For fun, for work, and for school, I’ve used many geographic information system and mapping tools. I love locationalized data – it tells so many stories, and shows so many scenarios of our past, present and future. You must learn it if you want to stay ahead of the game, or even in the game. When I make pretty maps, I post them on Flickr.
I list all of the software and web application tools I’ve used in the past or continue to use. I don’t profess expertise in any of these tools, but I’ve tried a lot and I like to share my results.
GIS and mapping
- Quantum GIS (QGIS) – Free, open source software that works on the Mac. It happens less and less now, but equivalent software for Mac OS X can be hard to find. I used QGIS to test data and to figure out yet another way to convert shapefiles to KML files. Read all posts about QGIS.
- TileMill – Create your own slippy maps and images using geographic data from all kinds of sources (PostGIS databases, KML, CSV, and shapefile). I used it to create the basemap for the Chicago Bike Guide app for iOS. Created by MapBox.
- GRASS – This has very powerful conversion tools, based on OGR, and is essentially a GUI for OGR. I’ve used this to convert shapefiles to DXF files for use in AutoCAD.
- ESRI software’s ArcGIS suite – Like Microsoft Windows, ArcGIS has several levels of programs, each provides more features than the program below it. I only used ArcMap for school and when I worked at CDOT. I do not recommend it because it’s expensive and is very unintuitive.
- MapWindow – While I continued to figure out the best, fastest and least error prone method to convert shapefiles to KML files, I came across the free and open source MapWindow software.
- BatchGeocode.com – Website with simple, but powerful functions. I recommended this to my dad who wanted to create groups of church congregants who lived near each other. BatchGeocode, the resulting KML file, and Google Earth provided him the fastest route to visualizing where everyone lived and he could then manually group them. Obviously, GIS software would then allow him to select adjacent homes and categorizes them into “districts” for better sorting. No longer provides latitude/longitude coordinates.
- GPS Visualizer – This multi-address geocoder does provide the latitude/longitude coordinates. Read all posts about geocoding.
- GeoCommons – Quickly create maps from all kinds of geodata, including shapefiles, KML, and CSV or Excel tables. Provides you with the latitude/longitude coordinates.Â See my maps.
- Google Refine – Clean up and get to know your data a little better. Also helpful at creating new data based on existing fields, or fetching data from APIs using your data as parameters. For example, using the Sunlight Labs Congress API, I fetched the U.S. congressional districts for street addresses based on their latitude/longitude coordinates.
- Google Fusion Tables – Quickly share your tabular data, starting from CSV, KML, XLS, or Google Docs formats. Map your data instantaneously. Read all posts about Google Fusion Tables.
- Dedupe – I haven’t used this but Derek Eder created it so I know it’s good.
About Steven Can Plan
I started this blog in 2007 as the writing assignment for an introductory urban planning class at UIC. It's about cities (mainly Chicago), GIS oftentimes, and transportation (mainly bicycling). Learn more about me, Steven Vance. I also write for Streetsblog Chicago.
Steven Can Plan is hosted on Dreamhost.
Chicago Bike Map App
The Chicago Bike Map app is a bike and street map stored entirely in your iOS device – no data connection required. The map is designed to look much like the City of Chicago's official printed and online bike map. The app works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Highly Recommended Bike Products
So far I haven't had a flat with this tire. I've used Continental Gatorskin and Panaracer T-Serv, both of which have had flats (same Chicago streets). The Gatorskin has less tread than both, and wears to a slick surface faster.
So far my longest trip was 40 miles on this saddle. It molds to your butt like Birkenstock sandals mold to your feet. The springs make the bike ride a little more comfortable and more fun (weird, because you bounce up and down on them). It also looks gorgeous. Comes in 3 colors - I got black.
The best value taillight. It has three red LEDs that alternate and provide extreme brightness. I have two of these.
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
As someone who doesn't like driving, but believes that cars can be efficient in moving groups of people and goods, this is my favorite book.
The Practice of Local Government Planning (Municipal Management Series) by
You could basically design and administer a new town kind of effectively after reading this huge and boring textbook.
Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet by Mia Birk, With Joe (Metal Cowboy) Kurmaskie, Joe Kurmaskie, Jim Moore
I met Mia Birk in October 2011.
Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS by John Krygier PhD, Denis Wood PhD
If you are going to make a map, whether it be hand drawn or digital, you should really give this book a read. Then read it every time you make a map. It will help make sure your maps are laid out sensibly, in a way that others can easily read, and that it doesn't include fluff or unnecessary data.