Another Quick Google Maps Mashup

Recently an organization called the Land Use and Environmental Services Agency (LUESA) approached us about making a quick application for a festival they were having. Basically they wanted to give their staff the ability to key in their address and find the nearest transit locations – bus stops, park and rides, and light rail stops. LUESA is very proactive in promoting all things green, and encouraging public transit for their staff fits right in.

Our LUESA contact indicated the local transit system’s web site had no such functionality, and, after visiting their web site, I was surprised to find this an accurate assessment of the facts. So I’d have to make something, and since the festival was coming quickly, I had to move fast.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem. Everything I needed I already had or could easily get:

  • Transit data (already had it)
  • Web services for a distance search (already had it)
  • Map interface with geocoding and routing (Google Maps already has it)
  • A decent layout (grabbed one from Open Source Web Design, a site I use a lot)

Add in a little jQuery to help throw everything together, and I was able to do the whole thing in about 4 hours – 3 to do the site with no styling, and then once the customer gave the thumbs up, 1 hour to wedge it into a OSWD template. The festival is long past, but I still have the site up, which you can see here:

http://maps.co.mecklenburg.nc.us/stopfinder/

It’s not the cleanest code in the world, but it works, and it was a big hit at the festival.

Lately I’ve been feeling less like an application developer and more like an application designer. I still write some low level code, but more and more I’m writing code to stitch things together rather than to do things by themselves. I have web services handing for geoprocessing and mapping, public API’s for things like mapping and geocoding and routing, Javascript libraries to handle AJAX requests and page animations – I feel less like a violinist and more like a conductor. And it’s fantastic. A site like this could have easily taken 10x the development time just a few years ago, and the result likely would have been slower, less stable, and the code less reusable.  Now it’s almost trivial.

We did contact the local transit agency to see if this would be something they’re interested in or if we could help them improve their existing site, but to their credit they had already recognized the shortcomings in their current system and have a replacement in the works.