Filtering planning applications

We recently added a feature where planning applications in your area are automatically pulled into Cyclescape, so that new developments which affect cyclists can be turned into issues easily.

We knew this would need some tuning, and a common request has been to filter out tree works, advertisement applications, and similar applications that are almost never of relevance to cycling.

So we've added a feature to filter out planning applications on an area-by-area basis.

For instance, in this listing, the first application is useful and has been converted to an issue, but the second issue is a tree works application and so ideally shouldn't have appeared in the list at all. So ideally we should aim to filter out this type of application for the area listed:

Planning filtering

For instance, in Cambridge all the tree works applications like 13/046/TTCA end in /TTCA , so we've added that as a filter.

Because each Local Authority area has its own web-based planning application system (though some use the same backend), the filters currently have to be defined as patterns to exclude.

Please look through the applications and see if you can spot the patterns for your area, and let us know via the feedback link at the top of any Cyclescape page.

(We plan to make this directly editable by groups directly soon.)

Survey

We're busy working on various improvements and new features for Cyclescape, and we know there are usability things still needing work. So we'd really welcome your views on what your priorities for improvement would be.

Please fill in our quick survey!

We'll be also including comments received in our report to funding bodies that we've obtained a grant from.

All comments submitted are anonymous - please be as honest as you can!

Deadline management improvements

One of Cyclescape's features to help cycle campaign members is the ability to add a deadline/date as a type of message posting.

We've made some improvements to make better use of these postings.

In case you didn't know, your 'My Cyclescape' page has a listing of all the deadlines/dates in the threads you are subscribed to. So it's easy to get an overview of what's coming up:

Deadlines listing

Firstly, we've added an iCal feed, so that if you use a calendaring system like Apple Calendar, Google Calendar, Outlook, etc., you can have these events appear automatically in your calendar.

In most systems you can click on the orange iCal link in the top-right to add the calendar, or for web-based systems like Google Calendar, right-click and choose 'Copy link', then add that web address in the relevant part of the calendar system's interface.

If you have e-mail enabled, each deadline/date e-mail will now include an iCal attachment for that deadline/date.

Another improvement is that you can now specify a time, rather than purely just a day. This is particularly helpful if you're using the calendar integration, to avoid full days appearing.

Set a deadline

Lastly, for e-mail users, Cyclescape now also sends out a reminder e-mails a day or two before a deadline, as mentioned in our previous blog post:

Reminder e-mails

Improvements we plan to add next are some instructions for different calendaring systems, better support for iCal with Outlook (which is known to have bugs relating to multiple iCal entries), optional notifications by SMS, reminder notifications for non-e-mail users, and time range support.

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Getting discussions by e-mail now better

Did you know that you can also get Cyclescape discussions by e-mail?

In fact, Cyclescape can be used like lots of mini e-mail lists, which you can choose to subscribe/unsubscribe to on a per-thread basis.

We've made a number of improvements over the last month.

Firstly, you can now enable digests, so you can read what's happening by getting a single e-mail a day. Just head to your e-mail preferences and enable digests. Of course, the option to get one e-mail per reply, like an e-mail list, remains available.

emailpreferences

Firstly, e-mails are now properly threaded. Not the most earth-shattering change, perhaps, but for power users this is an essential bit of inbox cleanliness.

Threading

Next, we've added deadline reminders, so you'll get a reminder a day or two before a date in a thread you're subscribed to. So fewer excuses for missing deadlines now!

Reminder e-mails

Another small improvement is that we automatically strip e-mail encryption keys from messages, to avoid unnecessary attachments appearing in discussions.

We plan to redesign the layout and wording of e-mails soon, so that things like privacy settings and options are clearer. We'll also be making the new digests laid out more similarly to the classic 'mailman' layout.

In terms of general e-mails relating to signup:

  • New users now receive a welcome e-mail to confirm their signup, and to point to the settings and other things they might wish to set.
  • Users also receive an e-mail upon successfully joining a group. Committee members of the group can configure the contents of this e-mail.

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Search system overhauled to give much better results

We're pleased to announce that we've replaced the search result system with a completely new engine that gives much better results.

After a week of tuning the results, we think this now seems to find what you're looking for pretty consistently.

A bit of history: the search system that we launched with was really just a basic text search that didn't have any proper ranking system. Accordingly, this meant that the issue or discussion thread you wanted appeared hidden randomly amongst lots of other results.

The new system is a proper search engine, with rankings that we can tune and improve over time. We've already added various tweaks.

Search results

Let us know via the feedback link on the site if you get a search result hasn't found what you know is there.

Secondly, we've added pagination, so you're no longer limited to one page of results.

Another long-awaited improvement is that searches within a group's area will only return results from that area. So if you're in, say, Camden Cyclists' Cyclescape area, you won't get results polluted with issues from Cambridge, Sheffield, Leeds, or wherever.

Next planned improvement is to integrate the planning application search into the main search area.

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Improvements for groups

We've made various improvements for group managers.

If you didn't already know, cycling groups are able to create their own Cyclescape space, giving a custom web address and various personalisations.

You can of course use Cyclescape as an individual, but have you seen if there are any groups near you? Have a browse of the groups gallery:

Groups gallery

You can create a group using the 'Request new group' form in the top-right:

New group form

Groups can now add a photo to help personalise their page, alongside information about the group.

Each group's home page has a custom web address, e.g. http://camcycle.cyclescape.org/ (Cambridge Cycling Campaign), http://camdencyclists.cyclescape.org/ (Camden Cyclists), etc.

You can also join a group from their home page:

grouppage

For group committee members, we've also made various improvements to the user management area.

Join a group now!

joingroup

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Privacy improvements

Summary: We're changing how names are displayed on the site. Please take the opportunity to review use of your display name in your settings.

We're rolling out some privacy improvements, taking effect 20th June 2015.

Some groups have told us that it is important to them that they are able to operate on the basis of member discussions using real names, so that members know who they are talking to. However, we recognise that this could be in conflict with the entirely reasonable desire not to have one's name on the public internet if wished.

Accordingly, we have worked to implement a solution to this, whereby you can set your real name which people in your groups will see, but set a display name for everyone else. Previously the display name was always used.

Improved controls over how your name is displayed to others

We provide privacy controls that enable you to avoid your name being shown publicly on the internet while still visible to fellow members in a discussion. These are available on the account details page, and the two fields for your name will work as follows from 20th June:

  • your real name (visible to members of groups you are in); and
  • an optional display name (for all other situations); if you don't set one, you'll be shown as anonymous.

The visibility rule described above is used whenever your name is shown to others, e.g.:

  • next to each posting you make;
  • in the list of people subscribed to a discussion thread; and
  • on your user profile.

As the site is intended for collaborative discussion and working, we think it is helpful to your colleagues to use your real name when identifying yourself. Some groups using the site operate discussions on a real-names basis, so they may require that you identify yourself by your real name.

Once this change has been made, we'll be removing the temporary block from search engines indexing thread content that is set to be public.

This requirement to private groups with the ability to operate on a real-names basis was one of the drivers for this improvement.

Better control of your profile page

In order to foster a sense of community, we provide each member of the site with a user profile. This shows only the details you have chosen to enter on the Edit my profile page.

As of 20th June, you'll be able disable your user profile at any time (again via the Edit my profile page), so that it is not visible to others.

Privacy policy

Lastly, the site now has an explicit privacy policy, linked to from the bottom of each page.

This includes the points above, as well as others, such as that we don't share your information with others e.g. for commercial purposes, and has the usual information on cookies.

We also clarify that we only use EU-based server hosting (in fact, currently UK only).

Illustrate discussions with Street View posting

During a discussion on cycling issues, it's often helpful to be able to show other people the location you have in mind.

For instance, a long road with multiple sideroads can be hard for other people to visualise.

So we've added a helpful feature for campaigners: Street View message replies. While it's of course possible to navigate off-site, get a Street View link, and return, we've taken out that extra stage. The Street View button also tries to find a sensible default location.

In a thread, just click on Street View in the reply box, position the map where you want, add a comment and press submit.

People will then be able to see where you mean, straight from within the thread.

Street View messages

(Hopefully in future an open source equivalent in the form of Mapillary might become possible!)

This work to facilitate work by local cycling advocates has been possible thanks to grant support from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation. Thanks also to our developer, Nikolai!

Planning application integration now live

We're very excited to announce a major new feature on Cyclescape: integration of planning applications, which we pushed live last week after much work over the last 18 months.

Planning applications strongly affect nearby cycling conditions. A new development could cause safety issues or, more positively, provide developer funding to add nearby cycle tracks. Councils are often not attuned to these, leaving campaigners to raise them.

However, that requires awareness of planning applications in the first place. Currently, that alone means:

  1. finding a regular volunteer; then
  2. the person navigating through badly-designed council websites; then
  3. identifying relevant items; then
  4. transferring the information into e-mail; then
  5. determining interested people; then
  6. contacting people and taking things from there.

In practice, all this rarely happens because it involves much administration / IT knowledge. Consultations are missed and opportunities lost.

The feature means that group members will be able to know about a new planning application within a day of it being submitted to the council. This gives potentially an extra 6 weeks of time to study a planning application, so that the group can see:

  • how it could affect cycling conditions in an area
  • whether measures are needed (Section 106 / CIL funding) to mitigate any problems
  • whether cycle parking is sufficient
  • whether it could create opportunities such as a new route

Cambridge Cycling Campaign is the group we've been testing this with and where the work has mainly been undertaken.

This is 6 weeks of extra time to talk to the developers, and the Council, rather than deal with everything last minute - e.g. just before it goes to Planning Committee, as has happened in the past!

 

List of planning applications, from the 'My Cyclescape' page:

Planning applications

Click on 'Convert to an issue', and this pre-fills the usual issue form:

Cloned planning application

As there is no way for us to determine automatically (yet) whether a planning application is relevant - and there is a lot of irrelevant stuff like tree works - we have provided a button to enable an application to be hidden. If enough users in the group vote to hide the application, it will be hidden for all. In this way, group users can crowdsource relevant applications, and make it faster for others to work through to find relevant things.

Al this has been possible thanks to work by our contact Andrew who is working on a new planning application data portal, PlanIt (building on an earlier system by Openly Local), which we in CycleStreets are hoping to collaborate on and support formally.

Not all areas of the country are yet covered - Cambridge, featured above, has been specially funded. We'd like to thank Cambridge Sustainable City for their grant support.

Get in touch with us if you are interested to have coverage in your area in future.

We'd like to thank our developers Andy Allan and Nikolai Berkoff, as well as Andrew Speakman whose work has made this possible.

What we’re working on

We're busy on various updates to Cyclescape.

As discussed on our mailing list, the current priorities are as follows; we've included a link to further details on each:

  • Ability to set a Google Street View location as a reply type (#78)
  • Enabling the planning applications integration to go live (#76 and code branch)
  • Improvements to make the integrated collision data much more obvious in the user interface (#34)
  • Improvements to privacy controls, which will particularly benefit groups who wish to enforce a real-names policy (#218)
  • Set the creation of an Issue to prompt for Thread creation (#43)
  • Improving the discoverability of enabling receipt of discussions by e-mail (#198)

Much of this work has been funded thanks to the Polden-Puckham grant.

We are also grateful to Cambridge Cycling Campaign and a personal donor for funding a few of the objectives above most important to them.

We'd like to take the opportunity to welcome a new contributor to the code, Nikolai Berkoff. (Naturally, others remain very welcome to get involved too!)