London OpenStreetMap

Friday Review: London Crumpled City Map

I got the London Crumpled City Map as a Christmas pressie. It is a large scale map of central London – covering most, but not all, of Zone 1 – the eastern edge of the City is chopped off. It is designed and produced by an Italian company, and is one of a series of maps that also includes New York, Paris, Tokyo, Berlin and Rome.

The big feature about the map is you can scrunch it up into a ball and keep it in the soft pouch that comes with it – unraveling for later use is straightforward. The map is printed on a very thin and light plastic waterproof sheet, kind of like a synthetic tablecloth. The map remains very creased when it is flattened out – naively I was expecting it to spring back to its perfect condition which it was in when I opened the present – but is still very readable.

The cartography is simple and clear – grey roads with black text, on white. Large buildings are shown in lighter grey, parkland is in olive and the Thames is an unusually light blue. It’s too simple in places – paths in parks and on the Thames’s pedestrian bridges appear just like the roads, and bridges and tunnels are not shown, which means the Victoria Embankment appears to end abruptly as Blackfriars, rather than continuing under it as Upper Thames Street. Surface railway lines are present as narrow lines. Only the TfL stations are shown – City Thameslink is missing, for instance.

As a some-time contributor to the project, I’m pleased to see (thanks to the prominent credit on the map) that the data is from OpenStreetMap. Unfortunately the map does have a number of typos, more so than you would normally expect for a central London map. I’m not sure if these are due to the OpenStreetMap data – in which case the data must have been sourced a long time ago, as OpenStreetMap is pretty good in central London these days – or from an independent list of points of interest which have been superimposed on the top.

From the nature of the mistakes, I’m pretty sure OSM is not at fault here. For example, UCL appears as the University College of London, and Russel(l) Square station is missing an “l”. The Diana memorial fountain in Kensington Gardens appears as “Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund”. A mysterious second “Paddington” station appears where the Bakerloo Line’s Edgware Road station is, and the other Edgware Road station doesn’t appear at all. Some of the landmarks are a bit dubious – the Royal Agricultural Hall is actually better known these days as the Business Design Centre in Islington and has been as such for at least 15 years. There are some prominent landmarks missing too, such as the Globe theatre on Bankside, the Old Bailey and the BFI IMAX cinema in Waterloo.

So – it’s probably not a particularly useful map for anyone – for tourists it leaves off too many attractions and stations, for cyclists and drivers it doesn’t distinguish between paths and roads, and for walkers, it doesn’t show the route of the underground lines. You would probably be better off looking at the many “minilith” map slabs that are starting to appear all around the city. However, it is very light, easy to store (there’s something very satisfying about crumpling it up) and completely waterproof. And it’s another real-world use of OSM. So I like it. Link to it on Amazon.

Bike Share Data Graphics London

Barclays Cycle Hire – Extending East

Alexander Baxevanis, maker of the excellent free Cycle Hire Map app for the iPhone, has obtained a list of 227 proposed sites for the eastwards extension (and expansion of the existing area) of the Barclays Cycle Hires scheme through a Freedom of Information request on MySociety’s What Do They Know. Unfortunately TfL didn’t provide the exact locations of the proposed new docks, rather just the street names, or occasionally junctions.

I have taken the list and geocoded it – using Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables as a first pass, then manually geocoding the 40 or so that failed using OpenStreetMap data.

Red dots show the proposed new locations, with yellow dots showing the existing stands as of January 2011.

You can download the locations from the Google Fusion table here or view a larger version of the map here. See the FOI response for the source data set.

Very important caveats: Because the names are often only street names, the “dot” representing the new dock is placed fairly arbitrarily along the street – in reality, the actual location may be quite far along the street from this place. Consider that these locations are simply my guesses. Also, it is really important to emphasise these are the proposed locations – TfL has not yet started the planning process or consulted with the councils/residents yet. It is likely that quite a few of these will not actually be built, or will be relocated elsewhere, come later this year or early 2012 when the expansion goes live.

Along the way I discovered a number of curiosities, such as:

  • the official name for College Green – the bit of grass outside the Palace of Westminster where MPs are often interviewed – being Abingdon (or Abington?) Street Gardens.
  • a street that has just been born (photo) and doesn’t appear on any public web maps except OSM (now).
  • the various “marketing” names for the new residential skyscrapers appearing around Canary Wharf, such as Streamlight, Ability Place and Pan Peninsula.

Indeed, many of the proposed sites are outside these large new residential blocks, and also outside many of the DLR and train/tube stations in Tower Hamlets – unlike the initial launch of the scheme, there seems to be no shying away from placing stands right next to the stations, where commuters are likely to be piling onto them.

(I was very impressed with Openlayers/Canvas heatmaps the other day, so the first picture above is a heatmap showing dock density, for the fully extended scheme. The background for that picture is OpenStreetMap.)

Bike Share London

The Most Popular Bike Share Routes in London

Following on from my map of all the first million or so bike routes, Here are the most popular bike share routes in London, based on flow data for August, September and October 2010.

Weekdays – the map below shows where there were more than 200 journeys (in either direction) in the weekdays during the period. The line thickness grows by one pixel for each 100 journeys:

Flows here are dominated by commuters going to/from King’s Cross station to Bloomsbury, and Waterloo and London Bridge stations to the City. A short hop to Notting Hill Gate station, in the far west of the scheme, is also popular, as is the Broad Walk route through Kensington Gardens.

The top 5 weekday journeys are:

  • Finsbury Circus, Liverpool Street Newgate Street, St. Paul’s
  • Queen Street, Bank Concert Hall Approach 2, South Bank
  • Turquoise Island, Notting Hill Notting Hill Gate Station, Notting Hill
  • Lexham Gardens, Kensington Wright’s Lane, Kensington
  • Holborn Circus, Holborn Concert Hall Approach 2, South Bank

Weekends – the map below shows where there were more than 50 journeys in total (in either direction) in the weekends during the period. The line thickness grows by one pixel for each 50 journeys:

The parks – Hyde Park and Regent’s Park in particular – are much more popular at the weekends, as is Angel and London Bridge. Docks around the British Museum and the Museum of London are also popular. The City itself is, as expected, virtually dead at weekends for Bike Share users.

The top 5 weekend journeys are:

  • Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens Palace Gate, Kensington Gardens
  • Hyde Park Corner, Hyde Park Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens
  • Warwick Avenue Station, Maida Vale Clifton Road, Maida Vale
  • Turquoise Island, Notting Hill Notting Hill Gate Station, Notting Hill
  • Westbourne Grove, Bayswater Turquoise Island, Notting Hill
Bike Share Data Graphics London Mashups OpenLayers

The First Million London Bike Share Journeys

Thanks to a FOI request from Adrian Short, Transport for London have recently released to their developers area details of 1.4 million bike share journeys. The data is believed to include all the journeys between 30 July 2010 and 3 November 2010, except those starting between midnight and 6am.

I’ve created a map which visualises these journeys – select a docking station and a time, and it will show the journeys that start/end at that dock, depending on the options chosen.

You can see the map here. On launching the site, an initial docking station – one outside Waterloo station – is selected, and an “interesting” timeframe is chosen – the morning of 4 October, which was a day impacted by a tube strike.

Heavy usage along the Broad Walk through Kensington Gardens, particularly at weekends:

The predominant flows from a docking station near King’s Cross station, in weekday mornings, are outwards (red lines), particularly south towards the river. Only a few inbound journeys happen (blue lines):

The reverse is true in weekday evenings, as commuters head back to the stations:

The map bears a resemblance to my live Barclays Cycle Hire scheme status map, as I’m reusing a lot of the same code and graphics.

Bike Share London

Waiting for the Data

An interesting article on Transport for London (TfL) data has appeared on the London Data Store blog from Anthony Browne – the Greater London Authority’s Policy Director for Economic Development. The article announces the return of Trackernet, the live feed of tube train locations.

TfL must be commended for working on restoring this feed and making it freely availably, particularly as their national counterparts, National Rail, are apparently busy locking down departure board data and insisting on being paid a fee every time someone queries departure information for the (publically subsidised) trains through an app! TfL has made the feed available as part of a redesign and enhancement of their developer area, which also includes a sample (5%) of Oyster card journey data for November last year, potentially very interesting for visualising and analysing how London moves. The enhancements also include moving Trackernet to the cloud so that it scales well with heavy usage.

However, the article is incorrect as it says “…I wouldn’t have found a free docking station in Shoreditch without the bike hire apps that are made possible (at no cost to the public) by the simple expediency of TfL publishing the cycle data. ”

Unfortunately, the cycle data published by TfL wouldn’t have helped – the TfL data available through the developer area/APIs simply is a static list of docking stations, with locations and maximum capacities. The near-live information, used by the apps in order to show full/free status, can only be obtained by regularly “scraping” the HTML source code from the official Google map mashup of the scheme, on the TfL website, or using a third-party API that does the same, such as the excellent BorisAPI. Should TfL decide to redesign their map, there is every chance the coding changes would break these unofficial feeds, simultaneously breaking all the apps, and other cycle visualisations, such as my own. The developer community still awaits an official API for the near-live information, such as is available in Rennes.

On the topic of forthcoming data from TfL, I am also eagerly awaiting the release of the first one million bike share journeys, that has been promised as the result of a freedom of information request.

London is certainly going forwards, as quickly as the rest of the country is going backwards, in terms of opening up public travel data, but we’re not there yet!


Where is London?

When I was at school, I lived a long way up north. My geography of the much of the rest of the U.K. was limited to the AA road atlas my parents had in the car, which I used to look at compulsively during long journeys. I was fascinated by the schematic diagrams showing the layout of road junctions on each of the motorways. The motorways were represented on the diagrams themselves by dead straight lines – with one exception: the M25. This motorway was shown as a square, apparently enclosing all of London. So, for many years, I assumed that the London boundary was the M25 itself. I was a little disappointed when I moved down to the city and discovered this was not the case. Several large areas – Epsom, Loughton, Watford – are comfortably inside the M25 ring but not within the administrative boundary of Greater London. Similarly, the boundary pushes out beyond the M25 in a few, generally rural, places.

It turns out there are a lot of official and unofficial ways to define London’s extent.

  • Greater London – the administrative extent, made up of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London at its centre. It is the area that is administered by the boroughs and also forms the area of the six concentric Transport for London travelcard zones – although there are some “special” additional zones which go beyond the boundary. Greater London is shown above.
  • Greater London Urban Area (aka Greater London Built-up Area) – the Office of National Statistics defines this as the conurbation area of London (i.e. the continuous urban environment) which is roughly equivalent to Greater London but excludes the large rural areas within the latter boundary, such as Biggin Hill, and includes some towns which “spill over” the Greater London boundary, such as Staines and Dartford.
  • London Travel to Work Area (TTWA) – Travel to Work Areas are contiguous regions within which 75% of people who live there also work there, and vice versa. London is such a region, its TTWA extends slightly beyond Greater London to include places with sufficiently good transport links that, as far as employment is concerned, are “local”, and that don’t themselves have a considerable industrial or commercial base. The map here is the London TTWA from the 2001 census, the areas were defined in 2007 and the map is an extract of one produced by the ONS in 2013: london_2001ttwa
  • The extent of the “020” telephone number prefix – the dialling code for “London”.
  • The London postal district – the extent of the SW, W, NW, N, E and SE postcodes. These miss out a surprisingly large part of the London urban area, except in the north, where they even extend beyond the Greater London boundary.
  • The County of London – this approximately represented inner London and ceased to exist in 1965 with the creation of Greater London. However many older people continue to refer to the counties that were lost or redrawn to accommodate Greater London, such as Middlesex, which is now subsumed by the northern part of Greater London.
  • The City of London – this still exists but only covers the Square Mile – the financial and historic centre of London. It is surrounded by the 32 London boroughs. One of the other boroughs – Westminster – is also a city. Hence the electoral constituency which currently covers both being called “Cities of London and Westminster”.
  • Mayor’s Wider London Boundary – “This is the area within which the Mayor has the right to make increments or decrements to National Rail franchises” according to this document. It appears to be made up of the Greater London administrative boundary plus nearby commuter towns that have direct routes to central London, e.g. Sevenoaks, Dartford, Hertford, Broxbourne. I haven’t been able to find a complete map of it though.

Personally, I still prefer the M25 as the boundary. If I’m heading on a long cycle ride from the centre of London to (say) Brighton, then its when I pass underneath the M25 – a very tangible, physical feature – that I feel I have finally left the city. None of the other borders described above are represented on the ground, other than by road signs. But you can’t miss a huge 6+ lane orbital highway.

The bottom set of pictures are, clockwise from the top right: The London postal district in red, the London Travel To Work Area in dark blue, the former County of London in green, the City of London in bright red, aerial imagery of London’s built up areas, and the London 020 dialling code area in red. Apart from the top picture, which is from OpenStreetMap, all pictures are sourced from Wikipedia. All the picture here are are subject to Creative Commons copyrights of their respective authors. The middle picture shows Greater London, with the boroughs (and the City of London) numbered.

Updated June 2013 to add the Mayor’s Wider London boundary, and in December 2013 to add the ONS TTWA 2001 map.


Skyscraper City or Cathedral City?

Cross-posted from the Hodder Geography Nest blog, where I am one of this month’s guest-bloggers.


I was walking down Bishopsgate in the City of London yesterday, and I noticed the giant concrete “core” of the Pinnacle, the City’s next skyscraper, has finally started to rise out of the ground. It’s just one of a number of very tall buildings now under construction in London, after a couple of quiet years due to the economic conditions. The Pinnacle, also known as the Bishopsgate Tower and nicknamed the Helter-Skelter because of its spiral shape, will be 288m tall and is due to be completed by the end of 2012.

Next door, the Leadenhall Building is due to commence construction in early 2011, it will be 225m high and also has a nickname, the Cheese Grater. Just up the road is the Heron Tower, 230m high and was completed in July, it opens early next year. Not far away is 20 Fenchurch Street, nicknamed the Walkie Talkie because of its bulging design, which is due to start construction any day now and will be 160m high. Finally, just across London Bridge, is the Shard, which will be the tallest of all – the main core has already risen 60 stories high, and the building will be 310m high when complete, again in 2012, making it the tallest building in the European Union. A photograph of the Shard under construction is on the right.

Many of these new skyscrapers will have public viewing galleries and rooftop restaurants, so for those without a fear of heights, it is going to be an exciting few years.

An artist’s impression of the Pinnable is on the left. Three of the four buildings on the right of the picture have now been demolished – 30 St Mary Axe, popularly known as the Gherkin, remains, but the two square buildings will soon instead be replaced with the Cheese Grater and the Walkie Talkie. The building at the front has also been demolished and replaced with a new mid-level office building.

It’s anything but straightforward to build a skyscraper in London though. The planning process takes many years, and many organisations voice objections at the public enquiries, notably English Heritage, which manages the historic built environment of the country. The costs of building a skyscraper are of course very high, and there is always the risk that the demand for office space has dropped by the time the building is finally completed, as happened with the Broadgate Tower last year.

There is one other factor that is special to London – St Paul’s Cathedral, or specifically, viewing corridors to it. There are ten designated places in London, from which the view to the cathedral must be uninterrupted. Some of the places include Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park, Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath, Alexandra Palace and most interestingly King Henry VIII’s Mound in Richmond Park. The latter view is through a small hole cut in the hedge on the mound, allowing a suprising glimpse of the cathedral standing nearly 10 miles away.

One very different kind of building development that opened last fortnight was One New Change, a shopping mall and offices on Cheapside, directly east from the cathedral. It is just 40m high, despite having as much floor space as the 225m Leadenhall Building. The building height was very deliberately fixed, so that the building appears to “nestle” alongside St Paul’s rather than overshadowing it.

The new City skyscrapers are all clustered together in the eastern part of the Square Mile, where they don’t impact on the St Paul’s protected views – by not blocking the building, appearing to be close by it from the viewpoints, or adding a dominating backdrop. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Cheese Grater building slopes back is to minimise its impact on the skyline with respect to the cathedral. No super-tall skyscrapers will be appearing immediately beside the cathedral, or to its north or west, any time soon.

The map below shows some of the protected views to St Paul’s Cathedral – marked with the red pin. King Henry VIII’s Mound is marked with the green pin.

The image of the Shard under construction is CC-By-SA George Rex photography on Flickr. The artists impression of the Pinnacle is CC-By-SA Will Fox on Wikipedia. The OpenStreetMap screenshot is of data which is CC-By-SA OpenStreetMap contributors. The photo of St Paul’s Cathedral with the pre-2007 skyscrapers is by the author.

London Technical

Hodder Geography Nest

During November, I am the guest blogger for the Hodder Geography Nest, along with James, a Ph.D at UCL Geography. We will be blogging about the research we are doing, focusing particularly on maps.


A Year at UCL

Here’s some iPhone photos from my office window at UCL, over the last 12 months.


M:F Ratio as a measure of a City’s Cycling Friendliness

Okansas links to an interesting study in the Scientific American which relates the cycling friendliness of a city to the male-female ratio of the cyclists in it – the theory being that men are more likely to brave a motor-friendly place while women need more encouragement.

I counted 19 men and 17 women on bikes on my commute into work today, although this was after the normal London commuting time, and a significant part of the commute was not on roads. I suspect that there is more of a male bias on the busier roads and during the rush hour.