Grant from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation

We are delighted to announce that Cyclescape has been successfully awarded a grant from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation for the next phase of development on Cyclescape.

The grant covers £10,000 of development work this year, and £8,000 in 2015-16.

The Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation (PPCF) is a grant-giving trust with Quaker family roots in the United Kingdom. It aims to contribute to the development of a just society based on a commitment to nonviolence and environmental sustainability.

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Key things that we want to work on, which the funding will contribute towards, are:

  • Launching the automated planning applications integration - changes when datasource finalised (see previous blog post)
  • Show Google Street View at any location automatically
  • Membership management system for delegated groups
  • Ability to invite decision-makers and others into specific discussions
  • Enhancement of the Library system, which enables key resources to be shared nationally
  • Subscription on the basis of themes (e.g. cycle parking) rather than only defined areas
  • Private messaging system
  • Much better search
  • Deadline reminders
  • Show photos in nearby area automatically
  • ... and more.

You can see many of these within the list of outstanding issues in our public bug-tracker.

We are currently looking for a developer to work on Cyclescape using the funding from this grant - which is open-source code written in Ruby on Rails. Do get in touch if you may be interested.

New development mailing list and developer resources

We've set up a new mailing list for anyone interested in helping maintain and develop the Cyclescape code. Do join if you want to get involved, want to discuss the development of Cyclescape, or have any questions or ideas.

The list is public and open, and you can subscribe to the list.

We've also created a list of key developer resources via a new 'Help with the code' page on this blog.

We hope these will help get new developers involved. We're very happy to help give advice on getting you going - just post to the new list.

Early issues on Cyclescape seeing results

It's very pleasing to see that some of the earliest issues submitted to Cyclescape, and discussed heavily on the site, are now seeing real improvements on the ground as a result.

Several big issues first lodged on the site in around 2011-12, and with hundreds of postings on Cyclescape since to advance the issue, have seen major breakthroughs since.

This blog post features three issues from Cambridge, currently the most active group on Cyclescape.

For instance, there has long been a shortage of cycle parking at Cambridge station, and a new cycle park was proposed. Members have been campaigning and discussing the cycle park, and its design. Construction is about to begin.

Another great example is the problem of cycle parking in Cambridge city centre. Since a user posted this as an issue in February 2012, members have been discussing it using Cyclescape, and this pressure resulted in a project to allocate over 600 spaces in the area.

You can see some more photographs of the results of this successful Cyclescape-backed campaigning on our sister website, CycleStreets.

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Here is one more issue from Cambridge - the need for space for cycling on key roads in Cambridge. Huntingdon Road is one such location, and local campaigning, using Cyclescape to enable the group's members to discuss proposals, is about to see the scheme built.

Obviously, cycle campaigning is a mixture of campaigner pressure, as well as agreement from the authorities. We hope that Cyclescape will increasingly be seen as the solution of choice to help facilitate the first of these.

Have a browse through more of the issues in Cambridge and beyond, and get involved!

Planning applications and their effect on cycling

Over the last few years since our beta went live, the over 1,000 issues logged on Cyclescape, and being discussed by members of the site, contain a wide range of concerns. It's interesting to see the kinds of issues that act as a barrier to greater cycling around the UK.

Common things include lack of cycle parking, dangerous roads, collision-prone junctions, missing links, scrutiny of new cycleway proposals, and new residential/commercial developments that will affect cycling.

The last of these examples - planning applications, are interesting as they often represent both dangers and opportunities for cycling.

For instance, a major new housing development could result in a lot of new traffic on an already congested roads. However, there could also be an opportunity, as councils are able to negotiate "planning gain", known as Section 106 agreements (or Community Infrastructure Levy), where public infrastructure nearby is improved - such as a new cycle route, cycle parking, or traffic calming measures.

However, it is crucial that cycle campaigners know about planning applications as soon as possible, to maximise the chances of pursuading the local council to negotiate Section 106 proposals, and to give more time to look through often lengthy and complex documents for potential problems. Planning application websites are often hard to use, fail to provide a proper map view, and in general are not orientated towards monitoring of cross-cutting concerns like cycling.

Discussing a planning application relies on someone actually knowing about a planning application (that might have effects on cycling) in the first place. Of course, Cyclescape enables people to add planning applications as an issue like any other. 

However, we think there is a better way - having planning applications automatically appear on the map as a potential issue. So we've been working on a way to automate this. Using data from Openly Local, we plan to add a new tab to the overview page, so that any member of the site can 'promote' a planning application that looks like it might be of interest to an issue automatically.

Here are some screenshots of the work in progress:

Listing of planning applications in an area

Accessing any link on this page, gives a button in the corner:

Convert to an issue

This creates a new issue page, but with all the details pre-filled in, so it can be quickly reviewed/adjusted and submitted in the usual way as with any issue:

planningclone

We think that automated listings of planning applications will be a powerful new feature of the site.

The motivation for this has come from Cambridge, which is a considerable growth area, and where the local cycling campaign spends a lot of time scrutinising planning applications. The vast majority of planning applications on the Cyclescape site are indeed from Cambridge. This work for Cambridge has been gratefully funded by Cambridge Sustainable City who awarded a grant for Cambridge Cyclescape.

If you're interested to help develop the code, any contributions would be very welcome, on the 'planning' branch. We now have completed the integration and user interface code, but are awaiting availability of the data, which will come from Openly Local.

Guide for new users

Now that various groups are using Cyclescape, and adding members, we've created a new Guide for new users.

The Guide gives an overview of Cyclescape, getting you set up, and some of the features that we have available.

Over time, we hope the need for the Guide will go away as we improve some of the remaining usability improvements, as programmer time and funding becomes available.

Guide for new users

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Final report to GeoVation

We've submitted our Final report to GeoVation, which describes the work we've been able to undertake with this funding.

It outlines what we've been able to achieve to get Cyclescape as a working site, what remains to be done in advance of our national launch in October, and the challenges that we've faced and overcome.

Stay tuned for news shortly on the latest updates on development. We've been making steady progress with ticking off the remainining areas needing work to finish.

We would like to thank everyone involved in GeoVation for enabling this project to go ahead. We are excited to have been able to deliver it, and are very encouraged by its potential.

A screenshot from Cyclescape, showing the interface for adding an issue

How are our beta testers doing?

Discussing a planning application - note how the location of the site has been drawn out

About three weeks ago we opened up Cyclescape to a test group, Cambridge. Their Committee have been using the system instead of the e-mail list they used to use.

On the right, you can see a planning application being discussed, with the location of the site marked out, and a list of the discussions.

In this three-week period there have been:

  • 78 issues (problem reports and things to work on)
  • 108 discussion threads (discussions connected to the issues)
  • 789 messages (individual replies within the threads)
  • 61 user locations (areas that people have set to be informed about changes in)
  • 22 campaigning deadlines and dates
  • 34 library items
  • 151 pieces of feedback about the system, some of which are about tiny fixes, others about more substantial issues (most of which we know about)

Although there are unfinished areas (which have caused some user confusion) and some missing features, the testing has given us plenty of useful feedback, which we’re working through before we open up the system for wider use.

Organising a group ride

How are people using the system?

"The use of maps at the centre of Cyclescape illustrates the point that if a picture is worth a thousand words, so is a map.  The maps really facilitate sharing issues and solutions to them. They also mean that you can easily filter which topics are relevant to where you work or live.

Cyclescape is also a big advance on email lists in the way in which threads can be followed and documents stored for future use in an easy to find location."

- John

We’ve seen discussions on, for instance:

  • Various local planning applications – on which it’s been useful to see the location on the map
  • Smaller issues around a city
  • The Times “Cities Fit For Cycling” campaign
  • Administrative discussions (organising day-to-day things)
  • Organisation of a cycle ride – which again the geographical location provides useful context
  • Addition of some items to the resource ‘library’ which will be useful for future discussions

Items from the library (here 20mph guidance) have been automatically matched, and a user has added some to the discussion

There are signs that the ability for people to subscribe only to things they’re interested in, based on geographical location(s), should work well – so that people can be involved in things they care about – but not overwhelmed with issues.

We’ve seen some confusion over the difference between ‘issues’ (problems) and ‘threads’ (discussions of those issues), which further interface work will address.

Key themes

Some of the key themes, on things we need to fix, are:

  • The need to reorganise the various listings screens, which are currently not in their final positions. This is an area we knew would need quite a bit of iteration work.
  • Making sure that maps are viewable in a few places where they’re currently omitted.
  • Reducing the ‘friction’ between issues and threads. We want to encourage people to locate issues geographically when possible. To some extent this will be improved naturally as the listing screens get reorganised and as we fix up parts of the design that were not finished when we went live.

    

  • Various layout fixes to add some more polish and improve usability.

Some of the areas are quite Cambridge-specific, partly dealing with the unusually heavy level of correspondence and involvement that the Cambridge group has. Others, as shown above are more generic.

  • Further work on e-mail integration. Many areas work, but some kinds of notifications can’t be replied to by e-mail yet, and it’s not yet possible to start a thread by e-mail.
  • Very active campaigners have asked for an ‘opt-in to everything by default’ setting, so that they get told about everything, and can opt-out when not interested (rather than merely getting told about something new in their area). This would save them having to subscribe to each issue or discussion thread as it comes in.
  • How to deal best with city-wide issues, and the question of a neighbouring Local Authority (South Cambs) whose issues also particularly affect the area in terms of different planning policy.
  • There have also been some compatibility problems with a certain web browser... Internet Explorer!

An example problem that we need to fix - city-wide issues are overlapping and obscuring others, so a fundamentally different approach for city-wide issues might be needed, e.g. a separate listing screen or maybe a button to show these:

Usability testing

We’ve also done some individual usability testing, which has thrown up 35 actionable issues. Around half of these were things known about and planned to be fixed, but the others provided useful insight.

Next steps

We’re busy working on fixes for the above, as well as creating more guidance on installing the system for coders who want to get involved. Technical people can watch progress in our Github repository.

Stay tuned to the blog in the coming month as we talk about the latest changes and showcase the system’s features. We’re working as fast as we can, within the available funds, to get the system ready for wider use!