Funding drive

CycleStreets is launching a funding drive to enable routing improvements and a large number of feature requests to be undertaken.

Our key target is for £90k to enable funding to pay for two full-time development positions for 18 months, plus smaller miscellaneous funds. With this, we believe the project will then be self-sustaining.

By way of brief background, CycleStreets is the UK-wide cycle journey planning system. Users can plan routes from A-B anywhere in the UK, receiving three route solutions (the quietest and fastest routes and a balance between the two). Routes can then be printed or exported to a handlebar-mounted device. A range of new mobile apps, enabling route planning on-the-go are already using our routing services.

Over a third-of-a-million routes have been planned on the system, and usage rates are increasing. This amounts to 3.85 million km of route planning, equivalent to cycling round the earth 100 times.

Funding context

CycleStreets is set up on a not-for-profit basis, and is free for people to use. However, this does not mean that it costs nothing to run.

Unlike large mapping companies, or the government's Transport Direct project, we do not have large financial backing. All funding so far has come from tiny grants of up to £5k, from pieces of consultancy work, and donations from users of the site.

The natural channel for funding should be from national bodies such as Cycling England. But they have an allegiance to the Transport Direct project which, despite its much greater costs, is (we believe) only serving about one-tenth the number of routes as CycleStreets. It is disappointing that so far they have not finally supported a community-run project that is helping break down barriers to getting more people cycling, more often, although we remain in talks, and the data collection aspect of their project is something that OpenStreetMap (and thus CycleStreets) may be able to benefit from.

Nonetheless, CycleStreets needs to stand on its own two feet and move to a fully-funded model.

CycleStreets does not currently pay full salaries to the core developers, meaning that only limited time for improvements is available. We have to survive and so have other jobs that take up our time. With full-time development staff, CycleStreets could reach its full potential much more quickly.

Funding requirements

CycleStreets is run on a low-cost basis. We do have neither software licensing costs nor data licensing costs - the data is obtained freely from the excellent OpenStreetMap (OSM) project.

Our key requirements are development time, particularly for the core routing engine, and hardware costs (i.e. the webservers which run the site).

Primarily:

  • Developers – £90k: This would cover two full-time developers for an 18-month programme of improvements, listed below. In practice we would like to take on a full-time developer, plus two half-time developers. 5% of time would be spent on promotional work, and business and relationship management. A key goal of this position will also be to bring new volunteers on board.

Secondarily:

  • Hosting – £15k: This would cover three years of hosting with increased resilience over the current arrangement.
  • Promotional materials – £15k: This would enable us to commission, distribute (and make available for download) a range of promotional material targeted to particular stakeholders/users such as Local Authorities, businesses, schools and related websites.
  • Miscellaneous – £10k: Covering conference costs, accountancy, legal advice, general business expenses, etc.

In total, £130k.

Programme of improvements

With 18 months of two full-time-equivalent development roles, we would be able to:

  • Considerably improve the quality of the routing by taking into account more of the knowledge available to an experienced cyclist;
  • Implement turn delays (which would eliminate over-wiggly routes) and turn restrictions;
  • Implement a much wider range of OpenStreetMap street attributes, which will have the welcome side-effect of encouraging collection of that data;
  • Implement waymarkers/via-points (this is one of the most frequently requested enhancements);
  • Speed up the routing to give an almost instant response;
  • Develop the mobile apps and expand these to more platforms;
  • Overhaul the user interface to improve things in line with user requests and developments in technology;
  • Enable other sites to embed the journey planner without our intervention;
  • Rework problematic aspects of the Photomap and turn this into a more useful tool;
  • Create promotional resources (both electronic and paper) to ramp up usage of the system;
  • Move towards automated feedback management that benefits users and OSM more greatly;
  • React much more quickly to the availability of new data;
  • Perhaps move even to live routing (i.e. new OSM data affecting the routing almost instantly);
  • Purge all outstanding bugs and half-finished feature implementations;
  • Investigate/implement adaptive routing (capturing real journeys by users and modifying their routing) and consider other research-based approaches;
  • Potentially move to wider coverage than just the UK – following an increasing number of requests for this;
  • Put in place the model of an open-source project run by a development team.

This list is based on themes which continually come through in feedback reports.

Although in the longer term, the open-source model of a development team is where we wish to be at, routing work is complex and requires often weeks of solid, concentrated work. This makes it difficult to get volunteers, as they are more likely only to be able to 'dip in' to the code; the latter is useful for a range of smaller improvements, but more limited in terms of our core competency of endeavouring to create world-class cycle routing.

We would welcome recommendations of people who could undertake this work, if our funding drive reaches its target.

Funding streams

In terms of funding streams we see several potential sources towards our main £90k target:

  • Central government funding (if Cycling England can be persuaded to divert merely 1-2% of its £2.4m cycle journey planner budget);
  • Grant funding (small amounts, from local government);
  • Funding from bike industry initiatives / funds;
  • API fees from SatNav-style mobile apps placing heavier load on the hosting;
  • Branded planners for businesses and organisations (e.g. perhaps with company site locations around a city marked in);
  • Embedded planners for Local Authorities (though we do not wish to rely on this);
  • Consultancy (e.g. CyclingSorted-style sites which facilitate crowd-sourcing of infrastructure problems);
  • User donations (including from wealthier individuals who support our work);
  • Another possibility is a partnership with a major bicycle/retailing firm.

Advertising/co-branding is not listed here, as we feel this would weaken the credibility of the site, distract users (by definition, advertising is intended to take users away from the site) and would not raise significant levels of funding.

Previous project income

In terms of income prior to this funding drive, the project has obtained:

  • £5k seed funding from Cycling Scotland, for the creation of Edinburgh CycleStreets;
  • £2k contract from Cambridgeshire County Council for Cycling Sorted (below a commercial rate but done as a partnership with Cambridge Cycling Campaign);
  • £3.2k grant from Sustainable City (Cambridge City Council), for a range of improvements;
  • £5k grant from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund, for the iPhone app and routing speedups;
  • £2k grant from Cycle Cambridge, for mobile development;
  • £1k grant from the Co-operative Community Fund, for hosting purchase;
  • £3k of other consultancy income;
  • Around £1.9k of donations from generous users who like our work;
  • £2.5k from work currently being undertaken but not yet received;
  • Another Local Authority has recently confirmed an order for an embedded journey planner and CyclingSorted-style site.

These funds have enabled much to be done, but are not on a scale to enable full-time developers to be taken on for a determined period of 18 months.

We are also in talks with two cycling NGOs and one governmental organisation regarding development work.

Competition

Competition in the sphere of route planning remains likely (and more route-planning availability means more cycling), but we feel that CycleStreets will always have a distinctive (and hopefully large) niche even if/when big players come on the scene.

We see CycleStreets as more than just another routing engine, but something with much more added-value. We have taken care to build up a reasonably diverse set of infrastructure (covering journey planning, infrastructure implementing the concept of crowd-sourcing of public infrastructure problem locations, and the ability to add layers to the mapping). And our key asset, detailed understanding and analysis of cyclist preferences, means we will always strive for ever-higher-quality routing.

Furthermore, we remain strongly of the view that a system with community roots and good connections to the cycling community will result in the best quality routing.

Proposals?

We are hard-working people whose aim is to help get more people cycling, more often. We hope we have already demonstrated that we offer a system for which there is demand.

If you can offer funding and share this aim, or have projects we can help with, please do get in touch.


CycleStreets is from CycleStreets Ltd, a UK company run on a not-for-profit basis. Company no. 06948959; Company office: CycleStreets Ltd., 80b York Street, Cambridge, CB1 2PY.

We welcome your feedback, especially to report bugs or give us route feedback.

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