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KCGIS Center

We put geographic information systems to work for King County and beyond
King County GIS Center
King Street Center
201 S. Jackson St.
Suite 706
Seattle, WA 98104

47.59909 N
122.33136 W

47° 35' 56.72" N
122° 19' 52.90" W


KCGIS Center News

Maps that help transit riders get "there"
August 25, 2014

Metro Master Map sampleThe motto of King County Metro Transit is “We’ll Get You There.” Maps are all about where “There” is, and Metro uses maps extensively, both internally and for customer information, including places where riders may need them the most—in kiosks located at transit centers and bus stops throughout the Metro service area. But developing and maintaining kiosk maps for Metro, the nation’s 8th-largest public transit agency, is a complex endeavor. In 2012 Metro Transit enlisted the King County GIS Center to help in the effort, and specifically to rethink and redesign its system-wide kiosk map—to find ways to make it more readable and useful, as well as easier to update.

KCGIS Center Client Services staff worked closely with Metro Transit Marketing and Service Information staff to recreate the existing system map, and to establish a mapping maintenance process that applies service change information three times a year. Two key factors make the new map a truly “next-generation” product. The first is that the organizing principle of the new map design is categories of service based on frequency and time of day. The second is that the map was built from the ground up as a GIS-based product.

In the new map design, frequency of service is the basis for a prominent map symbol hierarchy which differentiates bus rapid transit service (red in the sample at right), other frequent service routes and corridors (black), and peak-only service (white), from the full network of all-day bus service (blue). This orientation towards how riders use the system beyond a mere identification of routes by number and destination has improved clarity for the complex system of transit options available in the Metro service area which also includes several modes of light and heavy rail that are displayed on the new map. Clarity has been enhanced further by dividing the service area into a set of logical sub-areas which can be displayed individually at a larger scale than the full system map. Each kiosk now displays one of five sub-area maps which is extracted from a master map, and which is chosen based on the particular geographic area and set of transit routes that is relevant to the kiosk location.

The legacy Metro Transit system map had incorporated some GIS-derived information, but it was essentially a graphic product. By rebuilding the system map as a GIS product, the efficiencies and spatial accuracies inherent in the systematic application of GIS data and methodologies could be leveraged to make ongoing map maintenance more efficient and to ensure that the map is geographically correct and precise. In addition, the map production and maintenance process was based on the KCGIS Center’s proven cartographic workflow, which combines the best of GIS and graphic arts tools and techniques. This has resulted in a new master system map that embodies a make-once, use-many-times principal, while preserving a high standard of graphic quality and sophistication. In the two years since the new system map was developed, it has directly spawned more than a dozen spinoff map products that focus on specific geographic areas, new service offerings, or additional transit features and themes.

Effective communication of complex transit systems is a familiar challenge for the KCGIS Center. The collaboration with Metro Transit marks our third successful major project for a transit agency. Previously, the KCGIS Center helped Community Transit of Snohomish County redesign and recreate their system of bus route maps using GIS data and spatially accurate base maps. We also teamed with Sound Transit to help them develop and create, and subsequently revise three times, their comprehensive “Regional Transit Map Book,” which displays local and region-wide service for multiple agencies. All of these products have been met with rave reviews and compliments from our clients as well as transit users.

KCGIS Center transit map products

Lidar Swipe map viewer unveiled
June 18, 2014

Lidar Swipe map viewer thumbnail imageThe King County GIS Center recently launched a public web-based application that combines GIS data in an especially revealing way. The new King County Lidar Swipe map viewer combines digital aerial photography collected in 2012, with a shaded-relief ground image derived from digital lidar data collected in 2001-2004 (with more recent data in some areas). With the Lidar Swipe map viewer users navigate to a portion of the county and ‘swipe’ a bar or spyglass on the computer screen to view either the aerial photography or the shaded-relief ground image for the selected area. Users can navigate by common pan and zoom, as well as address and landmark search functions. This application gives users a new GIS tool to better understand the topographic characteristics of any location within King County.

Aerial photography shows the earth at the time the images were taken. Combined with other GIS data, this provides a valuable visual tool to better understand the distribution of natural and built features on the surface of the earth. With aerial photography, however, trees, other vegetation, built structures, and their shadows can obscure the configuration of the earth’s surface itself. Lidar is an aerial scanning technology that can produce a detailed representation of the earth's surface. GPS-based airborne lidar sensors collect data from thousands of laser pulses per second to create a data point-cloud that can be analyzed and processed to depict the top of vegetation and buildings or just the bare surface of the earth.

King County GIS Center staff generated a digital ground model from its lidar data. The shaded-relief ground image was generated by mathematically throwing an artificial light upon the 3D bare-earth model from the upper left corner of the image. This standard topographic shaded-relief process creates the appearance of slopes, hills, valleys, and other bare-ground features. Combined with aerial photography, lidar-based shaded relief allows GIS-users to understand the natural and engineered configuration of the earth’s surface. The King County Lidar Swipe map viewer is a valuable addition to the County’s portfolio of publicly available online GIS tools and data. The King County GIS Center has an ongoing program of new GIS data development and collection, to keep pace with the ever-changing nature of the county. For more information and to use Lidar Swipe, see:  

King County GIS at the 2014 Washington GIS Conference
May 19, 2014

The King County GIS Center participated in force at the 2014 Washington GIS Conference in Tacoma on May 13th and 14th. We consider this a very valuable event to keep informed of the latest developments in GIS technology, services, applications, products, and innovations in Washington State. The theme this year was "Communicating Our World." Find out more about the event at the WAURISA web site: (external link).

King County GIS Center involvement included these events:

Tuesday, May 13

Senior Cartographer, Patrick Jankanish, participated as a discussion leader for a Cartography theme table during the Tuesday lunch break.

Mary Ullrich presented "Equity, Social Justice & the King County Way: Systematically Measuring Access to Community Resources."

Wednesday, May 14

Frank Whitman and Mike Leathers presented "No Longer Just Pass or Fail: Grading Spatial Metadata Improves Data Communication to Users."

Harkeerat Kang, King County GIS Center presented "Data Collection Using ArcGIS for Mobile."

Greg Babinski was a member of the panel that discussed "A Proposal for National GIS Data Sharing - What Does it Mean for Washington State?"

KCGIS Center booth

At our vendor booth, attendees were able to learn first-hand how to get discounts on King County GIS Center Training and also free consulting as part of our GIS Services Express™ program.

Map and Poster Contest

The Tahoma School District "Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas" was voted "Best Cartographic Design" by the conference attendees.

King County GIS Center helps youth ambassadors engage community
May 5, 2014

Tahoma Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas illustrationSustainability Ambassadors (external link) is a non-profit organization that empowers youth to catalyze community sustainability. Founded in 2012 by long-time educator and strategic storyteller, Peter Donaldson, Sustainability Ambassadors is an innovative youth leadership program training exceptionally self-motivated young people (ages 13-21) as skilled ambassadors capable of tracking and communicating improvements in sustainable community conditions across generations and community sectors.

With funding from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board for a “Stormwater Pollution Solutions” student service-learning grant, Peter approached the King County GIS Center with the idea for a sustainability-themed atlas comprising multiple stormwater indicator maps for the Tahoma School District in suburban King County – a “Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas.”

The Atlas would serve as a community outreach tool to show students and the broader community the environmental conditions of their neighborhoods. The Atlas would also highlight unique projects to restore and enhance the environment at the district’s own school sites, such as pervious pavement installation and rainwater harvesting.

Local student Sustainability Ambassadors are now working with the school district, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club and the City of Maple Valley to distribute the “Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas” in appropriate classrooms throughout the district, in the public library, and for casual viewing in doctor and dentist waiting rooms and in the lobbies of other public spaces from coffee shops to City Hall. The school district benefits by using the Atlas to teach about stormwater pollution solutions through geography. The city benefits by using the Atlas as a tool for educating property owners in neighborhoods related to each school campus about best management practices for reducing polluted runoff on site. This helps the city meet their NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Stormwater Permit obligations for public education and outreach.

The process of engaging the community and producing the Tahoma School District “Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas” was designed from the beginning to be replicable for additional school districts and community groups throughout the Puget Sound region. As the Sustainability Ambassadors program engages with more communities, the intention is to create additional atlases that are similar in nature to the Tahoma Atlas, but are customized to each community’s unique geography and environment. The King County GIS Center’s process is designed to accommodate additional community groups as they partner with Sustainability Ambassadors.

The King County GIS Center’s unique cartographic and design capabilities, and its direct access to King County’s extensive GIS data resources, were invaluable to this project. The KCGIS Center is known for its ability to produce high-quality cartographic products. While GIS software can be used to generate maps, the KCGIS Center has developed processes to employ GIS data, GIS and graphic arts tools, and decades of design experience to create exceptional maps. Sustainability Ambassadors desired an end product that would be not just utilitarian but also beautiful and could thus inspire the community as they embarked on environmental restoration projects. The KCGIS Center’s special talents were essential in this regard, as was the hands-on design collaboration that occurred between the KCGIS Center, Mr. Donaldson and the Sustainability Ambassadors student team.

The “Stormwater Neighborhood Atlas,” both intrinsically and as an example of a collaborative effort, demonstrates the KCGIS Center’s ability to successfully partner with community groups to create beautiful and unique products with an eye toward the future.

View the digital Atlas here (external link):