Mapping the common

25 06 2010

Soon after I arrived in Ipswich I realised that there was were no decent maps of the area for pedestrians or cyclists, and then I also started noticing lots of errors, distortions and omissions on these existing maps.

Luckily I came across OpenStreetMap which could best be described as ‘wikipedia for maps’ – it allows volunteers to survey details of their area and upload it into a global dataset and to date 250,000 people have signed up to do just that. A couple of years on and with contributions from a bunch of pretty obsessive people (including myself!) the map of Ipswich area is exceedingly good so let’s compare what is available currently form different sources.

First, let’s look at Google’s mapping for the area.

Google's mapping for the the Rushmere Common area

A few things to note – firstly the common is called ‘golf course’ which might imply that it was private property. Secondly the boundary is seriously wrong, the common land to the north of the A1214 is missing and an area of housing there is shown as open space, also the land to the south which is actually owned by the golf club is not shown in green at all implying. Finally … there are no paths shown on the common and even the main pedestrian/cycle route to the south the hospital is missing. Verdict: not much use for a pedestrian or for discussing issues relating to the common.

Ok, so how do Microsoft do with their ‘Bing’ mapping.

Bing's map of the area - no paths, no hospital, missing section of common

Actually it is worse. The green area is a different shape but is still wrong, there are no paths and this time even the hospital (which employs 3,800 people) is missing! The common is again called ‘Golf Course’ with little golf club symbols across it. I sometimes joke that most online mapping is designed for car-drivers who play golf (based on the fact that virtually no information is provided for pedestrians and cyclists and golf clubs figure to prominently everywhere)! Verdict: less useful that Google’s map.

Now let’s check out the official Ipswich cycle map which is published by Suffolk County Council each year.

Cycle mapping published by the County Council

This one is slightly better, it does show the hospital and also the cycle/pedestrian route to the south of the hospital and seems to get the shape of the common correct. It does show a single path across the common which is better than nothing but still less than a complete representation of the situation! It shows schools in the area with their names which is good. Verdict: Better than nothing but pretty disappointing.

Another map available with support from the county council is Walkit.com which as the name implies is for people who are walking! However… unfortunately there are hardly any paths on this section of map.

Walkit.com map

Notice that there is only one path across the common, that the hospital is missing together as is the pedestrian/cycling path to the south of the hospital. I have written to both the council and to walkit.com for an explanation. and have had responses for both so let’s see if the mapping gets sorted out soon. Verdict: Personally I think this one is pretty disgraceful given that it totally fails to do what it says on the tin!

Finally here is the mapping available from OpenStreetMap which shows all sorts of detail missing from the above maps including paths, ground cover (grass/gorse/woodland etc), a number of schools and of course the hospital.

Mapping of the common available from OpenStreetMap

Because it is produced by volunteers and anyone can edit the map it can be updated or corrected within minutes, for example I removed a path from the common yesterday after it had been blocked by the committee (more about that later!). Verdict: I am of course biased, but I think this one is by far the best!

Do note also OpenStreetMap data is available for free-re-used under a creative commons license (no threats of prosecution and civil proceedings) and is therefore used in lots of other applications, including a cycle journey planner (CycleStreets), a mobile mapping application for iPhones (OffMaps) and many more. Of course this information could also be used by the council to produce much better mapping for cyclists and walkers at less cost that the current offerings however they are not yet engaging with the project.