Monday, 31 August 2009

Turville & Hambleden

A nice ride this afternoon joining up bits of recent rides with an old favourite, for a 38 mile loop round Henley, Christmas Common, Turville, Hambleden and Marlow. After a grey morning the weather turned sunny and wam this afternoon. It was a little bit windy, but otherwise nothing to grumble about.

It's quite a hilly route, but the glide down through the woods from North End to Turville for a couple of miles more than compensates for the climb up from Henley to North End. I'm not so sure about the lumpy bits between Hambleden and Marlow. The local cycle route through Rotten Row and Bovingdon Green is a great improvement over the A4155 that I used to follow, but the climbs are still a bit too steep for comfort. Maybe in time I'll get in better shape, and they will seem less crinkly, but I'm not there yet, and I seem to remember feeling the same way months ago.

They were serving teas in the churchyard at Hambleden, so I stopped and had a cup of coffee and a slice of fruit cake (I don't like tea). That was a very pleasant break, and the whole outing was good, but the ride down through the woods from North End to Turville was the best bit. It's a steady downward slope, on a narow road that is completely enclosed by trees. The trees made it quite dark, but the sun was breaking through gaps in the cover, and there were glimpses of views down the valley. I kept thinking I should stop to take a photo, but I was having too much fun. So for illustration an extract from the OSM cycle map will have to do instead.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

When possible make a U-turn

The GPS knows about the short-cut through town, but it doesn't know that a mile further along Regional Cycle Route 52 I can get an ice-cream, and spend twenty minutes watching the boats squeezing through Boulter's lock.

Saint Pancras

St Pancras Station, clock tower
I had a meeting in King's Cross this week, and afterwards I dragged my colleagues round to Saint Pancras for a coffee. At the time it was built such Victorian archtecture was considered brash and vulgar - a bit of a mishmash of styles. Now it is widely regarded as a masterpiece. While I'm not sure my colleagues agreed, I think it is a delight, they've done a wonderful job of the restoration and it's well worth a walk round the block for an eyeful.

I was reminded of this today because I've been back to Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale to fill more gaps in Open Street Map. Each of these neighbouring towns has quite a pleasant Victorian village at its core, and an interesting mix of housing, but they are also surrounded by endless estates of enormous and expensive looking new houses. I like the older bits, but I'm afraid I find a lot of the recent building grotesque. Oddly they seem to have fenced most of the residents in with huge railings and locked gates.

One day, perhaps, people will look back at this in the same way as we now look at Saint Pancras, and make diversions to look at a remarkable collection of 21st century domestic compounds. But somehow I doubt it.

I know that I've not managed to get all the roads traced that were missing from the map, but I think I've now got a pretty fair proportion. It was a good day for a ride, but I found some of it a bit depressing, and I won't be rushing back.

Friday, 28 August 2009


Wired have used my photo of an OSM cycle map on my Garmin to illustrate a recent article. The link is here. It's not a bad article.

I quite like Wired, so I am hugely flattered that they chose my picture, and pleased that they have attributed it. But I'm a bit surprised that a publication like that didn't take more care over the license restrictions, which specify "non-commercial use".

I've emailed them to that effect, offering to send details of where to send payment, if only in recognition of the importance of the licensing system, and the rights of commercial photographers. I will report results.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Arbitrary and meaningless?

A comment on the OSM Talk-GB lists has got me thinking. It was part of discussion on creating local "chapters" to represent OSM. That's not a subject that particularly interests me, and the comment was a bit of a sideline to the main thread anyway. But I was struck by the thought that such chapters should be organised around "real" regions, not "arbitrary" and "meaningless" government boundaries.

The connection is that I've been closing some of the gaps in the local government boundaries to make my estimates of OSM coverage work. Chasing down the gaps showed just how many different paths the boundaries follow. Most often they track some feature in the landscape: usually a river or a stream. Many follow parts of the transport infrastructure, including a lot of roads and some railways (some follow the path of a railway that is no longer there). Near to where I was mapping yesterday part of the boundary for Bracknell Forest (council created 35 years ago) follows the path of a Roman Road (laid out 2,000 years ago). Some boundaries seem to have been adjusted to surround new housing developments, or follow more recent infrastructure such as a motorway. Others just snake across the countryside, following a route that has no apparent rationale at all.

It certainly ends up looking a bit mad. But of course it isn't really arbitrary or meaningless. It's the result of a whole series of decisions that date back at least to Saxon times (for shire counties), and medieval times (for towns). More recently there have been a couple of hundred years of trying to reform all this, and adapt to the effect of the industrial revolution and subsequent change. Right up to the creation of new unitaries earlier this year. At the time, each individual decision must have made some kind of sense, even if they now look arbitrary and meaningless to our eyes.

I am getting to the age when I ought to start grumbling about everything going to the dogs, but I don't have much sympathy with the view that local authorities have to be preserved as part of our national heritage. They are there to serve a practical purpose, not a ceremonial one. Like language they have to adapt to changing needs. And I doubt many of the existing boundaries have had any kind of democratic basis. Existing structures have pretty much been imposed on us: by power struggles between modern politicians, Victorian industrialists, Medieval bishops, Norman lords, Saxon Earls, and even Roman soldiers.

No doubt when the Martians invade they will impose new and more "rational" boundaries on us - just as the Normans did to the Saxons, and just as Napoleon did to much of Europe a couple of hundred years ago. Drawing up new boundaries is a neat way to break up an existing power base.

Certainly a few lines on the map are never going to reflect all the different "real" geographies out there, and "English administrative boundaries: the first 2,000 years" is unlikely to make the best-seller lists. But the boundaries we have today carry all the mess and inconsistency of their history. That's not a reason to preserve them, but until the Martians arrive, I reckon we ought to celebrate it.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A day at Ascot

I estimate that about 80km of roads in my local authority (Windsor & Maidenhead) have not yet been added to Open Street Map. In comparison to other places in England that's not too bad - 89% of roads are already there. But compared to some other parts of South-east England it looks a bit thin.

The issue of course, is to find the missing roads, trace them, and get them added. Some of them are isolated gaps, and those are going to take the most effort to reach and trace. But there are also some areas with a bit of a cluster of missing roads. In this part of the world, the residential areas around Ascot and Sunninghill look like the best opportunity to do some useful mapping without chasing around all over the place.

It took a couple of hours riding to get out there, but in the process I managed to plot a few of the isolated gaps. I did the same on the way back, but the bulk of the afternoon was looping around an interesting mix of different residential areas. I reckon I've managed to trace a reasonable proportion of what was missing from the bottom right-hand corner of the Windsor & Maidenhead authority, and I'm all geared up to add them to OSM. Unfortunately it's down for maintenance this weekend, so I will just have to wait.

Friday, 21 August 2009

OSM coverage in Scotland and Wales

Name |Coverage
Isle of Anglesey | 124%
Gwynedd | 71%
Conwy and Denbighshire | 54%
South West Wales | 60%
Central Valleys | 43%
Gwent Valleys | 35%
Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot | 65%
Swansea | 77%
Monmouthshire and Newport | 72%
Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan | 79%
Flintshire and Wrexham | 87%
Powys | 50%

Angus and Dundee City | 56%
Clackmannanshire and Fife | 51%
East Lothian and Midlothian | 65%
Scottish Borders | 60%
Edinburgh, City of | 99%
Falkirk | 55%
Perth & Kinross and Stirling | 66%
West Lothian | 64%
East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire and Helensburgh & Lomond | 66%
Dumfries & Galloway | 51%
East Ayrshire and North Ayrshire mainland | 42%
Glasgow City | 86%
Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire | 70%
North Lanarkshire | 55%
South Ayrshire | 48%
South Lanarkshire | 58%
Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire | 46%
Caithness & Sutherland and Ross & Cromarty | 64% *
Inverness & Nairn and Moray, Badenoch & Strathspey | 64% *
Lochaber, Skye & Lochalsh, Arran & Cumbrae and Argyll & Bute | 64% *
Eilean Siar (Western Isles) | 67%
Orkney Islands | 29%
Shetland Islands | 48%

(*) = Average across three regions

Coverage = (length of roads plotted in OSM across the region) / (DfT figures for the length of road in the local authorities that make up the region)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

OSM coverage in Scotand and Wales

I've had a first attempt at measuring OSM coverage in Scotland and Wales using NUTS-3 regional boundaries as the common ground to compare Department for Transport statistics on the length of roads in a local authority against the length of roads plotted on OSM.

NUTS is the basis on which the EU publish regional statistics, and they provide the boundaries as shapefiles. The precision isn't as great as you get from admin boundaries on OSM, so this is a stop-gap until the boundaries for local authorities in Scotand and Wales are complete on OSM (or until the Ordnance Survey put them in the public domain).

On the whole the NUTS boundaries match up reasonably well with Local Authority boundaries. In some cases they are the same, in others I can aggregate the road lengths for a few authorities to get the figure for the equivalent NUTS region. It's only in the Scottish highlands where this doesn't work too well, because the local authority for the Highlands crosses several NUTS regions. So I needed to take an average across a big area of northern Scotland.

Nobody seems to like the colouring on this attempt very much, so that will need some more work. But meanwhile, the headlines are that Anglesey and Edinburgh look well covered. Glasgow, Renfrewshire, and Gwynedd look pretty good. While Powys, Aberdeenshire, Orkney and Shetland are looking a bit thin.

For anyone interested in doing a similar exercise elsewhere in Europe, I don't know what detailed figures are published at national level, but there are Eurostat figures for road lengths at the NUTS-2 level (i.e. the next largest geographical grouping after those I am using here). Eurostat only split "Motorways" and "Other Roads" so dealing with dual carriageways etc is going to be a bit iffy. However, I've done a quick comparison of their numbers for the UK, and the rough figures (motorways * 2 + other roads) gives me a total that isn't a million miles away from more detailed calculations. The Eurostat figures are here under "Regional Transport Statistics", and the Eurostat shapefiles that I used are here

There's another version, with brighter colours here

Monday, 17 August 2009


One of the odd things about the ride I did yesterday was that it crosses four different Ordnance Survey Landranger maps. My "home" sheet (Reading & Windsor) would have got me as far as Slough, though I shouldn't need it for such a familiar route, and it didn't come out of the bag.

From there to the top of the Wey Navigation is on the West London sheet (176) and I checked that one a couple of times, but along the canal itself it only took me as far as the point where the M25 crosses.

Then I was on the Dorking and Reigate sheet (187) almost until I reached Newark lock (in the picture). After that I would have been following the route on the Aldershot & Guildford sheet (186) except that I didn't have a copy of that one.

Not that it particularly matters along a canal of course. Even at my most vague and woolly, it would be quite an achievement to get lost on a towpath. Except for one thing.... approaching Guildford there are a couple of different options, and I suspect I didn't pick the best route into the centre.

Getting home from the centre of Guildford was another matter. My planning for the day had been bit sloppy to put it mildly. Basically I knew that if I headed north I would end up somewhere familiar, and I hadn't given it much more though than that. I've got the OSM cyclemap on the GPS, and since that now has route finding I was pretty relaxed about getting home.

In the event, though, the distance from Guildford to home proved a bit too much for the GPS. I fiddled around with partial routes for a while without too much luck, and in the end I realised I didn't have time to drift much off a straight line, so I went and found a book shop, and bought a copy of the local OS sheet.

That got me as far as Bagshot. Not that it needed much checking since I was now following a main road, with plenty of signposts. From Bagshot I was back on the OS sheet that I had started from, but more importantly, I was on familiar ground, and the GPS route finder was coping, and ticking down the remaining distance. So from Bracknell I was able to call home and let them know (more or less) exactly how late I was going to be.

Unfortunately slippy maps on the internet don't function too well out on the road. The GPS is wonderful, but it isn't really up to finding 20 mile routes on the bike yet (though it is getting there). I am trying to make a convincing case to myself that an Internet tablet with GPS and Maemo Mapper would be just the thing (without much luck). So in reality I suspect that I'm going to be carrying bundles of landranger maps for a while yet.

It seems a bit ironic that all this came to the fore along a canal route call the "navigation".

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Wey to go

There are a few good canals within reach of home for me and the bike: the Grand Union, which I've followed up through Rickmansworth; and the Kennet and Avon which I've followed beyond Reading. On this week's long outing I followed an earlier one: the Wey Navigation which runs from the Thames at Weybridge, to Guildford.

I had reached Weybridge along the Thames path, and I returned home from Guildford with a dash up the A322; trying (unsuccessfully) to get home in time for dinner.

I'm fairly clear now about my preferred route to Weybridge. There was a slight glitch in Staines today because they had closed off the Thames path for some reason, so a bunch of us on bikes diverted through the town centre. Apart from that all was straightforward to the ferry at Shepperton, then the fun of taking the bike across the river to Weybridge.

From the ferry I had to hunt out the point where the Wey Navigation leaves the Thames and heads off for Guildford. It didn't look entirely clear on the map, but in practice it wasn't difficult to find.

The navigation is a very early canal, that now belongs to the National Trust. It was built in 1650, and runs from Weybridge to Guildford. An extension to Godalming was added about a hundred years later.

The towpath is quite narrow, and bumpy, and today it was quite busy, so progress was a bit slow. They allow bikes, but I'm not sure they actively encourage them, because of the number of walkers. I would recommend it - though it's probably a better ride on a mountain bike than a road bike. My hybrid and I coped, but neither of us was really designed for this.

Today was a beautiful, day, and its a lovely ride. There is the occasional point of interest, including a view of a ruined priory; this old mill converted into flats; and some fancy graffiti under the motorway.

The only trouble with the route is that I ended up in Guildford. Not that I have anything against Guildford - it seems a very pleasant town, with quite an impressive high street. The trouble is that I don't know a decent route home from there. Today I just belted up the A322, which is a very indifferent experience. Perhaps I'll figure out something better in future.

By the time I got home I had covered 64 miles. That brings my Eddington number up to 40; and this bike and I have covered over 5,000 miles together. From today, I'll try to forget the return journey, and remember the navigation.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Planet Hannan

Reality check. We used the NHS yesterday - my father-in-law had an operation on his eye that seems to have been successful.

Just in case there is anyone from the US who reads this and knows of Mr Hannan, then I can assure you that this is a massive distortion of how the NHS works. We have our fair share of plonkers over here, and somebody must have voted for this one, but few people in the UK would take his views on the health system seriously. I think most reasonable people would be shocked that a representative of a mainstream political party is spouting such rubbish. I suspect his own colleagues find him an embarassment, and I certainly hope they do.

The UK system is not perfect, by any means, and we all love to grumble about it, but I think the general consensus across mainstream political opinion is that for patients the NHS does a pretty good job on the whole, and a wonderful job on occassions. For the tax-payer it is about as cost-effective as a modern health system can be; but above all, we are proud to have a system that is accessible to everyone.

Most of us would like to see improved NHS performance in some areas, though we don't necessarily agree on which. But as far as I am aware nobody is arguing that we should move to a system more like the current one in the US - that seems to be far more costly than the UK system, yet still excludes so many.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Fancy not knowing what choropleth means!

And now it seems I was doing it without realising, according to this generous link from the experts.

More, as usual, on Wikipedia

Rush hour fun

Last night I foolishly went for a ride at around 5:30 pm, just as all the roads filled with frustrated commuters on their way home.

About a mile from home I had to turn right from a side road onto a busy main road. Sod's law dictated that every time there was a gap in the traffic heading east there was no gap in the traffic heading west. And vice versa. So it was quite long wait.

Several minutes went by.

It was mildly irritiating, but more than the driver behind me could handle. He switched into the left lane, as though he had changed his mind and decided to turn left instead of right.

Unfortunately, it turned out that he had actually decided that he could make a right turn more quickly if he pulled alongside my left side, waited for the same gap in the traffic that I was waiting for, then defied the laws of physics, and beat me across two lanes of a busy road in a rusty old hatchback.

But I didn't know that. When, eventually, a gap arrived, I pulled out as normal, while he screeched off trying to beat me into the opposite lane. Then he realised that I hadn't bottled out, and was now riding straight across his path. So he had no choice but come to an abrupt stop.

Within seconds the next stream of traffic arrived behind him. I am still a bit wider than a bike, but not that much, and by then I was tucked neatly into the lane, as planned, and there would have been plenty room for the next wave of cars to pass me. Unfortunately he was still positioned diagonally across the lane, fumbling to get going again. Much honking of horns.

Over the next few miles I was overtaken three times on fairly narrow roads, by drivers who couldn't be expected to drive below the speed limit, so had to use the opposite lane to get past me. It was still busy, so they cut things a bit fine in front of oncoming cars, and caused more honking of horns.

Four drivers have probably got home cursing a cyclist that held up their journey, and four other drivers have got home cursing a driver that got in their way.

None of this is particularly dangerous or frightening. But it did leave me thinking that I need to find a route for that time of day where I don't come across quite so many people with an odd perspective on life and priorities.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

More on OSM coverage

I've been doing more work on trying to estimate the level of OSM coverage in different parts of the UK by comparing the length of roads in the database with statistics for each local authority published by the Department for Transport. Since my first attempt there have been several improvements. Not least in the number of local authority boundaries for England that are available in the OSM database. It's now pretty much a complete set for the upper-tier authorities in England. Some district councils are still missing, but I can't use those anyway because the DfT statistics don't go down to that level. On top of that, my analysis is now more robust. I've fixed a problem with the map projection that I was using previously, and the way I classify different types of road is more systematic.

The map shows the data I currently have, and the detailed numbers are here.

The top ranking authorities (and km of roads on OSM as % of DfT road length) are:

  1. London Borough of Lambeth (106%)
  2. London Borough of Greenwich (106%)
  3. London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (106%)
  4. London Borough of Kingston upon Thames (105%)
  5. London Borough of Bexley (105%)
  6. Isle of Wight Council (105%)
  7. London Borough of Bromley (104%)
  8. Birmingham City Council (103%)
  9. Reading Borough Council (102%)
  10. Portsmouth City Council (101%)
There's a more detailed map of London here.

The bottom ranking authorities are:
  • Middlesbrough Borough Council (41%)
  • Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (40%)
  • Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council (40%)
  • Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (39%)
  • Sunderland City Council (38%)
  • South Tyneside Council (37%)
  • Luton Borough Council (35%)
  • Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council (32%)
  • Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (28%)
  • North East Lincolnshire Council (24%)
Several people have asked about the proportion of named roads, and I have had an attempt at mapping that here. Individual figures are in the data sheet.

The other figure that may be of interest is the proportion of roads that have been plotted, but not completely tagged. These roads are not included in my totals, because I can't tell what type they are. Broadly speaking they are marked as "highway" but with a type of "road" or "fixme". There are also a few that have been mis-tagged, for example as "highway:some street name" or with a combination of conflicting highway types. But these are a very small proportion of the total. Most are tagged "highway:road" which is normally intended to mean "I know this road is here, but I have not yet decided what type it is". The overall proportion of these is quite low, but it is surprisingly high in some areas - notably Luton, and Northumberland for example, where almost a third of roads in the database are not fully tagged with a recognisable type. Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Somerset, Trafford, Norfolk and Wiltshire also show a high proportion (>10%) of roads that I can't classify. The proportion for each authority is shown in the data as "Percent other".

So my advice is to cancel that holiday in Torquay - it is 98% covered already. Head for Cleethorpes instead, where more than 75% of the roads still have to be added. Other fine places where it should be easy to find unmapped roads are Luton, Middlesbrough, S. Tyneside, Stoke-on-Trent and Sunderland.

Sunday, 9 August 2009


The mileage numbers haven't been looking too clever over the last couple of weeks. For one reason and another, I've dipped from being comfortably ahead of schedule for the year to being just on plan.

The weather forecast said it would be quite warm today, but I decided that for the sake of the numbers it was time for a decent stretch.

So off I went to Oxford, covering quite a lot of new ground (for me) via Henley and Watlington. The first part is a fairly hilly route up into Oxfordshire, but it looks as though there's quite a lot of potential around there in future for interesting loops around Christmas Common, or Wallingford. From Watlington to Oxford is flatter, but less interesting.

After a quick cycle round Oxford city centre I headed south along Sustrans route 5, and caught the train home from Didcot.

As forecast the weather was warm. As always Oxford was busy. As normal for a summer Sunday there were quite a few walkers and cyclists out and about. As usual it was fun to explore new routes. And I got home as tired as I would expect after 50 miles or so.

But there was one big surprise. I bought myself a 99 in Abingdon, and it only cost £1. I'm sure that the last time I had a 99 it cost about £2. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with the one I had today. It was a perfectly normal size (and very welcome on a hot ride). How do they do it? And why, if they can price at that kind of level, don't they go one step further and charge 99p?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Bicycle window

After several attempts I finally got to see the famous bicycle window in St Giles church, Stoke Poges this afternoon.

The stained glass dates from 1643, and the image appears to show a naked cyclist on a "hobby horse" blowing a trumpet.


a) the "hobby horse" was not invented until the nineteenth century
b) The Naked Bike Ride idea didn't emerge until 2004

...there is presumably some other explanation for what is going on here.