Mapillary

On August 3, 2014 · 2 Comments

I noticed a tweet from a Twelve Mile Circle reader a few months ago that mentioned Mapillary. I can’t recall who that was although he or she deserves my appreciation. Since then I’ve been watching Mapillary from a distance and I’ve become increasingly intrigued by its possibilities. 12MC almost never features individual websites. This is a rare exception.

For the uninitiated, Mapillary was founded about a year ago as a crowdsourced alternative to Google Street View. Mapillary intends to do it differently. It doesn’t have a huge fleet of vehicles at its disposal to scour the planet like Google or other large companies that provide similar services. However its effort is no less ambitious as described quite succinctly in its Manifesto: "At Mapillary we want to create a photo representation of the world, a map with photos of every place on Earth."

Street View cars can’t travel everywhere, so goes the theory, nor can Google refresh its images more than once every couple of years if not longer even with its massive resources. Crowdsourcing would be one way to get around those limitations, and that’s where Mapillary saw its niche. It would need to generate a critical mass to do that though. Perhaps that’s attainable. OpenStreetMap began with a similar premise and it’s now approaching its 10th anniversary.

Mapillary sounded a lot like the word capillary, and I think that’s the idea. Just as capillaries provide a network to deliver blood throughout the body, Mapillary would reach to every corner of the globe photographically.

The concept seemed to be picking up steam. Last February Mapillary had only about a hundred thousand photos. It hit two million a couple of weeks ago. The site is still in its infancy though. There’s great coverage of Malmö, Sweden for example — the company headquarters — and scattered places where particularly active early adopters happen to live. Other places, even major cities, still remain sparsely covered. This was an example from my little corner of the woods:


Mapillary
Mapillary Sample from the Washington, DC Area
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC-BY-SA)

However, that provides exceptional opportunities for any viewer to be the first person to cover a favorite area. If someone didn’t like the coverage of his hometown, well, he could do something about it. I’ve not created an account so far although I think I may when things calm down and I get a little more free time. There are places near me that need better coverage than some random bicycle guy’s arm.

I’m kicking myself because my on-again-off-again project, "Bike Every Street in Arlington" is about a quarter done now and all I have to show for it is the world’s lamest Flickr tag composed primarily of neighborhood signs and historical markers, with an odd monument or boundary stone thrown in for good measure. Imagine if I’d snapped a photo automatically every two seconds with the Mapillary app for Android as I rode along, and then uploaded the results to the site. The whole world would have been able to share complete coverage of those areas, including miles of dedicated bike paths where cars cannot travel.

I had another motive. Someday this could serve as a genuine alternative to Google Street View. 12MC once relied heavily upon Google. I’ve started moving away from it especially since the release of the new Maps version about a year ago, and began favoring OpenStreetMap. Potentially, Mapillary could fill the Street View portion of that same gap if it succeeds. Currently it does not generate code that allow users to embed images in a blog (that I know of) although maybe that would be a feature they could add as it grows. I’d much prefer a crowdsourced alternative.

I need to decide how to mount a camera to the handlebars of my bicycle. I may go with the Do It Yourself cheap version with a phone. I may get a Garmin VIRB someday if I decide it’s worth the investment. Initially I’ll probably start with Mapillary’s panorama option with my phone and simply record a few noteworthy Washington, DC sites not yet covered.

Stick around. I’ll probably have a follow-up report once I have an opportunity to play around with Mapillary for real.

Trap Streets

On November 24, 2013 · 9 Comments

I’ve wanted to feature Trap Streets on 12MC for the longest while. I began the initial research and started writing an opening paragraph probably a half-dozen times over the last five years. It remained on my topic list, surviving various purges in the vague hope that someday I might find an opportunity to discuss it. Inherently, how does a geo-oddity site dependent upon visual imagery begin to approach something that by definition does not exist?

Let me recap recent developments. I posted another installment of Odds and Ends a couple of days ago, mentioning reader Nigel’s curious discovery of Heterodox View Avenue in various locations throughout the United States. I conducted a basic search and I couldn’t provide an explanation. At the time I observed, "Heterodox View Avenue — and it was always Heterodox View Avenue; not street, not drive, not boulevard, only avenue" and I couldn’t understand why. Neither could I fathom a reasonable explanation for any avenue named "heterodox" in general, a term defined roughly as an unconventional opinion. It all seemed odd and vaguely out of sorts.

Three 12MC readers, Wangi, Craig, and Rhodent each posted comments in quick succession independently. Perhaps, they suggested, multiple appearance of Heterodox View Avenue were meant to serve as trap streets.

Trap streets don’t serve as literal traps — although those in fact do exist (primarily in Canada) — instead they serve as traps for copyright violators. Cartographers historically drew minor, insignificant errors into their maps to deter others from stealing their works. Often errors took the form of small, fictional one-block streets. Access roads through shopping center parking lots, as with several Google Maps’ appearances of Heterodox View Avenue, seemed to fit that definition rather nicely on a theoretical level.

Two of the comments focused specifically on Heterodox View Avenue in Lenexa, Kansas. That was the only example where one could clearly read actual signage in Street View, and cross-reference it to the underlying map. I took a screen print of the image:


Heterodox View Kansas
Heterodox View Avenue, Lenexa/Olathe, KS
via Google Street View, May 2012

Don’t be too concerned about the address being listed as Olathe in the image. The spot was Olathe albeit by about 500 feet from the border with Lenexa, so either may be possible from a postal service perspective. More importantly, compare the confluence of street names with the (blurry) image. Notice W. 112th Terrace.



Heterodox View Ave. – Google

Meanwhile, Google Maps displayed that exact same street as Heterodox View Avenue. Ground images completely contradicted that claim. It was not Heterodox View Avenue. Google Maps also got the western cross-street wrong. It’s actually W. 113th Street.

I compared the location with a couple of other online mapping tools.



W. 112th Ter. – Open Street Map

OpenStreeMap labeled W. 112th Terrace correctly, although paradoxically it also whiffed on the western cross-street.

Only Bing got it right, with W. 112th Terrace to the east, W. 113th Street to the west, and no sign of Heterodox View Avenue anywhere.

I turned to an overview of trap streets presented on OpenStreetMap where they were called Copyright Easter Eggs. OSM viewed them as unnecessary because the site incorporated "a very unique and distinct fingerprint evident in the data coverage and details included." Thus, for example, OSM was able to determine that Apple had lifted data without attribution in 2012 without having to resort to "introduced errors." Trap streets once had meaning in the paper mapping era although they’ve become quaint anachronisms in the digital age.

One must also consider that map inaccuracies can derive from many sources. Trap streets likely form an inconsequential percentage. I’ve noticed frequent innocent errors in every online mapping tool with nothing suspicious intended by the authors. Mistakes happen. I’ve also observed numerous cases of "paper streets," including entire subdivisions, which were planned at one time and never constructed. Let’s also not discount the possibility of pranks intended as harmless insertions by bored or playful cartographers.

Were the appearances of various Heterodox View Avenues sufficient evidence of genuine trap streets in Google Maps? It seemed more plausible than finding several unrelated, unintentional errors having the same exact name, or paper streets overlaid upon actual streets, or a not particularly clever prank. I doubt Google would ever admit to the existence of trap streets even if they were true so we will never know. It will be interesting to watch what happens now that Heterodox View Avenue has been outed.


Trap Street is also a movie!



Coca-Cola Plaza, Tallinn, Estonia

Search on trap street, and behold, one will stumble upon a 2013 Chinese movie with that title in its English version. The Internet Movie Database provided a brief description that sounded intriguing from a geo-geek perspective:

In a southern city of China, a digital mapping surveyor encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street… He learns that the data he collected of the street will not register in the mapping system. The street has disappeared as if it never existed. Desperate to reconnect with the mysterious woman he continues his investigation of the unmappable street only to discover something that will change his life forever.

While the movie has screened in Canada, Russia and the UK, it does not have a US release date as of the time I write this (Nov. 24, 2013). It will debut next at Coca-Cola Plaza in Tallinn, Estonia as part of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, on November 26. Tickets were still available this morning. I’m half-tempted to buy one even though I’ll never be able to attend (road trip to Estonia, anyone?). Maybe the director, Vivian Qu, will stumble across this page while Googling herself and invite me to the US premier.

I guess I should start learning Mandarin. I hate subtitles.

Public Bridleway

On September 22, 2013 · 3 Comments

I noticed that OpenStreetMap included "Tag:highway=bridleway" along with "designation=public_bridleway." That’s awesome! A bridleway is an equestrian trail or a horse-friendly road. Perhaps it might even be considered a highway for horses according to the OpenStreeMap tag. Some of them trace back to ancient transit corridors while others are of more modern vintage having been developed purely for recreational purposes.



Pennine Bridleway, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

A bridleway appears as a green dashed line on OpenStreetMap, as with this example I found near Hayfield in Derbyshire, England (map). This particular occurrence was a brief segment of the Pennine Bridleway, a designated National Trail ("long distance routes for walking, cycling and horse riding through the finest landscapes in England and Wales"). It extended for 205 miles through the Pennines, a range of scenic hills separating northwestern England from the northeast.


Mary Towneley Loop Pennine Bridleway National Trail
Mary Towneley Loop Pennine Bridleway National Trail by mrrobertwade (wadey), on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I selected an example from England for a specific purpose. England and Wales define public bridleways by statute and grant them a specific legal meaning. People have a right to travel by horseback or by foot unimpeded in corridors designated public bridleways in those areas. They may also travel by bicycle although absent guarantees that it’s a suitable track for comfortable biking, and cyclists must cede the right of way to any riders on horseback or pedestrians on foot. Public Bridleways fitting the legal definition are often marked by blue blazes as in the example, above.

Fortunately there are plenty of resources on the Intertubes for anyone contemplating an equestrian excursion through the bucolic English or Welsh countryside. The British Horse Society offered numerous resources, as one might infer from its name, including a Bridleways and Routes FAQ. The situation was more complicated than I’d imagined. There were even provisions for carriage driving. That’s right, for those who may want to imagine themselves living in centuries past, there are legal provisions that allow one to travel by horse and carriage into the hinterland.

Bridleways.co.uk cataloged hundreds of routes, however, they also required registration to view anything useful on their site. It looked like it could be a promising resource although I was too lazy to go through any amount of hassle just to see what they offered.

The Equine Mapping and Geographical Information Network was probably the most fascinating site for geo-geeks.


Harling Drove Public Bridleway Route
Harling Drove Public Bridleway
Bing Maps screen grab from EMAGIN

Suppose I owned a horse, lived in England and wished to explore rural trails in the vicinity of Thetford in Norfolk. How did I select that seemingly random location? I examined my Complete Index, noticed a relatively empty quadrant and decided it needed a push-pin.

EMAGIN offered several options immediately. I selected what seemed to be a promising and not too daunting path, Harling Drove. A drove, or more precisely a drover’s road, is a route for herding (or driving) livestock between locations. Think about that the next time you "drive" an automobile; essentially you’re directing your horseless carriage to move forward to your desired endpoint. I’m not sure how much droving takes place around here anymore or whether Harling Drove continues to serve its original purpose. However, one must admit that the pathway looked lovely on Google Street View (image). I think I chose randomly well.

A couple of categories on EMAGIN caught my attention: Horses welcome bed-and-breakfast inns and Horse-friendly pubs. Sure enough I found a place to stay with my theoretical horse practically adjacent to Harling Drove. Now all I need to do is find a horse-friendly pub and my hypothetical journey will be complete.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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