Territorial Turf

Fig 1 – Territories from Census Zip Code Tabulation Areas (ZCTAs) on Bing Maps

An interesting GIS development over the years has been the evolution from monolithic applications to multiple open source plug and play tools. Considering GIS as a three tier system with back end storage, a controller in the middle, and a UI display out front, more and more of the middle tier is migrating to either end.

SQL DBs, such as SQL Server, Oracle Spatial, and especially PostGIS, now implement a multitude of GIS functions originally considered middle tier domain. On the other end, the good folks at turf.js and proj4js continue to push atomic GIS functions out to javascript, where they can fit into the client side UI. The middle tier is getting thinner and thinner as time goes on. Generally the middle is what costs money, so rolling your own middle with less work is a good thing. As a desirable side effect, instead of kitchen sink GIS, very specific user tools can be cobbled together as needed.

Looking for an excuse to experiment with turf.js, I decided to create a Territory Builder utilizing turf.js on the client and some of the US Census Bureau Services on the backend.

US Census Bureau does expose some “useful” services at TigerWeb. I tend to agree with Brian Timoney that .gov should stick to generating data exposed in useful ways. Apps and presentation are fast evolving targets and historically .gov can’t really hope to keep up. Although you can use the census custom TigerWeb applications for some needs, there are many other occasions when you would like to build something less generic. For example a Territory builder over Bing Maps.

Here is the simplified POC work flow:

1. Use Census WMS GetMap to show polygons on a canvas over Bing Maps.
2. Use Census WMS GetFeatureInfo to return a GeoID of selected polygon(s).
3. Use Census REST service and GeoID to return selected polygon vertices.
4. Use Turf.js merge function to merge selected polygons into a single Territory polygon
5. Display territory polygon using Bing Maps Ajax v7 Microsoft.Maps.AdvancedShapes polygon

Fig 2 – Territory polygon with a demographic overlay on top of Bing Maps

Note: Because there doesn’t appear to be an efficient way to join demographic data to geography with current TigerWeb service APIs, the demographic tab of this app uses a custom WMS PostGIS backend, hooking SF1 to TIGER polygons.

1. Census WMS GetMap over Bing Maps

WMS GetMap requests simply return an image. In order to overlay the image on a Bing Map this Territory app uses an html5 canvas and context app.context.drawImage(imageObj, 0, 0); The trick is to stack the canvas in between the Bing Map and the Bing Map navigation, scale, and selector tools. TigerWeb WMS conveniently exposes epsg:3857 which correctly aligns with Bing Map tiles.

    function showCensus() {
        if (app.canvas == null) {
            app.canvas = document.createElement('canvas');
            app.canvas.id = 'censuscanvas';
            app.canvas.style.position = 'relative';
            var mapDiv = app.map.getRootElement();
            //position this canvas under Bing navigation and over map tiles
            mapDiv.insertBefore(app.canvas, mapDiv.childNodes[3]);
            app.context = app.canvas.getContext("2d");
        //match canvas size to map size
        app.canvas.height = app.map.getHeight();
        app.canvas.width = app.map.getWidth();

        var imageObj = new Image();
        //image onload function draws image on context
        imageObj.onload = function () {
            app.canvas.style.opacity = app.alpha / 100;
            app.context.drawImage(imageObj, 0, 0);
        //prepare a TigerWeb WMS GetMap request
        //use proj4.js to transform ll to mercator bbox
        var b = app.map.getBounds();
        var epsg3857 = "+proj=merc +a=6378137 +b=6378137 +lat_ts=0.0 +lon_0=0.0 +x_0=0.0 +y_0=0 +k=1.0 +units=m +nadgrids=@null +wktext  +no_defs";
        var sw = proj4(epsg3857).forward([b.getWest(), b.getSouth()]);
        var ne = proj4(epsg3857).forward([b.getEast(), b.getNorth()]);
        bbox = sw[0] + "," + sw[1] + "," + ne[0] + "," + ne[1];

        var url = "";
        if (tab == "Territory") {
            app.alpha = 100;
            // GetMap request
            url = "http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/services/TIGERweb/tigerWMS_Current/MapServer/WmsServer?REQUEST=GetMap&SERVICE=WMS&VERSION=1.3.0&LAYERS=" + app.censusPolygonType + "&STYLES=&FORMAT=image/png&BGCOLOR=0xFFFFFF&TRANSPARENT=TRUE&CRS=EPSG:3857&BBOX=" + bbox + "&WIDTH=" + app.canvas.width + "&HEIGHT=" + app.canvas.height;
        imageObj.src = url;

2. Census WMS GetFeatureInfo for obtaining GeoID

Unfortunately the WMS GetMap request has no IDs available for polygons, even if requested format is image/svg+xml. SVG is an xml format and could easily contain associated GeoID values for joining with other data resources, but this is contrary to the spirit of OGC WMS service specs. Naturally we must obey OGC Law, which is too bad. Adding a GeoID attribute would allow options such as choropleth fills directly on existing svg paths. For example adding id = “80132″ would allow fill colors by zipcode with a bit of javascript.

http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/services/TIGERweb/tigerWMS_Current/MapServer/WmsServer?REQUEST=GetMap&SERVICE=WMS&VERSION=1.3.0 &LAYERS=2010 Census ZIP Code Tabulation Areas&STYLES=&FORMAT=image/svg+xml&BGCOLOR=0xFFFFFF&TRANSPARENT=TRUE&CRS=EPSG:3857 &BBOX=-11679625.942909468,4709198.547476525,-11645573.246808422,4737900.651597611&WIDTH=891&HEIGHT=751

<g transform="matrix(1.3333333 0 0 -1.3333333 445.5 375.5)">
<path id="80132" d="M300.50809 -258.78592 L302.54407 -257.91829 L303.17977 -257.55608 L304.45554 -256.98889
L280.30116 -268.55133 L280.7184 -268.34637 L298.33448 -259.95117 L300.50809 -258.78592 "
  stroke="#99454A" fill="none" stroke-opacity="1" stroke-width="1.5"
 stroke-linecap="round" stroke-linejoin="round" stroke-miterlimit="10" />

Instead TigerWeb WMS exposes GetFeatureInfo requests. Using a click event we calculate a lat,lon location and send a GetFeatureInfo request to find a GeoID for the enclosing polygon.

http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/services/TIGERweb/tigerWMS_Current/MapServer/WmsServer?REQUEST=GetFeatureInfo&SERVICE=WMS&VERSION=1.3.0&CRS=EPSG:4326 &BBOX=13.6972399985862,-128.010213138288,52.2800368298775,-53.444917258507&WIDTH=1061&HEIGHT=549 &INFO_FORMAT=text/xml&QUERY_LAYERS=2010 Census ZIP Code Tabulation Areas&X=388&Y=190

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<FeatureInfoResponse xmlns=”http://www.esri.com/wms” xmlns:esri_wms=”http://www.esri.com/wms”>
<FIELDS INTPTLON=”-101.2099848″ INTPTLAT=”+38.9263824″ CENTLON=”-101.2064010″ CENTLAT=”+38.9226272″ STGEOMETRY=”Polygon” OBJECTID=”16553″ AREAWATER=”163771″ AREALAND=”1327709219″ FUNCSTAT=”S” ZCTA5CC=”B5″ MTFCC=”G6350″ NAME=”ZCTA5 67764″ LSADC=”Z5″ BASENAME=”67764″ GEOID=”67764″ ZCTA5=”67764″ OID=”221404258331221″/>

Since cross browser restrictions come into play it’s necessary to add a bit of server side proxy code to actually return the xml.

Some MVC controller magic:

 function GetCensusFeature(e) {
    var x = e.pageX - $("#map").offset().left;
    var y = e.pageY - $("#map").offset().top;
    var FeatureUrl = {
        url: "http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/services/TIGERweb/tigerWMS_Current/MapServer/WmsServer?REQUEST=GetFeatureInfo&SERVICE=WMS&VERSION=1.3.0&LAYERS=" + app.censusPolygonType + "&STYLES=&FORMAT=image/png&BGCOLOR=0xFFFFFF&TRANSPARENT=TRUE&CRS=EPSG:3857&BBOX=" + bbox + "&WIDTH=" + app.canvas.width + "&HEIGHT=" + app.canvas.height + "&INFO_FORMAT=text/xml&QUERY_LAYERS=" + app.censusPolygonType + "&X=" + x + "&Y=" + y
        app.postit('/api/Operation/GetFeatureInfo', {
            data: JSON.stringify(FeatureUrl),
            success: function (response) {
                if (response.length > 0) {
                    var parser = new DOMParser();
                    var xmlDoc = parser.parseFromString(response, "text/xml");

Eventally gets here to a C# Controller which can proxy the GetFeatureInfo request:

        /// <summary>
        /// GetFeatureInfo
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="FeatureUrl"></param>
        /// <returns>xml doc</returns>
        public async Task<IHttpActionResult> GetFeatureInfo(Models.FeatureUrl feature)
            var wc = new HttpClient();
            var getFeatureInfoRequest = new Uri(feature.url);
            var response = await wc.GetAsync(getFeatureInfoRequest);
            var content = await response.Content.ReadAsStreamAsync();
            var result = "";
            using (var reader = new StreamReader(content))
                while (!reader.EndOfStream)
                    result += reader.ReadLine();
            return Ok(result);

Finally, on success, javascript can parse the xml for GeoID and add a canvas context box with some text information:

     success: function (response) {
              if (response.length > 0) {
                    var parser = new DOMParser();
                    var xmlDoc = parser.parseFromString(response, "text/xml");
                    if (tab == "Territory" && xmlDoc.getElementsByTagName("FeatureInfoResponse")[0].hasChildNodes()) {
                        app.context.rect(x, y, 125, 25);
                        app.context.fillStyle = 'white';
                        app.context.lineWidth = 1;
                        app.context.strokeStyle = 'black';
                        app.context.fillStyle = 'black';
                        app.context.font = '11pt Calibri';
                        var fields = xmlDoc.getElementsByTagName("FIELDS")[0];
                        app.context.fillText(fields.getAttribute('NAME'), x + 5, y + 15);
                        var geoid= fields.getAttribute('GEOID')

Fig 3 – building territories from Census Block Groups on Bing Maps

3. Census REST to obtain vertices

The GEOID retrieved from our proxied GetFeatureInfo request allows us to grab vertices with another TigerWeb service, Census REST.

This spec is a little more proprietary and requires some detective work to unravel.
FeatureUrl.url = “http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/rest/services/TIGERweb/PUMA_TAD_TAZ_UGA_ZCTA/MapServer/1/query?where=GEOID%3D” + geoid + “&geometryPrecision=6&outSR=4326&f=pjson”;

There are different endpoint urls for the various polygon types. In this case Zip Codes are found in PUMA_TAD_TAZ_UGA_ZCTA. We don’t need more than 1 meter resolution so precision 6 is good enough and we would like the results in epsg:4326 to avoid a proj4 transform on the client.

This follows the same process as previously sending the REST request through a proxy controller. You can see the geojson geometry result with this sample request:

Census REST doesn’t appear to offer a simplify parameter so the coordinates returned are at the highest resolution. Highly detailed polygons can easily return several thousand vertices, which is a problem for performance, but the trade-off is eliminating hosting data ourselves.

4. turf.js merge function to Build Territory

Finally the interesting part, where we get to use turf.js to handle merging multiple polygons into a single territory polygon.

var FeatureUrl = {
url: "http://tigerweb.geo.census.gov/arcgis/rest/services/TIGERweb/PUMA_TAD_TAZ_UGA_ZCTA/MapServer/1/query?where=GEOID%3D" + geoid + "&geometryPrecision=6&outSR=4326&f=pjson";
app.postit('/api/Operation/GetFeatureGeo', {
    data: JSON.stringify(FeatureUrl),
    success: function (response) {
        var polygon = JSON.parse(response);
        if (polygon.features.length == 0 || polygon.features[0].geometry.rings.length == 0) {
            alert("No Geo Features returned.")
        if (app.territoryFeatures == null) {
            app.territoryFeatures = new Array();
            app.territory = turf.polygon(polygon.features[0].geometry.rings);
        else {
            var tpolygon = turf.polygon(polygon.features[0].geometry.rings);
            var fc = turf.featurecollection(app.territoryFeatures);
            try {
                app.territory = turf.merge(fc);
            catch (err) {
                alert("turf.js error: " + err.message);
        if (app.territory.geometry.coordinates.length > 0) {

    error: function (response) {
        alert("TigerWeb error:" + response);

5. Display Territory Bing Maps Ajax polygon

The final rendering just uses Bing Maps Ajax v7 Microsoft.Maps.AdvancedShapes to add the new territory to the map.

function displayTerritory() {
    var coordLen = app.territory.geometry.coordinates.length;
    if (app.territory.geometry.type == 'Polygon') {
        var rings = new Array();
        for (var i = 0; i < coordLen; i++) {
            var vertices = new Array();
            for (var j = 0; j < app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i].length; j++) {
                vertices.push(new Microsoft.Maps.Location(app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i][j][1], app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i][j][0]));
        var polygon = new Microsoft.Maps.Polygon(rings, { fillColor: new Microsoft.Maps.Color(100, 100, 0, 100) });
    else if (app.territory.geometry.type == 'MultiPolygon') {
        var multi = new Array();
        for (var i = 0; i < coordLen; i++) {
            var ringslen = app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i].length;
            for (var j = 0; j < ringslen; j++) {
                var vertices = new Array();
                for (var k = 0; k < app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i][j].length; k++) {
                    vertices.push(new Microsoft.Maps.Location(app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i][j][k][1], app.territory.geometry.coordinates[i][j][k][0]));
        var polygon = new Microsoft.Maps.Polygon(multi, { fillColor: new Microsoft.Maps.Color(100, 100, 0, 100) });
    else {
        alert("geometry type is " + app.territory.geometry.type + ". Territory requires a Polygon or MultiPolygon.")

Fig 4 – Territory Total for P0040003 Latino Origin – Map: Quantile population classifier Census Block Groups on Bing Map


TigerWeb offers some useful data access. With TigerWeb WMS and REST api, developers can customize apps without hosting and maintaining a backend SQL store. However, there are some drawbacks.

Some potential improvements:
1. Adding an svg id=GeoID would really improve the usefulness of TigerWeb WMS image/svg+xml, possibly eliminating steps 2 and 3 of the workflow.

2. Technically it’s possible to use the TigerWeb REST api to query geojson by area, but practically speaking the results are too detailed for useful performance. A helpful option for TigerWeb REST would be a parameter to request simplified polygons and avoid lengthy vertice transfers.

turf.js is a great tool box, however, occasionally the merge function had trouble with complex polygons from TigerWeb.

Fig 6 - turf merge had some rare difficulties with complex polygons from TigerWeb

In the end, territories are useful for query aggregates of SF1 demographic data.

Fig 5 – Territory Total for P0120025 Male 85 Years and older – Map: Jenks population classifier Census Block Group on Bing Map