9 Years of OpenStreetMap GPS Tracks Available for Mapping

October 24 2013 by Eric Fischer

All public GPS tracks ever uploaded to OpenStreetMap are now available for tracing in the iD editor. Click the new “OpenStreetMap GPS traces” option in the background settings panel to reveal an overlay of GPS tracks on the map. You can use it to map roads, check one way streets, or adjust imagery where it is offset.

Europe

9 years of OpenStreetMap GPS tracks over Europe

Local knowledge, satellite and aerial imagery, and GPS traces are the source data from which OpenStreetMap is built. GPS traces play an important role in inferring one ways and turn restrictions, adjusting imagery offsets, and mapping areas where imagery is not available. OpenStreetMap’s GPS database is one of the world’s largest public collections of GPS data, and it continues to grow every day.

The iD editor for OpenStreetMap makes it easy to drop a single GPX file onto a browser window and immediately begin tracing it onto the map. The GPS traces overlay layer now makes all public GPS traces uploaded by any user available for mapping.

The intricate detail seen in Europe continues as you zoom in on individual cities and towns. If you scroll over to South Korea, Daejeon has remarkably systematic GPS coverage.

Daejeon

OpenStreetMap GPS tracks in Daejon, South Korea

But just as interesting in their own way are GPS traces that don’t follow roads, like these ones from a cropdusting airplane circling over fields:

Crop dusting

GPS patterns of a cropdusting airplane

Misaligned and missing roads

The real utility comes to play when you zoom in and look at the fine detail. In aerial imagery, hilly roads may appear to be a considerable distance from their actual location, while GPS tracks are free from distortion and reveal where the roads really are. A good example is this section of Interstate 15, where the northern carriageway is mapped about 200 feet from its actual location. Now it can be corrected using the new GPS layer.

Interstate 15

Identifying imagery misalignment with GPS tracks

The GPS layer can also highlight larger areas of map errors. If you turn on the Locator Overlay on top of the GPS layer, what remains visible underneath is GPS tracks that don’t correspond to a street or highway in OpenStreetMap. Large mismatches between map and GPS jump out, like these sections of US 20 and US 14 where they meet in Greybull, Wyoming.

Greybull

Offset streets in Greybull Wyoming, highlighted by comparison to GPS data

Streets missing from the map stand out too. Here is a neighborhood in Indianapolis that someone visited with a GPS receiver, but never traced onto the map.

Indianapolis

A missing street in Indianapolis, highlighted by GPS data

Color by direction

The color of the GPS tracks helps map and verify one way streets by giving each direction of travel its own hue. In this freeway interchange in Los Angeles, you can see eastbound movement in red, westbound in cyan, northbound in yellow, and southbound in violet.

Los Angeles

The GPS layer is color coded by direction, which helps identifying one ways and dual carriageways

Your tracks, on the map in seconds

Every 60 seconds, the GPS layer is updated with the latest tracks that have been uploaded to OpenStreetMap. Any GPS track uploaded and marked as “Identifiable” or “Public” is included in the layer.

Pick the Identifiable or Public option to make your GPS trace show up on the new GPS layer

The layer is deployed on OpenStreetMap Foundation servers – thanks to the Operations Working Group team, who have been essential in launching this new layer.

If you have ever made your own GPS logs, I invite you to share them with OpenStreetMap and help improve the map for everyone else. Don’t worry if someone else has already logged the same street – it’s still useful to have independent verification. If you don’t have any GPS logs but you do have a smartphone, you can download a GPS logging application and start capturing.

Take a look through the map below to see where people have been sharing their tracks, or start mapping with it on OpenStreetMap.

The new GPS tracing layer containing 9 years worth of GPS data uploaded to OpenStreetMap