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United States Graphics Software

Open Maps? 278

Chilltowner asks: "I'm trying to get local (US) maps together for a community project. I want to able to modify and annotate the maps and provide them free to the public, creating a derivative open work. They also need to be accurate down to the street level and no more than 10 years out of date. I've been searching around for maps available in the public domain or under open licenses, like the Creative Commons licenses allowing derivative works. I've looked at the National Atlas, but the maps, though interesting, aren't detailed enough with street information. The topographical and aerial image maps available through that site are from Terraserver, which are copyrighted to Microsoft. Plus, I really just need simple vector road maps, not USGS rasters. I tried looking at the Census Bureau's TIGER line data, but I can't make heads or tails of it. Are there maps available through other agencies (national or international)? Are there Free/Open-Source Software projects that are making use of public data to build street-level maps for free (as in speech) use?"
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Open Maps?

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  • Freegis? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:08AM (#9284881)
    FreeGIs project?

    The FreeGIS Project provides * software overview on free Geographic Information Systems (this web site)
    * communication on developments, plans, infos on free GIS software and free Geo-Data (mailing list)
    * software and data prepared for direct use (CD)
    • Re:Freegis? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ruckc ( 111190 ) <> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:51AM (#9285073) Homepage
      good source of information, but doesn't come with maps.

      Best place i have found maps is:

      1) Tiger data (If you read the infosets long enough you can begin to undersdtand them)

      2) Shapefiles from ESRI [](These shapefiles were generated from Tiger data)

      The software i prefer to use is Tiger Map Server [] The author of this software has also figured out a way to convert tiger data into his own shapefiles due to ESRI's license.

      Best of luck!
    • Re:Freegis? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Spetiam ( 671180 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @03:10PM (#9285933) Journal
      The USGS [] also has maps viewable online []. I'm not sure, but FOIA may make their maps part of the public domain. They talk about FOIA on the USGS web site, he might want to check that out. There's a ton of other information there that might be relevant.
      • Wow! That's the coolest thing I've seen in a while. Looks to me like it's exactly what the guy is looking for--yes, works produced by government employees are in the public domain, and this appears to allow you to download vector data for roads and so forth.

    • Re:Freegis? (Score:3, Informative)

      by gletham ( 684166 )
      If you want street maps at that level you need to look at the local government or county webmaps out there. NAtional government sites don't maintain that kind of level of accuracy in the public realm. Try getting a tool like Geomedia Viewer and load some webmap services (see and another good one is the WMS Viewer - a great example of what you can do with OpenSource GIS ... The Intergraph WMS Viewer ( facilitates collaboration of geospatial information stored in WMS source
  • by The-Bus ( 138060 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:09AM (#9284884)
    Maybe it's possible to buy a database of that information and make it your own? I don't think, for example, started from scratch... That would be a hell of a lot of work.
    • by FeatureBug ( 158235 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:23PM (#9285659)
      He wants maps which are under a Creative-Commons type of copyright licence [] because he wants to be able to publish derivative works such as annotated or modified versions of the original map . The copyright licences on most existing maps, as used by, are not compatible with Creative-Commons licences, which prevents him from using them.
    • by Tomcat666 ( 210775 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:26PM (#9285679) Homepage
      I attended a speech of the inventor of Map24 - the CEO of Mapsolute.

      - They get their data from three companies, TeleAtlas, NAVTEQ and AND. For quite some money you can get their databases consisting of GBs of maps, and use it the way you want. This is true at least for the EU version, different conditions might exist for the US maps (see bottom).

      - The Map24 applet connects to their map server directly (just over a proxy), using their own Map Transport Protocol (MapTP). So in theory you are able to connect like the applet, and query the whole country at the highest zoom - getting GBs of vector information to use. But they'll probably notice, so don't try it. :)

      Anyway, the conclusion is: Like most mapping websites, Map24 (Mapsolute) use commercial maps of mapping companies, they didn't start from scratch. But using it without shelling out a lot of money won't work.
  • Maybe it's time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:09AM (#9284887) Homepage Journal
    I've seen several projects where people use their PDA/GPS to map their daily route. Maybe it's time someone organized a collective mapping project, for release cunder the creative commons license.
    • I've seen several projects where people use their PDA/GPS to map their daily route. Maybe it's time someone organized a collective mapping project, for release cunder the creative commons license

      It seems to me that it would take much, much less effort to use satellite pictures with some software that can recognize roads ans streets (and maybe someone manually labeling the streets). Maybe it has been done already.

    • Re:Maybe it's time (Score:5, Interesting)

      by snillfisk ( 111062 ) < minus poet> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @01:08PM (#9285376) Homepage
      We've already done a bit of work on this, although not in any open projects yet. We do however have a small testbed for integrating and designing datasets in a SVG-client before going through a peer review process by others that have data in the same area.

      Our white paper on the architecture may be seen at SVG Open [] from the 2003 proceedings. A small amount of information (including a live demo -- it does however require that someone accepts the data submitted, so don't expect to see anything in the gateway at once) is available here [].

      The idea is however a good one and is absolutely doable. The problem is that you'll probably get rather large datasets for the most used paths, while the roads noone travels frequently will remain unmapped (and those are really the roads that you _do_ need a map for)..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They're out of copyright by now, and unless you're in one of those fancy "new" cities like Phoenix, they'll probably be pretty close to how things are now, or at least easy enough to add to.
    • Wrong. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      copyrights are for a long fucking time in the USA.
      Find one of those "old" maps. They're always engineering the roads. You'll find things are quite different now than then. They even change the names of the roads. Your Local "MLK drive" was called something different 30 years ago.

      • Re:Wrong. (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:51PM (#9285309)
        Your Local "MLK drive" was called something different 30 years ago.

        Typically, the "wrong side of the tracks".
      • Copyrights (Score:3, Informative)

        by MrChuck ( 14227 )
        Copyright law is clear.

        Anything after Steamboat Willie and the creation of one "Michael Mouse" by Uncle Walt will retain perpetual copyright.

        However streets are, mainly, publicly owned/maintained/created. Surveys by municipalities are in the public domain (tax payer and all that) - just like most NASA images.

        Being able to USE that data, however, requires the use of some standard markup - which probably exists, but I'm no cartographer - with information about direction, intersections and angles of inter

    • by ( 707997 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:19PM (#9285166) Homepage Journal
      I've seen some old aerial photographs of the city I live in (and I wouldn't be surprised if those photos were as old as webster 1913) but the major roads, rivers, and landmarks still remain in the same place. While we're at it, we could make a digitized map of the past (maybe some historians with grant access would be interested) and edit on top of these maps. The one problem would be the lack of GPS information from old maps, but that could be solved by extracting coordinates from the maps and photos, with probably reasonable accuracy.

      The key to a copy-free solution would be maintenance. Just copy how the major map companies update their data. And the public would do a better job of it since as a whole the general public has more itches they want to scratch than the few paid workers who update maps. (e.g. "that road doesn't exist!!") As mentioned on /. way back when, one could drive around with a GPS coordinates recording device.
      • You can forget about accuracy with digitizing from aerial photographs. NavTech tried this for a long time and there are just too many corrections that needed to be applied to get things right. The photographs they were working from were paid for to be done "right" and they still didn't have the needed accuracy.

        They now collect all geometry with differential GPS in car - driving all the roads.

        Trust me, you aren't going to get anything usable from aerial photographs that were not created with this applicati

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:10AM (#9284894)
    People have been making maps for hundreds of years, maybe thousands of years.

    Hell a Japanese guy [] with no formal mathematical training was able to figure out how to make very accurate maps (especially considering the poor accuracy of the maps of Europe) using no more than 300 men, several teams of horses, and large sextants and compasses.

    Why don't you start up a mapping project on your own and put a subproject idea under the main banner encouraging people to implement whatever harebrained scheme you are talking about. The community will enjoy your work and you will gain notoriety as the guy who opened maps to the world.
  • USGS (Score:5, Informative)

    by glass_window ( 207262 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:13AM (#9284902)
    The USGS has this really cool thing they call the 'national map' ( that will display all sorts of information down to the street level and it allows you to download and print the maps you display along with the information. But enough of that, go check it out for yourself, enjoy!

    For a more direct link:
    • HOLY CRAP (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's the coolest thing I've ever seen.

      Yeah, there's definitely no point to Chilltowner's project--which is now nothing more than a hyperlink to the National Map.

      As hyperlinks for the copy-and-paste impaired:

      National Map []
      Direct link to viewer []
    • Re:USGS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Technician ( 215283 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @01:43PM (#9285500)
      Don't overlook commercial software. Much of it uses common data, but provides a nice user interface and features that may make the price reasonable. The price for map packages are falling rapidly as the early adoptors that will pay anything have already paid. Now the rush is on for market share. Take advantage of the corner gas station price wars. There is a war between Microsoft (no suprise) and Rand McNally for vector street maps. Microsoft is trying to keep the percieved value high by keeping the list price high but it trying to get market share with a heavy rebate. Street level vector maps are in the under $20 range for ones that work well with your GPS and PDA. Delorme got skunked on the unexpeded fight. They tried selling a map, then having the GPS and PDA stuff as seprate packages. Ooops sorry Delorme, you missed the boat.

      On the TOPO side the war is between Delorme, and Natiional Geographic. Delorme sells a vector based topo map which is nice. National Geographic sells Rastor Maps of the USGS maps. The state series is a little spendy, but detailed. It's a clear winner if it is out for your state if you do off road and back road stuff. However having a picture of the streets is it's weak spot if you are trying to use it for street navigation. In a nutshell, if you use the TOPO maps by National Geographic, you will want another map for street use.

      Just out from National Geographic is an answer the vector street problem. The Back Roads Explorer map combined the Raster Maps with a real time overlay of the street vector maps. The 17 CD set can be bought for under $40. It contains the entire USA TOPO and vector street maps. It's detail in the TOPO isn't as good as the state series, but you can load the state series into the package for the best of both.

      Now the issue of marking them up and such. National Geographic permits printing of maps provided the copyright remains on the map (in the boarder, not imbeded like Mapquest). I'm not sure of the quanity or uses of the maps so more research will need done especialy for commercial use, but home printing and sending maps to your friends in your hunting party all marked up to the hunting camp is a permitted use. The tools to mark up the map are included and work well. Added to the ability to export to my PDA or handheld computer and connect to my GPS and upload, and download waypoints, routes and active track are all features that make this commercial map a winner.

      Disclaimer, I don't work for National Geographic. I like to Geocache and finding a road in close to the cache is half the fun.
  • PostGIS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:14AM (#9284907) Journal
    First, look at PostGIS. It is a geographic extension to PostgreSQL. That gives you a single place to store your data.

    Then look for "TIGER PostGIS" to find tools which support both formats, and find something to read TIGER into PostGIS. Then look at editing and display tools to find one which supports PostGIS.

    • Re:PostGIS (Score:5, Informative)

      by po8 ( 187055 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:27PM (#9285196)

      Yeah, this is the kind of /. question that drives me nuts. "I want some map data, with a whole bunch of constraints on what kind it is, and I want it to be free. Oh, by the way, I found exactly that from the USGS. However, in spite of the fact that there are tens or maybe hundreds of open source projects that use it just fine, I can't figure out how. So that's no good."

      The first page of after searching for "tiger" contains a link to this open source TIGER map server []. Maybe that would be a good starting point. Further down the page are getmap [] and geotools [], which also support TIGER.

      I wish submitters and especially editors would realize that when they don't do their homework, they're wasting the time of literally hundreds of thousands of people. Sometimes a lot of time, like when the idiots actually waste extra time writing a long-winded reply.

  • *scratches head* (Score:5, Informative)

    by Akardam ( 186995 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:14AM (#9284908)
    Maybe I've missed something, but I was under the impression that the arial and topo maps presented via terraserver were copyrighted/owned by the people that put them together in the first place. I don't think Microsoft, as much as we may think otherwise, has mapping sats in orbit. Last time I checked, the data itself belonged to people like the USGS.
    • Re:*scratches head* (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ericspinder ( 146776 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:32AM (#9284984) Journal
      Yes, you have "missed something" the National Atlas (a service of the USGS) [] is clearly public domain material. As is (I think) all published government sources. In fact, most of what the map makers do is based on government surveys and publications. The companies do some fact checking(some better than others), add "features", and consolidate information, but the 'base' work is often public domain.
      • There's been a lot of questions about what the government can and cannot copyright. Here's some relevant information:

        • The government cannot copyright their own works, but they can hold the copyright of others. Source []
        • Works by state (and local) governments are not necessarily in the public domain. Source []

        Another good resource is the Copyright FAQ here [], which elaborates on both of those points.

        Disclaimer: These resources are for the U.S. YMMV. IANAL.

    • Usually if a company funds a satalite photo it will retain the ownership of that photo. i'm not completly sure about what kind of deal microsoft and others had with putting the terra server in place but, if they funnded the photography then they could own it. (think along the lines of construction. the owner of the buldozer and the road grader doesn't own the roads they make when the city pays them to make the roads)

      Now on the other hand, if all they did was take government information that was freely avai
    • Likewise, I thought USGS data (including aerial photos) was public domain, and only Terraserver's *presentation* was copyrighted. Maybe that's why Terraserver backed off being paid-sub-access only??

      • Most of the USGS topo maps I've seen are older than Microsoft, some even older than Bill Gates. They aren't updated very often and are useless for finding roads and streets. I use USGS maps for hiking and they ARE useful for that.

        Microsoft's terraserver is a PITA to use. Get "usaphotomaps" from jdmcox [] It's a great way to get photos and topos that you can zoom in and out of easily. The topos are still older than dirt, but the aerial photos are just a few years old.
    • Map data produced by the US government is generally available royalty-free for reuse; once Microsoft/Delorme/RandMcnally modify/refine it, they can then apply their copyright to the derived product. In the UK, national mapping data is kept under crown copyright.
    • You're right in this can use the Terraserver their FAQ [].

      But I think another poster is correct in saying that some copyright their presentation of the data. See TopoZone [] for example.
      • Re:*scratches head* (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It clearly states under the aerial photos on Terraserver website "Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey." As the previous poster said, this is reiterated in the FAQ. Anyone can reuse, repackage, redistribute, even sell information/maps/photos, etc produced and published by the federal government. They can even copyright the delivery method/software, etc but the original data cannot be copyrighted (the idea being that it was created with taxpayer money.) So any of the images on Terraserver can be u
  • by chamilto0516 ( 675640 ) * <conrad.hamilton@gma i l . com> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:14AM (#9284910) Homepage Journal
    I was suprised when I bought my GPS unit. The maps (or unlocking the maps that we shipped with it) were almost as expesive as the unit itself. I have a Garmin eTrex Venture and between the Garmin US and DeLorme TOPO USA, I have paid more for this data than the hardware.

    The maps are where the GPS device companies make their profit. That and accessories ($35USD for an AC car adapter!).

    If I were to ever start my own Open/Free project, it would most likely be a call to all us GPS hobbyist out there to create our own Open/Free maps and GPS coordinates of useful landmarks.

    Excellent Ask Slashdot question...

    • what you could do is just record your gps coordinates. Then as hundreds of people move about, all recording it, then you'll build a map. What's better is the popular routes will be strengthened.
      • by cosmol ( 143886 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:46AM (#9285050)
        Then as hundreds of people move about, all recording it, then you'll build a map.
        That's sort of like the strategy ant colonies use to establish paths. It's interesting, but such a brute force method would duplicate much effort, and miss many routes. The data is out there, we just need to convert it into a usable format.
      • by SmurfButcher Bob ( 313810 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:41PM (#9285263) Journal
        That'd only give you positional accuracy, which is almost useless. What's needed is attribution for a given segment - what's the address block of the left side? The right? Are the addresses uniformly distributed? Any "even" numbered houses on the "odd" side of the street or vice-versa?

        Then there's the type of street, directionality, names and aliases, speed limits, on-street parking, sidewalks left and right, bike-routes left and right, congestion levels (by time of day), max axle weight capability, max height clearance, lane counts (left and right), and other attribution (car-pools only, etc) that'd be relevent.

        Positional accuracy of the segments is pretty much worthless by itself. Cool to look at in real time, but only useful in real time... which is stupid ("Look, ma! The map say's we're right HERE! And look, we ARE!")

        Good attribution with crap positional accuracy is 1000000 times more useful than perfect position without such attributes, because it enables you to use the map BEFORE you go somewhere.

    • I too discovered this. It's a shame because garmin has the sexiest hardware, but they charge an arm and a leg for data which they obviously had to get from somewhere else.
      • They get it, at least the street maps, from NavTech. NavTech is the same people that supply auto makers with software for the DVD navigation systems. It's not cheap for sure. I've also found it to be pretty outdated. I've had my Garmin GPS V+, which I love, for a while and have never seen the map software updated.
  • TIGER -- look again (Score:5, Informative)

    by pb ( 1020 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:16AM (#9284920)
    Go to freshmeat and search for "tiger maps"; check out the Tiger Map Server project.

    Note that they don't have labels rendered on the streets yet, but plan to add this. However, all the code is there, and the data is available, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel here.
    • by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:38AM (#9285008) Homepage Journal
      I think he's needing datasets & not predrawn maps. His best & cheapest bet would be to get the Free TIGER line files & read thru the 436pg manual on how to use them. That's what we did. I guess if time is a problem, then he's going to pay out the nose. Other resources include MapInfo Streetworks (not too expensive for the level of detail) & ESRI.

    • I think TIGER is the way to go. One of the things about using TIGER data is that it has its own data format, however there are converters out there that will convert them to SHP format, which can be used with pretty much everything (i.e. MapServer [] and PostGIS []). There are also companies [] that offer converted data from TIGER (albeit for a price, but it does take a little time to actually do the conversions yourself).

      All of the street level labels are there too, which makes it a very good source of free dat

  • Tiger Files (Score:5, Informative)

    by aef123 ( 113763 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:16AM (#9284923)
    Take another look at the Tiger Files, they really are one of the best sources of data you can use. In fact, I have found that the tiger files are even more accurate than MapQuest for rural Utah towns. (However, MapQuest has them beat for more populous areas.)

    Not only do the files include streets, but it also covers bodies of water, railways, etc.. You can even retrieve additional information such as school districts and voting districts, which you can overlay on your maps.

    Along with the files, you can download a 300 page PDF document fully detailing all the table structures and how to interpret the data.

    Don't discount them just because it will take a bit of work to figure them out.
    • Re:Tiger Files (Score:3, Informative)

      The US Census Bureau's TIGER/Line data is very good (and free) for vector-based line data (roads, rivers, railways, etc).

      That said, here are a few shortcomings in the TIGER/Line database:

      • city database is incredibly incomplete -- lots and lots of the smaller towns are missing; this is surprising given the source of the data (Census Bureau); you'll want to get your town/city data elsewhere (e.g. USGS)
      • point-based landmark data is inconsistent and poor (many important things seem to be missing while thing
  • Maporama (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:17AM (#9284925) Journal
    I actually prefer using Maporama [], which allows you to generate maps up to 999x999 pixels.

    You can choose a number of color styles, and you can save the generated map as a gif file, which is can then edit with common software. Very configurable, and an account is not needed.

    They also provide street numbers when you are zoomed in close enough.

    Overall, worth a bookmark.

  • by webber1 ( 191906 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:17AM (#9284926)
    Why not check with the property appraisers in the area for which you seek a map. Most are to street level and are pretty up to date since the taxation depends on their accuracy?
  • by dankney ( 631226 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#9284933) Homepage
    Local municipalities and county government will definitely have maps that are owned by the public. They will, for the most part, be very up to date and extremely accurate - right down to the blueprints and floor plans of buildings appearing on them.

    If your project is focused on one local area, they're probably adaptable. If you're trying to put together a national database, it will be difficult. Each municipality will have very different maps in terms of scale, style and detail (is the utility map the same as the county assessor map? Or does each department keep its own maps?).

    Unifying all of this data is what keeps map companies in business. It's a lot of work.
    • They may have maps, but not in a format that's ready to import into a computer and start cracking.

      I work writing and installig public safety software (dispatching, police/fire/ems records, etc). Mapping is a big thing these days, especially for rural communities that are sprawled out over a huge area, yet have finite resources.

      911 call from lot 12, rural route 15 - whos closest, Jeb or Clem? Or a fire engine pulls up to a fire, there's a hydrant next door, and one 6 houses up. Which one to use? Look a
      • Do you really need the accuracy and precision you are talking about? For 911 dispatch, who cares which property the tree is in. That level of precision and accuracy would be nice but is it needed or would the money be better spent elsewhere. Hell, USGS 7.5minute quads combined with Tiger, orthophoto, parcel data, and other info is probably good enough. I mean, how accurate is that water main map anyway.... After all, the responders have brains and in theory have at least a passing knowledge of the area...
  • I'm looking too. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kent Swanson ( 764578 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#9284935)
    I'm trying to set up a similar to mapquest, but specifically to find bike friendly routes. I have searched around an the best data I have found is the tiger map data. The file naming scheme in not friendly but once you are past that it isn't so bad. Lood for opengis ( a cd of gis tools) to help process the data. Grass is a good tool, and mapserver from the university of Minnesota is a good web tool for displaying maps. The one downside of TIGER data is that it doesn't tell you if roads are connected or just pass over or under each other, and nothing about if a road is a one-way or not. My project if I get it off the ground will have a tool to gather that info with a handheld (zaurus) and a gps.
    • Would be nice to know how man lanes, turn lanes, even traffic lights, too.

      You yourself, wouldn't mind if there was sidewalk data. I can see how others would be interested in it showing the location of buildings and parking lots (residences could be shown, too, I don't think that would be such a privacy loss).

      If we ever got a decent, relatively current national map done like that, think what we could do with it. Strange that the things government should be paying for don't happen.
  • Remember Mr Perens (Score:5, Informative)

    by platypus ( 18156 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:28AM (#9284967) Homepage
    Bruce Perens once bought a data set of AFAIK exactly what you want from his own money and put it on his server for free use. Look here
    Though I didn't get into the ftp server, I'm sure the files are still out there.

    Very nice and forthlooking of him.

  • Postgis, an add-on to postgres is a nice way to store map data. It does R-tree indexing, can store polygons, lines, and points, and can do coordinate system converison.

    Tiger works quite well for me. I read the docs and wrote a simple perl script that took a sorted list of the road segments and intermediate points file, and inserted polylines into postgis. Tiger is off in a few places, which can be seen by overlaying it with more accurate data.

    Another good source of data is the county assesors office.
  • by Xthlc ( 20317 )
    The Bureau of Transportation Statistics [] maintains a lot of street data in its National Transportation Atlas Database (NTAD). It doesn't have all the streets, but it does have major routes &etc. They'll send you a CD for free if you're a US resident. Look under "Geospatial Information" in the above link.

    You won't find free, alleyway-level data for the US. It's simply too much of a burden to keep such data updated, without doing so as a commercial enterprise.
  • by thogard ( 43403 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:35AM (#9284995) Homepage
    Tiger is the format of the census files and they list every road where people live or work in theory. They are also only accurate for time of the census (1990,2000,2010) and some of the pre/post processing checks (1989,1992,1999,2002,2005,...) and are accurate relitive to the local map datum which may or may not be anywhere close to WGS-84 (which is what your GPS will most likly default to). A while back a new group was set up to prevent the duplication of work between the Census dept and others that also need the same data (USPS, Dept of Interior, USDA). I'm not sure what that dept is called.

    There are plenty of resources on the net about how to parse Tiger line data and most of the main mapping programs that do street level views where based on that data with many corrections. For example its common that older streets will be on a state map datum and improperly adjusted to NAD27 and/or WGS85 or something else. You can find roads that aren't parallel even though they all are directly north or you can get some interesting results when one township was on one datum and the next township over was in a different one which results in the streets appearing to be in the order of 1st, 3rd, 2nd. You also have things like auto placement where one road is just so out of place, auto placement aginst sat photos puts the wrong name on it and somehow it bounces the correctly named road someplace else. The plan was to clean that up for the 2000 census data but I think the task was just too large.

    There is a programm called "Grass" that will read in these files. It might be a place to start.

    You might want to do a google groups search in the newsgroup sci.geo.cartography as well.
  • by cr@ckwhore ( 165454 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:37AM (#9285000) Homepage
    Just a quick FYI... terraserver images are not copyright of Microsoft ... the technical name for the images are "Digital Ortho Quadrangle" and their supplied by the USGS. Microsoft can claim copyright on the interface, etc., but not the images.

    You can obtain more information about DOQs on the USGS web site. Start by searching google...

    • As I discovered in March, you can use the Terraserver images copyright-free.

      See the FAQ [].

      (I mistakenly believed you couldn't use the Terraserver images either when I wrote my blog [] in January)
  • I've been wanting this for a while, but lack the technical skills. I tried looking it up on, where I posted the idea in the first place, but it's down at the moment... here's the google cache. J: ra+map&hl=en
  • Keyhole [] isn't free, but it's worth looking at - if you're into flying over a 3d model and zooming into practically anywhere!

    It streams the data, 3d and 2d, while you moved around the globe.
    • May not be exactly the same, but FlightGear [] has a pretty good database of global 3D geography. AFAIK it's all Free.

      I'd *love* to make an easy to use way to create scenic flythrus based on FG's graphics engine. The work is pretty much done, it's just that their program integrates it with a flight simulator.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Jeeze, it's amazing the level of stupidity seen in the average Slashdot article nowadays.

    TerraServer-USA data is not copyright by Microsoft or anyone else, as is very clearly stated on their FAQ [] page:

    Are there any restrictions on what I can do with the images that I download?

    The images from the U.S. Geological Survey, and are freely available for you to download, use and re-distribute. The TerraServer team and the USGS appreciate credit for their work on this project by displaying the message "Image cou

  • Even commercial map software is, in my experience, quite inaccurate. I was looking at a certain area lately, and I picked out many errors in my county and some of the surrounding counties (blatent errors, too...). Trying to use mapping software for giving driving directions to other people is frustrating.
  • by auburnate ( 755235 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:47AM (#9285054)
    In this present day and age, you may have officials from HLS or FBI come knocking wondering what on earth you need maps for ...
  • GPS calibration (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:50AM (#9285066) Homepage Journal
    Where can I find GPS-calibrated maps? Or just GPS calibrations for these other standard map formats? And while we're at it, how about a GPS points exchange, for swapping points, paths and tracks?
  • I wonder if the USGS maps at are the starting point you're looking for. take a look: here. []
  • WiGLE (Score:3, Informative)

    by bryanthompson ( 627923 ) <> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @11:52AM (#9285077) Homepage Journal
    Take a look at WiGLE [] (Wireless Geographic Logging Engine)

    I'm using it just for the maps, but it has GPS and wifi capabilities (People use it for wardriving). I'm pretty suprised at how accurate the maps are, even for the middle of nowhere Nebraska.
  • by MrIcee ( 550834 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:05PM (#9285107) Homepage
    I know other posts here have mentioned the NATIONAL MAP VIEWER [] but I thought I'd give my two cents on it and some more details.

    I too, was looking for a public domain mapping system to assist in a site we are doing about the Big Island of Hawai'i ( After scouring for sources the National Map Viewer was the best bet. All their data is in the public domain and can be used in a variety of ways.

    Once you go to the site you will receive a very nice GUI interface with selections on the left and right and in the middle a map of the US including Hawai'i.

    Using your cursor, click and drag a rectangle around the area you are interested in and it will zoom in on your screen. You can continue to zoom in using the same technique (or just clicking in the center of where you want to zoom) but don't zoom past the SCALE=1 graph on the upper right corner (scales below 1 pixelate). At a scale of one the map shows very detailed information - roads are visible, etc.

    Now the real fun begins... using the options on the RIGHT SIDE, click each one and look at what they offer. The offerings will change depending on the scale (at a scale of 1, all offerings that are available will be allowed) - some offerings disappear at higher resolutions). THese options act like overlays - you can get street maps, water usage, historical maps, topographical maps, etc. Some of the layers will overwrite other layers so if you want a more complex map you might have to take a number of snapshots.

    The selections on the left side are rarely used - except to rezoom the map and scroll the map side to side.

    Using this system I was able to generate at a scale of 1, the entire Big Island as a series of over 80 screen shots that I remerged in photoshop to create on HUGE (over 200 megabytes) map that includes all topographical information, roads and rivers and streams. Since this is a volcanic island the map shows most of the craters (anything deeper than about 250 to 300 feet) and quite a few craters I didn't know existed.

    This is one of the best tools out there - is a bit tedious to use but once you get the hang of it - it is invaluable.

  • MARPLOT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Big Sean O ( 317186 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:07PM (#9285110)
    The US EPA and NOAA have a free (as in beer) computer program called MARPLOT [].

    It was initially meant to be used by emergency responders as part of the "Computer Aided-Management of Emergency Operations" or CAMEO. It was so popular that the US Census Bureau made it part of the Landview software program.

    It's not as nice as a professional program, but there are lots of basic features and the price is right.
  • County records (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LuxFX ( 220822 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:14PM (#9285137) Homepage Journal
    I live in Johnson County, Kansas, and they have a very impressive mapping system [] available online. (it is most functional in IE, but Mozilla etc. will let you do the basics)

    You can find individual properties (complete with tax appraisal information, square footage, room count, etc. -- did you know this is all public information?), property lines, estimates acreage, building outlines, etc. You can map water pipes, power lines, fire hydrants -- even many trees are included. Fire stations, parks, museums, streams, neighborhoods (plats), cities, etc. It's all there.

    Very impressive! Check and see if your county does the same! I can't tell you how valuable this tool was as we were shopping for a house (we closed yesterday!)
  • Project: RoadMap: Summary
    http:/ /
    http://ww htm
    http://fsffrance.o rg/news/news.en.html om p_ap plication_poly_server.html

    GI -

    A navigation system that displays US street maps (from the US Census Bureau) and tracks a vehicule using GPS. Specific areas can be displayed by selecting a street address (street number & name, city, and state). RoadMap can run on iPAQ and Zaurus.

    Developer Info
    Project Admins:
    Personal Information
    User ID: 11734
    Login Name: pascmartin
    Publicly Displayed Name: Pascal F Martin
    Email Address: pascmartin at
    Site Member Since: 2000-02-06 13:19 :Vector Graphics

    * Development Status: 5 - Production/Stable
    * Environment: Handhelds/PDA's, X11 Applications
    * Intended Audience: End Users/Desktop
    * License: GNU General Public License (GPL)
    * Natural Language: English
    * Operating System: POSIX
    * Programming Language: C
    * Topic: Viewers, GIS

    I hope this helps - OldHawk777
  • by tiltowait ( 306189 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:36PM (#9285240) Homepage Journal
    so go nuts with whatever you can get your hands on. At least that's what the law was the last time I checked: you can't copyright a fact (or a made up fact for that matter), although some people are trying to change this [].

    I had a the pleasure of once working for a map company, for example, that at a time (before I worked there of course) traced a competitor's maps when drafting their products. An ensuing lawsuit, during which the judge actually acknowledged this practice, resulted in a verdict [] in favor of allowing such infringements.
    • I think I'd get a second opinion on that. I know mapmakers often put intentional errors in maps in unimportant areas to detect if someone else is copying their map versus working from the real (correct) data.

      US government data is _usually_ released under a license that is effectively public domain, so it's a good source to start from or copy from.
    • Maps likely have different copyrights depending on the map in question and what coutry's copyright laws are applicable to the map-bearer.

      Here in England we have "Ordnance Survey" maps which are very high quality -- and are all covered by Crown Copyright (the government/queen's copyright -- I dunno how it's any different to any other copyright though).

      Also, if you take a map to a copy shop here in the UK -- let's say, because you need to give your dad (who lives some way away) directions how to find your s
  • GIS information (Score:3, Informative)

    by danharan ( 714822 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @12:37PM (#9285245) Journal
    GIS is a new-ish field, still developping very fast. A lot of tools are fairly mature, but the prices are still high, interoperability is getting good but there aren't many mature commodity components.

    The major industry effort towards interop seems to be OpenGIS [].

    Some open source GIS stuff that looks promising to me are Mapserver [] and OpenMap [].

    I found the learning curve too much at this point, and many of the OSS solutions didn't work straight out of the box. Proprietary solutions are so expensive that they made playing around impossible.

    What's more, getting data was difficult. Your city should be able to share its digitized maps. Here in Canada, my city was reluctant to share them, as some are copyright to ESRI (imagine your city co-owning its information with a foreign company!!!). What I found out however is that there isn't any copyright if you take the paper maps they publish and digitize it yourself. Time consuming, I know :(

    There are a lot of useful hacks that I wanted to do with geographic data, but I shelved those plans for now. Hopefully in a year or so we will have better tools and cheaper data. If you manage to help us get there, thanks in advance :)
  • You might be able to find free GIS data for your location and put together a map to suit your needs, but if you are looking for good quality detailed maps, then your project will be limited by your ability to assemble and verify the GIS data for each region.

    The lack of free, accurate, detailed and comprehensive GIS data is *the* canonical problem obstructing development of free GIS software. We are talking about current street-level data, points of interest, geographic features, topographic data etc., pr


    It parses Tiger data and uses either GTK (1 or 2) or Qt.

    Roadmap includes street and address lookup.

    The graphics aren't quite there (it doesn't handle polygons well though you get the outlines, nor cities), but it works well, and fast enough to do a moving map on a Zaurus.

    It was easy for me to link it to Kismet so I can see APs by signal and channel popup on the moving map.

    Tiger does have a 300 page document that explains the format, but there are problems. I've been try
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @01:16PM (#9285399) Homepage
    A map that is a mushpot of variously updated information is going to be very confusing. Plus, you have all the trolling problems of Wikipedia without really the checks. Historical things don't change. If someone changes something I know for a fact, there's no problem correcting it. But did someone build a new road? Rename one? For each time, I'd have to check that *my* information isn't outdated before I revert it.

    For once I think this is something better left to a government office that can put the maps in the public domain. Even metadata will have big trouble as "open data". Try tracking all the fly-by-night establishments in e.g. the restaurant or nightclub industry... good luck.

  • by snillfisk ( 111062 ) < minus poet> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @01:20PM (#9285414) Homepage
    You should consider yourself lucky. Most of the information you need is already avaiable to you, in the public domain. As several other has mentioned, the Tiger-files will provide loads of information and you should really have a look at those (to convert them into your own format). It took a few weeks to do it, but the task is far from impossible.

    The other question asked is however much more important, what about completly open maps in a free for all use setting? As i mentioned, this is the case for the US, but quite far from the truth for some other countries in the world :| If you're going to let other people use your data, please provide them in an open and accesible format, like WFS. Have a look at GeoServer [] and PostGIS (for PostgreSQL) or do as we do, store everything as GML - an open standard presented by OpenGIS (which also stands behind WFS and WMS). Take a look at their website [] which features quite a few important standards and other resources.

    Making data available as WMS or WFS allows other people to seamlessly integrate them into their own applications. Seeing an application just importing more and more information thats available by WMS is simply amazing. The norwegian rescue service uses an internal WMS-server for all their mapping data, which provides information about currents, weather, available ships in some parts of the world that supports the system and loads of other information. This comes from several different sources and are integrated into the application on the last step. All the seperate units are responsible for their own mapping data and can upgrade and improve their data at any time without any interaction from the end user.

    We export information by WFS, although probably not very interesting for your use, it demonstrates the possibilities. You may browse our repository at OneMap [] by using our SVG client [].
  • Yes indeed! (Score:3, Informative)

    by phliar ( 87116 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @01:21PM (#9285419) Homepage
    Free maps from the TIGER data, as well as the (free) software that draws them. Here's Gregg Townsend's package in Icon []. (Icon is a free VHLL -- very high level language -- of which Unicon [] is the current development extension.
  • by Antilles ( 49894 ) <jpatterson AT realtycenter DOT com> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:04PM (#9285546)

    from their site:

    <b>The goal of VTP is to foster the creation of tools for easily constructing any part of the real world in interactive, 3D digital form.

    This goal will require a synergetic convergence of the fields of CAD, GIS, visual simulation, surveying and remote sensing. VTP gathers information and tracks progress in areas such as procedural scene construction, feature extraction, and rendering algorithms. VTP writes and supports a set of software tools, including an interactive runtime environment (VTP Enviro). The tools and their source code are freely shared to help accelerate the adoption and development of the necessary technologies.

  • Mapserver (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ThesQuid ( 86789 ) * <a987@mac . c om> on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:34PM (#9285721) Journal
    There's a great open source project that you can use the tiger data with - Mapserver []
    Lots of tutorials there to, but it's a bit of a learning curve. Try it! I knew nothing about mapping, and in two months I had built a web application that could zoom down to the street level with selectable layers for all sorts of data.
  • by LuYu ( 519260 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:38PM (#9285757) Homepage Journal

    The Defense Mapping Agency, which now appears to be called the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency [], has been making detailed maps of the Earth for about half a century now. You might be able to put in a FOIA request for satellite images and maps in the possession of the agency. Technically, these maps and images made with public money should be free for any citizen of the US to obtain.

  • by ftzdomino ( 555670 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @02:49PM (#9285805)
    UMN Mapserver [] works fairly well to display map files from (water features, county boundaries, state boundaries, a lot else). I have used this to display points on state and county maps. I use data from the Tiger 2002 files to get long/late coordinates from an address in order to plot onto the map. The tiger files aren't 100% useful for mailing addresses, as they don't contain all streets and have no information about R.R. postal addresses. As far as understanding the tiger files goes, there are some help documents which explain what all the files are as well as their data formats.
  • In my experience... (Score:3, Informative)

    by XenonOfArcticus ( 53312 ) on Saturday May 29, 2004 @04:42PM (#9286376) Homepage
    Your best (free) bet is probably TIGER data in either its original form or in shapefile form, updated and corrected locally.

    TIGER is made from USGS DLG [] or DRG [] files, combined with some updating done by the US Census Bureau []. Since the census is only done periodically, the TIGER data gets out of date.

    Some organizations take TIGER data and update it and resell it in various forms. One of these is NAVTEQ [], who has people out on the road constantly driving around and updating their maps. As a result, this information tends to be rather expensive, but pretty high quality. Other companies in the same business are DeLorme [] and UnderTow [] (formerly Chicago Mapping, I believe). I think UnderTow's Precision Mapping product has pretty decent licensing terms, last I looked at it (several years ago). Much better than DeLorme.

    If you want to get your own imagery and work from that, there are several good free sources:

    University of Maryland's GLCF site [] serves up 30m color imagery and 15m monochrome imagery for most of the world. To make the color imagery useful, you'll want to take a look at Scott Cherba's Tutorial [] using Photoshop or Terrainmap's tutorial [] using PaintShop Pro. One of the software companies I've founded makes an inexpensive utility called PixelSense [] (Windows, $49) to do this process automatically.

    The United States Department of Agriculture Lighthouse Server [] serves up a variety of data including free 1m monochrome mosaics of virtually every county in the US. These are large files, and come in MrSID format, for which you'll need to download a Viewer (time-limited trial version) [] that can save out the portions you want. The nice thing about this is that they are mosaiced and brightness-balanced, whereas if you just go buy/download a bunch of DOQQs elsewhere, they may not match well at the edges of each file.

    Finally, in urban areas, you may be able to take advantage of the USGS Urban Areas High-Resolution Orthoimagery [] available for some cities [] from the USGS Seamless Server []. This data is fantastic, 1ft resolution color airphotos. You can see cars and individual people. It's very recent, having been aquired after 2001 for national disaster planning and response purposes.

    Good luck. I'd be happy to answer questions you might have privately, as a lot of my customers do cartography.
  • Opensource maps (Score:3, Informative)

    by r_j_prahad ( 309298 ) <r_j_prahad@hot[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday May 30, 2004 @12:44AM (#9288242)
    I'm putting together some web pages that generate thematic maps using the University of Minnesota's MapServer. All the datum and the info for the layers that I'm using were all public information, and free to use with little or no restriction.

    UMN's pages are also a very good source of information about Open Source and GIS in general.

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.