WebCAT – ‘The greatest map-geek invention ever’

Developing WebCAT, TfL’s new webpage for planners, has been quite a unique project. On one hand, this is a tool designed for a very specific audience with a specific purpose. On the other hand, we knew that there would be some interest from a much wider user group.

WebCAT is an acronym for Web-based Connectivity Assessment Toolkit. One of TfL’s responsibilities is to ensure that transport connections are taken into account when new buildings are planned anywhere in London. The planning rules require that major developments concentrate in areas with good public transport.

Developers and town planners are used to working with some indicators of transport connectivity when deciding what to build where. TfL’s Planning directorate initiated WebCAT in order to give information on these indicators in an interactive, graphical way.

Mapping websites that look at transport services exist elsewhere, but WebCAT offers something new. WebCAT is not a journey planner, and does not try to give information on the best way to travel.

The information on WebCAT comes directly from TfL’s strategic forecasting tools, and it's been called the “greatest map-geek invention ever”
The information on WebCAT comes directly from TfL’s strategic forecasting tools, and it’s been called the “greatest map-geek invention ever”

Since it is used to help make long-term decisions, like the number of flats to build or parking spaces to provide, the information on WebCAT comes directly from TfL’s strategic forecasting tools, and is aligned with the information TfL uses to compare between transport investment options.

At the same time, the data formats we used when developing WebCAT allow queries to access a huge amount of information very quickly and present it in a user-friendly way. So although this wasn’t the primary objective, we know that WebCAT could be a great tool for Londoners to compare between places to live or work, or even just to play with those beautifully coloured maps that tell them new things about places they know. Check it out for yourself here.

A risk that exists when publishing information from our strategic forecasting tools is that non-professional users might not understand the limitations of these tools. We need to make some assumptions and simplifications to create those maps. But it was still important for us to allow access to WebCAT to everyone, and not only to professional planners.

For users who are less familiar with the methods used in WebCAT we created a new guidebook. We also have a series of publications that explain how our forecasting tools work.

Feedback we received since WebCAT went live suggests that we’ve struck the right balance between the needs of our primary audience and the interests of the general public, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The Diamond Geezer blog said WebCAT was “very clever”, and Citymetric summarised that “it is brilliant”. Business Insider said this is an “excellent mapping tool”.

Add to this some tweets by well-read journalists, who said WebCAT is “the greatest map-geek invention ever”, and you’ll understand how within days we were getting a lot of attention! WebCAT got a whole page in the London Timeout and it has already been used in contexts we would have never thought of – you really have to check this one out!

You’ve so far only seen version 1 of WebCAT. There are many plans for future additions to this service, so look out for them over the coming few months. If you have any comments, questions or requests, please email us at [email protected] or leave a comment below.


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