Gazetteer will ease congestion

Transport for London is to develop its own street gazetteer to tackle traffic congestion, writes Nick Huber.

Transport for London is to develop its own street gazetteer to tackle traffic congestion, writes Nick Huber.

The recent launch of London's congestion charge scheme has highlighted the pivotal role of technology in reducing traffic congestion.

Computer Weekly has learned that Transport for London is planning to develop its own street gazetteer as part of a congestion-busting drive.

A spokeswoman for TFL said it would award a contract to develop a regional street gazetteer - drawing together local borough records - later this month. The decision by TFL to go it alone has highlighted long-running dissatisfaction over the reliability of the National Street Gazetteer (NSG), which is maintained by the Ordnance Survey, the UK's national mapping agency.

The new gazetteer will include grid references to help pinpoint streets - a significant improvement on the current text-based street gazetteers.

"We found that a lot of the data [from local authority gazetteers] was not as accurate as was hoped," said the TFL spokeswoman. "A new London gazetteer will help us co-ordinate our roadworks and in an emergency get vehicles to the scene more quickly."

Meanwhile, the Ordnance Survey is to review how it can improve the quality of street information held in the NSG. It will meet this month with the Improvement and Development Agency to discuss how it can improve the NSG. The Department for Transport is also involved in the discussions.

The NSG comprises a complete set of local street gazetteers from local authorities. The NSG is managed by the Ordnance Survey but local authorities are responsible for updating their own local street data systems and sending the files to the Ordnance Survey.

As well as being used by local authorities, the NSG is also used by utility companies for identifying streets and special features before planning roadworks and giving council highway authorities notice of jobs.

The revamp of the gazetteer follows long-running concerns from industry experts over the quality of the data fed through to the NSG by local authorities and whether it is updated often enough.

The problem is exacerbated because local authorities store street data on different systems and practices vary.

A spokesman for Ordnance Survey admitted that the NSG had faced some "difficulties" but added it was keen to develop the service further. "To move the NSG forward, we are formally considering opportunities for an enhanced service," he said.

The move has been welcomed by utility companies. "We hope the NSG will be made more consistent and more up-to-date," said Irene Elsom, national co-ordinator of the National Joint Utilities Group, whose members include BT, Cable & Wireless and Transco.

One source close to the street gazetteer review said it was looking at using new hardware, software and web data standards, such as XML. "There is no interest whatsoever in replacing the street gazetteer but they are looking at what is necessary to improve it. It will be presented as an upgrade because no one wants to say that the previous one is a bit of a dog's breakfast," he said.

The NSG initiative follows the announcement of a review last year by the Department for Transport aimed at reducing the disruption caused by roadworks by streamlining the flow of information between utilities and public authorities.

There are thought to be at least four million roadworks in the UK at any one time, which exacerbate congestion. A myriad of software packages and formats for exchanging data has resulted in confusion over the exact number and location of roadworks underway and being planned.

A common system for sharing information on roadworks could improve the efficiency of road development and improve safety. Utility companies could pass on cost savings to their customers.

The review is the first high-level attempt to tackle the disruption caused by roadworks since the collapse of plans for a national roadworks register more than five years' ago. A web-based portal for sharing information could be one option, although the government is unlikely to resurrect plans for a national register. The review is due for completion by the summer.

What is the National Street Gazetteer?   

The National Street Gazetteer is designed to be an unambiguous referencing system to identify any "street" in the UK. The information is available to local highway authorities and utilities via a website or in different formats. 

Required under the National Street Works Register Legislation, data in the gazetteer conforms to BS7666 - the standard for spatial datasets in geographic referencing. 

Currently the NSG is like an incomplete jigsaw - information provided by some councils is patchy and data standards are piecemeal. Ordnance Survey has to aggregate the data and fill in any gaps from other information sources. 

The long-term aim is for local authorities to sell their street data for commercial use to any interested organisation, but only when the quality of the product improves.

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