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A number 3 hanging from a wire

What you’ll notice on FixMyStreet 3.0

We recently released version 3.0 of the open source software which FixMyStreet runs on.

This brings some substantial improvements to the code. The update is available to anyone running a site on the FixMyStreet platform, which includes our own fixmystreet.com; the installations we provide for councils and authorities; and the FixMyStreet instances run by others, in places from Australia to Uruguay.

If you run a site on the FixMyStreet platform yourself, or are just interested in the technical details, you can read the release notes here.

Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the new front-end features you might notice if you’re a user of FixMyStreet.

Run the site as an app

FixMyStreet can now be added to phones (and desktops for that matter) as a ‘progressive app’. Here’s what to look for when you visit fixmystreet.com:

On Chrome for Android:

Installing FixMyStreet on Chrome on Android

Access from the bar at the bottom of the screen.

On iOS:

 

Share button on iOs

Click the share icon at the foot of the screen.

Add to homescreen

Then select ‘add to home screen’.

On Firefox for Android:

Installing FixMyStreet on Firefox for Android

Look for the pop up notification or tap the home icon with a plus sign in it in the URL bar.

Any of these methods will install a version of FixMyStreet that will behave like an app, placing an icon on your desktop, browser start page or home screen.

This way there is no need to download or update from the app store, and changes to the main website (which are invariably released sooner than on the app) will be immediately available to you.

Cobrands (for example the councils that use FixMyStreet as part of their own websites, and people running FixMyStreet in their own countries) can provide their own logo and colourscheme as well.

Mobile browser improvements

Whether you install the progressive web app or just visit fixmystreet.com on your mobile browser, you may notice some nice new features.

  • If you use the geolocation function (‘use my location’), your position will be displayed on the map:Marker showing user's location on FixMyStreet when viewed on a mobile browser
  • When viewing an area, you can access the filters to narrow the reports displayed down by their status (fixed/open etc) and category:Filter options on FixMyStreet's mobile browser interface
  • If you’re about to report something that looks like a duplicate, you’ll not only be shown the report/s that have already been made, but you’ll also see a small inline map without having to scroll back to the main map to check where they are.
  • The site recognises that when you’re on a mobile, the message about uploading a photo shouldn’t invite you to ‘drag and drop’, but rather to either take a new one or select a photo from your phone.Prompt to add a photo on FMS app
  • If you’ve placed the pin incorrectly, the ‘try again’ process is clearer.

Sharing reports

If a picture paints a thousand words, then your Twitter character count just went stratospheric. Now, when you share a report on places like Twitter or Facebook, if there’s a photo included in the report, that will also be pulled through.

Previously, the ‘open graph image’ that was shown by default was the same for every report — which could get a bit boring in aggregate, and certainly missed some of the impact that people might want to share when they’re posting about their own, or others’ reports.

Tweet showing a picture pulled through from a FixMyStreet report

Social media isn’t the only place that FixMyStreet reports can be piped to, though — the site also has several RSS capabilities that have been baked in since its early days.

For those not totally up to speed with RSS and what it can do, we’re now no longer displaying them as raw XML but as a nice simple web page that explains its purpose.

To see this in action, click ‘Local Alerts’ in the top menu of any page. Here’s a before and after:

FixMyStreet RSS feeds before and after a design refresh

What benefits one, benefits all

Much of this work is thanks to NDI, the National Democratic Institute.

NDI offer the FixMyStreet codebase as one of their DemTools, installing it in countries around the world as an innovation which empowers citizens to keep their neighbourhoods clean and safe.

Thanks to this partnership, NDI funded the addition of new features which they had identified as desirable — and which, thanks to the open codebase, will benefit users of every FixMyStreet site worldwide.

There are some other significant additions in this release, including integration, back end and security improvements, all of which will be of most interest to developers and site admins — so if you’d like to see them, head over to the full write up on the FixMyStreet platform blog.

Image: Max Fuchs

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)

Reporting by numbers with FixMyStreet Pro

If you’re reporting an issue on Buckinghamshire Council’s FixMyStreet installation, you might have seen yellow dots appearing on the map. These represent items such as streetlights, bins or drains, and we blogged about it when we first added the feature.

Streetlights plotted on FixMyStreet

When it comes to assets like streetlights, it can save the council considerable time and effort if your report tells them precisely which light needs fixing: it’s far quicker to find an identified light than it is to follow well-meaning but perhaps vague descriptions like ‘opposite the school’!

But even when the assets are marked on a map, it’s not always easy for a user to identify exactly which one they want to report, especially if they’ve gone home to make the report and they’re no longer standing right in front of it.

After the system had been in place for a few weeks, the team at Buckinghamshire told us that users often weren’t pinpointing quite the right streetlight. So we thought a bit more about what could be done to encourage more accurate reports.

As you might have noticed, streetlights are usually branded with an ID number, like this:

Buckinghamshire, as you’d expect, holds these ID numbers as data, which means that we were able to add it to FixMyStreet. Now when you click on one of the dots, you’ll see the number displayed, like this: An identified streetlight on FixMyStreet

The same functionality works for signs, Belisha beacons, bollards and traffic signals, as well as streetlights. Each of them has their own unique identifier.

So, if you’re in Bucks and you want to make a report about any of these things, note down the ID number and compare it when you click on the asset. This means the correct information is sent through the first time — which, in turn, makes for a quicker fix. Win/win!

This type of functionality is available to any council using FixMyStreet Pro: just explore this website to find out more.

Header image: Luca Florio

When there’s no need to report: FixMyStreet and Roadworks.org

Seen a pothole or a broken paving stone? Great, the council will want to know about that… well, usually.

Buckinghamshire County Council’s version of FixMyStreet now shows where there are pending roadworks — alerting citizens to the fact that they may not need to make a report, because it’s already in hand.

When reports are a waste of time

In general, councils appreciate FixMyStreet reports from residents: inspectors can’t be everywhere, and often they won’t be aware of a problem until it’s reported.

But there are some reports that won’t be quite so welcome.

If the council is already aware of an issue, and in fact has already scheduled a repair, then sad to say but that citizen’s report will be nothing more than a time-waster all round.

Enter Roadworks.org

Screenshot from Roadworks.org
Screenshot from Roadworks.org

Fortunately, there’s already a comprehensive service which collates and displays information on roadworks, road closures and diversions, traffic incidents and other disruptions affecting the UK road network, from a variety of sources — it’s called Roadworks.org.

Just like FixMyStreet, Roadworks.org generates map-based data, so it correlates well with FixMyStreet.

But we don’t want to clutter things up too much, so users will only be alerted to pending roadworks when they go to make a report near where maintenance is already scheduled.

At that point, they’ll see a message above the input form to tell them that their report may not be necessary:

Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert
Buckinghamshire FixMyStreet roadworks alert

Of course, they can still go ahead and make their report if the roadworks have no bearing on it.

Slotting in

We were able to integrate the Roadworks.org information like this because Buckinghamshire have opted for the fully-featured ‘Avenue‘ version of FixMyStreet Pro. This allows the inclusion of asset layers (we’ve talked before about plotting assets such as trees, streetlights or bins on FixMyStreet) and the Roadworks.org data works in exactly the same way: we can just slot it in.

We’re pleased with this integration: it’s going to save time for both residents and council staff in Buckinghamshire. And if you’re from another council and you would like to do the same, then please do feel free to drop us a line to talk about adopting FixMyStreet Pro.


Header image: Jamie Street

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