By Darren Lum
March 14 2017
Everybody living in the Highlands has heard about the wayward visitor relying on GPS and finding himself dumbfounded after being directed to the mouth of a lake or to a snowmobile trail instead of his friend’s residence. It’s a funny story for locals and seasonal residents but leaves users unfamiliar with our hundreds of unrecognized lanes and roads helpless.
With the Haliburton County planning department’s latest effort that anecdote may be a distant memory for those who use the newly created GIS (Geographic Information System) community interactive Haliburton County map available through the county website (haliburtoncounty.ca) with cellphones tablets or computers.
When put to use by a reporter the search function had the tendency to direct traffic from Haliburton to Minden down County Road 1 and Kashagawigamog Lake Road rather than County Road 21. When the county’s director of planning Charlsey White was asked about this she explained the directions were based on starting point. If the starting point is west of the bridge on County Road 21 the map will keep travellers on that road.
“It appears to be a purely geographical based on the directions program and where in the Village of Haliburton you are using. Both County Road 21 and County Road 18 are given the same priority for travel in the program as they are both county roads. Directions are routed through provincial highways first then county roads then municipal roads and lastly private roads” she wrote in an email.
Like Google maps you can change the course after it provides you with directions. The community map does something that Google and other popular applications doesn’t. It gives directions to virtually anywhere in the county recognizing every sideroad.
White said they used the information they had to ensure the map would direct people accurately.
“We basically linked it to all of our 911 data that we had from our roads departments. That’s not just county roads and municipal but all private roads too. So if you’re a B&B and if you’re off on some lake on the back roads now somebody can get there” she said.
The idea came from research prompted by county council who asked White to look into why map applications didn’t include all local roads.
“I actually contacted all those companies. ‘Hey we’ve got this data and we’re willing to give it to you. Just load it into your system.’ And they said ‘Well you don’t have enough users. We’re not going to even bother’ … what use is that right?”
With tourists realtors and business owners in mind White said the county added tools to allow people to get directions and to find attractions and property lots when the entire GIS system was updated.
At the top of the website for the community map there are three tabs: layers tools and search.
The website allows you to search for specifics such as “golf” which will bring up all of the golf courses in the county. However not all search terms work at this time with categories such as “art” “arena” or “hockey” returning no results.
The work for this map started at the end of August and took six months to complete. It was launched close to the end of February.
A little older than the community map the road closure map gives real time information on all the places where traffic will be affected. It took close to two months. This map is also available at the county website and like the community map the same devices can access it. Click on a marker and get details such as when the closure began and when the road will re-open.
The public and anyone using the road closure map can access details about closure locations with real time updates. Road supervisors who have the authority to close a road have the ability to input new closures or update information in the field with their mobile devices.
The county is welcoming feedback from the public and its staff to improve the functionality on both maps. Much of the feedback has been positive so far White said.
One of the challenges that faced the planning department was ensuring there wasn’t too much information accompanying road closures marked on the map. A limited number of categories were set for closures so the “catch-all” category is construction.
The GIS had a challenge in connecting it to the Ontario road system because they classify roads differently than the county.
“Right now it’s only county centric. We’re really close to making those connections. It’s a data connection issue basically” she said.
The main sticking point is compatibility.
White said mobile connectivity is not consistent in the county so using the GIS map will require some foresight. She recommends drivers venturing into areas without cell coverage print off the directions for the trip.
“Once we have better cell coverage you'll be able to go anywhere” she said. “It works on your tablet. It works on your cellphone. It works on your laptop.”