Deep GIS: Mapping What You Touch In the Subways

I’ve recently been communicating with Ebrahim Afshinnekoo who is Project Director for the PathoMap project based at the Weill Cornell Medicine Mason Laboratory in New York City.  Launched in the summer 2013, PathoMap was the first project of its kind, with the intent to comprehensively map and investigate the presence of bacteria and DNA on the surfaces of large urban, metropolitan environments such as New York City. And of course what better venue to collect bacteria samples in NYC than the subway system – the large subterranean behemoth home to 5.5 million riders on an average weekday.

I was drawn to the project in that it involves several common geospatial components the traditional GIS community is routinely involved with such as  data collection/data validation, data analysis, mobile apps, web mapping and visualization. To date, discussion on this geospatial research effort has focused mainly within the Cell Systems (scholarly journal) community, though with little exposure within the traditional NYS GIS community. While both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times published articles on PathoMap in 2015 we’ve seen little work of this nature at statewide conferences or how it can promote similar geospatial analysis across the Empire State. With this in mind, eSpatiallyNewYork initiated this blog entry with the purpose of exposing the PathoMap project, and its subsequent global expansion (MetaSUB) to the larger statewide GIS community.

Data Collection

The molecular profiling initiative launched in the summer of 2013 with the help of undergraduates from Cornell University and Macaulay Honors College – which were soon to be given the appropriate moniker “Swab Squad”.  To create a city-wide profile, the research team first built an Android/iOS  mobile application in collaboration with GIS Cloud to enable real-time entry and loading of sample metadata directly into a database (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Data collection from the project included the “swabbing” of sites and subsequent analysis and data entry of the findings into a mobile app which are dynamically uploaded to the Cloud GIS database. Source: Afshinnekoo et al., 2015

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10 Questions: Dr. James Mower

Dr. James Mower is a familiar face across the New York State GIS landscape.  Having started at SUNY Albany almost thirty years ago, he has mentored hundreds of geography and GIS students whom have gone on to work in a wide range of government and industry positions across the state.  Over the past two decades, Westchester County GIS has employed at least six of his students as full-time employees and numerous summer interns.  His teachings have contributed significantly to the continued development of the Westchester County GIS program.

eSpatiallynewyork:  You’ve been at SUNY Albany for a while now – how long?

Mower: I started in the fall of 1987.

eSpatiallynewyork:  Take us back to your  doctoral work. Your PhD came from the University of Buffalo– one of the early most recognized centers of GIS research in the United States – in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Who was your mentor at Buffalo?

Mower:  My mentor was David Mark who recently retired (from teaching, anyway). Dave was a great mentor—he let me run with some unusual but ultimately successful projects.

eSpatiallynewyork: What classes are you teaching these days? 

Mower:  I have focused more on programming courses recently. I have a 2-course Java programming sequence that has become a lot more interesting with the exploding interest in open source GIS. I’m retooling my courses to focus more on mapping libraries like the GeoTools package from OSGeo  (the program that also supervises GRASS, QGIS, GDAL, and other great tools). I also teach a Python course aimed at ArcGIS scripting (at least for now).

eSpatiallynewyork:  How has teaching GIS/geospatial at the university level changed over the last 5-10 years?

Mower:  The biggest changes are yet to come. Cartography and GIS are learning how to embrace mobile platforms with smaller screen space. Generalization issues in mapping have never been more important. Along with mobile mapping has also come global navigation satellite system position finding and its use in almost every cell phone app out there. Also, the coming revolution in autonomous vehicles will impact our field in many unforeseeable ways. Continue reading

10 Questions: Steve Romalewski

Steven Romalewski is currently director of the Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center / CUNY.  During his 32-year career he has helped hundreds of nonprofit groups across the country leverage the power of GIS; helped develop more than two-dozen online mapping services analyzing environmental issues, social services, transit routing, demographic trends, voting behavior, and legislative representation.  He has also coordinated the work of community groups and others across New York to advocate for sensible environmental policies at the local, state, and federal levels.  For the past 10 years, he has taught students at Pratt Institute how to use GIS in their urban planning careers, and helped educate many others through presentations about the value of GIS.  He lives in Manhattan.

eSpatiallynewyork:  How did you end up in your current position at Center for Urban Research?  

Romalewski:  Before joining CUNY I ran the Community Mapping Assistance Project (CMAP) at NYPIRG for about eight years, providing mapping services to nonprofit organizations across the country.  (Before that I was an environmental researcher and advocate at NYPIRG.)  By 2004 or so, CMAP’s work had started to outgrow our advocacy-oriented parent organization. Internally we discussed options of spinning off CMAP as a social business venture, merging it with another organization, or launching it as its own nonprofit.

At the same time we were going through a strategic planning effort for the OASIS project, and one of the key findings was that OASIS would benefit from an institutional setting such as academia where the OASIS website would be able to leverage more stable technology resources and organizational support.

One of the academic programs we talked with was the Center for Urban Research (CUR) at the CUNY Graduate Center.  I had worked on projects over the years with CUR’s director John Mollenkopf, and he was a big fan of our work. It seemed like a great fit, and in January 2006  I moved to CUNY.

eSpatiallynewyork:  How do CUR projects come to be or developed?

Romalewski:  We’re fortunate to have a good amount of leeway in deciding on projects.  Generally CUR engages in applied research projects in the areas of neighborhood change, immigration, and urban development broadly speaking. Within those areas, we look for mapping projects where we can have an impact, where we can leverage CUR’s mapping skills and expertise in analyzing urban trends, and that come with funding support so we can cover staff time and related expenses.

We’re especially interested in working with our colleagues throughout CUNY, as well as within city government (since CUNY has a close relationship with New York City agencies), but we also take on projects with a wide array of partners.

If the project involves an online mapping component we try to structure it so we can incorporate the latest and greatest interactive web and mapping techniques and technologies. Continue reading

SAVI Builds a Metro NYC Presence

The last couple years I’ve been watching the growth of GeoNYC Meetup group and continue to be amazed at the far-reaching representation of individuals and companies now involved in the broad field we call “geospatial”.  One person shops, start-ups, open source/open data techies, apartment and loft based companies, strong business and private sector representation, community based mappers, and everything in-between.  A much different composition and representation than that of the other existing statewide geospatial/GIS communities and organizations that I and other colleagues of my GIS generation came through.   To date I have published three previous blog posts focusing on other contacts made through GeoNYC:  Mapzen, Mapillary and NiJel.

Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI)

Also establishing a niche in the expanding geospatial space are community facing programs associated with and supported in academia environments.  One such program, which I was also introduced to through GeoNYC, is the  Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative (SAVI).  It was launched in 2013 and is at Pratt Institute.  SAVI is a GIS-based research lab and service center that focuses on mapping, data analysis, and visual storytelling, providing students, faculty, and community groups with the resources they need to communicate information in compelling ways. The first and only New York City college-based GIS lab open to community organizations and civic groups, SAVI offers computer access, technical assistance, professional training, workshops, and research that empower local organizations to create their own visions to improve the quality of life for their clients and constituents. At Pratt, SAVI supports students and faculty whose work reaches beyond the Institute’s campus to engage and benefit New York City.

Leading the SAVI program is Jessie Braden, who was appointed Director in the Fall of 2013.  Prior to SAVI, Braden spent three years at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a non-profit affiliated with Pratt Institute that provides technical services to community organizations.  She has also been an adjunct professor of GIS in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Program since 2010.  Braden initially started SAVI with Pratt Programs for Sustainable Planning and Development (PSPD) Professor Juan Camilo Osorio as a volunteer side project in 2011 with the guidance of then Department Chair John Shapiro.  In addition to PSPD, Pratt Center and the Graduate Communications Design Department offered their official support, allowing the lab to come to fruition and solidifying SAVI’s focus on communities AND design.  Pratt Center also secured a $670,000 grant from NYC City Council to renovate a physical space on Pratt’s campus so SAVI can serve community organizations and students.  During the time the program was being institutionalized at Pratt, Osorio took a full-time position as Director of Research at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. Though not involved in day to day operations, Osorio remains a trusted advisor to SAVI.

SAVI consolidates the Institute’s GIS resources with an eye to social benefit. This means putting data analysis in the hands of community activists, students, and faculty. It also means making the products of GIS expertise visually legible and compelling so that the stories they tell will have as much impact as possible.

“At the end of the day, visual representation is as important as the quality of data analysis,” Braden observes. “Our vision for SAVI is to produce outstanding multidisciplinary projects  with the highest-caliber visual display— making the invisible visible, both inside and outside Pratt’s gates.”  Its Jessie’s belief, which I share,  that a well designed map should be able to stand on its own.  Such a product enables the reader to conduct the “spatial analysis” based on the distribution and rendering of the map data itself – with only minimal accompanying narrative to explain or describe the map.

Braden points to specific mapping projects which exemplify the SAVI cause:
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NYS 2016 Geospatial Legislation: The Beat Goes On

Have been a little remiss in the blog content space of late and now trying to play catch up with a couple articles and stories in the works albeit nothing finalized.  With August typically being one of the slower months across the board, it’s always a good time to take a step back and see how the geospatial/GIS profession is growing across the state in context of making its presence known  or at least recognized and referenced in the legislative arena.   This year’s summary provides a little more fodder for discussion and content than in the past couple years – even to the point of dulling the urge to write in that very special way about one of my other favorite New York summertime geospatial topics:  The Geospatial Advisory Committee. The GAC.

State of the State

Always appropriate to start at the beginning of the year with the Governor’s State of the State “Built to Lead” themed speech (January 13th) which did offer some optimism – albeit indirectly – for investment and growth opportunities in geospatial technologies across the state.  Most notably with references in the areas of infrastructure development.  Even though many of the investments itemized in the speech are for major public facilities such as LaGuardia, the Jacob Javitz Center, and Penn Station – btw to the tune of $100 billion –  there is still room for enthusiasm in the GIS community hoping that even small portions of the $100 billion investment can trickle down to local government geospatial  programs to  support bridge and road management initiatives, public water/storm/sanitary systems rehabilitation projects, evolving resiliency projects, and many other infrastructure related efforts.  And best of all, providing funding opportunities for the many deserving GIS and civil engineering businesses which continue to support and help build statewide geospatial capacity. While it’s almost certain that the $100B funding is spread out over many appropriation bills, one can see the magnitude of the statewide infrastructure focus and priority by performing a keyword search on “infrastructure” in the New York State Bill Search form. Results? Fifty-seven bills match the search criteria.  Granted, not every bill is specific to geospatial & infrastructure – but it’s a damn good starting point for the statewide geospatial community.  And you can be well assured our brethren in the engineering, surveying, public works and aligned disciplines are already well engaged in tracking down the funding.  And btw, if you’re really interested and by comparison, do a similar search on keywords such as geospatial, mapping, geography, or GIS – and make note of the search results.  I’m by no means an expert in using the form, but by using it only casually, one can get a sense of the potential funding sources.

As in past State of State speech agendas, the governor makes reference to other should be GIS staple disciplines such as economic development (REDCs: Regional Economic Development Councils) and tourism – two very high level and visible government programs which the statewide GIS community has yet to make broad and sustaining inroads with.  Granted the current state administration’s REDC organizational chart is problematic in that these boundaries do not coincide with the existing NYS Association of Regional Councils boundaries, GIS-based economic development and tourism websites should continue to be a top priority for every county and/or regional planning commission across the state.

 2016 Bill Search

Certainly not an exhaustive list, but the following does provide a general flavor of the types of  geospatial/GIS-related bills which were either newly introduced or carried over from previous years.  Search results included:
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Geospatial Business Spotlight: Tyler Technologies

Company Name:  Tyler Technologies

Business Unit:    ERP & Schools Division, Transportation Solutions (formerly Versatrans)

Website:               www.tylertech.com

Established:        1966

THE COMPANY

Tyler Technologies, Inc., is a leading provider of end-to-end information management solutions and services for local governments. Tyler partners with clients to empower the public sector — cities, counties, schools and other government entities — to become more efficient, more accessible and more responsive to the needs of citizens. Its mission-critical applications provide the public sector with the ability to streamline and automate operations, resulting in improved productivity, reduced costs and continual process improvement. Tyler’s client base includes more than 14,000 local government offices in all 50 states, Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and other international locations. Forbes has named Tyler one of “America’s Best Small Companies” eight times, and the company has been included six times on the Barron’s 400 Index, a measure of the most promising companies in America. Tyler provides a broad line of software products in seven main solution areas: appraisal and tax; courts and justice; ERP financial; planning, regulatory and maintenance; public safety; records and documents; and K-12 schools. Tyler has over 400 customers in the State of New York. Customers include large counties such as Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester as well as municipalities such as City of Buffalo, Rochester and Yonkers.

Versatrans started as a transportation planning consulting firm in 1965 and began developing software in 1980. For more than 35 years, Versatrans has developed the leading technology for school professionals to deliver the best service to their districts. In 2008, Versatrans became part of Tyler Technologies, which today employs more than 3,600 professionals. Since that time, the Versatrans® product line has been maintained and supported, and the number of development resources assigned to the product line have nearly doubled. Tyler’s transportation solutions are the software of choice among more than 1,600 school districts and pupil transportation service providers in the United States and Canada. In the State of New York, Tyler transportation solutions are used in over 280 school districts including large school districts such as Buffalo Public Schools, Williamsville Central School District and North Syracuse Central School District, but also in small school districts such as Fort Plain Central School District, Candor Central School District and Broadalbin-Perth Central School District.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Tyler’s transportation solutions are built to factor together district policies and student information with hazard restrictions and realistic bus speeds. This provides safe and accurate bus stop locations and optimal routes that save money. By geocoding with the latest GIS technology using county maps, and taking into account cross restrictions, hazard zones, predator locations and more, the software picks up students from their exact location and assigns them to the safest stop. The Tyler team is composed of industry transportation professionals such as former directors, trainers, routing experts and drivers which, combined with experienced software engineers, apply their expertise and latest technology to transportation solution products, implementation and support.

Tyler’s transportation solutions include Traversa®, the Versatrans suite and Tyler Drive™.

Traversa

Traversa is Tyler’s integrated, comprehensive transportation management system. Traditionally, transportation software has been offered piecemeal, with different interfaces, different data sources and different requirements for training and installation. Traversa offers a seamless user experience for:

  • Bus routing
  • Activity trips
  • Work order tracking
  • Fleet maintenance
  • Automated vehicle location (AVL)/GPS tracking

In addition to the areas mentioned above, Traversa’s core functionality includes entity management (students, vehicles, employees, etc.), messaging and alerts, planning and reporting. Traversa is a cloud-based service supported by Tyler experts and hosted in Tyler’s SSAE16-certified data center. Tyler’s GIS services department converts a client’s data and helps verify client maps. Tyler’s transportation team provides training and data security and – when needed – disaster recovery.

 

TylerTech1

Traversa Dashboard allows school district transportation personnel to see a comprehensive view of everything they need for routing, planning and fleet maintenance.

Traversa’s technology stack incorporates portions of ESRI’s mapping software and can also interface with third-party data providers to show real-time traffic conditions, construction projects, city planning, evacuation routes, weather and more. A user can select a bus stop and zoom in to inspect the streetscape for possible safety issues. Traversa even helps a user respond to change. If a bridge washes out, he or she can quickly find an alternate path and print the new directions for drivers to use.

TylerTech2

Traversa Routing allows a school transportation router to build daily runs, assign students to stops, generate driver directions, assign vehicles/drivers and more.

Traversa AVL brings all vehicles to one screen for the dispatcher to monitor them in real-time. Users can filter for a specific vehicle, date or time and follow the path of that vehicle. They can also assign geofences for alerts and much more.

TylerTech3

Traversa AVL allows users to view current and historical data related to the location, speed, and direction (N, E, S, W) of the entire fleet of GPS equipped vehicles.

To learn more about Traversa, follow this product overview video.

Tyler Drive

Tyler Drive is an innovative, mobile device designed for the school bus driver.  Mounted on the school bus console, Tyler Drive’s 4G service and cloud-based software closes the gaps in school bus transportation.  It stems the losses caused by outdated timekeeping software and substitute drivers navigating unfamiliar routes. Tyler Drive keeps school buses on course and generates the documentation for reporting and reimbursement.

Tyler6

Tyler Drive Dashboard presents drivers with a comprehensive view of everything they need for their shift.

Through integration with Tyler’s student transportation routing and planning solutions, Tyler Drive is able to provide the most comprehensive and reliable route navigation available. Tyler Drive navigation map highlights the planned route with detailed directions to the next stop. If a road is closed, Tyler Drive can redirect the bus to the planned stop. Driver is presented with turn-by-turn directions and a list of students to pick up or drop off as the bus approaches a stop. If the school bus goes off the planned route Tyler Drive re-routes through the shortest path to the next stop in sequence.

TylerTech5

Tyler Drive live navigation assist the bus driver in getting to all the planned stops, picking up students and dropping them off.

Versatrans Suite

Versatrans is a complete school transportation software suite designed to help school districts efficiently and cost-effectively manage day-to-day transportation needs, transporting students to and from their educational programs on time and on budget.

  • Routing & Planning is a multi-user transportation management system that can effectively handle multiple destinations within the District’s demographics.
  • Versatrans Onscreen® is a GPS fleet tracking solution.
  • Versatrans My Stop™ is a mobile application for parents, guardians and students to know exactly where their bus is and what time it will show up at their stop — all from a smartphone or similar mobile device.
  • Versatrans Fleetvision® is a maintenance software to manage district fleet. It can auto-generate work orders, track inventory and organize employee certifications.
  • Versatrans Triptracker® is web-based field trip software, automates otherwise cumbersome processes like driver selection and personnel approval.
  • Tyler Telematic GPS™ is a hardware solution for school buses providing a complete view of vehicle, driver and engine. Tyler Telematic GPS includes: software expandability, driver scorecard, accident reporting, engine data, real-time alerting and more.

Implementation Services

Tyler’s implementation services include training on software functionality and full map preparation, including entering all district schools with grades, other buildings, walk zones, safe zones, bus stops, bell times and more. Tyler gives many options to keep customer maps current, and when the product receives electronic updates from the original map source, functionality is not affected. Tyler’s maps have the ability to utilize GPS information, draw streets simply and accurately, modify street names, and adjust run times to factors like time of day and school bus speeds. The process is automated to provide both efficiency and safety.

Geotab GPS

Tyler has a long standing relationship with Geotab Inc.; the leader in telematic solutions for heavy-duty vehicles. Tyler has been an authorized reseller for the Geotab hardware since 2010 and its close partnership with Geotab over the years has led to Tyler having the distinction as the only partner to have integrated Geotab data within the K-12 marketplace.

Esri Gold Partner

Tyler is an Esri Gold Tier partner, which enabled Tyler to be an industry-leading provider of geospatial solutions and services. As a Gold Tier partner, Esri recognizes Tyler’s commitment to providing enhanced technical and sales support, collaborative engagement and a national and multinational focus. Multiple Tyler solutions use Esri technology, including suites in school transportation, appraisal and tax, planning, permitting and public safety. Tyler has been an Esri partner for more than a decade.  Tyler’s new K-12 transportation solution, Traversa, is based on Esri technology.

 To find more about Tyler Technologies and their office in Latham, New York, visit their website.

CONTACT

Ted Thien
Sr. Vice President and General Manager, Versatrans
Tyler Technologies, Inc.
23 British American Blvd
Latham, New York 12110
Phone: 800.433.5530 ext. 131840
Email: ted.thien@tylertech.com

Geospatial Business Spotlight: Mapillary

Company Name:                 Mapillary

Website:                              http://www.mapillary.com/

Established:                       2013

THE COMPANY

Mapillary is a new and different approach to Street View. Using computer vision, Mapillary stitches together photos taken with any device to create street-level imagery for extracting geospatial data. By empowering anyone anywhere to easily create street-level imagery, Mapillary aims to create a photo representation of the world. To date, Mapillary’s community has contributed 63 million photos spanning over 900,000 miles across all seven continents.

Mapillary was founded in 2013 by Jan Erik Solem, Johan Gyllenspetz, Yubin Kuang, and Peter Neubauer, who share a vision for putting mapmaking into the hands of people everywhere. Solem, who serves as CEO, previously founded Polar Rose, a facial recognition software that was bought by Apple in 2010.  The company is headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, and has fifteen full-time employees located around the world.   Mapillary’s New York office is based In Brooklyn, NY.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Mapillary allows community members to create and explore a crowd-sourced, street-level view of the world through its app, which is available for web, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Users can upload photos from their smartphones or other digital cameras and Mapillary then combines the images together geotagging each using GPS metadata. The resulting 3D reconstruction is created using computer vision and the company’s own open source “Structure from Motion” algorithm. Mapping isn’t limited to streets—the community has captured hiking trails, favorite bike routes, and even a stretch of Antarctica. Mapillary integrates with any mapping platform through simple APIs.

Street-level photos can be captured using Mapillary's iPhone app

Street-level photos can be captured using Mapillary’s iPhone app

In addition to creating photo-maps, Mapillary also utilizes computer vision techniques to extract useful data from uploaded images. For instance, the software can recognize symbols on street signs in photos taken in the U.S. or Europe. This capability grew out of the app’s need to blur faces and license plates for privacy purposes, and is now used by groups like city governments for urban planning, land surveys and asset inventory. Using Mapillary with Esri’s ArcGIS platform has helped cities streamline infrastructure updates, from speed limit changes to road surface quality checks.

Mapillary uses computer vision to automatically detect traffic signs and extract geospatial data

Mapillary uses computer vision to automatically detect traffic signs and extract geospatial data

Humanitarian organizations also use Mapillary to further their initiatives. In Haiti, the American Red Cross and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap partnered with Mapillary to help record previously unmapped areas to aid disaster response efforts. Mapillary has also been used by the World Bank and other groups in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to record infrastructure in flood-prone areas of the city to help plan improvements. The app is ideally suited for these sorts of tasks because it doesn’t require any special equipment beyond a basic smartphone.

Street level imagery is reconstructed by creating point clouds from photos.

Street level imagery is reconstructed by creating point clouds from photos.

Mapillary is free to use for individuals and for non-profit or educational purposes. For commercial solutions, ranging from embedding a photo-map into a webpage to extracting specific data from images, Mapillary has several pricing plans available.

Westchester County GIS is using the Mapillary app to inventory hiking trails in County parks

Westchester County GIS is using the Mapillary app to inventory  hiking trails in Westchester County parks

To find out more about Mapillary, visit their website.

CONTACT: 

hello@mapillary.com
Bredgatan 4, 211 30 Malmo, Sweden
www.mapillary.com

10 Questions: Dale Morris

Dale Morris is one of New York State’s most recognized and senior GIS statesmen.  With a distinguished civil service career spanning 38 years, he has contributed significantly to the NYS GIS community in many capacities to say the least of directing one of the most established GIS programs in the state at Erie County – and its far reaching influence in western New York.  Ten questions seemed like a slight to an individual with such a body of professional work, so the eSpatiallyNewYork editorial team gave him permission to push it to 15 questions. Or something like that.  Enjoy.

eSpatiallynewyork:  How long have you been with Erie County?

Morris:  I’ve been in the Department of Environment and Planning since 1981. Prior to this I worked as a Planner for the Town of Amherst, NY and before that the Erie and Niagara Counties Regional Planning Board. I graduated from Cornell University with a Master’s Degree in Regional Planning in 1977.

eSpatiallynewyork:  When did you start doing GIS work?

Morris:   Working initially as a Planner for Erie County presented  many opportunities for making and using maps. In the 1980s we were still using Mylar, zipatone, and Leroy Lettering Sets for making maps, which is tedious, time consuming, and not easy to change. I began to investigate the world of digital mapping, which was still in its beginnings as a desktop product. I started with the DOS version of MapInfo. I recall how amazed we all were that we could do something as simple as draw the County and municipal boundaries on-screen. Looking back on it now it all seems so rudimentary!  Regardless of how basic it was, my Division became known for our ability to make computer drawn maps. At that time there wasn’t much concern about the database behind the maps- it was enough to be able to draw and edit maps digitally rather than by hand.

As desktop mapping grew in popularity through the 1990s a number of County departments began independently looking into it. This usually resulted in them calling me to ask for advice or data. Of course, this also meant that everyone was using different systems, and at that time it made exchanging data between systems very difficult or impossible. It was a classic case of disjointed silos of data and applications.

A change in County administration in the late 1990s brought new management in our department, and I was challenged to prepare a white paper for moving the County further forward into the digital mapping world. I proposed creating a new County Division that would be empowered to centralize decisions relating to geospatial technology (by then we could use terms like “geospatial” without getting blank stares!). The Office of Geographic Information Services (OGIS) was born in 2001, and I have been the Director since then. So for me personally, my career started with both feet in the urban planning field, then a gradual shift to one foot in planning and one in digital mapping, and then finally both feet in GIS. I do very little “typical” planning anymore, even though OGIS is part of the Planning Division.

While OGIS is an Office within the Department of Environment and Planning, only a portion of our work is related to this department. We work very closely with our IT shop to maintain and operate the County’s GIS technology infrastructure, and with other departments and outside agencies who either use our enterprise GIS technology or who need direct assistance with their mapping needs.

eSpatiallynewyork:  What’s the relationship between your office and Niagara County?

Morris:  We have a formal Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) with Niagara County for GIS Services. The agreement is for a five year period and we are well into the second of these five-year agreements. Erie County hosts Niagara County’s geospatial data and provides on-line mapping services to Niagara County. The two counties are connected by a high-speed microwave link, which operates very well. In essence, Niagara County is simply like any other Erie County department that taps into the Erie County enterprise GIS network. In addition to providing Niagara County this service for a fee, the IMA provides a framework for backup of GIS data between the two counties, and as well defines a GIS “mutual aid” protocol for sharing of GIS resources and staff in the event of an emergency.
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Queensbury Geospatial: A Model for NYS Town Government GIS

Northbound New York State Northway Exit 20 leads to the Town of Queensbury which is the seat of Warren County.  With a 2010 population of 27,901 the town covers nearly 65-square miles including shoreline along Lake George and lands within the Adirondack Park.  Further into town, several of the usual NYS town government program offices are located at 742 Bay Road including staff and resources which support the town’s geographic information system (GIS).

GIS Background

Prior to 2002, Queensbury officials had worked with consultants to establish initial GIS capacity including the creation of ArcIMS applications and investing in multiple ESRI desktop licenses.  In 2002, the town’s GIS initiative changed significantly with the hiring of George Hilton.  Hired as a GIS Specialist and planner, George was brought onboard to build and advance the town’s  GIS program.

Prior to arriving in Queensbury, George had honed his GIS skills while a student at Central Connecticut State University and later in government positions  in the Denver and Kansas City areas as well as three years with Westchester County.  Now, 15-years after his arrival, George oversees a program which can be considered an exemplary NYS municipal government GIS program.

Current Queensbury Geospatial Products and Infrastructure        

George designs, codes and maintains the Town’s Interactive Mapper (Firefox and IE only) and a host of other ArcGIS.com map viewers including Fire and EMS, Planning and Zoning, and Phase II Stormwater Infrastructure.    He also supports emerging mobile mapping and data collection efforts which includes Trimble GPS units with Trimble Positions to collect data and update feature services and Geodatabases in the field.  The town also collects data (hydrant inspections, site inspections) with ArcGIS Collector using feature services and make maps available through ArcGIS Online.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

The Town of Queensbury Interactive Mapper includes many locally developed datasets as well as data from other authoritative sources including Warren County, NewYork State and the Adirondack Park Agency.

Other software components – much of which has been self-taught – George uses inlcludes Sybase (RPS) and SQL Server with ArcSDE as well as ArcGIS Server, ArcSDE, ArcGIS (Advanced), and Spatial Analyst.  The town is currently at ArcGIS Server 10.22 and are testing 10.4 with plans to upgrade very soon.  He also works with QGIS and Global Mapper from time to time.  Global Mapper has been particularly helpful in importing updated USGS topo quads (DRGs) in GeoPDF format into our GIS.

The Queensbury GIS program has grown from primarily providing support to the Planning Department to becoming a very important resource for many departments across town government.  Both the Town Board and Town Supervisor are very supportive of GIS and recognize how much of an important tool GIS has become to the Town.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

Parts of the Town of Queensbury is actually within the Adirondack Park and therefore subject to stringent land use regulations. This image highlights zoning districts on the southeastern shore of Lake George – within the park boundaries.

George maintains an excellent working relationship with Warren County GIS which is under the direction of Sara Frankenfeld where he obtains  parcel data.  The town creates town-wide datasets (zoning, subdivisions, hydrants, infrastructure, environmental, street centerlines, address points, etc) which are then shared back with the County. Referencing her ongoing GIS work with Queensbury, Sara explains:

“George is great to work with and especially in a rural environment where we don’t have any other full-time GIS staff within our respective local governments, it’s so helpful to have a colleague to bounce things off.  He’s a very good sounding board and when I’m considering starting a new project, I often call to get his thoughts.

 We’ve worked closely together on a number of projects.  We recently worked together to streamline the way e-911 addresses are assigned, and this has been a huge improvement to workflows in both of our offices, as well as in the Real Property office, the zoning/building inspectors departments, and the assessors’ offices

 Our current cooperative project is a NYS Archives LGRMIF grant funded project to make the SAM data, along with information about truss roofed structures (as required by a NYS law that went into effect 1/1/2015), and other relevant data such as hydrant locations, available to first responders via an Android/iOS app”.

George also works closely with several state agencies including the Adirondack Park Agency, NYS Parks and Historic Preservation, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, and NYS Information Technology Services (ITS).  Queensbury Town Supervisor John Strough adds:

“Like today’s computers, I do not know how we lived without him. His GIS services have helped us map the town’s infrastructure structures, trail systems, historic places and many other location details that we absolutely need to comply with the needs of today’s municipal world. I am in his office requesting his services almost as often as am in my budget officer’s office, that’s how important GIS services have become to the town.

Broad User Base

The town enjoys a wide user base including ESRI desktop clients in Planning, Water and Sewer, Assessor, and Parks departments though George is commonly called upon to assist in more detailed data creation, analysis, and cartographic products throughout town government.  He also provides training for users in many local, regional and statewide agencies including the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Champlain Watershed Improvement Coalition of New York, and the NY State Conservation District Association at their statewide conference in Auburn and Syracuse.

Additionally, George provides maps and data analysis for many community groups, nonprofits, schools, as well as for other municipalities and quasi-governmental agencies in the area.   Queensbury if one of the few municipalities in the area with a GIS program and is often asked to provide support throughout the area.

Creating More Queensbury GIS Programs

While George brought years of GIS experience to the town when accepting  the job, his ability to advance the town’s GIS program has certainly been augmented by ongoing political and administrative support.  Such combination of experience, competitive salary, technical skills and political support is often hard to replicate –   or even find for that matter –  in small town governments across the Empire State.

The Town of Queensbury GIS program speaks to the importance of educating elected officials in the benefits and  importance of investing – both financially and institutionally –  in the role of geospatial technologies in small town governance.  While the Queensbury GIS solution might be considered a typical for similar-sized communities across the state, it nonetheless can be a model for the GIS community to aspire to and replicate.

Visit the Town of Queensbury website at http://www.queensbury.net or George Hilton directly at GeorgeH@queensbury.net.

 

NYS Local Government GIS Common Core: Part 2

At the Fall 2015 NYGeoCon in Albany, I presented a paper focusing on specific GIS applications which provide a framework for establishing  and maintaining  GIS/geospatial programs in local  governments (villages, towns, cities, and counties) across  New York State.  I refer  to these applications areas as the Geospatial Common Core, many of which are integrated with local government office and administrative business systems.  Others are utilized in the support of regulatory reporting programs.    Together, the Geospatial Common Core contributes in helping build sustainable geospatial capacity for local governments.

GIS Common Core application areas in local government

GIS Common Core application areas in local government

Since NYGeoCon, I have used this initial presentation as a starting point to examine and discuss each of the Geospatial Common Core areas in further detail as part of individual blog posts.  In early December 2015   I submitted Part 1:  Infrastructure and Asset Management which focused on the growing and critical role local government GIS geospatial programs continue to serve in rehabilitating and maintaining the decaying statewide public infrastructure.  And it comes as no surprise that this December blog post was submitted and made available ahead of the numerous statewide signature infrastructure related projects  itemized in Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2016 budget. Alignment of statewide local government geospatial programs with the public works, surveying, and engineering communities is strategic and should not be underestimated.

Geospatial Common Core Part 2:  Work Orders, Permitting, and Inspections (WOPI)

With 1,607 general purpose local governments across New York State, the WOPI Geospatial Common Core component is ubiquitous as part of daily work flows at all levels of government.   Rarely a minute goes by across the state without some kind of government permit or work order being issued, an inspection taking place, licenses or violations being issued, or geographic data being collected in  related asset management systems.  These systems are uniquely integrated with the Geospatial Common Core components (infrastructure and assets) reviewed in the December post.  Nearly all WOPI programs are institutionalized and mandatory at the local level, funded through annual operating budgets,  and often aligned with local, county and state regulatory programs.   As such, WOPI systems provide an excellent area in helping justify and build GIS capacity.  (Just to get a sense of the magnitude of these programs, particularly in larger New York State municipalities, visit these links:   Buffalo including one 12-month period that included nearly 19,000 citizen-requested inspections;  Rochester, and Albany (Albany data from www.data.ny.gov)
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