Blog posts about adaptation

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Leeds in lockdown - image by Dan Burton

Reflecting the covid-19 needs of authorities and citizens on FixMyStreet Pro

Have you considered using FixMyStreet Pro as part of an application to the Emergency Active Travel Fund? The service can easily be adapted to allow citizens make requests for cycle paths and street widening, for example, or to report areas where social distancing is difficult and intervention is needed.

This way, your covid action plan becomes needs led, instigated by the community without the need for expensive surveys or reports.

The pandemic has brought many changes to the way we move around our towns and cities, and authorities are having to adapt to them quickly. 

FixMyStreet Pro offers one quick and easy way to reflect the new requirements we have of our environments: the addition of new report categories.

Some authorities are already taking advantage of this and have added categories that enable citizens to request wider pavements or cycle paths, or note where social distancing signage might be useful.

You can also head off the type of report that is better made elsewhere: for example, if a citizen wishes to report a business for poor practice — a report that clearly shouldn’t be public on your website — they can be routed towards the correct channel to do so, perhaps a phone number or a private contact form.

As a FixMyStreet Pro client, you can add, remove, or rename categories as needed; you can also nest subcategories, or place a subcategory under more than one main category to help users find it.

If you’d like to know more about categories, or any other feature, do join us for a webinar, so we can take you through FixMyStreet Pro’s main features and answer any questions you may have. You can book a slot here or drop us a line if you don’t see a date that suits you.

Image: Dan Burton

Image by Ben Garratt: a sign outside an underground station saying that only key workers should travel.

FixMyStreet during London’s lockdown

We heard from Transport for London that FixMyStreet has played an unexpectedly valuable part during London’s lockdown.

We recently ran a couple of user groups for some of the authorities who use FixMyStreet Pro. These had been planned as in-person events, but of course, like everything else these days, had to transition to online.

Nonetheless, they were a good chance for us to present some of FixMyStreet Pro’s new features, and to hear from our client authorities about how they’ve been using the service. Sally Reader’s description of how FixMyStreet has come into its own for TfL while the capital is shut down was particularly thought-provoking — you can watch it here.

We’d all been thinking that lockdown means fewer people on the streets, and therefore less opportunity for damage. But Sally pointed out that faults still happen: trees might fall down, blocking roads; or there might be increased levels of vandalism now that boredom is an issue for many — and there’s still a great need to keep the network safe for the transport workers helping to run it, and of course those who are using it.

At the moment, these passengers are by and large key workers who may be at the end of a long working day on the frontline — as Sally puts it, the last thing they need is to be standing in a smashed up bus shelter as they await their transport home.

Additionally, TfL are using their Streetcare FixMyStreet reports to help alert them to potentially dangerous faults and to provide extra eyes and ears on the network while non-essential on-street works have been halted.

It was a surprise to both us and TfL, but we were pleased to hear that FixMyStreet has been such an asset during these times.

Image: Ben Garratt

 

Sort My Sign: mapping road signs for Transport Focus

Every road user relies on signs, so keeping them tip-top is in everyone’s interest. Now Transport Focus have launched their Sort My Sign campaign, asking road users to help them do just that.

They’d like everyone to report any signs they spot that are dangerous, dirty, broken, or obscured.

To support this programme digitally, Transport Focus came to mySociety, asking if we could help create a simple and intuitive mapping interface where these issues could be reported.

Keep your eyes on the road

Specifically, the scheme covers signs on roads managed by Highways England, which means motorways and some A roads.

FixMyStreet was the obvious starting point — we already have a data layer for these roads, which means that your everyday FixMyStreet reports can be routed to Highways England rather than the council if they are the responsible body.

Sort My Sign - screenshot

Plus, as we’ve detailed many times before, the FixMyStreet platform can be repurposed for any project dealing with location-based reports, and has in the past been put to all sorts of uses, from reporting empty homes to helping fight corruption.

Nonetheless, we perceived one potential challenge when it came to setting up sign reporting.

Don’t report and drive!

FixMyStreet is generally well-suited for people making reports on the go — in fact, thanks to the ‘use my location’ functionality, it is ideal for reporting issues like potholes or broken pavements on your mobile while out on a walk. But obviously, road signs are a slightly different matter. If you are driving, you certainly mustn’t be fiddling with your mobile phone, so ‘use current location’ is only helpful if you have an amenable passenger to make the report.

That’s fine — you can always make the report later of course: but that means you’ll need to know roughly where you were when you saw the sign, something that’s a bit trickier on a long drive than it might be on a stroll around your neighbourhood. FixMyStreet allows you to find any UK location with the input of a postcode or street name, but these are details you’re unlikely to have to hand if you have simply driven through.

After some thought we realised that, on a motorway, the location identifier most people will find easiest to recall will probably be the junction number.

So that set us a challenge: how could we best enable ‘search by junction number’?

Sign here…and here

Ideally, we wanted a user to be able to visit the Sort My Sign site and enter the name of a junction, just as they’d enter a postcode or street on the FixMyStreet homepage — and then to be taken to a map centred on that point.

But sourcing a mapping between motorway/junction number and co-ordinates proved surprisingly tricky. mySociety developer Matthew takes over the story.

“I first looked at OpenStreetMap data — its geocoder, Nominatim, worked really well for some junction numbers, but didn’t work at all for others. If a junction has been assigned a name (like J23 on the M6, which is known as ‘Haydock’) it can only be looked up by that name, not by number. But we wanted users to be able to look up junctions by number.

“I could also export all the junction data from OpenStreetMap, but the junction nodes alone aren’t linked to the motorway, so that looked like it would prove tricky to match up.”

FOI to the rescue

“But by a stroke of luck, I then discovered that someone had used another of mySociety’s services, our Freedom of Information site WhatDoTheyKnow, to make a request to Highways England asking for the positions of all the driver location signs (the repeaters every 100m or 500m along the motorways giving the name and distance from start).

“In response, Highways England had provided that information, so I knew I could use that to at least provide a mapping between location sign and geographic co-ordinates.

“Each sign also had information about what junction it was nearest or between, so by constructing an average of all the location sign co-ordinates associated with a particular junction, I came up with a pretty good estimate for the location of the junction itself.

“I added all the sign and junction data into a small SQLite database (which means it’s portable and doesn’t need to be associated with the main database) and wrote a little bit of code to spot when someone entered a junction name in any of a variety of different formats, then look up the matching location in this database”.

Signed, sealed, delivered

To test this out, Matthew had all his colleagues name their favourite junction… perhaps not to be recommended as a party game, but it did at least prove that his code had cracked the problem.

Something much appreciated by Head of Strategy at Transport Focus, Guy Dangerfield, who says, “mySociety has been excellent in understanding what we needed and finding ways to achieve our objectives.”

You can give the new system a go here — and perhaps bookmark the site so that you know where to report a sign next time you see one that needs fixing.

Once you’re safely off the road, that is.

Image: Mark Anderson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Santander bikes parked on a London street. Image by John jackson

Get bikes back to their docks

There’s now a new category on Streetcare, the TfL version of FixMyStreet, for reporting abandoned bicycles.  

The Santander Cycle system, allowing Londoners to travel from A to B cheaply and conveniently, is managed by TfL.  

You hire a bike from one docking station and responsibly return it to another when you’re finished, so someone else can use it. Unfortunately sometimes bikes are not docked correctly and can end up missing and eventually abandoned.

TfL wanted to give citizens a simple way to report abandoned bikes, so they could arrange for them to be collected and returned to the scheme as soon as possible.  TfL asked if we could add a reporting function on Streetcare as an option to report abandoned bikes.

Anyone can make a report quickly and easily on Streetcare, with no need even to provide contact details (unless you want updates on your report). ‘Abandoned Santander cycle’ is one of the category options, and as with any other report, you can add photos and more details, while marking the precise location on a map.

These will be passed to the relevant team so they can go and make the collection — and you can feel like a good citizen, assured that there’s one more bike back in the game and available for use.

Image: John Jackson

FixMyStreet and fire fighting

Two regional news stories have recently highlighted the use of FixMyStreet by fire services. That’s not something we’d anticipated when we made the site, but we’re really glad that to hear that we’re helping to fight fires!

Firstly, the West Midlands Fire Service have asked the public to report derelict buildings on the site. FixMyStreet reports go to the council, who can take appropriate measures to secure such buildings and reduce the risk of arson.

Meanwhile, Cleveland fire fighters are themselves using FixMyStreet to report incidences of fly tipping, and they say that getting piles of refuse or garden waste cleared up before people are tempted to set fire to them has helped them bring down the number of conflagrations in the county.

As both these brigades have found FixMyStreet useful, we hope that other fire services might follow suit (or maybe citizens could take matters into their own hands and report such things without waiting to be told!).

We’re already aware that lots of police officers also use the site to make reports as they are on the beat: it is, of course, very well suited to any occupation that regularly makes patrols around the local community.

Image: Egor Vikhrev

FixMyStreet Pro blog

FixMyStreet Pro is the street & environment reporting service that integrates with any council system.

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