Expanding Access to Public Street-Level Imagery in the US

A growing number of cities and transporation departments are using Mapillary to create open street-level imagery datasets. In this post, we walk through their motivations and the publicly available map data that is created by their contributions.
Chad Blevins
08 Jul 2024

Limited Access to Street-level Imagery

Many city and state governments in the US regularly capture street-level imagery for various municipal projects. Not many governments are aware of Mapillary and the services it provides at no cost. Washington DC, Connecticut DOT, and the city of Clovis, NM are leveraging Mapillary to support public works projects, conduct asset inventories, and to study and design safer roadways.

Note: Mapillary is developed and maintained by Meta. We make it available for free because we believe the best maps are made collaboratively in the open. Anyone can use Mapillary.

Please refer to our Terms of Use for details.

Street-level imagery is an important asset to transportation officials who use it to plan, build, and maintain operational and safe roadways. Often, street-level imagery is captured for a specific purpose, such as roadway assessments, infrastructure projects, or asset inventories; however, the benefits of fresh street-level imagery extend beyond their primary purpose. For example, emergency personnel use it to familiarize themselves with areas before responding, utility workers view problem areas in advance of heading to the field, planning officials can make more informed decisions, researchers study transportation infrastructure, and the list goes on.

Street-level imagery is a tremendous resource that would benefit by being more openly available. Most state and county governments host a number of geospatial datasets through open data portals, however street-level imagery is typically not included. Here are a few reasons why this data is kept behind closed doors.

  • Proprietary Software and Licensing: Third party vendors who capture street-level imagery on behalf of government organizations have high licensing costs making it prohibitively expensive to share data with other departments. In some cases, strict licensing excludes access by the general public, despite tax revenue funding many of these initiatives.
  • Lack of Integration: Traditional GIS software has focused on creating tools and services for viewing aerial and satellite data, with limited options, if any, for hosting and viewing images captured from the street. In addition, data size and storage requirements for high quality street images make it difficult to use with desktop software.
  • Intended Purpose: Imagery is typically captured to fulfill one or two specific needs, and sharing imagery is not a priority. For example, a state’s Department of Transportation (DoT) may capture street-level imagery with the intention of assessing the quality of their roads, however that same imagery can be repurposed by emergency responders, delivery services, researchers, or the general public for a number of community led projects.

Leaf Collection Campaign | Washington D.C. | credit: dcsweep_cadell

Illustrating these challenges allows us to see the benefits of Mapillary, offering a no-cost solution that addresses these issues while adding additional value with a suite of tools designed to make image hosting, capture, and feature extraction a simple, yet powerful process. Here are a few benefits you get when using Mapillary.

  • Image Storage and Hosting: When capturing high resolution images along a roadway, storage requirements quickly add up. Mapillary offers unlimited storage and makes imagery publicly available through an easy to use application. This means any organization, public or private, can store and host their archive of street-level imagery at no cost whatsoever.
  • Feature Extraction: Mapillary has an extensive feature extraction process that identifies and extracts over 1,500 different types of roadway signs along with dozens of other features found along roadways. These features can be extracted as a GIS file with the push of a button, and can quickly integrate into a number of map editing tools.
  • Versatility: Meta offers a Mapillary plugin for ArcGIS Pro that provides access to the entire image archive. Additionally, through the Oriented Imagery widget, users can easily integrate imagery into maps, set filters such as capture date or username, and leverage feature extraction capabilities in their desktop GIS.
  • Compatibility: Every image on Mapillary falls under an open data license (CC-BY-SA), which means that anyone who uploads an image to the platform retains full rights to that image, while still allowing others to view and distribute them with proper attribution. This open data license allows platforms such as OpenStreetMap to improve maps in ways that are not possible with satellite imagery.

Traffic Sign Inventory | Clovis, New Mexico

Mapillary can be updated by anyone, anytime, using a variety of cameras. Mobile applications for Android and iOS allow you to use your cellphone camera, consumer grade action cameras are durable and capture high quality images, and commercial 360° cameras offer the highest pixel count and most accurate feature extraction outputs.

If you would like to leverage the power of Mapillary in your day to day work the first thing you should do is download the app (iOS & Android) or visit Mapillary.com. You can begin exploring imagery immediately. You need to create an account to upload images, use the API, and download data. Our Help Pages should answer most of your questions, but if you’d like more information about your specific use case, message us at support@mapillary.zendesk.com.

Mapillary Case Studies

Here are a few examples of governmental organizations across the US who have been utilizing Mapillary over the past few years.

  • Washington DC: Department of Public Works: Every autumn, Washington DC’s DPW runs a leaf collection program, where the city cleans up fallen leaves in order to keep street gutters clear and ensure safe road conditions. To help track their progress and verify the completeness of leaf collections, the DPW uses Mapillary's smartphone app and high-quality 360º cameras to capture and upload images of DC’s streets each year. This imagery is being used by DPW and other government organizations through the ArcPro plugin. As a bonus local OSM editors have compiled hundreds of changesets, citing Mapillary imagery as the source.
  • Connecticut DOT: CTDOT began using Mapillary to assist with field data collection. Mapillary’s location-based imagery was used to develop a complete inventory of street signs and road networks for the state. Using the Mapillary API, Connecticut DoT was able to develop a road safety analysis tool with the University of Connecticut to aid the Department with network screening, diagnosis, countermeasure selection, and other aspects of data-driven safety analysis.
  • Clovis, New Mexico: Steven Hewett served as the sole member of the GIS department for the 39,000-person town. Using Mapillary, he was able to complete a traffic sign inventory for the city for far less than outsourcing image collection through a vendor. Instead, the city leveraged Mapillary’s free image hosting and feature extraction to maintain their asset inventory for use in desktop GIS software.

Roadway Safety Study | credit: ctroadway360