I had the opportunity to speak with John Spragge at a recent BikeSpace work session. He has worked on the BikeSpace project as a Backend Database Developer since July 2017.
How did you get involved with BikeSpace?
I decided to go with BikeSpace when it was announced in July. The project attracted a number of programmers and I liked that it was a clean sheet. I’m also a passionate cyclist.
Describe your role?
When people report a bike parking issue, the information is recorded in a database that records many things including the nearest intersection and the nearest major intersection so the city planners can get a finer sense of the area they’re working with. I’m the person who put together the calls to the database to relate location information provided by the user to the nearest intersection and the nearest major intersection. I’m also the person who designed the database to save information as it comes in so that recording databases are essentially a design that I produced.
Describe a winning moment with BikeSpace?
The geolocation facilities information we were using was not exactly easy to work with at the beginning, particularly because very few of us are actually geolocation programmers. I had worked with Geographic Information Systems, but I had done so in the 1980s and the profession has progressed considerably since then. I haven’t kept up with the technology, so I had a chance to get back into it was good. I had a chance to learn to work with post SQL, geolocation facilities and that was a win for me personally.
For the project, it was a win to finally be able to find a geolocation system that worked and was reliable. We were hoping to go with postal codes, but for complicated reasons related to copyright and other things, a reliable and free postal code database does not exist. Once we determined that lookups through postal codes would not be particularly viable, we decided to look at other means of identifying locations and areas. One thing we came up with was the city’s own infrastructure database, which includes a database of intersections. Sonal Ranjit, [a BikeSpace developer] brought me up to date on Geographic Information Systems and we learned how to identify the nearest major intersection and from there how to locate the nearest intersection based on the city’s own database descriptions of the intersection types. From there, we did a little bit of winnowing and came up with a reliable, consistent means of putting the data into location categories. That was what I set out to do with this project and I’m very pleased that it was more or less a success.
What makes BikeSpace unique?
The level of collaboration with the community is impressive. Most of the people who are working on BikeSpace are involved at some level with cycling. BikeSpace was created, designed, developed, and is being rolled out with substantial involvement from the cycling community, which is unusual. Very often, it’s some brilliant software designer has an idea that they just know will be perfect for everybody or the government has an idea that will be good for you whether you like it or not and it’s handed to the public who either accepts it or rejects it. BikeSpace is different because it was developed from the beginning with substantial involvement from stakeholder organizations and grassroots cyclists themselves.
When you’re not working on BikeSpace, what can people find you doing?
I’m a computer programmer and have been since 1978. My passions include cycling, environmental justice issues, politics, and to a certain extent, art– twice, I have been an extra at the Canadian Opera Company.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.