Canadian News Coverage of #elxn43 – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Maps

Much like many economic, social, health, crime, and environmental data sets, election results have an important geospatial component. For the 2019 federal election, Canada was divided into 338 electoral districts, each of which is represented by a member of parliament. Consequently, thematic maps – usually representing the “first-past-the-post” winning party – are a typical part of news media coverage of the 43rd election. The following examples were found in select Canadian media outlets on the morning after the election.

The Good

Canada’s vast geographic expanse makes it difficult to show the entire country in a map that preserves its internal shapes and sizes as much as possible. Kudos to the Toronto Star for publishing #elxn43 results on a map with a suitable, appealing projection.


From the source code it appears that the Star used the D3js Javascript library with an orthographic projection.


If you zoom to your local riding results, you may notice that this projection is not ideal for local areas. In the case of Toronto, the city is presented at an awkward angle due to the projection centre being located in the east-west centre of Canada, far to the west of Toronto. Since maps are primarily useful to examine general spatial patterns, not specific data points, I find that the properly presented overview map outweighs the issue with local zooming.


The Bad

All other outlets that I checked do not live up to the Star’s standard. According to the copyright statement on the map, the Globe and Mail used the Leaflet interactive mapping library with an OpenStreetMap base layer. The provincial breakdown of riding results is helpful to illustrate the increasing divisiveness of Canadian politics, yet the use of a Mercator map projection is not just unappealing but further emphasizes the size differences between small left-leaning city ridings and large right-leaning rural ridings.


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) uses the US-based Mapbox “location data platform” with the same projection issue. A difference is that the Globe uses the actual riding boundaries including water bodies, while the CBC clipped the ridings at the shores – both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.


The Ugly

Maybe it’s just the way it is integrated in the National Post’s, Toronto Sun’s, and Huffington Post’s web sites that makes the Canadian Press’s #elxn43 results map “ugly”. When I loaded these newspaper pages, the map defaulted to full extent including all of Ellesmere Island in the most northern reaches of Nunavut. While we normally don’t want to cut off relevant geographic areas from a map, in this case it makes the entirety of the map all the more … ugly.


Maps can be a “centre piece” not only during election time but for many important political discussions and decisions. The following tweet by Jean Tong and the Ontario Association of Geographic and Environmental Education sums it up nicely.
Source: Tweet by Esri Canada employee Jean Tong retweetet with a comment by

As I am teaching two cartography courses this semester, I was compelled to take a critical look at published #elxn43 maps. Nevertheless, I appreciate the media’s efforts to visualize geospatial data and make them navigable for their readers. In interactive mapping, some cartographic guidelines become blurred. Maybe this critique will further stimulate improved map-making and underline the value of higher education and applied skills in the field of Geography.

Geography – The Secret Sauce of Data Analytics

For GIS Day 2016, the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies joined forces with Environics Analytics, “Canada’s premier marketing and analytical services company”. This year’s Environics Analytics User Conference on November 16 attracted 675 data analysts from 350 organizations and featured 16 client presentations, numerous software demos, and one great party!

eauc2016-alliwitz-secret-sauce eauc2016-alliwitz-tweet-tps-ea-geo

The core role of Geography and location in data analytics was emphasized by many presenters. Environics Analytics founder and president, @statslady Jan Kestle, is quoted with identifying “Geography as the secret sauce” that integrates data for advanced analytics. The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University received shout-outs and accolades for training the next generation of data analysts through its BA in Geographic Analysis and MSA in Spatial Analysis programs.

eauc2016-ryersongeo-maps4 eauc2016-alliwitz-msa-students3

We joined the Environics Analytics User Conference with a GIS Day-themed display of geovisualization projects from the MSA cartography course and with a 15-year reunion to celebrate the 2001 class of MSA graduates, the first-ever group of students receiving a graduate degree from Ryerson University. Since then, over 300 students have obtained the MSA degree and joined the ranks of data analysts, who shape the regional economy, public services, and environment.

A timeline of all conference-related tweets can be found at Thank you, Allison Urowitz (@alliwitz), for the pertinent tweets reproduced above.

Geography at Ryerson – Your Social Innovation Powerhouse

Innovation in higher education and scholarly research has always been a hallmark of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson. Recent faculty and student achievements underline our position as a social innovation powerhouse on campus.

In the competition for “RECODE at Ryerson University” grants, @RyersonGeo faculty are leading three of the eight successful applications. That is 37.5% of these social innovation projects across campus, a proportion even more impressive if you consider the competitive process with eight grants selected among 33 applications, a success rate of only 24%.

oswald_3d-printed-DEM-tweet With her RECODE grant, Dr. Claire Oswald, in collaboration with Dr. Claus Rinner and 3D printing startup company Think To Thing, plans to use “A 3D elevation model of Toronto watersheds to promote citizen science in urban hydrology and water resources”. Undergraduate students from our Geographic Analysis and Environment and Urban Sustainability programs will help with processing geospatial data to create a tangible model of the Don River watershed. The model is to be used for school and community outreach on pressing urban water issues.

shaker_roncesvalles-OSMDr. Richard Shaker received a RECODE grant for “A prototype for reaching sustainability through local business improvement initiatives: Roncesvalles Village”. In collaboration with the Roncesvalles Business Improvement Area in Toronto, Dr. Shaker’s team will develop metrics of sustainability of local restaurants to support sustainable community planning and management.

millward_citytrees-homepageThe goal of Dr. Andrew Millward’s proposal is to advance “The Citytrees Project: a tool of social innovation that engages people to work collectively and make our cities greener and more resilient”. RECODE funding will assist with forming new community partnerships and collecting tree data with GPS in collaboration with the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.

In addition to the faculty grants, our students were equally active and successful in applying for funding from the RECODE student competition.

Jennifer Fisher, a student in our BA in Environment and Urban Sustainability, received a grant to create “Soul Roots”, an urban agriculture project that employs “alternative farming practices to create large yield crops on a contaminated land site”. Working with Provincial and municipal partners in Toronto’s Parkdale community, the project also aims to demonstrate the social and economic impact of local food production.

Sarah Brigel, another student in the EUS program, is using RECODE funds to develop a pilot for her “Microbe-Hub Campus Compost Initiative”. The project aims to divert all organic waste from the Faculty of Arts’ Jorgenson Hall 14-storey building using a closed-loop vermicomposting system.

Another playing field for social innovation made @RyersonGeo is the Faculty of Arts’ SocialVentures Zone. Of the seven student-led social enterprises currently being incubated in the Zone, two were founded by our students, including Jennifer’s “Soul Roots”.

The other SocialVenturesZone project is Claire Stevenson-Blythe’s “Reciprocity”, an app-based platform to help people with signing up for local environmental volunteer opportunities. Claire’s enterprise is focused on engaging active citizenship and sharing solutions for the sustinability issues of our time.

Geography in its analytic, applied, and urban-focused form practiced at Ryerson is destined to inspire and train future social innovators and sustainability leaders. Stay tuned for more news!

Background on the RECODE at Ryerson University initiative:

List of student projects in the SocialVentures Zone:

Looking for a secure, laid-back, and meaningful job in a growing field? Get into Geography!

This text was first posted as a guest contribution to WhyRyerson?, the Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment blog at Ryerson University. Images were added after the initial posting.

Geography@Ryerson is different. Atlases, globes, and Google Maps are nice pastimes, but we are more interested in OpenStreetMap, CartoDB, and GeoDA. We map global flight paths, tweets, invasive species, and shoplifters. As a student in Geographic Analysis you will gain real-world, or rather real-work, experience during your studies. This degree is unique among Geo programs in Ontario, if not in Canada, for its career focus.


Mapping global flight paths.
(Source: Toronto Star, 24 May 2013

The BA in Geographic Analysis has a 40-year record of placing graduates in planning and decision-making jobs across the public and private sectors. Jobs include Data Technician, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist, Geospatial Analyst, Mapping Technologist, GIS Consultant, Environmental Analyst, Market Research Analyst, Real-Estate Analyst, Crime Analyst, and many more. You name the industry or government branch, we’ll tell you what Geographers are doing for them. And these jobs are secure: Many are within government, or, if they are in the private sector, they tend to be in units that make businesses more efficient (and therefore are essential themselves!).

And these are great jobs, too. In November 2013, GIS Specialists were characterized as a low-stress job by CNN Money/PayScale. There were half a million positions in the US, with an expected 22% growth over 10 years, and a median pay of US$53,400 per year. In their previous survey, Market Research Analysts had made the top-10, with over a quarter million jobs, over 40% expected growth, and a median pay of US$63,100. The 2010 survey described GIS Analyst as a stress-free job with a median salary of US$75,000.


Mapping Technologist, one of Canada’s best jobs!
(Source: Canadian Business, 23 April 2015)

Closer to home, in April 2015 Canadian Business magazine put Mapping Technologists among the top-10 of all jobs in Canada! They note that “The explosion of big data and the growing need for location-aware hardware and software has led to a boom in the field of mapping”. With a median salary of CA$68,640, a 25% salary growth, and a 20% increase in jobs over five years, “this class of technology workers will pave the way”. According to Service Canada, “Mapping and related technologists and technicians gather, analyze, interpret and use geospatial information for applications in natural resources, geology, environment and land use planning. […] They are employed by all levels of government, the armed forces, utilities, mapping, computer software, forestry, architectural, engineering and consulting firms”. Based on the excellent reputation of our program in the Toronto area, you can add the many jobs in the business, real-estate, social, health, and safety fields to this list!


Sample applications of Geographic Analysis
(Source: Google image search)

While you may find the perspective of a well-paid, laid-back job in a growing field attractive enough, there is more to being a Ryerson-trained Geographer. Your work will help make important decisions in society. This could be with the City of Toronto or a Provincial or Federal ministry, where you turn geospatial data into maps and decision support tools in fields such as environmental assessment, social policy, parks and forestry, waste management, immigration, crime prevention, natural resources management, utilities, transportation, … . Or, you may find yourself analysing socio-economic data and crime incidents for a regional police service in order to guide their enforcement officers, as well as crime prevention and community outreach activities. Many of our graduates work for major retail or real-estate companies determining the best branch locations, efficient delivery of products and services, or mapping and forecasting population and competitors. Or you could turn your expertise into a highly profitable free-lance GIS and mapping consultancy.

Geography is one of the broadest fields of study out there, which can be intimidating. Geography@Ryerson however is different, as we provide you with a “toolkit” to turn your interest in the City, the region, and the world, and your fascination with people and the environment, into a fulfilling, secure, laid-back, yet meaningful job!

About Quick-Service Mapping and Lines in the Sand

A walk on the beach along the still-frozen Georgian Bay has helped me sort some thoughts regarding fast food cartography, quick-service mapping, and naturally occurring vs. artificial lines in the sand … but first things first: This post refers to a debate about Twitter mapping and neo-cartography that is raging on blogs across the planet and will flare up in the Geoweb chat on Twitter this Tuesday, Update: #geowebchat transcript prepared by Alan McConchie available at

Lines in the sand (Photos: Claus Rinner)
Lines in the sand (Photos: Claus Rinner)

A few days ago, The Atlantic’s CityLab published an article entitled “Why Most Twitter Maps Can’t Be Trusted”, There have been other cautions that Twitter maps often just show where people live or work – and thus where they tweet. Along similar lines, a comic at xkcd illustrates how heatmaps of anything often just show population concentrations – “The business implications are clear!”,

The CityLab article incited Andrew Hill, senior scientist at CartoDB and mapping instructor at New York University, to respond with a polemic “In defense of burger cartography”, In it, Hill replies to critics of novel map types by stating “The dogma of cartography is certain to be overturned by new discoveries, preferences, and norms from now until forever.” He likens the good people at CartoDB (an online map service) with some action movie characters who will move cartography beyond its “local optima [sic]”. Hill offers his personal label for the supposedly-new “exploratory playfulness with maps”: burger cartography.

Examples of CartoDB-based tweet maps in the media (Source: Taylor Shelton)
Examples of CartoDB-based tweet maps in the media (Source: Taylor Shelton)

The core portion of Hill’s post argues that CartoDB’s Twitter maps make big numbers such as 32 million tweets understandable, as in the example of an animated map of tweets during the 2014 soccer world cup final. I find nothing wrong with this point, as it does not contradict the cautions against wrong conclusions from Twitter maps. However, the rest of Hill’s post is written in such a derogatory tone that it has drawn a number of well-thought responses from other cartographers:

  • Kenneth Field, Senior Cartographic Product Engineer at Esri and an avid blogger and tweeter of all things cartography, provides a sharp, point-by-point rebuttal of Hill’s post – lamenting the “Needless lines in the sand”, The only point I disagree with is the title, since I think we actually do need some lines in the sand (see below).
  • James Cheshire, Lecturer and geospatial visualization expert at University College London, Department of Geography, supports “Burger Cartography”,, but shows that “Hill’s characterisation of cartography … is just wrong”.
  • Taylor Shelton, “pseudopositivist geographer”, PhD candidate at Clark University, and co-author of the study that triggered this debate, writes “In defense of map critique”, Shelton reveals Hill’s oversimplification by pointing to the need to consider context when interpreting maps, and to the “plenty of other ways that we can make maps of geotagged tweets without just ‘letting the data speak for themselves’.”

Extending the fast food metaphor, CartoDB can be described as a quick-service mapping platform – an amazing one at that, which is very popular with our students (more on that in a future post). I am pretty sure that CartoDB’s designers and developers generally respect cartographic design guidelines, and in fact have benefited commercially from implementing them. However, most of us do not live from fast food (= CartoDB, MapBox, Google Maps) alone. We either cook at home (e.g., R with ggplot2, QGIS; see my previous post on recent Twitter mapping projects by students) or treat ourselves to higher-end cuisine (e.g., ArcMap, MapInfo, MAPublisher), if we can afford it.

I fully expect that new mapping pathways, such as online public access to data and maps, crowdmapping, and cloud-based software-as-a-service, entail novel map uses, to which some existing cartographic principles will not apply. But dear Andrew Hill, this is a natural evolution of cartography, not a “goodbye old world”! Where the established guidelines are not applicable, we will need new ones – surely CartoDB developers and CartoDB users will be at the forefront of making these welcome contributions to cartography.

MacEachren's Some Truth with Maps (Source:
MacEachren’s Some Truth with Maps (Source:

While I did not find many naturally occurring lines in the Georgian Bay sand this afternoon, I certainly think society needs to draw lines, including those that distinguish professional expertise from do-it-yourselfism. I trust trained map-makers (such as our Geographic Analysis and Spatial Analysis graduates!) to make maps that work and are as truthful as possible. We have a professional interest in critically assessing developments in GIS and mapping technologies and taking them up where suitable. The lines in the sand will be shifting, but to me they will continue to exist: separating professional and DIY cartographers, mapping for presentation of analysis results vs. exploratory playing with maps, quantitative maps vis-a-vis the map as a story … Of course, lines in the sand are pretty easy to cross, too!

Ryerson Geographic Analysis students put restaurants, airports, cities, and cropland on the map!

Blog post authored by Claus Rinner and Victoria Fast

In response to a recent lab assignment in GEO441 “Geographic information Science”, 49 second-year Geographic Analysis students selected a crowdmapping application and actively contributed valuable geographic information.

The most popular choice was the global OpenStreetMap initiative ( From updating the name and hours of their favourite restaurant or adding their local bank to a plaza, to identifying community gardens, adding a newly built hospital or geocoding new condos, the students used their local knowledge of the GTA to update and expand the freely accessible OpenStreetMap dataset.


For example, second-year Geographic Analysis student Stephanie Dizonno added a restaurant, George’s Pizza, to a set of businesses already represented along Toronto’s Dundas Street East.

ksmith-osm-airportSome of the more unusual edits were made by GEO441 student Kyle Smith, who is a recreational pilot. Kyle corrected and added key features to a local airport, such as a taxiway, the airport restaurant, and the apron, which we learned is the paved area used for aircraft parking. An essential part of his contribution was to update “crucial attribute data about the airport’s characteristics using the Canadian Flight Supplement,” writes Kyle.

In addition to OpenStreetMap, other students elected to contribute to Wikimapia, Cropland Capture, Night Cities, and the David Rumsey Map Collection. For example, instead of the point, line, polygon, and/or attribute data added to OpenStreetMap, the Cropland Capture online game ( has ‘players’ indicate whether or not a given satellite image includes agricultural land. Mooez Munshi highlights the relevance of his contribution: “The geographic data collected will help in building a map that shows all of the world’s cropland.”


Geographic Analysis student Daniel Bocknek elected to geographically reference a 100-year old map from the David Rumsey Map Collection ( showing the Aberfoyle area in Scotland. After identifying at least three control points on both the historic map and a contemporary basemap such as OpenStreetMap or Google Maps, the historic map is automatically geo-referenced and can be integrated with other GIS data as shown in Daniel’s screenshot above.

A similar approach is used by the Night Cities application ( to geo-locate photographs of world cities taken at night by astronauts on board the ISS. In his GEO441 assignment, Navdeep Salooja explains that this project involves “citizen scientists”, like himself, in research about global night-time light pollution.

Overall, the 49 Ryerson students contributed important bits (and bytes) to the growing body of volunteered geographic information, while experiencing the broad applicability of geographic knowledge and principles of geographic information science to real-world issues.

Thought Spot – Crowdmapping of Mental Health and Wellness Resources

Thought Spot is a project designed by post-secondary students to support mental health and wellbeing among Toronto-area youth. The main feature is the online map at, which is based on the Ushahidi crowdsourced mapping platform. The Thought Spot project was initiated at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in collaboration with the University of Toronto, OCAD, and Ryerson. The map allows students to find mental health and wellness resources in ­their geographic area, without the need for an intermediary (parent, teacher, physician). The mapped information originates from ConnexOntario and Kids Help Phone data as well as data that were crowdsourced from members of the target audience.


Ryerson Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) candidate Heather Hart took a lead role in designing the Thought Spot map (shown above), bringing unique geospatial expertise to the table of the project’s student advisory board. Through her MSA practicum placement with a different research group at CAMH, Heather got in contact with the Thought Spot team and brought the funding for her own summer position to Ryerson, to devote half of her time to ensuring that the project’s crowdmapping would be successful. Heather’s involvement culminated in co-organizing a Thought Spot hackathon at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone in October 2014, which led to the ongoing development of a mobile version of the Thought Spot map.


This photo shows Heather at GIS Day at Ryerson on November 19th, 2014, presenting the Thought Spot project to an interested University audience. In collaboration with Environmental Applied Science and Management PhD candidate Victoria Fast, Heather has now also submitted a conference abstract about “Crowd mapping mental health promotion through the Thought Spot project”. The abstract brings together Victoria’s extensive expertise in volunteered geographic information systems and Heather’s on-the-ground experience with the Thought Spot project. Their presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in April 2015 is part of the “International Geospatial Health Research” theme.

It is wonderful to see two enterprising Geography graduate students contribute to supporting mental health and wellbeing on campus, a goal that the University is committed to. At the same time, the Thought Spot project informs Heather’s thesis research on the role of maps in evidence-based health care decision-making and Victoria’s dissertation on crowdmapping of local food resources.

Guest lecture on Dynamic Transportation Systems, OpenStreetMap, and QGIS

The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and the Centre for Geocomputation at Ryerson University welcome Anita Graser, MSc, Scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), Mobility Department – Dynamic Transportation Systems, for the following guest lecture.

Title: GIScience for Dynamic Transportation Systems
Date: Friday, 31 October 2014, 10am-12noon
Location: Room JOR-440, 4th floor, Jorgenson Hall, 380 Victoria Street, Toronto


Anita Graser (@underdarkGIS) is a scientist, open source GIS advocate, and author of “Learning QGIS 2.0”. In this presentation, Anita will give an overview of her work at the AIT and in the QGIS project, where she is currently serving on the project steering committee. The talk covers measuring, analyzing, visualizing, and understanding mobility data. These topics will be discussed in the context of Anita’s recent work such as analyses of floating car data and assessments of OpenStreetMap for vehicle routing purposes.

Big Data – Déjà Vu in Geographic Information Science

A couple of years ago, one of my first blog posts here was a brief note on “Trends in GIScience: Big Data”. Although not at the core of my research interests, the discussions and developments around big data continue to influence my work. In an analysis of “The Pathologies of Big Data”, Adam Jacobs notes that “What makes most big data big is repeated observations over time and/or space”. Indeed, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) researchers and professionals have been working with large datasets for decades. During my PhD in the late 1990s, the proceedings of the “Very Large Data Bases” (VLDB) conference series were a relevant resource. I am not sure what distinguishes big data from large data, though I don’t have the space nor time to discuss this further.

Instead, I want to draw a first link between big data and my research on geovisual analytics. In an essay on “The End of Theory”, Chris Anderson famously argued that with sufficiently large data volumes, the “numbers [would] speak for themselves”. As researchers, we know that data are a rather passive species and the most difficult stage in many research projects is to determine the right questions to ask of your data, or to guide the collection of data to begin with. The more elaborate critiques of the big data religion include a recent article by Tim Harford on “Big data: are we making a big mistake?” Harford points to the flawed assumption that n=all in big data collection (not everybody tweets, has a smartphone, or even a credit card!) and argues that we are at risk of repeating statistical mistakes, only at the larger scale of big data. Harford also characterizes some big data as “found data” from the “digital exhaust” of people’s activities, such as Web searches. This makes me worried about the polluted analyses that will be based on such data!

On a more positive note, cartographers have argued for using interactive visualization as a means to analyse complex spatial datasets. For example, Alan MacEachren’s 1994 map use cube defines geovisualization as the expert use of highly interactive maps to discover unknown spatial patterns. On this basis, I understand geovisual analytics as an efficient and effective approach to “making the data speak”. For example, in Rinner & Taranu (2006) we concluded that “an interactive mapping tool is worth a thousand numbers” (p. 647), which may actually underestimate the potential of map-based data exploration. Along similar lines, I noted in Rinner (2007) that data (read: small data) can quickly become complex (read: big data), when they are subject to analytical processing. For example, in a composite index created from a few indicators for the 140 social planning neighbourhoods in the Wellbeing Toronto tool, changes in the indicator set, weights assigned to indicators, and normalization and standardization applied, will create an exponentially growing set of potential indices. The interactive, geovisual nature of the tool will help analysts to draw reasonable conclusions for decision-makers.

A second link exists between big data and my research on the participatory Geoweb. In this research, we examine how the Geoweb is changing interactions between government and citizens. On the one hand, government data are being released in open data catalogues for all to enjoy – i.e., use for scrutinizing public service, developing value-added products or services, or just to play with cool map and app designs. On the other hand, governments start to rely on crowdsourcing to fill gaps in data where shrinking budgets are limiting authoritative data collection and maintenance. In this context of “volunteered geographic information” (VGI), we argue that we need to consider the entire VGI system, including the hardware and software, user-generated data, and the application and people involved, in order to fully understand the emerging phenomenon. We also took up the study of different types of VGI, such as facilitated VGI in contrast to ambient VGI. Of these two types, ambient or “involuntary” VGI is connected with big data and the “digital exhaust” discussed above, as it consists of information collected from large numbers of users without their knowledge.

Again, geographers are in a strong position to examine big data resulting from ambient VGI, as location plays a major role in the VGI system. The 2014 annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) included a high-profile panel on big data, their impact on real people, asymmetries in location privacy, and the role of “big money” in big data analytics. In contrast to previous discourse, in which geographers often limited themselves to deploring the disconnect between the social sciences and the developments in computer science and information technology, at AAG 2014 a tendency to more confident commentary and critique of big data and other unreflected IT developments was tangible. We need to understand the societal risks of global data collection and (geo)surveillance, and explain why if you let the data speak for themselves, you may earn a Big Silence or make bad decisions.

Both, my research on Wellbeing Toronto and place-specific policy-making as well as the Geothink partnership studying the Geoweb and government-citizen interactions are funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). While supporting research into the opportunities provided by big data, I think that SSHRC is best positioned among the granting councils to also fund critical research on the risks and side effects of big data.

Infomap or Cartographic? My Take on Mapping Toronto’s Traffic Lights

Toronto writer/blogger Chris Bateman recently publicized a beautiful white-on-black map of all Toronto traffic lights, which was created by our very own Master of Spatial Analysis (MSA) student William Davis. Chris’ brief yet insightful post on blogTO can be found at Inspired by William’s idea and the creative map designs by several MSA students in my cartography course in the fall semester, I thought I’d give the traffic lights map a try. Another trigger for my experiment was a comment from blogTO reader “Red Menace” about the traffic lights, complaining that “Most of them are red too.” Here is how I proceeded:

  1. Visit the City of Toronto’s open data catalogue, click on “GET THE DATA”, and find “Traffic Signals Tabular”. I would love to provide a direct link, but they changed URLs to include some lengthy session IDs, which I cannot post here – currently, still works as an entry point.
  2. Download “All traffic signals – CSV”, “Traffic signals with APS – CSV”, and “Pedestrian crossovers – CSV”. According to the readme file, APS refers to “active traffic signal enabled with sound (Accessible Pedestrian Signals)”. CSV is a tabular file format (Comma-Separated Values).
  3. Start the open-source geographic information system QGIS 2.2. In the Layer menu, use “Add Delimited Text Layer…” to open each of the three CSV files, discarding the first line and assigning the Longitude and Latitude fields to the x and y coordinates respectively.
  4. Upon preliminary display, change the coordinate reference system of the QGIS project to UTM Zone 17N and display all traffic signals as red dots, pedestrian crossovers as yellow dots, and sound-enabled signals as green dots.
  5. In QGIS’ print composer, add new map, rotate by +18 degrees, set background to black, and fiddle with map extent and scale until everything fits. Then export as image, et voila!


Click image to open larger version.
Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Toronto. 

With red dots representing “normal” traffic lights, green dots overlaying those lights that are friendly to visually impaired pedestrians, and yellow dots showing the locations of mid-block crosswalks, my map focuses a bit more on conveying thematic information than on a fashionable graphic design. While I am afraid that design gurus (in particular our trend-setting students!) may sniff at it, I like to think of it as an “infomap” or “cartographic” (read: carto-graphic), analogous to the now ubiquitous “infographic”.

Update 10 April 2014: I want to share another version, in which I created a halo around the red and yellow dots by defining a semi-transparent, 1mm wide outline of the same colour.


Click image to open full version.
Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Toronto.