Mapping for Free

While mucking around with my GPS, I immediately thought about providing my own map capability. The question immediately arose: where can I get street level map data which can be freely used? It turns out that the US Census Bureau maintains such data for the United States and various US territories. You can order the complete set on CDROM for $450, or you could just download them from the Census Bureau or perhaps from a simpler download.

Of course, once you have this data, you need to figure out how to use it. If you’d like, you can pour through the 300+ pages of technical documentation, or you could just try to find some sample code that
reads and transforms them. I lucked out and found this page of programs written in the Icon programming language. Using them, I quickly produced the map shown on the right which is centered around the location of Pixar’s campus in Emeryville, CA.

I’ll probably work on translating parts of this into python and merging it with my
other GPS programming efforts. Stay tuned!