Recent diary entries
This week I uploaded my 400,000th Mapillary ground-level image. This is, I suspect, the largest collection of ground-level imagery of Turkmenistan. Some of the images were taken after sundown of the M37 national highway so as to map U-turns visible even with only illumination from headlights.
All 13 border crossings between Turkmenistan and its neighbors are now mapped, named, tagged. All but one of the known national highways has been drawn, tagged, and had relations established (the missing one is in a border zone and I cannot drive on it without special permission). Next I have gone down the list of municipalities in search of a) missing cities and towns, and b) mistagged and misnamed cities and towns. Some bear names from the Soviet period, others have not been updated since the current government either restored an old name or assigned a new one. Slowly but surely the data in the Turkmenistan map are improving. The next editions of Lambertus' Garmin map, MAPS.ME, and Pocket Earth should have much improved routable maps for Turkmenistan.
When Ann and I started this 3-1/2 years ago we focused on simply getting street names and POIs entered--raw data were lacking. Increasingly we find ourselves doing quality control, cross-checking names of municipalities with locals who live there and can tell us both what is on the sign and what it used to be called. For example, I suspected that "Imeni Kirova" had been renamed because it is not listed in "Districts in Turkmenistan" and Kirov was a Russian Bolshevik. Sure enough, a check with a resident of that area revealed a new name for the municipality. Some municipality names are transliterations from the Russian and thus are not what is on the signs, which are all Turkmenized. This takes detective work, but again, slowly but surely it is paying off with improvement of the database. I take all this as a sign of progress.
Turkmenistan aspires to renewed status as the "hub" or "crossroads" of Central Asia, harkening back to the days of the Great Silk Road that connected Xian in China to Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Antioch, and from there to Rome and beyond. I thus took it upon myself to check out and ensure proper mapping of as much of Turkmenistan's national highway system as I could, and then to check out its border crossings with neighboring countries. They are now all easily identifiable, both national highways and border crossings, I think properly tagged, and in the case of highways, every gas station I could see has been added to the map (still have a few FIXMEs out there, and there are undoubtedly some gas stations I haven't found yet, but...) So far other mappers and I have mapped 156 gas stations in Turkmenistan, up from the very few on the map in 2015. Turkmenistan is ready for higher volumes of motor traffic and has a better road atlas on line to help navigate!
Ann and I celebrated the Monday holiday of Veterans Day, November 12, by driving out to Hauz Han about three hours east of Ashgabat, heading north on the P-9, then turning east on it to Mary. I had never been on that route and we collected two gas stations plus took lots of ground-level imagery using Mapillary. I will upload that imagery plus imagery collected on the P-25-to-P1 drive when we next come stateside and have access to high speed internet. I have already uploaded the GPX files Mapillary generates, however, so can tweak the highway itself as needed.
I used MAPS.ME to collect some POIs along the way, including marking some new U-turns on the M37. Turkmen Auto Roads State Concern is putting up guardrails to separate new dual carriageways, so mapping the U-turns is an ongoing effort. Some of the village and farmers association names have changed so I have more editing to do, updating names of municipalities to match the signage. Gulanly is now called Gokhan, for example, renamed in honor of one of the sons of the mythical Oguz Han, progenitor of the Turkic peoples. I tried to capture the signage on Mapillary.
We stopped for lunch at the Lebap Cafe in Hauz Han, to eat fresh fish (grass carp) deep fried in cottonseed oil. If you are in the neighborhood, I recommend the Lebap Cafe!
Much more of the P-1 national highway in Turkmenistan is now a dual carriageway divided highway, so the last couple of evenings I've been updating it based on GPS traces collected and marker tags inserted via MAPS.ME during travel on November 8. It's done, but there will be more to do over time. Pavers were working, and the right of way of the new parallel lane, long neglected, is back in play on much of the P-1 route. All bridges appear to be up, so it's now a matter of bulldozing, grading, graveling, and paving.
Special bonus: We found a new grocery store near our house in Ashgabat today.
Just got back from 2-1/2 days on the road, during which inter alia I traversed the P-25 and part of the P-21 national highways in Turkmenistan. I collected roughly 38,000 ground-level images with Mapillary, but will delete some before uploading due to quality issues. Got good GPS traces, however. Tried using MAPS.ME to collect POIs but there are issues due to its limited universe of categories. I ended up using "Attraction" as a default tag just to mark POIs geographically (including U-turns on newly divided highways and such), and now am plowing through them at my desktop computer to correct them to something resembling reality and OSM guidelines. I hope this will not garner too much opprobrium from the OSM community. I'm cleaning up the mess I've created as quickly as I can, but I did want to collect data as I was traveling!
Insomnia hit last night for the first time in years. With nothing better to do I cleaned up gas stations in Turkmenistan, identified stations without numbers and placed FIXME tags on them, added data where I had collected it but not got around to updating the map. Is there some way of getting overpass turbo to count stations for me? When Ann and I started this project in 2015 there were very few gas stations mapped. There seem to be a lot more now, between our work and the work of other mappers here.
Hope to get back on the road next week to do some more exploring.
Interesting op-ed on the role of street names in promoting democracy in the ''New York Times'':
It also shed some light on how house numbering came into use in historical times.
This week I flew through Istanbul for the third and fourth times in a month, this time en route to Doha from Ashgabat. Since Fly Dubai no longer serves Doha, it takes 24 hours for me to get to Doha via Istanbul on Turkish Air, versus four to five hours via Dubai in the good old days, due to the lengthy layover in Istanbul. The good news is I love Istanbul, having lived there 30 years ago, and use the layovers to visit old haunts and old friends..
I was surprised to find somebody had mapped the American Consulate General in Istanbul as a office=commercial, and set about correcting that. I then discovered that every other consulate in Istanbul was mistagged amenity=embassy. Embassies are in capitals, are defined by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and are headed by an ambassador or chargé d'affaires. Consulates are a different animal, as defined by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and are headed by a consul (if a consulate) or a consul general (if a consulate general, which is just a bigger consulate). .I have gone through Istanbul with my electronic red pen, correcting this mistagging plus adding multilngual names (for some reason the Chinese consulate general was identified solely in Ukrainian).
I turns out the wiki entry for the diplomatic=consulate tag contains erroneous information and people are systematically mistagging consulates. I need to take this up with the Data Working Group. Consulates are not embassies, and we need to strive for accuracy in our map.
Ann and I took a break from work to fly via Istanbul to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where after 40 years of variously studying, living, working, and traveling in the former USSR I finally made it to the 15th former Soviet republic. Somehow I had never managed until last week to visit Dushanbe. Of course I could not roam the city without collecting Mapillary imagery (mostly uploaded by now) and adding to OSM interesting sites we visited, or updating and augmenting the tags on existing entries.
One of the more interesting and engaging sites we updated was the three-room Museum of Musical Instruments. Watch this video with the sound turned up!
We also stopped in Istanbul en route and I visited the old neighborhood where I lived 1988-1990. I'll be adding names of some streets in that section of town based on Mapillary imagery.
Today I finished adding the M37 route relation to the entire M37 highway inside Turkmenistan, having started a few days ago at the Turkmenbashy International Seaport ferry terminal and ending today at the Farap border crossing with Uzbekistan. This is the definitive route designation according to the UN Asian Highway Network database. While at it I added some U-turns to the newer parts of the dual carriageway and tweaked the track of the highway based on updated sat imagery as well as my own Mapillary ground imagery.
I have now done this for most of the national highways in Turkmenistan. The P-8 is outstanding. I need to find someone here who can tell me which ways are part of the P-8 highway. Local knowledge is key in this country. If I can knock out the P-8 highway, I'll have a pretty good fix on the national highway network of Turkmenistan and can move on to another systemic gap.
For the first time I used the smoothness=* tag. A day trip to Sarahs took me via Tejen and the P-7 national highway--pretty good road--then I returned via the P-9 national "highway" via Hauz Han. Holy smoke! It took us 2-1/2 hours to cover about 90 kilometers, for an average ground speed of 36 kph. There were potholes the size of a truck with potholes inside them! We drove on the sand in a few places because it was faster and smoother than the P-9.
I think this is the first time I have felt compelled to use the smoothness=* tag, and after reading the wiki article, I assigned it "very bad". It is driveable in a light-duty SUV and perhaps even a passenger car, if one drives gingerly, but going is slow. It is, I think, the worst road I have seen in this country.
Sarahs itself has some interesting things to see. Polish and Turkmen archeologists are excavating the site of Ancient Sarahs, a city with layers going as far back as 5,000 years ago. On a more mundane OSM-related note, we discovered two new gas stations and collected the station number of a third one on the P-7 highway.
Monday my schedule was inexplicably scrapped. An all-day conference failed to materialize. We went for a drive, a day trip first to Nohur, where Alexander the Great left behind a garrison some thousands of years ago, and where some inhabitants to this day have green eyes bequeathed by their Greek ancestors, then onward, to the Sumbar River valley. I identified two mysterious villages that appear on imagery but till then in OSM had no names: Kürüždeý and Duzlydepe. We drove over dirt and gravel mountain roads, down steep valleys, and confirmed the tracks of some roads, including one that follows a riverbed for a little way (the water was not deep this time of year).
I also found that a road someone drew "speculatively" (his word) on the map about four years ago doesn't really exist, at least not where it was drawn. Upon return I adjusted it to the GPS trace as far as we went, but deleted what I could not confirm. Locals said the road goes no farther any more due to mud- and rock slides, so that part of the OSM map is more accurate now.
Mapillary imagery is being uploaded as I type this. The scenery was nice, but in springtime it must be spectacular. I will have to go back when the grass is green and the flowers are blooming.
Based on my meetings with the minister of motor roads and the head of the Turkmen Motor Roads State Concern "Türkmenawtoýollary" plus interviews of local drivers, hunters, fishermen, and others here, I have identified many of the segments of the national highway system in Turkmenistan and as of this evening have mapped all but one of them. The P-8 "highway", really a dirt road, needs GPS traces to be collected before it can be properly identified, and that is problematic since it is in a border zone more or less off-limits to foreigners. I know people who have driven that route but they are unable to verify its route from satellite imagery.
We are still missing the route number for the highway from Kerki to Ymamnazar. It overlaps with the P-36 part of the way, but not all of the way.
There may be other "national highway" routes out there and I'll continue to keep my eyes peeled for them.
Some local mappers have taken it upon themselves to add street names in some towns in Turkmenistan following my master classes and presentations on mapping. That is gratifying. New POIs are popping up, as well. If we could only find all the gas stations!
Today I arose at 0400 hours to catch an early flight to Turkmenbashy, then upon arrival there rode a bus for three hours to Garabogaz over the bumpy P-18 "highway" (actually a 1-1/2 lane country road most of the way) to witness the opening of the Garabogaz Carbamide (Urea) Plant. This will be an important augmentation of the export potential of Turkmenistan so is something that needs to be mapped, including contact information, which I added this evening upon return to Ashgabat. A small number of Mapillary images are being uploaded as I type this.
A friend with connections in Riga obtained for me reprints of uncopyrighted Soviet military maps from the 1970s of all of Turkmenistan. I'm not sure how useful they will be as a lot has changed here since the 1970s (particularly the names of municipalities) but at least they will provide some historical names that may be useful and of interest. If anybody has experience working with Soviet-era maps and has tips or suggestions, please let me know!
Proper mapping requires ''en situ'' observation of the POIs to be mapped. Ann and I accordingly took a break from our other duties to investigate the Argentina Pub, conveniently located about 10 minutes' driving time from our house. Good pizza and salad (I was driving so alas could not partake of any nectar). It also offers steaks, which we will also investigate in due course. https://www.openstreetmap.org/way/621972265
That said we have broken 300,000 Mapillary images and 11,000 kilometers of imagery collection.
Last week I met the head of the Turkmen Motor Roads State Concern, and he confirmed my list of national highways was nearly complete (one highway was missing, which he provided but which still lacks a route number; I have added it to the list in the wiki). My next "armchair" project when duties preclude getting out on the road will be to identify the national highways with appropriate tags. If Turkmenistan is to become a transportation hub for Central Asia, it will need a decent online road atlas. OSM is currently the best map of the country available to the general public.
Last week I took two days to tour parts of southern Balkan Province in Turkmenistan, hitting the towns of Etrek, Esenguly, and Ekerem, as well as the villages of Oboy and Daneata (the villages are now on the OSM map based on this ground truth). En route for the first time I filled a 32 Gb memory card with Mapillary imagery and had to install a backup SD card in the Samsung Galaxy smartphone I use for collecting ground-level imagery. Those images are being uploaded now. It may take a few days, since the internet here is so slow.
It will take a while to enter all the edits from data collected on this trip. Much of the M37 is now four-lane dual carriageway (divided highway) so I need to add all the U-turns I marked on the Garmin GPS as well as lots of POIs.
The route took me within a stone's throw of the border with Iran, but we only saw a few Iranian tractor-semitrailer rigs on the roads. Road conditions between Etrek and Ekerem were rough to very rough, with speed averaging 25 to 30 mph (40 to 50 kph). GPS traces have been uploaded from the Garmin nuvi, Pocket Earth, and Mapillary gpx file.
We discovered two new gas stations and confirmed a suspected third one. In Ekerem (formerly called Okarem, but the signs we saw are clearly labeled Ekerem) we lunched on Turkmen meat-filled somsas that cost 2 manat (about 57 cents) apiece from the only cafe in town while tailgating on the beach.
Hmm, OSM Belgium published an interview with me about my mapping in Turkmenistan. You can read it here: https://www.osm.be/2018/08/10/en-motm-allan-mustard.html
Today's newspaper carried news and a map of an internal boundary shift of two of Ashgabat's boroughs ("etraplar"). About 1,376 hectares of land has been shifted from Buzmeyin etrap to Bagtyyarlyk etrap. More map editing ahead.
The newspaper also said the mayor proposed annexing more territory into the city, which means it is highly likely the outer boundary of Ashgabat will change again in the foreseeable future. Even more map editing ahead!