Then and now
There were three main reasons the venerable old campus map needed to be replaced. First, it was based on Adobe’s Flash, which meant it didn’t work on mobile browsers and left smartphone users reliant on outside alternatives, such as Google Maps. The University needed a solution tailored to the campus that was based on trusted and familiar data sources.
Second, the old map was inaccessible and did not comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Creating an accessible campus map simply wasn’t possible with the technology the old map was based on.
Third, the old map was no longer meeting the needs of many groups from across campus. After meeting with these groups to learn how the map could be improved to better meet their unique needs, the Faculty of Environment’s Mapping, Analysis, and Design (MAD) team, and Information Systems & Technology’s (IST’s) Web Development & Support group began a collaborative effort to build a map that would resolve these main issues, and improve the overall user experience for all site visitors. The partnership was a natural fit given MAD’s expertise in all things mapping, IST’s skills in web development, and a common love of data.
The building locations and most of the Points of Interest used in the map are (or will soon be) available from the University’s Open Data API. Open data from the Region of Waterloo and GO Transit was also leveraged, and the data used for the underlying basemaps is from OpenStreetMap.
Building the application using open data has served not only to improve the University’s open data catalogue, but it will also improve the quality of data on OpenStreetMap and bring attention to their community mapping effort.
In addition to the data being open, the map was built with open source geographic information system (GIS) tools (Leaflet, Mapnik, PostGIS). Because it leverages a variety of geospatial software tools and open data, this map will serve as a valuable teaching tool and inspiration for students taking geospatial courses in the Faculty of Environment.
This first version of the new map provides the same information that was available on the old campus map, with added functionality from the UW Open Data API. For example, Food Services locations now report whether they are currently open or closed:
Visitor Parking lots N, X, W, and C report how many available spaces are available thanks to the WatPark project:
GRT stops provide the EasyGO stop number:
And, a high contrast version of the basemap is also available for users who have low vision or colour blindness:
This mode is also useful when dealing with the sun’s glare in the great outdoors.
During the beta process, feedback was solicited and incorporated into the application you see now. The most popular requests received included modifying the scale at which building labels became visible, making the sidebar menu open by default on non-mobile devices (many people didn’t even know it was there when the beta version was launched), and adding lot names to parking lot markers.
Many other suggestions are on the list, to be implemented in future versions, including routing between locations (a feature already integrated with the map used in the Student Portal), a more comprehensive search, and a new print map that aligns with the web map.
This project stands as a testament to what can happen when institutions open their data for others to build on. It also shows how groups on campus can collaborate on a project while leveraging their respective strengths.