A One-Man Mission to Map Brussels, Belgium

Stéphane De Greef, an environmental engineer and open mapping enthusiast, recently completed a project where he mapped all the streets of Brussels, Belgium using only his bicycle, cell phone, and a 360° GoPro camera over the course of a year and a half.
Navjyot Sandhu
Said Turksever
28 July 2023

Introduction & Background

Recently, the Mapillary team had the opportunity to speak with Stéphane De Greef, an environmental engineer by profession and open mapping contributor on the side. Stéphane was first exposed to the open mapping community when his work brought him abroad to locations such as Cambodia and Panama, where he found that the jungles he was working in weren’t well mapped. This forced him to seek open data solutions for improving maps in these regions, leading him to OpenStreetMap (OSM) and making edits in those areas to aid others.

Fast forward to 2021 and Stéphane found himself living in Belgium, where he noticed that the forest south of Brussels was not well-mapped and that the city itself only had outdated or incomplete street-level imagery available. Before long, Stéphane found himself mapping these areas using his bicycle and 360° camera, gradually covering more and more of the city. Over the course of the last year and a half, Stéphane completed the monumental task of mapping the streets of Brussels entirely by himself, capturing over 600,000 images across 4500 km of road networks. You can view Stéphane’s images directly on Mapillary.

Planning the Project

Mapping the entirety of Brussels is not something Stéphane just decided to do one day – it was an organic, gradual process. He started off by mapping the forests south of Brussels, which was straightforward due to the limited number of paths available to traverse. He then began capturing imagery within the city, starting off with a few neighborhoods and smaller streets close by. Once he completed those, he moved on to other adjacent neighborhoods, and the project grew from there. Once Stéphane realized that the scope of the project was expanding, he knew it would be more efficient to go on longer bike rides, so he took a look at more rigorously planning his capture. To do so, he utilized Komoot, a mobile and web app that allows users to create itineraries for hiking and cycling trips.

A side by side of Mapillary (left) and Komoot (right), showing uploaded imagery and route planning, respectively.

In this screenshot, Stéphane has enabled the OpenStreetMap basemap in both Mapillary and Komoot and opened them side-by-side to get a better feel for the routes he was planning and to see where he had already captured imagery.

Why Mapillary?

Initially, Stéphane sought to add his images to Google StreetView, but he found he was unable to reach an agreement with Google for him to be able to do so; as a result, he turned to open data solutions for getting his imagery to be more widely available. The OpenStreetMap Belgium community pointed Stéphane to Mapillary, where he could host the images for free and, more importantly, have them be accessible to anyone viewing the site or mobile app. Ultimately, the project was as much for Stéphane as it was for the broader mapping community – Stéphane was well aware that one of the groups that would get the most direct use out of the images was the OpenStreetMap community, who could use the images to make edits to OSM and improve open map data of the world.

Another key reason for using Mapillary was the ease of uploading, as explained in the following section.

Capture & Workflow

Equipped with just his bicycle, GoPro Max, and smartphone for navigation, Stéphane set out to capture the streets of Brussels.

In order to capture street-level imagery from his bike, Stéphane used a GoPro Max, attached to his bike helmet with a simple mount and some zip ties for added security. He then used a bike mount to attach his phone to his bicycle handlebars for navigating his pre-planned routes via the Komoot app.

Once he completed a capturing session, Stéphane transferred all the images to his hard drive and dropped them into the Mapillary Desktop Uploader. In order to ensure complete coverage, Stéphane would wait until imagery in one part of Brussels would be fully processed and displayed before returning to the area for any missed side streets. Throughout the entire process, he kept in close contact with OSM Belgium to keep them up-to-date on his capture activities and to maximize usefulness of his imagery.

Closing Thoughts

We asked Stéphane for any advice he’d give others looking to capture the streets of their city, and he offered a few key pieces of advice:

  • Get in touch with your local OSM community, as they’re a big group of users who would benefit from the imagery
  • Check what’s been done already so that you can avoid duplicate work
  • Try to coordinate with other mappers in your area
  • Plan ahead! Good planning means less work for yourself

Ultimately, we’d like to leave you with a quote from Stéphane himself regarding the ethos of the project:

“Google StreetView is great… but you’re looking at the city through the eyes of a car driver. There’s nothing about parks, there’s nothing about green spaces, there’s nothing about these streets that are not accessible by car. All [these] cool places are not on Google StreetView, that’s the thing. I wanted to show Brussels seen as a cyclist and seen as a pedestrian, so you get all these cool places – the most beautiful places and the most open places are the ones [that] cars can’t access anymore, and that’s what I wanted to show.”

If you’re thinking about capturing imagery in your city and need help getting started, we encourage you to check out our introductory blog post and to reach out to us at the Mapillary forums or at support@mapillary.zendesk.com. Also, consider applying for the Mapillary Camera Grant Program, where US residents can submit an application to receive a free 360° camera. Happy mapping! :)

/Nav & Said