We want to do everything we can to encourage walking and cycling on the Black Isle and aim to produce an active travel map of the Black Isle before the end of our project.
But there is a problem! The Black Isle is a big place and there are lo of paths, tracks and roads. How could we possibly map out all this out and work out which routes may or may not be suitable for active travel? Well, we reckon we can - with your help! We're going to crowdsource the data for our active travel map using the Open Street Map website.
OpenStreetMap is an open-source digital map that anyone can contribute to; it is known as the ‘Wikipedia of Maps’. It allows contributors to precisely add extraordinary levels of detail, which is particularly useful for making decisions on how to travel. So the Million Miles team is looking for people on the Black Isle to sign up to Open Street Map and start contributing routes within and around their community.
What does OpenStreetMap look like?
Below is an embedded version of OpenStreetMap centred on the Black Isle and rendered in the standard layer. Zoom in and explore! Click on the link to visit the main OpenStreetMap website where you can view the Black Isle in different layers (e.g. cycle map, transport layout).
Below is a screen-grab from OpenStreetMap over Muir of Ord (here's the link to the live page). It was taken in August 2013 - the map will evolve over time as more contributions are made. Note the paths, natural features, amentities and even buildings included. Muir of Ord is one of the best mapped villages on the Black Isle, which is because there are several enthusiastic mappers living nearby (some of whom are TBI members!). All it takes is a few people contributing in each part of the Black Isle to make a difference.
One of the obvious uses for OpenStreetMap is to map cycle trails. We're delighted that someone has added detail to Learnie Red Rock mountain bike trails between Fortrose and Cromarty:
Contributing to OpenStreetMap
OpenStreetMap is made up of single points of interest (nodes), lines (series of nodes) and areas (connected series of nodes). Each of these elements is 'tagged' with information, which allows a huge amount of detail to be added. Although this can appear complicated at first, editing is easier than you might think because you can overlay ways and points of interest onto background maps. There are two in-browser editors (Potlatch and iD) that make editing straightforward by dragging and dropping icon and selecting detail through drop-down menus. We recommend starting with iD as it's easier to get to grips with and you can quickly search for all the tags you might need.There's an online wiki that explains everything, so you're not on your own! Several handbooks have also been published, including a guide on cycle routing from Cycling Scotland (quite a large file, available from Cycling Scotland's website).
As well as viewing online, it's possible to download apps for smartphones that allow you to view maps offline and also create GPS traces (just search for 'OpenStreetMap' or 'OSM' at your app store). These traces can be uploaded to OpenStreetMap and then traced over - a great way to add paths in remote areas (use Potlatch for tracing over GPS traces).
We want as many people around the Black Isle to contribute to OpenStreetMap to make our active travel map as detailed as possible. However, we recognise that not everyone will be able - or willing! - to log in and edit the map.
But there is a simpler way to tell us about useful information. On the main OpenStreetMap page, there is now a button on the right hand side that you can click to add a note to describe the change that should be made. A regular editor will hopefully pick it up and make the necessary adjustments - we'll be keeping a look at for notes placed over the Black Isle. You don't need to be logged in to make a note, which makes it a quick and easy way to contribute. More information can be found on the OpenStreetMap wiki, including some "dos and don'ts"!.
Remember - if you're not sure how to do something in OpenStreetMap... go to the wiki!
OpenStreetMap inspiration in Scotland
Some of the Black Isle is quite bare and the thought of trying to add all the detail from scratch can be a bit daunting. But inspiration is a wonderful thing! Cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are obviously very well mapped because there are lots of contributors living nearby. Sustaining Dunbar have done an incredible job mapping Dunbar in East Lothian in a very short space of time, demonstrating how quickly OpenStreetMap can be improved. Elgin and Lossiemouth have been mapped in brilliant detail, especially the rural area in between. It really makes you want to explore - just want we want to achieve for the Black Isle. We also like Edinburgh Zoo as it's an example of one of the more unusual applications for OpenStreetMap.
Community mapping events
Gatherings are a great way to add detail to OpenStreetMap. Transition Black Isle will be organising meetings across the Black Isle during the Million Miles project. We held our first community mapping event at Culbokie in September 2013 (link to our poster). Based in Culbokie Primary School, we began withan explanation of what the Million Miles project hopes to achieve through community mapping and an overview of OpenStreetMap. We then practised editing and conducted a few surveys around the village.
The Million Miles team is extremely grateful to the OpenStreetMap members who did some remote mapping in the week prior to our event. Adding buildings and land use makes it a lot easier to identify amenities and plot routes (especially through forests). You can see what a difference it made in the map below:
The remote mappers also added a huge amount of detail around North Kessock, Munlochy and a lot of the countryside in between. They're continuing editing around the Black Isle, which is incredibly valuable to the Million Miles project. It will really help inspire local people to add their own routes. A big, big thank you!
Our most recent community mapping meeting was at the Allangrange Arms in Munlochy in October 2014. We hope to organise more of these events over the rest of the project.
Using OpenStreetMap data
As the underlying data for OpenStreetMap is freely available through the creative commons licence, Transition Black Isle will be able to use the information gathered to create our active travel map. Various online services also use OpenStreetMap data.
Probably the best application for OpenStreetMap data is the cycling journey planner CycleStreets. It calculates realistic routes for cycling from A to B.
Why is CycleStreets so good? It scores all possible routes from A to B, based on all of the information added to OpenStreetMap. It then gives three route options: i) fastest - quickest route mostly along roads, ii) quietest - avoiding the busiest roads and iii) balanced - compromising by using a busier road if the off-road route is too big a detour.
We used CycleStreets to put together our fantastic cycling distance chart. Transition Black Isle recently launched cycleroutes.transitionblackisle.org, which is a version of CycleStreets embedded within this website. This makes it quicker to add the start and end points of your journey as the map is centred over the Black Isle. Thank you CycleStreets for creating this for us!
Download our overview of community mapping here (~300kb pdf).
We're very excited about the potential for community mapping. Please get in touch with us for more information (firstname.lastname@example.org; 07715 663781).