OpenStreetMap UK: what should we do this year?

Posted by mcld on 1 January 2014 in English (English)

As a contributor to OpenStreetMap, one thing I’ve been wondering recently is what sort of map data should we collect for the UK, now that the coverage has already got good. Since OpenStreetMap generally has great coverage of the UK, when you’re out and about with a printed-out map and a pen, it’s very rare that you can find much significant that isn’t mapped already - sometimes a new street or a missing church. You could pour your time into mapping increasingly obscure things, whatever you’re interested in. But what would be the most useful things to map in the UK, over the coming year? Things that are not just interesting to map but could be practically useful to people? Some thoughts:

  • Addresses. I kind of don’t like mentioning this, because I find it boring to map addresses, and I’d much rather that the UK address data magically appeared from some big open-data source. But addresses are obviously really useful for so many things: routing, looking up shops, etc. Coincidentally, Simon Poole (chair of OSM Foundation) also says address collection is the thing we need, for OSM in general not just UK.
  • Postcodes. In the UK postcodes are really important for satnav routing etc. For some reason I suspect that collecting postcodes could be less mind-numbing as collecting addresses, but just as useful. See Jerry’s blog about UK postcodes in OSM for an analysis of where we are with postcodes… about 3% of them. As he says, we need to do better than this - so how best to collect them?
  • Footpaths. Really important for planning walking routes, whether in the city or the countryside. We also need to mark when footpaths have steps or are otherwise no good for wheelchairs/prams. (It’s also handy to know when footpaths are full-blown rights of way, or just “permissive” access.) In his speech at State Of The Map 2013, Peter Eastern mentioned that they estimated UK footpath data was still pretty incomplete. I often use OSM for planning walking routes - it has loads of footpaths that no other services have, but I do still often go walking somewhere and find new footpaths that aren’t in there yet. I don’t know how we could specifically push for more footpath mapping - all I will say is please help us and map walking routes :)

Some notes on other things which I’m not sure how vital they are:

  • Buildings. I know when we’ve been doing London mapping meet-ups, Harry Wood has mentioned that OSM’s buildings coverage for London is rather patchy. You can see it on the map - there are pockets full of buildings mapped, and large pockets with none. But… is this a bad thing? What would we want buildings mapped for? I know they’re useful in fancy 3D map renderings, but for more practical purposes…? I’m guessing it’s not that crucial, though it might relate a bit to the address mapping.
  • Shops. It’s great to have shops, restaurants, pubs and other local businesses in OSM. Once you start mapping these, though, you notice there’s quite a rapid turnover - your high street probably gains/loses a shop every 3 months or so, at a wild guess. So this data is useful, but it’s less permanent than all the other stuff I’ve mentioned so far. I’d suggest there’s no point having a big push to map every shop in every high street, we just need to let the momentum build to a point where that happens under its own steam.
  • Postboxes. Again Jerry has a detailed breakdown, and says we need to map them more. Plus Robert Whittaker has some data mining tools about postbox completeness. On the other hand, is it really that urgent to map postboxes? It doesn’t feel anywhere near as critical as mapping addresses, walking routes, etc. The only use case I can think of is “where’s the nearest postbox?” which is rarely a critical matter.
  • GPX traces. After MapBox published their beautiful rainbow GPS map tiles which provide a lovely way to see the GPS traces contributed by the community, I noticed at least two villages where there were basically zero traces uploaded. Are GPS traces important to UK mapping? The coverage of the aerial imagery is good, and generally quite well GPS-aligned, so… do we need more GPS traces around the UK? I genuinely don’t know, and would be interested to find out either way.
  • Grit bins. Something I noticed a couple of winters ago - it would be really handy to have every grit bin mapped: one day, when it’s freezing cold outside, all the grit bins are hidden under a foot of snow, and you need to clear a driveway, it could be really handy. That’s just one little thing that I don’t think anyone has particularly focussed on, so a little call out - please map amenity=grit_bin when you see them!

I’d be grateful for any feedback on the thoughts above, including other things that could be priorities. Just one UK mapper’s perspective.

Originally posted on my own blog

Comment from Richard on 1 January 2014 at 19:15

Surfaces on paths and tracks. A highway=footway or highway=bridleway could be anything. For walkers and (especially) cyclists, a well-chosen surface= tag makes a huge difference.

Comment from chillly on 1 January 2014 at 19:35

Postcodes are available from ONS. I maintain the overlay, more details here:

Comment from paulbiv on 1 January 2014 at 21:31

Buildings/addresses are my current project. Otherwise bus routes and destinations. Shops and other workplaces - offices, works and ‘craft’ are even worse than shops.

The postcode issue is a problem. My local authority (Medway) is very bad about putting up signs for new roads, let alone putting postcodes on them. There are at least a couple of roads I’ve personally checked where I’ve checked there’s no nameplate and someone has then put the OS Locator name in the database.

Lowest level postcode areas will go across streets and some of the larger social housing blocks will have several lowest level postcodes - I lived in one with 3, divided by floor.

Electoral roll may be good for postcodes.

Postcodes also change with changes in sorting offices.

It’d be nice if part of the competition regulations for the privatised Royal Mail meant that postcode data was equally available to all under opendata. Can’t see a reason why that should not be the case.

Apart from administrative boundaries, postcodes are the biggest case I can see for importing anything (NAPTAN’s helpful, but not absolutely necessary).

Comment from EdLoach on 2 January 2014 at 09:13

Locally, I (now try and only) add buildings as I add the surveyed addresses (there are a few buildings mapped from before I did this though). It helps keep track of where still needs surveying.

I agree with you about shops. I was in Pier Avenue, Clacton the other day which is somewhere where I had mapped the shops previously, and updated them once in mid-summer this year. I noticed an empty one which I didn’t remember so took a panoramic shot of one side of the road with my phone. I think there were 3 or 4 shops that needed updating. But again, it is much easier to update the tags on an already mapped shop than mapping it from scratch, so having them mapped hopefully makes it easier for new people to start contributing to OSM.

Comment from Pink Duck on 2 January 2014 at 12:37

My choice would be filling in missing speed limits for the major road network, as can be seen from this useful ITO! Map.

Comment from Tom Chance on 2 January 2014 at 20:30

I’d go with surfaces and speed limits to help with pedestrian and cyclist routing, and addressess (added to buildings and including postcodes) to make tools like Nominatim more useful.

As Jerry and Chris have blogged about, adding postcodes is relatively easy and helps give a sufficiently accurate fix on locations for many applications.

There are still over 15,000 major roads missing from OSM, and only 60 local authority areas are 100% “complete”, according to ITO’s comparison with OS Locator

We could also do with tidying up some data that isn’t very difficult. My bugbear is that we imported lots of NAPTAN bus stops, but still there are thousands of duplicates, and bus stops with inaccurate locations. It’s a shame because, when they are surveyed, our data is generally far more accurate than NAPTAN, which makes it a potentially useful resource. Will this ever be fixed?

I’m not a fan of adding data like shops in areas of London I won’t maintain, they go out of date so quickly and most of London hasn’t been systematically updated for years.

Comment from Dominic Hosler on 3 January 2014 at 11:03

Personally I’ve been working on postboxes recently, although I agree about the footpath / bridleway (both missing ones and including the surface tag).

I’ve attempted to map speed limits, but I rarely find myself walking down a trunk road, and I never try and map whilst driving! If anyone can tell me how they map speed limits I’d be very interested in helping.

Comment from Rovastar on 4 January 2014 at 12:58

I think we should add things the the general population find most useful.

Although I am not a great adder of shops I think these are very useful to most users of the map.

Shopping centres are a great example of this. These are in general really poorly mapped and these are places that millions of people visit.

This can be for many reasons, the lack of meaningful rendering/displaying the info for the multiple levels that the shops reside on on, and the perceived boring nature of this and ironically (given my stance) one of the few areas where it could be argued that lack of female diversity is more apparent.

In my opinion that shops are more useful that on off chance that someone needs the address & postcode info for 52 Festive Road.

Some see no usefulness in mapping just buildings but I think they are useful guides, it tells you that a building is there!

Comment from Pieren on 15 January 2014 at 16:09

Hey, you forgot : “CLOSE OSM NOTES”.

Check these statistics for notes per countries:

Froggies : 7.8 closed for 1 open Roastbeefs : 0.9 closed for 1 open

Comment from andy mackey on 19 February 2017 at 08:33

I have asked a question on the forum, after considering Tom Chance’s comment.

Comment from andy mackey on 19 February 2017 at 14:50

Opps! it was Dominics comment about the difficultly of mapping whilst driving not Toms Sorry.

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