Getting around town and finding what you need is about to get easier thanks to volunteers like North Chattanooga resident Randy Hale. The North River Geographic Systems owner does GIS mapping for a living and spends a good portion of his spare time adding data to OpenStreetMap.org, an open platform for sharing and editing map data worldwide that he describes as "Wikipedia for maps."
"Google Maps isn't terribly up-to-date," said Hale as to why a platform such as OSM is necessary.
Another reason is that earlier this year Google started charging for commercial use of Google Maps, he said. OSM was created to be free for anyone to use and it will stay that way, because unlike Google Maps, no one owns the rights to OSM, said Hale.
He is responsible for most of the data in the North Chattanooga area available on OSM, the platform used by companies such as Foursquare, Apple and Wikipedia to deliver maps to their users.
Hale said anyone can set up a free OSM account and add to or edit the maps, which is done using aerial photography or just by simply walking around. He set up a notification to inform him when anyone adds to the maps in the North Chattanooga area, and he checks for mistakes and makes corrections when necessary.
The platform can be used to create maps directed toward a variety of needs, from where to find an auto repair shop or place of worship to locating the places in town that have wheelchair accessibility. Hale has met with cyclists at Outdoor Chattanooga and helped develop an open cycling map for the area that outlines all the local bike routes, and soon the new bike share stations will be added to the map as well, he said.
His next goal is to create an ice cream map of Chattanooga.
Hale is currently working on a routing map for the city which will allow users to determine the best way to get to their destination, whether traveling by foot, car or bus. The user would click on the map to indicate the starting and ending points of their desired route, as well as designate their preferred mode of travel. Someone who wanted to take the bus could find out how far they needed to walk to get to the nearest stop, which bus or buses to take to get to their destination and how much the trip will cost, said Hale. Cyclists are even informed of changes in elevation.
"Once a semester, I go to Red Bank High School and show them how to map," he said.
One student mapped out the power lines, including voltage, in the area north of the Tennessee River, and another mapped out the area's green spaces.
"They put in stuff that's interesting to them," said Hale.
He also taught a group to use the platform at the Gear Closet, which recently hosted a GIS mapping session.
Hale said he became interested in OSM after attending a mapping Meetup event at St. John's Restaurant in 2010. The Meetup's host was former Chattanooga resident Hurricane McEwen, who is now married to OSM founder Steve Coast.
"Mapping is the ultimate truth-telling exercise," said Hale as to why he enjoys creating maps.
He is now one of five members on the board of the nonprofit foundation which promotes OSM in the United States. He said he is spending the next three months in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he was hired to provide GIS mapping services.