ArcGIS is the standard in geographic information system applications. I don’t like that it’s expensive, unwieldy to install and update, and its user interface is stymying and slow*. I also use Mac OS X most of the time and ArcGIS is not available for Mac. It doesn’t have to be the standard.
I’ve tried my hand at Cartographica and QGIS. I really like QGIS because there’re many plugins, it’s open source, there’s a diverse community supporting it, and best of all, it’s free. I’ve written about Cartographica once – I’m not a fan right now.
- The data: Bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago as reported to IDOT for 2007-2009
- Goal: Publish an interactive map of this data using Google Fusion Tables and its instant mapping feature.
- Visualizing it: Added streets (prepared beforehand to exclude highways), water features, and city boundary (get that here)
- Process: Combine bike crash data; reproject to WGS84 for Google; remove extraneous information; add latitude/longitude coordinates; export as CSV; upload to Google Fusion Tables; map it!
- View the final product
Trying out uDig
In reaching my goal I had a task that I couldn’t figure out how to complete with QGIS:Â I needed to combine three shapefiles with identical table schemes into one shapefile – this one shapefile would eventually be published as one map. The join feature in fTools wasn’t working so I looked for a new solution, uDig, or “User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS.”
The solution was very easy. Highlight all the records in the attribute table of one shapefile, click Edit>Copy, then select the destination table and click Edit>Paste. The new records were added within a couple seconds. I could then bring this data back into QGIS to finish the process (outlined above under Project). I did use fTools later in the process to add lat/long coordinates to my single shapefile.
After adding more data to better visualize the crashes in Chicago, I noticed that uDig renders maps to look smoother and slightly prettier than QGIS or ArcGIS. See the screenshot below.
A screenshot of the three bicycle crash datasets (2007, 2008, 2009) with the visualization data added.
The end product: three years of police reported bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago on an interactive map powered by Google Fusion Tables, another product in Google’s arsenal of GIS for the poor man. View the final product.
*I haven’t used ArcGIS version 10 yet, which I see and read has an improved user interface; it’s unclear to me and other users if the program’s been updated to take advantage of multi-core processors. ESRI has a roundabout way of describing their support.