The innovation charity Nesta describes its Open Data Challenge Series as

A series of seven challenge prizes to generate innovative and sustainable open data solutions to social challenges

The last of these, on jobs, has just had its ‘creation weekend’. This took place at The Shed, Manchester Metropolitan University, and I was participating as a collaborator on a project run by Tom Forth.

Tom’s idea is to look at how bus routes in Leeds relate to the places where people currently live and work. The plan is to create an algorithm that scores the current transport system’s ability to connect people with jobs. This will allow us to suggest changes that would improve connectivity.

We spent the Saturday wrestling with two big datasets: one is a West Yorkshire subset of the NaPTAN database of public transport stops and routes in the UK; the other is very large (34 MB) GeoJSON file containing data on census regions for Leeds. The first step was to massage the NaPTAN data into a form suitable for uploading to a Google Fusion Table. Next, we built a small web application that queried the fusion table for a particular bus route and plotted this on top of an OpenStreetMap layer. The key to doing this easily was the Leaflet JavaScript library.

Getting the census areas into a manageable form was much more time-consuming and frustrating, but we were eventually able to draw them as a separate layer. Performance is impressive once the data have loaded, despite the large number of polygons involved - modern browsers are remarkably capable! No doubt we’ll need to reduce the number of objects shown, both to improve clarity and to reduce bandwidth demands, but this is useful as an initial exploratory prototype of how the application might do its data visualisation.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend on the Sunday, due to a prior mentoring commitment with YRS Hyperlocal. But Tom was clearly doing something right, because he emailed me later that evening to say we’d been selected as one of the three finalists!

That’s Tom there on the left. He’s christened the project Bus Start.

Of course, we can’t rest on our laurels. Now the real challenge of trying to turn this idea into proper working software begins. It should be a lot of fun!


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