Monday, September 29, 2014

Using photo geotags to document bicycle infrastructure issues

Much of what is said about the geo tags in photos relates to privacy and concerns how to turn off the feature in mobile-based cameras.  However, judicious use of this tool can leverage the power of mapping and crowd-sourcing to to identify patterns and document issues.
Keeping track of trail deterioration can be challenging, but the ease of taking a photo combined with geotags could simplify the process.

For example, on my commute this morning, I took two photos.  The first to attempt to capture the beauty of the swath of cosmos flowers gracing the Antelope trail in the morning sun, the second to note how the concrete west of the Holdrege pedestrian bridge is sinking and cracking.

If you click on "Photo Details," the photo metadata will be displayed along with the location data. You can see how a large collection, documented by many riders, could help give a much improved understanding of bicycle infrastructure issues.  Additionally, taking pictures where negative car/bike interactions occur could also lend insight to where outreach or infrastructure changes may need to be done.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Nebraska Bridges and Meandering Streams

In August, a friend and I pedaled over to Henry's on South for dinner.  Afterwards, we noticed Iron Tail Gallery had a magnificent photo of a country bridge in the window.  It was the final day of a photo exhibit and we stopped in. The show was Michael Farrell's Stream Crossings.  Accompanying each photo were blocks of text taken from Farrell's essay, "Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses." In this essay, he discusses the impact of overlaying the natural layout and boundaries of the land with the one-mile square grid system that facilitated the parceling out and settling of property.  In particular, Farrell notes how this has impacted the public's ability to view, enjoy, and protect its waterways.

Image: Michael Farrell, Stream Crossings
"If our water is considered to be a resource owned by the public, what of these complex river systems? How can we divorce our watercourses from the life-giving water that runs through them? Isn’t a river, creek, or stream an integral natural system overflowing with all manner of life and complexity—including our own?

Does a river or stream, as a complex living habitat, have a kind of integrity that should be considered to be inherently something other than private property? We know more now, and our attitudes have evolved from what we understood or assumed in the time of Jefferson or Lincoln—or the bully Roosevelt boys—or even Richard Nixon, signer of the Endangered Species Act, for that matter.

If a corporation can now have legal standing to speak out and influence laws or elections, what standing accrues to a river or stream, without whom none of us can live?

And, if so, who among us will be empowered or emboldened enough to dare to speak out or to act on behalf of our essential yet increasingly vulnerable watercourses?"

In reading the essay as I moved through the exhibition, I noticed the background image of the paper.  It was a replica of one of the very county maps I had pored over in making my plans for my first multi-day gravel-road moto tour and an idea was sparked.

I would contact this Farrell fellow and see if I could get the GPS coordinates of the bridges. Then, I would take the moto and go take my own photo.  I have since learned that some call this "geo-picting," and it is akin to geocaching.

Farrell graciously shared a set of coordinates with me and MFD and I packed a picnic lunch and went a-seeking.

At each find, we stopped and explored, discussing this or that about the bridge or the stream area it spanned.
The day sped by and when we finally turned and headed for home, it occurred to me that it might be cool if others could easily download the coordinates, find the same locations, and also take pictures of the same bridges. Moreover, what if everyone's pictures were collected in one place so that one could view a bridge in different light at different times from different angles - a sort of group exploration of a particular subject?  In this case, bridges, property rights, etc., so I've set about figuring out ways something like this could be done without anyone choking on the technology.

For me, barreling down those grid-straight country roads then stopping to contemplate the bridge over the natural meandering stream barrier made the content Farrell's essay more real than it had seemed upon first encounter in the gallery. I find myself thinking about it whenever I see one of these pony truss bridges.

Since then, I've spent a great deal of time identifying and getting the technological processes down, or at least nearly so, (I still need to test iOS apps) and I am putting together some ideas which I'll share at a later date.

Many of Nebraska's bridges are not only out of service, but they are not documented as being out of service on its county maps or downloadable map data.  Frequently, explorations down little traveled roads end in something like this.

Ferrell, Michael. 2014. “Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses.” Prairie Fire - The Progressive Voice of the Great Plains.

Laukaitis, Algis J. 2014. “Nebraska’s Rural Bridges Are in Desperate Need of Repairs, Officials Say.”

“Truss Bridge.” 2014. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Long time no posting, so I will bring you up to speed

Last time I posted, I was all on about my Mere Cats and Femmtastics, the men's a women's fantasy cycling teams I selected this year.  If you recall, I considered two of my Mere Cats possibly good deals. "On Sale Andy" Schleck didn't pan out, but Contador did, and it was surprisingly satisfying to see him take the Vuelta so soon after the TdF crash out. Unfortunately, the Mere Cats sit at 672nd among the 972 men's teams.  I will need to learn a lot more about non World Tour races to get the kind of points it takes to be in top 100 teams.    After a blistering start to the season, the Femmtastics have fallen to 68th, so no prizes for me there.  Oh well, I've been busy with a great many other things.

First, the dissertation. Done. Finally. I was officially recognized for my dogged persistence with a PhD in May.  I thought I would immediately get back on the bike and back into that routine, but it has not been the case.

Instead, I've been completely engaged in work projects and using everything I've learned every day, all day.  I love it, but at the end of the day, I'm shot - mentally that is.  So much so, that often the bike felt like a chore, so I put it back down, picking it up only to commute or when riding sounded and felt fun.

Instead, I've been spending my leisure time learning about GPS, GIS, and mapping along with riding my XR650L, a dual-sport motorcycle that I purchased last year.  The two hobbies go well together since the moto is most fun when zipping down gravel or earthen roads.  However, finding those roads intentionally is more of a challenge than you might think - only the Nebraska county maps differentiate the different types of unpaved roads and roads .
My 2007 XR is the one of the left.  MFD's ride is a 2012 Triumph Tiger.
There are three: gravel, unsurfaced, and primitive.  The latter two are referred to as "earthen."  Sometimes this is even a bit of a misnomer because they are covered with grass, having only the barest hit of trail.  Additionally, they often lead to a washed out or broken bridge.

Bridge to a bean field.
I've been testing a lot technology related to maps and GPS and will be describing what I've learned and posting links to different tools in upcoming weeks.  I have multiple aims.  One is to develop an earthen road route from east to west across the state, another is to understand ways that GPS apps can be used in classrooms to increase the relevancy of course content for students.  If you enjoy gravel grinding, geo-caching, or geo-picting (I learned this word today), stay tuned.

This was a good find.