Posts tagged ‘Great British Public Toilet Map’

…the magic of open data

I’m so annoyed.. or elated.. I’m not sure.

I just made a fully-functioning Toilet Map for England & Wales in just over an hour.

Click the image to try out this map of 1611 loos:

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 14.04.51

©2015 HERE Terms of use CartoDB attribution

This is because over 80 of the 406 councils responsible for toilets now publish public toilet open data, thanks to the Local Government Association (LGA) Local Government Open Data Incentive Scheme, open to councils in England & Wales.

By developing a standard, the toilet data contains extra details that people need to meet their needs (open, accessible to them, attended, free, etc..). It also means it’s incredibly easy to use the data, as it can all be combined into 1 dataset from 80+.

To put this map in context:

The first toilet map I made, in 2010, was a Google Map of 56 Public and Community Toilets in Wandsworth. It took me 5 hours and a trip to a cemetery. 

The second, The Great British Public Toilet Map of 10000 toilets, has taken 3.5 years (so far), several thousand pounds, and the combined effort of developers, enthusiasts and hundreds of members of public.

The map above I made with no skill whatsoever:

  • I downloaded the .csv file containing all the data from http://schemas.opendata.esd.org.uk/PublicToilets (by clicking the ‘1’ at the bottom of the page).
  • I opened this in Excel and went ‘ooo!’.
  • I then uploaded the dataset to CartoDB using a free trial.
  • I clicked ‘View map’ and selected the 2 columns containing the Latitude and Longitude infomation from a drop-down list.

THAT’S IT. 

That didn’t take an hour. That took about 10 minutes. However it only showed a few hundred toilets, yet there were over a thousand rows of info in the .csv file.

On closer inspection, I found that the Lat & Long columns were a mix of Lat / Long and Northings/Eastings. So for those toilets that had the latter, I pasted the Northings/Eastings into a different column. I then found a site to convert them by googling ‘convert northings eastings into lat long’ – I used gridreferencefinder.com. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it wouldn’t be much work to use the Ordnance Survey’s own converter instead. I then used a VLookup function in Excel to enter in the corresponding Lat/Long for each Northing/Easting. I was quite pleased with this, but I could have used Copy/Paste.

I then uploaded this dataset, tided up the new map using the nice CartoDB interface and picked out which details would be shown when you click on each toilet. I’m still reeling at how easy it is.

Now, The Great British Public Toilet Map has 10000 toilets, 10 x the amount shown on this map, or listed on the LGA site and data.gov.uk.

This just serves to show the potential of more councils, and other providers (train stations, service stations, shopping centres) joining up to publish standard public toilet open data (or any open data), that could help the public or improve a public service, especially for those that need them most. 

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May 21, 2015 at 11:34 am 1 comment

..the public need

Since launching The Great British Public Toilet Map, we’ve had lots of lovely comments from people who think it’s a great idea and who took the time to tell us. The majority have been from people for whom finding a toilet is a serious concern due to medical conditions or medication.

Here is a collection from emails to toiletmap@rca.ac.uk, Twitter and the comment feed of The Guardian article that give first-hand insights into the importance of better toilet information to the general public.

Great idea. As someone who works outside all day a toilet stop is part of the normal routine 

On behalf of all men with prostate problems – thank you.

This is much needed for Ulcerative Colitis and Crohns sufferers. It would be great to have an app so you aren’t reliant on mobile internet signal when you urgently need to go!

The Great British Public Toilet Map is genius and will take all the stress from my holiday in Scotland next month. Thank you.

This is a great idea, especially if, like me, you suffer from prostate cancer.

As someone with an ultra-sensitive bladder, I just wanted to say THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! What a brilliant idea!

At long last an app/map that is REALLY useful, if only something like this had been available when my late father was alive, what a Godsend it would have been on days out when the first thing we had to find was the toilets!!

@GBToiletMap ‘s brilliant map shows you where you can find public toilets and lists whether they are accessible and whether they are gendered

Thank you so much for whoever came up with this idea. I do hope plenty of other people e-mail you with thanks and a hope that this app is available for long time – as you say with an aging population it will be a winner.

Hi, a great project as a Crohns sufferer it can be a nightmare getting caught short and always thinking about it when your out!!

It would be an amazing app on a phone, not only for people like me but also as a parent, often kids can’t wait and the disapproving looks I get when my little boy goes in the bushes??

It’s so important. I’m neither old nor unfortunate enough to suffer from a bladder or bowel condition, if I’m out for more than a couple of hours when on my period I absolutely need to find somewhere. The worst is always a long train journey when the toilets are out of order. I suspect a lot of women read this article and had the same thought.

I’ve suffered from Crohn’s Disease for the last 5 and a half years, so it’s fantastic to see a map like this become a reality, as it certainly makes visiting new places a heck of a lot less daunting. It’s especially important as public toilets are being closed left, right and centre, and many businesses are not always particularly welcoming to those in my situation!

April 27, 2015 at 11:52 am 1 comment

.. the Open Data Institute

On Friday 5th September I gave the Open Data Institute‘s weekly Lunchtime Lecture about The Great British Public Toilet Map.

You can listen again/flick through the slides to my talk ‘Excuse me, where is the toilet (data)?

The ODI have also written a blog post to summarise it, ‘How open data can help us all to find the toilet

Thank you, ODI, for inviting me to do this.

 

 

 

September 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm Leave a comment

.. Freedom of Information

One way in which we are finding more toilets to add to The Great British Public Toilet Map is by making Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Councils have a statutory obligation to respond to FOI requests within 20 days. Our Research Assistants Lizzie and Billie were tasked with sending out the FOI requests to the councils, as part of our current work on the project, funded by the Nominet Trust.

They identified 405 district councils and unitary authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If the public toilet (and community toilet scheme) information on each council’s website was sufficient, they recorded this data. However if it was non-existent, or so brief that it was useless (e.g. “We have 6 public toilets.”), they sent FOI requests, working through the UK region by region. In total they sent 314 FOI requests. 

As luck would have it, someone (Jonathan Roberts) had already made FOI requests to 31 councils for information about their public facilities, including toilets, including many in Wales, through the website What Do They Know?, so they only had to follow up on a few of these.

Lizzie wrote our request based on the advice from that site and feedback from Owen Boswarva following a previous blog post. Our request can be read at the end of this post.

Did it work? At last count, We had responses from 199 councils, equivalent to  a response rate of 63%, in excess of our 50% target.

We were still waiting for a reply from 115 councils. A few had been chased 4 times as the 20-day period had passed without response. Of those that replied, the majority  have sent data (or a pdf of data). A minority have directed us to the information already on their website. A couple have sent links to pre-existing open data. At least 1 council asked us to foot the bill, requesting £450 for the data to be collected. We declined.

Next we have to unpick what we can actually do with the data.

Whilst The Great British Public Toilet Map is a non-commercial use, the map does have to be sustainable, so we need the option to use the data for commercial purposes too.

Guidance shared by @_datapreneur about Section 102 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012  says that datasets have to be made available for re-use, including for commercial purposes, if certain conditions are met.

Does the toilet data fit this description? I think it does. So long as the council ‘own’ the data it is theirs to release for re-use.

An exception would be Ordnance Survey location data. I’m also not sure about toilets provided by a third company, e.g. the Superloos. Could they ‘own the rights’ to the information about their opening hours, rather than the councils, for example? Is that even practical? At what point is information simply in the public domain?

At least one council has decided to share the information under EIR (Environmental Information Regulations) instead of the FOI Act, which makes things different again.

And what about the councils who specifically said it could only be used by  The Great British Public Toilet Map, and for non-commercial gain? If they had no right to, are we ignoring them at our peril?

My next task it to get to the bottom of these questions, hopefully in a way which doesn’t involve extensive back-and-forth email conversations with 300 separate councils.

Suggestions, as always, are extremely welcome.

 

Dear ### Council,

We are writing to request details of your public toilet provision. We intend to use this information as open data for the Great British Public Toilet Map. This is a project started by the Royal College of Art and funded by the Nominet Trust to make it easier for people, in particular those with reduced continence, to find toilets.

Please treat this as a request for information under both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005, we request a dataset that covers all your toilet provision including public, library, parks and associated offices (one- stop offices for council tax payment etc). In short any toilet provision you offer to members of the public including those under any community toilet scheme you may have in operation. The specific data we require, if held by the Council, is:

– the longitude and latitude / postcode / exact location

– Opening times

– If there is a cost to use the facility

– Male / female

– Disabled access (including RADAR scheme)

– Baby changing (male and/or female)

– specialist provision such as urinals and/or squatting toilets

We request that this data is provided to us via email and if possible in a spreadsheet (XLS) format. We also request that this data is provided under licence that allows reuse, ideally the Open Government Licence.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,

Yours faithfully,

####

The Great British Public Toilet Map

June 25, 2014 at 12:00 pm 4 comments

.. The Great British Public Toilet Map, Take 3.

Last October we were awarded £20 000 from the Nominet Trust to develop The Great British Public Toilet Map (@GBToiletMap).

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The Great British Public Toilet Map, at http://greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

The following video was made for the application and explains our project in 2 minutes – click to watch ..

 

We began work in March and will work on the map for 6 months. As I am on maternity leave, the project lead is the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design‘s Senior Research Fellow and Toilet Enthusiast, Jo-Anne Bichard, while the design ideas, data collection and day-to-day work has been embraced by Research Assistants and (soon to be graduating) MA students, Elizabeth Raby and Billie Muraben. Meanwhile, Neontribe are figuring out how to make it all work.

In brief, we aim to add A LOT more toilets. The existing site is little more than a prototype, consisting of data for a handful of London boroughs, a few other councils, National Rail Enquiries and Transport for London, the latter of which is four years out-of-date to my eternal frustration.

We also aim to improve the information about each toilet, since at the moment we have opening hours, wheelchair accessibility info and baby-changing info.

Therefore, we (.. and by ‘we’ I mean Lizzie, Billie and Neontribe) are:

  • Trawling council websites for public and community toilet details
  • Sending Freedom of Information requests when the info is missing or poor
  • Importing the 4000-odd toilet locations from OpenStreetMap (OSM)
  • Developing a means for the public and councils to add/amend entries, in order to crowd-source for data, to make it more reliable and complete
  • Developing a means for all this extra info to be added back into OSM
  • Redesigning the interface so that all these extra toilets and info can be seen and understood easily

..as well as a million other things that will help us to provide a useful, sustainable website by the autumn for everyone to benefit from.

I will try to blog about things as they develop, such as our massive FOI efforts (I believe the East Midlands are winning for the most replies), our upcoming paper-prototyping, and the licensing headache that is starting to emerge.

However, we met up with Harry and Rupert form Neontribe on May 1st and got very excited to have our first big toilet/data conversation for a very long time.

With such loo-mapping enthusiasm in the room, only good can come of this.

 

 

 

May 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm 2 comments

The Great British Public Toilet Map – version 2!

London: City of Toilets

We’ve made a new version of the toilet map!

http://www.greatbritishpublictoiletmap.rca.ac.uk

When I say ‘we’, I mean Neontribe, who did all of the work.

Reasons it is excellent:

It’s much better at telling you where the nearest toilet is, rather than being about council data.

It includes Transport for London data! In response to the London Assembly’s report into public toilets, the Mayor of London promised to publish TfL’s toilets (so that’s tube, overground and bus stations) as open data in Spring 2012. Hundreds more toilets for us to enjoy!

It works really well on smartphones so you can find a loo whilst out and about.

This is because Neontribe made a ‘responsive design’ webpage so that it works well on any device. You’ll see what this means if you fiddle with the size of your browser window – the website adjusts to fit, mimicking the way that it displays on different screen sizes like smartphones and tablets.  If you save a shortcut to it, to your smartphone home screen, you can use it just like an app.

Things in progress:

TfL haven’t actually published their data (but they are working on it!) So we’ve used the toilet data from their 2010 ‘Tube station accessibility data’ as a placeholder. We’ll flick the switch to the new stuff as soon as it’s ready.

It’s still just London. I know, I know. We want to start adding council data from around the country, however due to the fact that they’re all in different formats and to different standards, we’d have to write a different bit of computer code for each and every one (a ‘scraper’). This is inefficient and expensive.

Since this is now a hobby for us, rather than a funded research project, the easiest thing is for me to manually rearrange some of those UK datasets into a standard format for which we already have a scraper (we’re using the one created for the London Assembly report). This does break up the seamlessness of the process, but at least it will show more toilets..

There’s other stuff that we’d like to do too, but since it is a hobby I can’t make any promises.

——————

Is it working?

Since we initially launched the site, we’ve added facilities in Hackney and Hillingdon, the Tube’s toilets, updated Wandsworth’s and still have data to add for Redbridge and Lambeth. About half of London’s councils have received emails from members of the public asking for toilet data, through the website. It still has a button to do this, called ‘nag your council’ :)

It’s also really good for community toilet schemes, which are difficult to publicise (see Lambeth and Wandsworth in SW London). Now that we have TfL data, it shows how other datasets from non-council ‘public’ toilets could be included, like those in train stations or shopping centres.

Save it to your phone and next time you’re in town, give it a go. I’d really like to know what you think!

July 27, 2012 at 3:49 pm 4 comments

How to make… a UK Public Toilet Map

Our funding application to continue developing public toilet open data and The Great British Public Toilet Map was rejected by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)

Our research into public toilets was funded by the ESRC. When a research project ends, there is sometimes ‘follow-on funding’ available, in order to develop anything unexpected that has come out of the work (rather than letting all that work go to waste!).

Our proposal for follow-on funding had 3 reviewers.

  • One reviewer LOVED it.
  • The second thought it ‘extremely worthy‘ , but had trouble understanding what we proposed to do, which is our fault.
  • The third thought it ‘extremely important‘, but that local government, or their national bodies like the Local Government Association, should be the ones undertaking this work (and not the ESRC) or at least providing the funding, since public toilets are in their remit.

Keep reading…

October 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm 1 comment

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