As part of the induction week for the new cohort of the MSc in GIS here at the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, I organised a OpenStreetMap Mapping Party. OSM mapping is not only a fun activity that gets the students out of the classroom and getting to know each other, but also serves as a convenient introduction to a wide range of geo-challenges relevant to their MSc, both in terms of data collection quality and attributes, editing and updating of spatial data, as well as the visualisation and processing of collected data.
Central London is already mapped to a high level of detail (not astonishing given that OSM originates from UCL!), so we decided to focus on a much neglected topic, ie wheelchair accessibility mapping. Wheelmap.org, a relatively new initiative to highlight wheelchair accessible places, made it painfully obvious that almost no accessibility mapping had been done so far in and around UCL!
Catherine Holloway, a wheelchair accessibility specialist from our department, gave a great overview of relevant attributes to map, and even brought along a couple of wheelchairs for the students to sit in! Two of the student groups experienced the difficulties when trying to move about in a wheelchair, hitting obstacles, bad dropped kerbs and rough surfaces, a valuable insight into the very specific mobility problems of London’s wheelchair users.
The mapping party was also kindly supported by members of the OSM community, ie. Gianfranco, Derick Rethans, and Alex who shadowed groups and supported them.
The first day was taken up with data collection, and the weather god(s) were very kind to us, with atypically warm and sunny weather for this time of the year, ideal to explore the different areas around UCL’s main campus. We subdivided the area into map slices, and 4 groups went off to collect data, each group recording their progress on walkingpapers print outs. After some initial confusion over what to capture, the groups soon got to grips with the task and went their separate ways to record: if shops and building entrances have step free access and if the toilets are wheelchair accessible; where dropped kerbs are; as well as pavement quality and minimum widths.
My group did south of UCL around Tottenham Court Road, and sadly we found a whole row of shops not wheelchair accessible in Store Street (see photo above). I must say that I was shocked by the number of businesses, pubs and buildings which today are still not wheelchair accessible, just in the very small area we mapped around UCL. After a productive two hours of mapping, we reconvened at the Department, to go for a well deserved pint of beer in the Jeremy Bentham pub (an essential part of any proper mapping party!).
On day 2, the students sat down to add their collected data to OSM, using Potlatch2. Andy Allan, one of the lead developers of Potlatch2, joined us for the lab session to support the students, but also importantly to experience how first time editors of OSM are using his software. In parallel, I setup screen recording software to gather new data on first time users interactions with OSM’s editing tools, in this case Potlatch2, in continuation of earlier work done in usability analysis, reported here before. Apart from some of the previously discussed problems in the usability of Potlatch2, of which Andy took keen notice and I am sure he will report back on as well, the students got on well with the editing. Soon the first changesets appeared on OSM, and the first tagged shops were updated as well on wheelmap.org. Some students even managed to finish early, taking the opportunity to edit and add information around their homes.
The results of the mapping party can be seen in the changesets generated by the students, as well as the numerous classified shops and amenities along Tottenham Court Road and its sidestreets, visible in wheelmap.org, where before there was just a sea of grey unclassified Points of Interest.
You can see the rest of the pictures in my Flickr feed!
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