Topics for GIScience master theses

After several months of setting the stage and doing lots of preparatory work, we are currently entering the ‘core phase’ in two research projects at the GI Mobility Lab internet. In this context we provide the opportunity to Master’s students to participate in the projects and write their thesis in GIScience (or related fields).

FamoS
Our part in the FamoS internet project is, among others, to develop an agent-based bicycle flow model for an entire city. In this context we offer two topics:

  1. Behavior to space (description internet)
  2. Exploring geoprocessing, geovisual analytical and mapping functionalities of GAMA (description internet)

GISMO
Experts from sports medicine, GIScience and transport planning and management are collaborating in the GISMO internet research project in order to provide a sound evidence basis for the promotion of active commuting. Part of the research is a clinical study, in which we document the subject’s mobility by different means. For the analysis of this data we offer the following two topics:

  1. Analysis of movement data from fitness watches (description internet)
  2. Linking travel diaries and GPS trajectories (description internet)

The topics are primarily offered to local internet and UNIGIS internet students. However, I’m also open to any other form of supervision and collaboration, given we find a sound format for it.

Lecture series “Active Mobility”

Since the VeloCity internet conference took place in Vienna in 2013, the Institute of Transportation internet (Vienna University of Technology) hosts an annual lecture series on bicycling and active mobility in general.

This semester, 80-100 students from various planning domains (urban, transport, regional planning) are attending the weekly lecture on “Active Mobility” internet. Yesterday I had the privilege to present parts of my current research and provide an overview of potential contributions of spatial information to an enhanced bicycling safety situation (slides in German language):

Although some of the students have already worked with GIS, none of them employe GIS in the context of mobility or transport research (at least nobody raised his/her hand when I was asking). Thus, I was happy to serve an appetizer for introducing the spatial perspective to a rather “technical” planning community.

Spatial information and bicycling safety

Originally, this blog was intended to document the progress of my PhD research. Mhm, this goal has been successfully reached yesterday …

Successfully defending my doctoral research (pictures by R. Wendel)

I finished my doctoral studies with a thesis on Spatial Information and Bicycling Safety and yesterday’s defense. The thesis internet is based on five peer-reviewed, published papers and aims to strengthen the spatial perspective in bicycling safety research.
The thesis is motivated by the fact that bicycling safety research is dominated by non-spatial domain experts, e.g. with backgrounds in trauma medicine, psychology, bio-mechanics, sociology, epidemiology, engineering, planning, law and some more. Interestingly, the spatial perspective on bicycling safety is hardly ever considered in these domain-specific approaches. This holds especially true for bicycle crash analyses, where basic geographical concepts, such as nearness, spatial autocorrelation and topology, are hardly ever considered.
Neglecting location as a co-determining attribute of safety is remarkable for a very simple reason. Mobility of people – and thus bicycling – as such is spatial by its very nature. Consequently, bicycling safety (from the physical environment to crashes to individually experienced safety threats) has spatial facets, which can be modeled and analyzed accordingly in order to gain relevant information for safer bicycling.

The primary hypothesis of my doctoral thesis is that spatial models and analyses contribute to a better understanding of certain aspects of bicycling safety and provide relevant results, which support measures to mitigate safety risks for bicyclists. Specifically I argued that:

  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS) facilitate holistic approaches for improving the bicycling safety situation. The spatial perspective is relevant for virtually all stages of the implementation of bicycling safety strategies.
  • Model-based approaches have a great potential in safety assessment and can form the basis for a number of applications – from status-quo analysis to planning and route optimization.
  • The spatial analysis of bicycle crashes reveals significant and safety-relevant patterns and particularities, which remain hidden in common, non-spatial or highly aggregated approaches.
  • The spatial perspective is crucial for advanced (simulation) models, which are necessary for reliable risk estimations on the local scale. Furthermore, the spatial implications of risk mapping on the local scale must be made explicit.

The thesis is structured in three elements. The first paper demonstrates the contribution of GIScience to bicycling safety research and is intended to set the stage for the remaining papers. Two of them primarily deal with spatial models in the context of road space assessment and transport modeling, while the rest is about spatial analysis of bicycle crashes.

Structure of the thesis

Although the completion of my doctoral studies is a huge, personal milestone, there is still a lot of research work in this context to be done. Besides the further development of the spatial models, the applied statistical methods and analysis routines, I see research gaps in the context of data (from static to dynamic real-time data and data streams), information (e.g. what are the effects of information provision on decision process or on individual and collective behavior?) and cross-domain collaboration.
The amount of work that still lies ahead motivates me to further blog on some of our research activities and to connect with anyone who is interested in spatial information, bicycling safety, urban mobility etc. I’m looking forward to learning, reading and hearing from you in virtual internet and – even more preferably – in face-to-face communication!

OSMaxx: the easy access to OSM data

OpenStreetMap internet is much more than a free map of the world. It’s a huge geo-database, which is still growing and improving in quality. OpenStreetMap is a great project in many respects!
But because it is a community project, where basically everyone can contribute, it has some particularities, which are rather uncommon in authoritative data sets. There, data is generated according to a pre-fixed data standard. Thus, (in an ideal world) the data are consistent in terms of attribute structure and values. In contrast, attribute data in OpenStreetMap can exhibit a certain degree of (semantic) heterogeneity, misclassifications and errors. The OSM wiki internet helps a lot, but it is not binding.
datamodel_networkAnother particularity of OpenStreetMap is the data model. Coming from a GIS background I was taught to represent spatial networks internet as a (planar) graph with edges and nodes. In the case of transportation networks, junctions are commonly represented by nodes and the segments between as edges. OpenStreetMap is not designed this way. Without going into details, the effect of OSM’s data model internet is that nodes are not necessarily introduced at junctions. This doesn’t matter for mapping, but for network analysis, such as routing!

In 2014 I presented internet and published internet an approach that deals with attributive heterogeneity in OSM data. Later I joined forces with Stefan Keller internet from the University of Applied Sciences in Rapperswil, Switzerland and presented our work internet at the AAG annual meeting 2015 in Chicago.
Since then Stefan and his team have lifted our initial ideas of harmonized attribute data to an entire different level. They formalized data cleaning routines, introduced subordinate attribute categories and developed an OSM export service, which generates real network graphs from OSM data. The result is just brilliant!

osmaxx

Two maps with very different scale made from the same data set.

The service can be accessed via osmaxx.hsr.ch internet. There, a login with an OSM account is required. Users can then choose whether they go with an existing excerpt or define an individual area of interest. In the latter case the area can be clipped on a map and the export format (from Shapefiles to GeoPackage to SQLite DB) and spatial reference system can be chosen. The excerpt is then processed and published on a download server. At this stage I came across the only shortcoming of the service: you don’t get any information that the processing of the excerpt takes up to hours (see here internet).
However, the rest of the service is just perfect. After “Hollywood has called” the processed data set can be downloaded from a web server.

OSMaxx interface.

OSMaxx interface.

osmaxx-downloadThe downloaded *.zip file contains three folders: data, static and symbology. The first contains the data in the chosen format. In the static folder all licence files and metadata can be found. The latter is especially valuable, because it contains the entire OSMaxx schema documentation. This excellent piece of work, which is the “brain” of the service is also available on GitHub internet. Those who are interested in data models and attribute structure should definitely have a look at this!
The symbology folder contains three QGIS map documents and a folder packed full with SVG map symbols. The QGIS map documents are optimized for three different scale levels. They can be used for the visualization of the data. I’ve tried them for a rather small dataset (500 MB ESRI File Geodatabase), but QGIS (2.16.3) always crashed. However, I think there is hardly any application context where the entire content of an OSM dataset needs to be visualized at once.

Of course, OSMaxx is not the first OSM export service. But besides the ease of use and the rich functionality (export format, coordinate system and level of detail), the attribute data cleaning and clustering are real assets. With this it is easy, for example, to map all shops in a town or all roads where motorized vehicles are banned. Using the native OSM data can make such a job quite cumbersome.
I have also tried to use the data as input for network analysis. Although the original OSM road data are transformed into a network dataset (ways are split into segments at junctions), the topology (connectivity) is invalid at several locations in the network. Before the data are used for routing etc., I would recommend a thoroughly data validation. For the detection of topological errors in a network see this post internet. Maybe a topology validation and correction routine can be implemented in a future version of OSMaxx.

In the current version the OSMaxx service is especially valuable for the design of maps that go beyond standard OSM renderings. But the pre-processed data are also suitable for all kinds of spatial analyses, as long as (network) topology doesn’t play a central role. Again, mapping and spatial analysis on the basis of OSM data was possible long before OSMaxx, but with this service it isn’t necessary to be an OSM expert and thus, I see a big potential (from mapping to teaching internet) for this “intelligent” export service.

VeloCittà bikesharing & POLIS conference

We contribute spatial information to the design and optimization of a city-wide BBS.

We contribute spatial information to the design and optimization of a city-wide BBS.

150 participants from 23 countries gathered on November 30th in Rotterdam to attend the VeloCittà internet bikesharing conference, which was held in conjunction with the annual POLIS internet conference (450 participants, according to the organizers). While the VeloCittà conference was exclusively dedicated to bikesharing, the POLIS conference offered a broader perspective on sustainable transport. I was in Rotterdam primarily for the POLIS conference because I had a presentation, but it was also a great opportunity to get an impressive update of recent bikesharing practice and research. Lot’s of what I’ve learned can be directly linked to our current involvement in the planning of a bikesharing system in Salzburg, Austria.
All presentations of both conferences can be found on the respective websites. Thus, I will focus only on two topics I’ve found especially relevant for our research and project work.

graphic-recording

Willemijn Lambert (@WM_Lamber internet) captured the essence of the VeloCittà bikesharing conference.

Success factors for bikesharing systems

polis2016aIn a very interesting session at the POLIS conference on sharing systems, Sebastian Schlebusch from Nextbike internet gave some insights into the company’s history. Several years they were treated quite harshly by public transit operators who feared for their business. However the break through of bikesharing systems (BSS) came. In accordance with Sebastian’s talk the following success factors occurred in various presentations at both conferences:

Cologne's bike sharing system (KVB Rad) is integrated in the city's public transit service.

Cologne’s bikesharing system (KVB Rad) is integrated in the city’s public transit service.

  • Political support. Obviously this seems to be the most decisive factor for successful BSSs in any country.
  • Integrated systems. An increasing number of cities regard bikesharing systems as an element of public transit services. This is reflected in the planning of the network, pricing and promotion. Cologne’s BSS internet is a good example for a large, integrated system.
  • Robust business models. This factor becomes important when initial subsidies fade out. Alberto Castro internet, one of the keynote speakers at VeloCittà, demonstrated how fast BSSs without sound financial (and operational) basis disappear internet.
  • Appropriate planning. Nicole Freedman, keynote speaker at VeloCittà, made a compelling case for the importance of realistic projections and tailored BSS design. Cities are comparable only to a certain degree and thus, BSSs cannot be simply transferred. Specific (mobility) characteristics of cities, from PT service level to topography, need to be taken into account.
  • User-tailored, easy solutions. The needs and expectations of users must be addressed in every aspect: from intuitive interfaces for initial registration to the ease of handling the hardware.
    To know and consider people’s reasons for not using BSSs is especially valueable when systems should be improved. In many cases the barriers for BSS usage can be lowered or removed with small adaptions.
  • Visibility in public space. In order to raise awareness for bikesharing it is necessary that the system is visible in public space. This visibility can be achieved by an appropriate station design, but also with art in public space.
  • Make it beautiful. Directly associated to the latter point Nicole Freedman strongly argued for aesthetically pleasing, beautiful bikes and infrastructure. Way too often BSSs are shaped by technicians and technology. With a good design of hard- and software people can be made curious; once they are attracted to the system, the possibility is high for turning prospective into active users.

polis2016cAt both conferences lots of case studies were presented. At least two of them were really remarkable:
Krakow (~ 760,000 inhabitants) initially launched a system with 30 stations and 300 bikes, which turned out to be not that successful. Thus, the city relaunched the entire system under a new name (Wavelo internet) and with 1,500 bikes at 150 stations, which is above the average bikes per people ratio in Europe (ref. OBIS internet handbook)!
A much smaller, but very successful BSS can be found in Pisa (CICLOPI internet). Marco Bertini presented the city’s strategy to make people in Pisa love their bikesharing system: “Bikesharing is note a service for citizens, but part of the community.” With this approach Pisa achieved impressive key figures: 5-8 rides per bike and day, virtually no vandalism and not a single bike stolen in 4 years.

Road Safety

polis2016dMore people are killed in road crashes than by malaria or tuberculosis, according to a recent OECD report internet that calls for a paradigm shift in road safety. Before this background and with a special focus on the role of large cities the International Transport Forum (ITF internet) launched the Safer City Streets internet project, which was presented by Alexandre Santacreu. The aim of this project is to provide an environment for exchange of data, experience and knowledge. What I regard as an asset of this project is the drive to publish data as OGD.
Alex pointed to the difficulty of comparing data from various sources, especially when crashes of vulnerable road users are investigated (different reporting procedures, classification, under-reporting etc.). Of course, this is nothing new, but my impression is that the limited comparability of data is mostly neglected in analyses of global data (I’ve demonstrated an aspect of this in this post internet).

While the Safer City Streets project operates on the global scale, the Netherlands have launched a national project where cities can learn from each other with respect to crash prevention and safety measures. Charlotte Bax from SWOV internet presented this benchmarking project that is built upon the three elements comparing – learning – improving. Two aspects caught my attention: (1) None of the data are made public because the involved city administrations fear the pressure that might be put on them after publishing crash details. (2) Even in the Netherlands’ city administrations struggle to make use of their data; Charlotte referred to cases where responsible departments were not able to tell how many kilometers of bicycle infrastructure they had.

Benchmarking on the very local level was at the core of Eric de Kievit’s internet presentation on the development of a compound road safety assessment. For this, two approaches were combined. Firstly, a network safety index, which consists of an enormously detailed description of the road space (every 25 meters the road profile was investigated based on street view photos). And secondly, a safety performance indicator that focuses on road user’s behavior. Both perspectives are then used as basis for targeted infrastructure measures, law enforcement, education and communication campaigns.

My own contribution to the session on road safety was about spatial analysis of bicycle crashes on the local scale level. The presentation was a synthesis of two of my latest journal papers (JTRG internet and Safety internet):

polis2016e

In both conferences it became evident that there are lots of innovative and creative solutions for promoting sustainable mobility in urban environments. However, there is no philosopher’s stone that solves all problems immediately, but cities all over Europe have to work hard to make progress.
I have the strong impression that the discussion and collaboration across domains and institutions is a key for sustainable solutions for cities. Urban environments are complex and thus require multifaceted strategies. In any way, we are ready to contribute spatial expertise for the good of our cities and their citizens.

GI-Forum 2017: Spatial Perspectives on Active Mobility

Vienna's newly designed Mariahilfer-Straße gives priority to pedestrians and bicyclists (image source: Christian Fürthner/MA 28)

Vienna’s newly designed Mariahilfer-Straße gives priority to pedestrians and bicyclists (image source: Christian Fürthner/MA 28)

In 2015 internet we organized the first special session on GIS and transport at the GI Forum conference internet in Salzburg (Austria). Since the event was a full success in 2016 internet as well, we will prolong the series in 2017 and call for contributions.

Since the promotion of active mobility has become a central element of virtually any urban planning and development strategy, health issues force societies to get physically active again and the amount of research has skyrocketed, it is time to gain a “spatial perspective” on the topic.
Research on active mobility is of course a multi-disciplinary field and lots of, partly very specific studies contribute to the growing body of literature. However, it is interesting that a substantial share of recently published studies from non-spatial domains have geographical elements at their core. The latest series on urban design, transport and health in the medical top journal The Lancet internet is only one of several prominent examples.

Before the background of our own research (see one of my last posts internet) and the relevance of the topic, we organize another special session – hopefully with your contribution!
During the 2017 GI Forum conference internet we will collect, present and discuss spatial perspectives on active mobility. The call for papers is also available on the conference website internet:

There are many good reasons to promote active mobility: road congestions, limited space resources, public health issues, air pollution and noise emission, just to name a few. Consequently, various institutions and research domains have active mobility at the core of their activities. The geographical space can serve as common denominator that brings together the multiple approaches towards active mobility. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) hereby serve as integrative platforms that combine, model and analyze the variety of perspectives and data. The overall aim is to facilitate holistic approaches and to extract relevant information for stakeholders and decision makers.

The 2017 GI-Forum special session will be the third of a series that deals with relevant research topics at the intersection of GIS and mobility. We invite researchers from any domain to submit original research, which has spatial information at its core. Relevant topics are (but not limited to):

  • Spatial data acquisition for active mobility research (OGD, VGI etc.)
  • Spatial models and simulations for pedestrian and bicycle traffic
  • Spatial analysis of barriers for active mobility (safety, accessibility, attitudes and behavior)
  • GIS in planning and decision support systems for active mobility promotion
  • Showcases from all disciplines (sports science, environmental psychology, transport science, planning etc.) that build on spatial information

Contributions can either be submitted as full paper, extended abstract or poster. Any contribution needs to be submitted via the conference submission website and will be object to the double-blind, peer-review process. Authors of accepted full papers are going to be invited to present and discuss their paper (15’+5’) in the special session. Authors of extended abstracts and posters are going to be invited for an elevator pitch (5’). Full papers and extended abstracts will be published in the GI-Forum journal (Open Access).

Besides the special session, which will be organized as paper session, we will provide opportunities for further exchange, project drafting or discussing potential joint publications in an informal workshop format.

Further information can be found on the session’s website: http://gi-forum.org/activemobility. The special session is organized by the GI Mobility Lab (Z_GIS). Any inquiries can be sent to gimobility@sbg.ac.at.

Bicycle routing portals

Although the impact of information on mode and route choice is disputed, the number of bicycle routing and navigation applications is constantly growing.
For this year’s International Cycling Safety Congress (ICSC internet) we have investigated 30 current bicycle routing portals with a specific focus on “safety”. The study is limited to web applications with a desktop version and without obligatory registration. Mobile apps, which are increasingly standalone products (or environments) were not considered.

Click on the picture to download the conference paper with all details of the study.

Click on the picture to download the conference paper with all details of the study.

The central hypothesis of our study was that existing bicycle routing portals don’t address prevalent safety concerns explicitly. We further argue that bicycle routing portals might contribute to the promotion of safe(r) routes and consequently to an overall perception of the bicycle as safe mode of transport.
With this study we take a first step towards a better exploitation of information applications’ potential to promote (utilitarian) bicycling. Based on our evaluation, bicyclists’ expectations and the role of routing information in their mobility routines should be investigated in more detail. This would allow for the formulation of design guidelines for future information products for bicyclists.
However, we are totally aware of the fact that information as such can never improve the safety situation – this can only be done by adequate infrastructure. But we see the potential of bicyclist-specific (routing) information to bridge the gap between the current, mostly sub-optimal safety situation and a perfect environment. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) allow for the identification of optimal routes in terms of safety. Depending on the infrastructure, recommended connections might not be perfect, but the best possible solution in the given situation. We have made quite good experiences in this regard with the bicycle route planner we have developed for Salzburg (see Radlkarte.info internet).

I know of many highly innovative bicycle routing and navigation applications and I’d be more than happy to learn from your experiences and expertise. I guess we could make a step forward and provide better, user-tailored information if we joined forces. As an invitation to further work on this topic we make the data of our study fully available. You can access the evaluation spread sheet via this link internet. So let’s get started …