How Open Source GIS Tools Help Curb Converter Processes

Prem Thogiti
February 8, 2022

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are employed to help organizations understand and interpret the world around us. For any GIS digital infrastructure that enables us to visualize information and comprehend insights, GIS data is the backbone. When this GIS data is not readily available to an organization, it needs to be generated via other sources and processes based on certain assumptions and methodologies.

CurbIQ solutions focus on enabling municipalities to find value and the optimal usage of the curbside. To support this mission, it is very helpful to have a digital curbside representation and inventory of curb regulations. However, availability of as-built curbside GIS data is often scarce. The only open data available at a city’s disposal is often just road centerline GIS data. Fortunately, there are open source GIS data and tools available that make the most of this data. The CurbIQ team uses two main open source initiatives within our Curb Converter processes to create curbside inventories: OpenSourceMap (OSM) Data and Quantam GIS (QGIS) Desktop application.

Long ago, only private companies and government organizations were allowed to collect and store GIS data. They were expensive and highly restrictive, which made GIS data accessible only to the organizations or individuals who could afford to purchase them. Then came open source companies and software.

Open Source Resources and Software

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an open-source digital map database of the world built through crowdsourced volunteers. All features are open to editing by any member of the user community. OSM map data is huge, covering all aspects of the GIS data spectrum, and is freely available for visualization, query, download, and modification under open licenses.

The Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization with a mission to support and promote the collaborative development platform for open geospatial technologies and data. Currently, OSGeo hosts around 50 open source projects across webGIS frameworks, database extensions, and GIS Desktop Applications. One notable project is the QGIS Desktop application, which is an open source Geographic Information System that supports most geospatial vector and raster file types and database formats. This enables users to visualize and manipulate geospatial data.

These open source software provide a way to develop scalable solutions that avoid licensing costs and offer greater control over GIS workflows and development, compared to conventional commercial GIS software. Open-source software gives flexibility for users and licensing, as well as support from a massive open source community ecosystem. Some examples are outlined below.

Converting Geometries

Our team has developed Curb Converter‘s Open Data Automation process, using open-source QGIS Desktop’s Python APIs to process OpenStreetMap (OSM) road centerline data into curb geometries. We then map regulations to these geometries in CurbLR open-source format. The QGIS Python API has played a vital role in enabling GIS developers to formulate complex algorithms and data structures with greater control over geometry creation. Most notably, the API helps with handling a wide variety of regulations from various municipalities, as well as cleaning and generating meaningful curbside geometries from several field data collections methods.

Open-source QGIS software has helped us in handling GIS data as well as:

  • Exchanging GIS data from various sources in various formats to GeoJSON format to use internally.
  • Generating original source of curb segments by taking OSM road centerline data as reference.
  • Processing asset point data into curb segments.
  • Unifying multi-level regulations at a given stretch of curbside to visualize the regulations along with their respective temporal components.
  • Offsetting field data curbs from road centerline to align with as-built curbside locations.

Data Structure

We extensively use the GeoJSON data format for exchanging data internally until it is published to a PostGIS database to view on our CurbIQ platform. Fundamentally, GeoJSON data format is easy to handle and manipulate through GeoPandas, NumPy, and Shapely libraries, but can be difficult to work with in many standard commercial GIS software.

QGIS is an exception to this, and we were able to create customized QGIS processing tools to dissect, manipulate, and disseminate complex CurbLR curbside data in mapping software. This is essential for CurbLR data as its format can be quite complex and involve several subsets of data in JSON format.

The Institute of Transportation Engineering (ITE) also recognized the need to handle CurbLR data. Their team developed a Curbside Management Tool to help with curbside management, inventory, and allocation by temporally and spatially prioritizing demand and allocation of the curb using ArcGIS Pro processes. Part of this tool involved the ability to handle complex CurbLR curbside data by parsing it out into individual attributes.

Developing Geoprocessing Services

To enable every team member at CurbIQ to generate the data as required, QGIS Python API helped developers create several processing tools based on inputs we saw and municipality needs. To make sure the map interactions are smooth, we have employed the QGIS Python API to develop REST APIs so that the resource intensive geometry algorithms can be off-loaded back to the server in the form of asynchronous tasks. Results can then be displayed in the WebMap whenever the backend processes are ready with the results. This has saved the CurbIQ team an immense amount of time and resources to focus on clients and generate quality data.

CurbIQ and Open Source Applications

Overall, open source OSM data and QGIS are fantastic with their flexibility in development, support from the respective communities, and their performance in handling millions of records during processing. Curb space data generation is a complex job, however, OSM data and the QGIS application make developers’ lives much easier at CurbIQ. It helps us develop processing tools and methods which create accurate, complete curbside inventories for our CurbIQ platform.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions on open source software or want to take advantage of these processes.

Prem Thogiti
Prem Thogiti is a Senior GIS Architect at IBI Group who is enthusiastic about anything related to geospatial technology and brings more than a decade of experience in Enterprise GIS Solutions Development to the team. He received his master's degree in GIS and Remote Sensing from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai.
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