well the council providing the full details of every planning application made in Liverpool since 1965 – it’s something else extracting the planning decisions  made this week in your street…

What this opening up of government data allows is for those with other datasets to “mash them together” – this is effectively what’s going on whenever you see a google map with a bunch of pins stuck in it, showing your local whatever…

Take that principle and run it by a keen bunch of cycling nerds and you get CycleStreets. CycleStreets build upon Open Street Map – an ambitious collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. They add cycle specific data in “layers” on top of the Open Street Map views of the UK. What they have produced is nothing short of a full cycle-friendly “sat Nav” for most of the UK – the app allows you to draw routes from A to B and aims to give the most cycle friendly routes, including details of hills, cycle paths, traffic density, calories burned, number of traffic lights passed, elevation and step-by-step instructions. The user can choose from the fastest, the quietest or a balanced route giving the best of both.

The app is available as a desktop website (useful for plotting in advance and research – more of which later), a HTML5 mobile app – viewable from any smartphone with an open internet connection or as (FREE!) apps for iOS and Android phones.

There are a number of other applications using cyclestreets data – notable among them being “BikeHub” – a full turn by turn satnav system which operates like your TOM-TOM, telling you when to turn left or right so as to follow the route and correcting itself should you go wrong.

Now then, I mentioned research didn’t I? If, like me, you got caught up in the Times’ “Cities fit for Cycling campaign” (and if you didn’t, DO SO! go here) to the extent that you entered some of your more scary junctions into their road hazard map, then you might be intrigued at the data it shows with respect to cycle accidents.

Their map is, however, slightly clunky. It uses  perhaps unsurprisingly, more data from CycleStreets. CycleStreets have mapped the governments road accident (Stat 19) since 2005 against their other mapping tools and made it available at warning: it makes pretty scary reading!

Obviously if you’re going to use your phone as an on-board satnav, then an effective handlebar mount is essential. I’ve tried a couple of these out and can affirm that it’s vital to get a waterproof one(!) A full review will be coming soon – in the meantime, this one seems popular on Amazon…

  1. Google Maps adds "bicycling" option to directions - Commuter Cyclist Commuter Cyclist

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