Quick tutorial on Geocoding with Python

I recently found myself needing to get the latitude/longitude of a list of cities (for this map here) and it turns out, it’s pretty easy now that I know how to do it. Here’s a quick tutorial!

Ok, so the process of taking a city and assigning a latitude/longitude point is called geocoding. There are many services that offer this (e.g., Google or Bing Maps APIs) but most I looked at seemed overkill for a one-time task of assigning lat/lon to about 500 cities. But then I discovered OpenStreetMap’s Nominatim!  You can modify the http address to return results in an xml file. For example,  the following searches for Providence, RI:

https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/search.php?q=Providence+RI+USA&format=xml

 

And returns:

<searchresults timestamp="Thu, 02 Feb 17 16:17:00 +0000" attribution="Data © OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL 1.0. http://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright" querystring="Providence RI USA" polygon="false" exclude_place_ids="158799064,159481664" more_url="https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/search.php?format=xml&exclude_place_ids=158799064,159481664&accept-language=en-US,en;q=0.8&q=Providence+RI+USA">
<place place_id="158799064" osm_type="relation" osm_id="191210" place_rank="16" boundingbox="41.772414,41.861571,-71.4726669,-71.3736134" lat="41.8239891" lon="-71.4128342" display_name="Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, United States of America" class="place" type="city" importance="0.80724054252736" icon="https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/images/mapicons/poi_place_city.p.20.png"/>
<place place_id="159481664" osm_type="relation" osm_id="1840541" place_rank="12" boundingbox="41.7232498,42.0188529,-71.7992521,-71.3177699" lat="41.8677428" lon="-71.5814833" display_name="Providence County, Rhode Island, United States of America" class="boundary" type="administrative" importance="0.58173948152676" icon="https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/images/mapicons/poi_boundary_administrative.p.20.png"/>
</searchresults>

If you scroll to the right you’ll see:

lat="41.8239891" lon="-71.4128342"

It’s pretty easy to write a python script to request then parse the xml result for lat and lon.  Here’s what that might look like (BUT DON’T DO THIS):

import urllib2

city='Providence, RI'
city_search=city.replace(' ','').split(',') # removes whitespace, splits city/state

# build the http address:
# (results in a string: 'https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/search.php?q=Providence+RI+USA&format=xml')
osm='https://nominatim.openstreetmap.org/search.php?q=' 
fmt='+USA&polygon=1&format=xml'
srch = osm + city_search[0] + '+' + city_search[1] + fmt

# now use urllib2 to open the url and store the result:
response = urllib2.urlopen(srch)
the_page = response.read().split()

# and now we can parse the resulting string array where the xml info is stored.
# the it only stores the first Lon/Lat that it encounters

Lon = 0.0
Lat = 0.0
for iel in range(0,len(the_page)): # loop over the strings in the_page, look for Lat/Lon
    if 'lon=' in the_page[iel] and Lon == 0.0:
        Lon=float(the_page[iel].split("'")[1])
    if 'lat=' in the_page[iel] and Lat == 0.0:
        Lat=float(the_page[iel].split("'")[1])

So. Why not just loop over your list of cities and repeat this exercise? Well if you check out Nomanatim’s documentation page, and take a look at the usage policy, it requires: “(1) No heavy uses (an absolute maximum of 1 request per second). (2) Provide a valid HTTP Referer or User-Agent identifying the application (stock User-Agents as set by http libraries will not do). (3) Clearly display attribution as suitable for your medium. (4) Data is provided under the ODbL license which requires to share alike (although small extractions are likely to be covered by fair usage / fair dealing).” While I don’t think that my case of simply geocoding 500 or so cities falls under heavy usage and I could just delay my successive calls, I decided to look into their suggestions for other options.

In the end I settled on MapQuest’s implementation of Nominatim. It provides access to all the OpenStreetMaps data (still open source and subject to the OSM license agreements) and a MapQuest free developer account gets you 15,000 request/month for free. Waaay more than I’d need for this project.

So to geocode a list of cities, first sign up for a MapQuest Developer Account. You’ll get an API key assigned to you. Unlike some other API’s, MapQuest doesn’t use any fancy authentication. You basically just make a request for the URL with the API in the http address. Reaaaaally easy (but not exactly secure).

Then you can run a code very similar to that above. My implementation is here: look_up_latlons.py. But it’s kind of tied to the data that I was mapping.

Some notes on the code.

(1)  the API key is passed in through a command line argument, so when you run this code you have to type

$ python look_up_latlons.py AL1243KSFD242332552134KLJ

where that long string of letters/numbers is whatever your API key is.

(2) And then the formatting of the http address is slightly different from the standard Nominatim api. The same search for Providence RI  looks like:

 http://open.mapquestapi.com/nominatim/v1/search.php?key=API_KEY&format=xml&q=Providence+RI

where API_KEY is, again, your API key.

(3) In my implementation, I have imported a CSV file as a pandas dataframe (called Counts). Each row contains a city name along with the number of people who marched in the Women’s Marches on Jan. 21. The meat of the code is copied below, in which I iterate over the rows in the dataframe (named Counts here), find the lat/lon for each row (i.e., each city) and then store that lat/lon in a new dataframe (NewCounts) because it’s bad to modify an existing dataframe while iterating over it. Here’s what that looks like:

 osm='http://open.mapquestapi.com/nominatim/v1/search.php?key='+API_KEY+'&format=xml&q='

 # loop over cities in crowd counts, find Lat/Lon
 NewCounts=Counts.copy()
 NewCounts['lon']=np.zeros(len(Counts)) # add new column for lon
 NewCounts['lat']=np.zeros(len(Counts)) # add new column for lat
 for index, row in Counts.iterrows():

     srch=osm+str(row['City']).replace(' ','+')

     print '\n\nLooking up lat/lon for',row['City'],index
     time.sleep(dt) 
     response = urllib2.urlopen(srch)
     the_page = response.read().split()
 
     for iel in range(0,len(the_page)):
         if 'lon=' in the_page[iel] and NewCounts['lon'][index]==0.0:
            NewCounts['lon'][index]=float(the_page[iel].split("'")[1])
         if 'lat=' in the_page[iel] and NewCounts['lat'][index]==0.0:
            NewCounts['lat'][index]=float(the_page[iel].split("'")[1])

      print row['City'],NewCounts['lon'][index],NewCounts['lat'][index]

The MapQuest API didn’t have any specific usage constraints for how frequently you make a request, just overall number in a month, but I added a small delay between calls using the time.sleep() function anyway.

That’s all for now, hopefully some more posts with colorful plots coming soon!