I am taking a Creative Nonfiction writing class. This is my work for one of the assignments.

Bellevue. Something pretty to look at. Perhaps Mount Hood in the distance—you can only see it on a clear day—or the lakes both to the west and the east. I stroll along the busy downtown streets on my way to a meeting in a 27th floor conference room. There I will see the Bellevue, but not here at the surface level, where there’s only traffic noise and imposing, bullying tall glass buildings shoving out the last strip malls and single-story office plazas that have no business here anymore.

Amazon is building its tallest office tower here on this corner, the intersection of Northeast 6th Street and 110th Avenue Northeast, in Bellevue. 74 floors, that will be a view even bell-er, but only for the Amazon people cooking up plans to make more Amazon money in glass Amazon meeting rooms, so they can appropriate even more views and things that used to belong to all of us.

I wonder, as I stand here in the cold and humid February Washington breeze, what happened to Yuen Lui and their eponymous Studio which, says a fading sign just visible beyond the chain link fence that now surrounds the blue-rooftiled structure. http://bit.ly/yuenlui 

Back in my hotel room, on the other side of the freeway and with a clear view of it—the 35 story glass Marriott downtown charging nightly rates that sit squarely on the wrong side of my company’s not ungenerous expense limits—I sleuth my way into Yuen Lui’s life.

…a Chinese immigrant who built his first studio  in the Chinatown/International District of Seattle in 1947…business grew…still family owned and operated…continues a tradition of excellence, providing uncompromising quality at an affordable price…

Also, a current address, 752 108th Ave. NE. Only a couple of blocks to the west, the former Bellevue First Congregation building. Them, in turn, displaced. By choice or force, finding that out would require real investigation, property records, transactions, perhaps a visit to city hall, but more 27th floor Bellevue meetings await, and then a flight home—coincidentally, with a great view of Mount Hood, weather permitting.

Introducing Some More MapRoulette Quick Fix Challenges: Lanes & Drive Thrus

Unlike traditional MapRoulette Challenges, the new Quick Fix Challenges require no experience with OSM editing tools like JOSM or iD. MapRoulette asks you, the mapper, a question that just requires a simple yes / no answer. Here’s an example:

Does this ramp have one lane? Yes or no.

It does, as you can clearly see from aerial imagery, but OpenStreetMap does not know yet. Now, with a MapRoulette Quick Fix Challenge, we can work together and quickly check all 2,064 motorway_link ways in Tennessee that don’t have lane count information, and add lanes=1 with one click.

This is one of a few new Quick Fix Challenges that we released on MapRoulette today. Why not try it out now?

You can also participate in adding drive-thru tagging to In-n-Out burger and Carl’s Jr restaurants.

By the time you read this, the Challenges may already have been completed…They’re addictive and Tasks are quick to fix!

Because this is a new Challenge type, I would really like to hear what you think about it, and hear your ideas for how the current implementation could be improved. Drop me a line at m@rtijn.org or open an issue on Github. I look forward to hearing from you!

Announcing MapRoulette Challenges for fixing up TIGER in Utah

I wrote a how-to recently on “Cleaning up” after the OpenStreetMap TIGER import. As a reminder, here’s what TIGER data used to look like when it was imported into OSM in 2008:

Fortunately, the OpenStreetMap community has fixed most of the alignment and road classification issues connected to the TIGER import in the past 12 years. (With some help from tools like Battlegrid, which I wrote when at Telenav.) Yet, problems remain. In that previous blog post, I outlined an easy to follow set of steps to identify and start fixing problems in your area of interest.

Writing a blog post does not fix map problems. And most people reading this will be casual OSM contributors at best, and are not interested in following a bunch of steps that involve JOSM and plugins, to start fixing map problems.

That is why we have MapRoulette! MapRoulette gives you ready-to-fix map issues with clear instructions telling you what to do to fix them. Individual tasks don’t take more than a minute or two to fix. Ideal for casual mappers, but not to the exclusion of power mappers, many of whom have told me that they love to use MapRoulette as a tool to organize their own mapping work as well as that of their mapping group / community.

I took the Overpass query from the previous post and used it to create MapRoulette challenges for each county in Utah. You can follow the link to the MapRoulette project to start helping to fix these roads, or read on below the screenshot for a quick recap of how I created the Challenges. Happy mapping!

Challenge Creation

First, I identified the OSM IDs for all county boundary relations in Utah using this Overpass query:


That gave me the following results:

@id	name
416536	San Juan County
445605	Wayne County
445606	Grand County
1411396	Daggett County
1411399	Uintah County
1416619	Rich County
1416621	Summit County
1742078	Box Elder County
1742080	Cache County
1744354	Beaver County
1744355	Carbon County
1744356	Davis County
1744357	Duchesne County
1744358	Emery County
1744359	Garfield County
1744360	Iron County
1744361	Juab County
1744362	Kane County
1744363	Millard County
1744364	Morgan County
1744365	Piute County
1744366	Salt Lake County
1744367	Sanpete County
1744368	Sevier County
1744369	Tooele County
1744370	Utah County
1744371	Wasatch County
1744372	Washington County
1744373	Weber County

I created the first Challenge by replacing the area identifier in the original Overpass query with the Overpass-adjusted area id for the first county:

  (if(timestamp() < "2010-01-01T00:00:00Z"))
out meta;

Note that I also replaced

out meta;

with simply

out geom;

This is to prevent MapRoulette from interpreting the nodes that make up the ways as tasks, instead of the ways themselves. The original query returns the ways, without geometry, in the first out statement, then the > triggers a recursive query for all the nodes that are members of those ways, and returns their geometries in the out meta statement. Those nodes are then interpreted as separate tasks, which is not what we wanted. out geom on the other hand, will make overpass output full line geometry, thus creating one task for each way.

Postscript. Technically this is not ‘TIGER Fix-up’—the query is just targeting ‘any residential way in OSM that has no name and has not been edited since 2009’. But it is a simple query that is a decent proxy for TIGER fix-up. There is an entire OSM wiki page devoted to more specific queries you may use.

Create Your Own MapRoulette Challenge: Updating Deprecated Tagging

I am really proud of how far MapRoulette has come. It is now really easy to create Challenges mappers can work on together to improve OpenStreetMap. Many OSM groups already use MapRoulette to coordinate mapping activities—both volunteer communities as well as corporate mapping teams. Read for example this recent blog post by Monica Brandeis of Critigen, where she explains how Critigen used MapRoulette to host Virtual Mapathons at their various corporate office locations. (The Challenges they created are all completed, but there’s many more to choose from!)

I am also starting to use MapRoulette to organize work for our local OSM group here in Salt Lake City. My hope is that this will draw in more new mappers, by showing them small but meaningful ways to start contributing to the quality of the map locally. I also hope that having a set of local Challenges will strengthen the sense of community by having shared mapping goals and a dashboard to see how well we’re doing achieving them.

As a start, I created a Challenge to update deprecated tagging. The name_1 tag is still in use on a large number of ways. The value is supposed to be an alternate name for a road, but it has been deemed deprecated in favor of alt_name and other more specific name tag variants.

The easiest way to build a Challenge with these is by using Overpass as a source. To identify all ways that have a name_1 tag, you can use this Overpass query:

area[name="Salt Lake City"]->.a;
out meta geom;

You can feed this query into a new MapRoulette Challenge using the Challenge Create wizard. The tasks will build automatically, and you can refresh them as needed.

You could easily change the Overpass query to highlight OSM objects with a different deprecated tag on them, and create a Challenge for those as well!

30 minutes

It hasn’t been that long since we moved to this town, this new country. You are from here, know things I do not, move about this uncharted space with its unfamiliar and unwritten rule-set, and I follow you, mimic you, create my map. I speak the language—people comment on my accent, where are you from, Denmark—but I don’t speak the rest of it. When we arrived, the sun screamed at me, louder than I knew possible. Then fall, winter, six months and now there’s work, phone numbers, checks, routine. A Sunday is almost just a Sunday again.

There’s an invisible list we need to be on. You talk to the list person, and make it so. The list person says, thirty minutes maybe more maybe less. Smiles. You tell me that’s how long we wait. Confused, infinitesimally annoyed but I swallow it and smile, this is where I live now, and that is how people do. This is what I will do, we will wait, thirty minutes, starting now.

How are other people spending their minutes. There are a few benches, made for children, but with adults on them. Big ones, too. Others linger outdoors. The sun doesn’t scream, sings. It must be minus five,wait, twenty-eight degrees—this is where I live now. Some people even sit in their cars, with their engines running, heater blowing, windows fogging up, how wasteful, is that even allowed. They’re unbothered, looking bored, a little annoyed maybe even. It’s hard to read faces, moods.

Most people counting down their minutes are holding mugs, probably coffee. I want one too, look for a coffee person, not seeing one. I ask you. You look around, not for a person, and point to a counter deeper into the restaurant. There’s a stack of mugs and a big hot-drink-dispenser, the kind you would see at a amateur sports event, but super-sized. So many things are large here, cars, stores, and now coffee dispensers. I look for a person to go with it all, but people are helping themselves without paying. I have questions, but decide to try and blend in, boldly walk up and mimic the person in front of me, grab mug, place mug, pull pull pull, grab full mug, walk away. Boom!

The coffee is weak and awful, nobody seems bothered by it. I ask you. You agree but shrug. Didn’t expect it to be good. Now I know. This is where I live now.

Twenty-three minutes. The street is quiet, Sundays are that way, you say, people in church. This restaurant, with its cloud of families and couples and friends counting down their minutes, a beehive in a dead tree. Across the way, a deserted parking lot and closed stores: yarn, massages, tax advice. Why here. People drive everywhere anyway, you say, it doesn’t really matter. From further afield, just sounds. The hum of a freeway, not far, never far. Horns from trains that never sleep. The sounds of people and things moving about, needing to be where they are not.

“Alice, party of two!” A young couple looks up from their phones, briefly at each other. As they go in a family (large, counting 9, three generations at least) emerges. Half carry Styrofoam boxes, taking care to hold them horizontal. Leftovers, I offer. Yes. Sixteen minutes.

Perusing the restaurant’s menu seems popular, useful too, the restaurant is in a hurry, the servers smiling but impatient, jogging between tables and kitchen. So you better know what you want when they come. Through the fogged up glass I watch, learn, prepare. A family is ordering, many children. Dad and boys wearing shorts and slippers, why, it’s winter, freezing. The youngest, six or seven, rattles off his order, confidently. I can’t hear. Server and boy engage in rapid-fire clarifying dialogue. Scary. Where are those menus.

You read my mind, or saw me looking at the machine gun boy-server dialog, bit of both, and there you are with menus. Sticky and smudged. So many options and sub-options and alternatives. Specials. Only after 11am. For kids. From the griddle, what is a griddle. What are home fries. I ask many questions, your patience is calming. Breakfast means many different things here, all unfamiliar. Bacon, sausage, eggs, over easy, medium, sunny side up, pancakes, full stack, half stack, wheat, sourdough, sides. What are you having. Pancakes. What is the most ‘murican breakfast imaginable.

“Jim, party of four!” A family (smaller) stirs, shuffles in the direction of the yelling. More people emerge, more Styrofoam boxes. Perhaps they were not so hungry after all. They pile into a big car parked where it shouldn’t be, next door.

I’ll be right back. Twelve minutes.

Trying to peel the layers of history off this corner, 2100, streets with numbers not names. It was once a gas station or a garage, then a coffee shop, shuttered now, a faded, broken sign, baked goods, milk shakes, drive thru. How hard is it to get out of your car for a cup of coffee. Beyond, ‘chinese cuisine’ once, now roof tiles peeling off, not a soul. Just one more place to park more cars, negative space.

This is where I live now.

It’s cold.

I find my way back to warmth, you. Eight minutes.

From inside the restaurant, someone calls your name. You grab my arm. We go in. Early, unprepared, but ready.

OpenStreetMap US 2020 Board Election — My Answers to Community Questions

I am running for the OpenStreetMap US Board this year. I previously occupied a seat on this board from 2011 to 2016, then stepped down to focus on the OpenStreetMap Foundation board to which I had been elected. I served on the OSMF board for three years, but decided to step down in late 2018. Since then, I have stayed involved with OpenStreetMap US as a local organizer of OpenStreetMap Salt Lake City, and as the chair of the State of the Map Program Committee.

Last year, I changed jobs, from a very OSM-centric role at Telenav to a really interesting but not OSM-centric new role at TomTom. This change led me to reconsider how I want to be involved with OSM in the future. My candidacy for the OSM US board should give you an idea of what the outcome is.

The community had the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates until January 30. A handful of questions were submitted—some by me, aimed specifically at current board members seeking re-election—and with the elections starting today it’s high time I provided some answers! (I left out my own questions, since I am not running for re-election.)

Do you think OSM-US should pursue becoming a Local Chapter officially recognized by the OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSMF)?

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I think OSM US has always been operated at the forefront of innovation in OSM—organizing increasingly ambitious annual conferences, encouraging nourishing and constructive community dialog with modern platforms, moderation, and a code of conduct. The most recent example OSM US set was hiring an Executive Director. We can and should disseminate these innovations to peer Local Chapters, and learn from them as well. When on the OSMF board, I worked on creating a platform for Local Chapters to have these interactions, and actively pursued signing on more Local Chapters (Germany, Italy, Belgium, Ireland). We also need to keep working on building a formal and closer relationship with the OSMF. Becoming a Local Chapter is not a silver bullet, but will help with these things, and apart from that, as one of the more prominent local communities we should be setting an example.

Do you support the proposed amendment to the OpenStreetMap-US Bylaws?

There should be limits to the amount of consecutive terms a board member can serve, and a term should be longer than one year. Two years is a good length, it gives the board member time to really follow through on their stated objectives. Board members should be able to stand for re-election once. After that, a cooling-off period of one term would be in order. As far as I can tell, this mostly aligns with the amendment put forward by the current Board.

If elected, would you be willing to serve as Treasurer?

It’s not my favorite role but I’d consider it. If I remember correctly, a lot of the day-to-day work to do with organization finances is done by an external accountant already. I am in favor of outsourcing as much non-strategic work as possible.

In the last year, how active have you been in the OSM community? What efforts have you made to support and/or grow OpenStreetMap in the US?

As mentioned in the intro, I’ve been chair of the Program Committee for SOTM US, and part of the overall conference organization team. I have continued to run OSM Salt Lake City, hosting two meetings a month on average. While at Telenav, I ran the OpenStreetMap camera lending program for the OSM US community. I did a keynote on OpenStreetMap on GIS day. I tirelessly promote MapRoulette and encourage mappers to create and solve tasks—about half of MapRoulette website traffic originates in the US. I am active on Slack.

The OSM US website could use some refreshing, show our mission and goals and list our sponsors. Even incorporate a vector tile slippy map. Who wants to step up with a plan?

While not in my list of priorities, I think a web site refresh would be nice. What *is* in my list of priorities is forming special interest groups, and one for communications, social media or even just the web site makes a lot of sense to me. While the board could provide valuable input, I’d prefer to empower the SIG with the budget and freedom to come up with a plan to present to the board, and execute it. They could decide to use the budget in whatever way they see fit, for example to hire someone to design / develop the site.

What is your “elevator pitch” (short, quick description) when someone asks: “What is Open Street Map? Why would I use it while Google/Bing/Apple Maps exists?”

OpenStreetMap is the free map of the world created by a global community of over a million people like you and me. You can use it for anything you want, the map is easy to edit, and OpenStreetMap is the only map that puts you in control. OpenStreetMap is used by some of the largest tech companies in the world, such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat and Mapbox.

My Position Statement for the 2020 OpenStreetMap US Chapter Board Elections

I am running for a seat on the OSM US board and I hope you will consider voting for me!

OSM US is a large, influential and forward-thinking community. Now that we have Maggie Cawley as Executive Director, we are uniquely positioned and qualified to lead with ideas and actions to keep moving OSM forward in the U.S. and globally.  

Here is my list of priorities for OSM US, in order:

  1. Interest Groups. OSM US should formalize and actively recruit for Interest Groups. I envisage an active mutual advisory relation with the board. Potential interests: Government Relations, Imports, Infrastructure, Local Groups, Diversity & Inclusion. We should actively recruit people from outside the existing OSM community to join.
  2. Community Grants. Roll out a program to extend small grants ($2000 or less) to individuals and groups with actionable plans to grow OSM in the U.S.: outreach to schools, hosting events, writing / printing promotional or educational materials, to just give some examples. This would complement the existing travel grants program. An initial round would be time-bound and capped at $20k, after which we’d evaluate and iterate on the idea.
  3. Corporate Relations—I am 100% with Jubal on this topic.

My OSM user profile has more about my experience, qualifications and affiliations.

You can read all about the upcoming OSM US board elections here.