Saturday 24 May 2014

LyricMap: Where the Streets Have No Name

Inspired by the nonsense mapping of The Proclaimers 500 miles that I re-mapped, I was pondering a few other geographical lyrics and how they might be mapped. I'm going to call them LyricMaps ™ and there's a lot of them. First up -let's give U2's Where the Streets Have No Name a whirl and see what we come up with.

First, start with a nice healthy dataset of all streets in the contiguous USA and use some Geographical Information Systems savvy to process it. I'm fortunate to have access to the 2012 version of the Tom Tom data for North America which contains over 15 million street segments.

Second, apply a few of query analyses to extract any street segment without a name, discounting outliers like connectors, ramps, slip roads and such like. The result: a LyricMap of 3.5 million streets with no name, the beauty of which is that I don't need to worry about labelling because, well...there aren't any!

Finally, map each road segment with a huge dose of transparency so at the final scale the map shows areas that contain relatively few streets with no name as dark as the background. Where there are numerous streets with no name, the overlapping transparent symbols create a much lighter effect.

The map deserved to be styled as an homage to U2's classic 1987 The Joshua Tree which contains the track.

The overall pattern suggests that it's streets in rural areas that have no name. Pretty much all the major cities appear dark indicating a low number of streets with no name. This makes sense...the dataset contains every road in the U.S. and many of them would be dirt tracks. Despite there being over 3 million separate segments on this map there isn't much sense looking at the detail for a particular city...there are so few it makes the map sparse as the following larger scale map of California illustrates.

That said, if you want a giant 36 inch version at 300dpi then you can download one here. It's 12Mb.

Of course, there's more work that could be done to eliminate more categories of roads but hey - this is just a bit of fun. I've got plenty more geographically inspired LyricMaps planned so stay tuned!

Acknowledgments: Tom Tom data used and published under licence using Esri technology.


  1. And sometimes names streets have no name:

    No Way:

    No Name:

  2. Way cool. The largest black area is Maine where there aren't any streets to have no name.

  3. Here's a GLOBAL map of where the streets in OpenStreetMap have no name. OpenStreetMap data in North America was imported from TIGER data, which was pretty inaccurate, but reasonably accurate with regards names (or lack of names) so the results there are probably fairly similar (what d'you think?)

    Elsewhere in the world we see the same pattern of rural areas having unnamed streets. There's also pockets of data where the OpenStreetMap community have traced in whole cities from aerial imagery, but there's no active local on-the-ground community adding those names into the database yet.

    We see this in India and Africa. This is a shame, but obviously it's difficult to build up a community of hi-tech mapping folks in some of these places. In those countries many streets genuinely don't have names, but OpenStreetMap can be good place to capture informal locally used names. I was recently involved in mapping the city of Lubumbashi in the Congo. We got locals involved specifically in capturing street names, using an interesting new three-phased paper-based approach. So there, at least, are a few fewer streets with no name.

  4. While interesting at first glance what i take from this is nothing but a TomTom (navteq or teleatlas) data quality issue. We have dirt paths to oil rigs mapped as roads as well as alleys or driveways. There are also tons of roads that are represented which do actually have names but the data owner is too lazy or too inept to populate the attribute table. I am shocked that TomTom (navteq or teleatlas) allowed this out. This is the same data that they charge $150,000 to license!