35 :: OpenStreetYaks

So the Yak in the title in this post refers to the story of Yak Shaving.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and working towards the next step in making my Bike Rack Map of the University of Windsor campus better.  I had made a basic map by adding points of bike parking locations using Leaflet and OpenStreetMap (OSM) but I was curious how I could add this same points of interest into the OSM itself.

And that’s when I ran into a bunch of  pretty hairy yaks.

I had known from reading through the Help section of the OpenStreetMap that there are two general hangups when it comes to adding GPS data into OpenStreetMap : 1) a general lack of understanding of the differences between data importing, editing, and adding traces in OSM and 2) not knowing how to upload waypoints without tracks.

And in spite of knowing these problems ahead of time, they still slowed me down.

The first part I had to grok was how I could add the super-precise data from GPS unit into OpenStreetMap. I knew it was possible – in fact, that’s how OSM started – but that’s not how one adds lines to the map now.  After reading about how to do so, I began to better understand OSM once I figured out the language. The word importing in OSM is generally used when describing when a very large scale dataset of geographic information is available, such as a TIGER dataset from the US government. My wee set of 20 waypoints is not considered worthy of the status of import. It is worth as an addition to the map, of course – but not as an import.  I have to admit, though, I was a little surprised that it’s impossible at this time to upload a set of JSON or GeoJSON directly into OSM. But I guess it does make a certain sense – you don’t want to make it easy for folks to make wholesale changes to the basemap.

Datapoints and tracks from a variety of devices and gis systems can be uploaded into OSM but it’s important to realized that the GPS waypoints aren’t directly added to the OSM map but are instead added as a ‘trace’ which can be used as a temporary layer to the map, to help you to edit the map manually.

The uploading of traces and points and then map editting can happen either online in the OSM editor or offline using Java software called JOSM. From my understanding, it is recommended to upload your GPS data into JOSM and then clean it up before uploading it directly to OSM as a trace. This 5 minute video shows how that’s done.

But before I could try that out there was more yak shaving.  I was able to download JOSM onto my Ubuntu laptop but its several versions away from the most recent and keeps telling me to update. However, the instructions to manually install the jar file myself is too daunting, so I’m not doing it. I’ve been hemming and hawing whether I should do a manual update just to learn how these things are done, but at this point, I’m drowning in Yak Hair enough as it is.

Unfortunately, Garmin (the maker of my GPS) does not write software for Linux systems so I had to dig up the CD-Rom that came with the unit to install the software on family PC.  ThenI was then able to get the waypoints off of my GPS until onto my computer! Yay! So I saved it as a .gpx file and send it to my laptop! So close now!


On my laptop, I opened the .gpx file in JOSM and decided not to edit the file at this point, uploaded the information to OSM to see how the points looked with the map in the background. And I found that it had downloaded a short ‘track‘ I accidently recorded and not the ‘waypoints‘ that I had hoped for.

I had got stuck on 2)

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