Over the last year and half, the DfT has been collecting cycling data for use in its TransportDirect portal.
We received today a letter from Norman Baker MP confirming that it is the DfT's intention to open this dataset, in line with the new government's principles on transparency. We think this is an excellent development. It confirms earlier discussions we held with members of the former Cycling England.
It is our understanding that the data is currently referenced from the Ordnance Survey's ITN dataset. This means it would, if kept in raw format, be useless to anyone without access to an expensive ITN license, and even then could be encumbered. However, Norman Baker sensibly writes:
"We recognise that the data in its current form is subject to licenses and so are working towards translating the data into a format that is more easily used by the developer and OpenStreetMap community."
This is good as it recognises that releasing a dataset without it being referenced against open (lat/lon) attributes would be open data only in name rather than in spirit. Using the Open Government License should ensure that it can be merged into OpenStreetMap, whose dataset has proven its worth for UK-wide cycle journey planning purposes.
The OpenStreetMap community is rightly wary of mass imports of data. In order to make use of this data, we have stressed that some tool development would be needed to enable it to be manually 'pulled across' via visual inspection if it is to be used, which we've been talking to Andy about.
We are extremely keen to help the DfT with this whole process, and discussions have been positive. We hope to report further on this soon. It would ensure the government can achieve greater taxpayer value for the data, and thereby enable us and others to give additional confidence to people considering starting cycling or wanting safer routes. Getting the data into OSM will also mean that the data is a living dataset that is kept updated.
As a sidenote, Norman Baker seems to be on a roll with sensible thinking. It is recently reported that he has refused to tow to the unquestioning view of helmet-wearing, but instead has weighed up the evidence himself and decided not to on a personal basis. This reflects best-practice cycle training: that risks should be assessed according to circumstances, and therefore the choice of whether to use a helmet is an individual one. He's also requested people to come forward with examples of unnecessary and annoying announcements on public transport – truly fresh thinking!