This is what I’m calling my #YIMBY party

houses in Armour Square, Chicago

Housing for everyone. Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

Its platform will be something like SFYIMBY’s:

We believe that [Chicago] has always been, and should continue to be, an innovative and forward-looking city of immigrants from around the U.S. and the world. [Chicago] is not full [snipped]. Ours is an inclusive vision of welcoming all new and potential residents. Anyone who wants to should be able to afford housing in [Chicago].

Sign up for my #YIMBY mailing list.

FOIA is great…if you know who and what to ask for

Dooring is dangerous (sometimes deadly) for bicyclists. Where's the data? Image via The Blaze

Dooring is dangerous (sometimes deadly) for bicyclists. Where’s the data? Image via The Blaze

tl;dr: This is the list of all citation types that the Chicago Dept. of Administrative Hearings “administers”.

The Freedom of Information Act is my favorite law because it gives the public – and me – great access to work, information, and data that the public – including me – causes to have created for the purpose of running governments.

FOIA requires public agencies to publish (really, email you) stuff that they make and don’t publish on their own (which is dumb), and reply to you within five days.

All you have to do is ask for it!

BUT: Who do you ask?

AND: What do you ask them for?

This is the hardest thing about submitting a FOIA request.

Lately, my friend and I – more my friend than me – have been trying to obtain data on the number of traffic citations issued to motorists for opening their door into traffic – a.k.a. “dooring”.

It is dangerous everywhere, and in Chicago this is illegal. In Chicago it carries a steep fine. $500 if you don’t hurt a bicyclist, and $1,000 if you do.

My friend FOIA’d the Chicago Police Department. You know, the agency that actually writes the citations. They don’t have bulk records to provide.

Then he FOIA’d the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, and the Chicago Department of Finance.

Each of these five agencies tells you on their website how to submit a FOIA request. You can also use FOIA Machine to help you find a destination for your request.

None of them have the records either. The “FOIA officer” for the Administrative Hearings department suggested that he contact the Cook County Circuit Court. So that’s what we’re doing.

Oh, and since the Administrative Hearings department doesn’t have this information (even though they have the records of citations for a lot of other traffic violations), I figured I would ask for them for a list of citations that they do have records of.

And here’s the list, all 3,857 citation types. You’ll notice a lot of them don’t have a description, and some of very short and unclear descriptions. Hopefully you can help me fix that!

I can grant you editing access on the Google Doc and we can improve this list with some categorizations, like “building violations” and “vehicle code”.


Vote “no” on the proposed constitutional amendment to create a “transportation lockbox”

Updated Oct. 10 with more examples of why this could be a problem. Updated Oct. 13 to include CMAP’s review of the amendment. I also posted an alternative version on my new Medium account

Illinois voters are being asked in the current election – early voting has started – to support or opposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict spending of certain revenue sources.

The amendment to the Illinois constitution says that revenues derived from transportation sources – gas and related taxes, license and registration fees, sales taxes for transit, airport fees – can only be used to fund transportation initiatives. (see full text below).

The problem this amendment intends to solve is that sometimes Illinois legislators spend transportation funds on non-transportation projects, people, and services, depending on their priorities at the time – even when existing laws says they can’t.

Your ballot says: “The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds.”

A “yes” vote means you want the Illinois Constitution to have this amendment.

A ChiHackNight member asked the #transportation channel in our Slack about this amendment.

Just got my copy of Proposed Amendment to the Illinois Constitution and bicycle and pedestrian paths are perhaps intentionally not listed as possible places to spend transportation tax revenue. Thoughts?

Very little (oh, so little) money is spent on bike and pedestrian things. Despite what you’ve read, there’s no way to guarantee that the recovered money – the small portion that’s being diverted – would be used to enlarge the pot spent on bike, pedestrian, or transit projects.

Existing laws dictate how the money is supposed to be spent

Many of the money categories in the amendment are already protected by either state or federal law. For example, the Passenger Facility Charge that each airline traveler pays to each airport on their itinerary can only be used on certain capital improvement and maintenance projects at that airport. The PFC differs by airport.

And just so we’re clear, there is no such thing as a “road tax” or “driving tax” in any part of Illinois. There is no fee for anyone to use the roads. What gas taxes are supposed to be spent on, first, and then allowed to be spent on, second, are defined in 35 ILCS 505/8 (from Ch. 120, par. 424). 

Bike lanes and sidewalks are rarely called out separately because they are part of streets and roads, which are funded, and I don’t think it’s significant that the constitutional amendment doesn’t list “bicycles” and “pedestrians”.

It’s up to IDOT and other agencies that have jurisdiction over a road to choose to include those things as part of larger road changes. This constitutional amendment won’t change any policies, which are already mildly supportive of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Priorities and policy makers are the problem

I oppose this on the grounds that it restricts setting state priorities while it doesn’t actually prioritize anything within transportation.

Sometimes there are things that are more important than what the state buys with transportation money.

I have a huge problem with those things it buys, though. The priorities that Illinois legislators have for spending transportation moneys isn’t going to improve.

The state built the MidAmerica-St. Louis airport in Mascoutah for $313 million to serve as a “secondary” airport to the St. Louis airport. It opened in 2000. There are only flights to tourist destinations in Florida; the St. Louis airport never had a capacity problem.

The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to extend the St. Louis light rail through rural areas for 5.3 miles, but is still obtaining funding. However, they are spending about $300,000 annually on something for this project.

Illinois budget line item screenshot

A screenshot of the Illinois FY17 enacted appropriations showing spending $330,010 annually for a project to extend a light rail station to an underused airport that cost the public $313 million.

That is exactly the kind of thing that has to stop and this amendment doesn’t do it. That money can still be spent on bad projects. There’s no shortage of bad projects, but there’s also no shortage of good projects that don’t get funded. States are already spending most of their money on new roads instead of maintaining existing ones.

Since projects are often selected and prioritized to serve political needs, and politicians oversee specific geographies, good projects will still linger in some geographies while bad projects are implemented in others.

In other words, the $300,000 on spending for the light rail extension to the underused airport can’t go to build pedestrian overpasses along well-used multi-purpose trails in DuPage County. It’s going to stay in that downstate legislator’s district because “economic development”.

Staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s designated regional planning organization, issued a memo to the board a few days before I wrote this describing that the amendment is “unclear” on so many topics. They cite their discussions with unnamed amendment proponents who explain how the lack of clarity won’t be a problem because the General Assembly can pass laws clarifying that bike lanes won’t need a dedicated user fee if the amendment passes and that it doesn’t impinge on the rights of home rule cities to use gas taxes as they need to.

Spending is based on politics, not performance or need

With the amendment, the state will have to dream up some other transportation project in that district – I see a highway widening in their future. Without the amendment, the state could use that money for an important project in that area, but even that isn’t supposed to happen because the state already has laws dictating how project-specific bond funds can be spent.

This is also the problem with the Illiana Tollway that Governor Quinn so much wanted to build to gain favor with Southland legislators.

Whatever the case is, adhering more to performance (merit) measures on transportation spending – rather than political and district appeasement – is the most important change we can make.

It makes us inflexible

Finally, I question the amendment text. It’s hardly possible or easy for us non-legislators to know if the text covers everything that transportation funds are currently allowed to be spent on. What if there’s some project that turns out not to be an eligible recipient for these funds? Do we wait for the next election when we can get another constitutional amendment on the ballot, or hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will interpret the amendment to favor that project?

In fact, we already have a lot of laws that say how transportation-derived moneys are to be spent. The amendment, then, is a solution to the problem of trusting our state legislators.

The Civic Federation says that money is transferred from the various transportation funds to close budget gaps. “Limiting access to transportation-related revenues such as motor fuel taxes and motorist user fees could put additional strain on the State’s general operating resources” and “similarly affect local governments”. They also said that year-to-year figures of transfers and diversions have been calculated differently.

Additionally, DOT workers’ pensions may be paid for by transportation funds. Does this amendment cover that provision? If not, where else in the state’s budget would their pensions be funded?

Some of the work done by staff at other state departments is funded by some transportation user fees. Would the lockbox cut off their funding supply? A little of the work each department can be considered transportation related, but will the road lobby proponents of this amendment see it that way?

I dislike the inflexibility the amendment creates. Constitutions are meant to protect our rights. I don’t think that there’s a right that gas taxes must be used to pay for roads, while a sliver goes to build new CTA stations.

My writing partner at Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield, wrote an article that interviewed leaders at three transportation advocacy groups who were all in favor of the proposed amendment. The Tribune editorial he responded to is against it because it seems like a scam that the road lobby is promoting.

I am not in favor of the amendment.

Should the Recorder of Deeds office go away?

House of the Day #33: 3302 S. Normal

A “house” in Bridgeport at 3302 S Normal Avenue. The photographer, Eric Allix Rogers, noted in the caption that he saw on the Recorder of Deeds website that it was in foreclosure (in 2010).

When you vote in Cook County the general election this fall, which has already started here, you’ll find a question on the ballot asking you if the Recorder of Deeds office should be folded into the Clerk’s office.

It should.

The referendum is binding, and would take effect in 2020, the year of an election for a county recorder. There’s an election this year for county recorder and incumbent Karen Yarbrough is the only candidate.

The move will save taxpayer money, according to the Civic Federation, but which Yarbrough doubts. The consolidation is one step towards having a single office manage all of the county’s property records.

Currently four offices – all of which are elected – manage information about property: The recorder keeps track of property ownership and transaction; the assessor determines property value; the treasurer collects property taxes; and the clerk sets the tax rates.

Yarbrough deserves credit for the electronic record keeping innovation she brought to the office. A consolation is a further innovation. Yarbrough is correct that the recorder and clerk offices don’t have overlap, but there are efficiencies that can be devised and implemented as these two offices – along with the other two offices – exist for the same purpose: to collect property taxes.

Chicago Cityscape also advocates that the four property tax offices adopt open data policies that make property ownership, value, and tax rate info accessible.

Barcelona’s superblocks are being implemented now to convert car space to people space

Most of the urban block pattern in Barcelona is this grid of right angles (like Chicago) with roads between blocks that range from small to massive (like Chicago). Barcelona’s blocks, called “illes”, for islands*, are uniform in size, too. This part of Barcelona is called Eixample, designed by ldefons Cerdà in 1859.

The city is rolling out its urban mobility plan from 2013 to reduce noise and air pollution, and revitalized public spaces. Part of this plan is to reduce car traffic on certain streets in a “superblock” (the project is called “superilles” in Catalan) by severely reducing the speed limit to 10 km/h.

Vox published the video above, and this accompanying article. The project’s official website is written in Catalan and Spanish.

My favorite quote from the video is when someone they interviewed discussed what tends to happen when space for cars is converted to space for people:

“What you consistently see is when people change their streetscapes to prioritize human beings over cars is you don’t see any decline in economic activity, you see the opposite. You get more people walking and cycling around, more slowly, stopping more often, patronizing businesses more. That center of social activity will build on itself.”

A superblock is a group of 9 square blocks where the internal speed limit for driving is reduced to 10 km/h, which is slower than most people ride a bicycle.

A superblock is a group of 9 square blocks where the internal speed limit for driving is reduced to 10 km/h, which is slower than most people ride a bicycle. That’s the second phase, though. The first phase reduces it first to 20 km/h. During phase 2, on-street parking will disappear. In addition to the reduced speed, motorists will only be able to drive a one-way loop: into the superblock, turn left, turn left, and out of the superblock, so it can’t be used as a through street even at slow speeds, “allowing people to use the streets for games, sport, and cultural activities, such as outdoor cinema” (Cities of the Future).

A grid isn’t necessary to implement the “superblock”; it can work anywhere.

In Ravenswood Manor, the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing a car traffic diverter at a single intersection on Manor Avenue, where drivers have to turn off of Manor Avenue. This effectively creates a small superblock in a mostly residential neighborhood, but one that is highly walkable, because schools, parks, a train station, and some small businesses are all within about four blocks of most residents.

The trial is complementary to an upcoming “neighborhood greenway” project to use Manor Avenue as an on-street connection between two multi-use trails along the Chicago River.

The Vox video points out that “walkable districts are basically isolated luxury items in the United States”. I agree that this is often the case, although NYC, pointed out as a place where people spaces are being made out of former car-only spaces, is spreading its “pedestrian plaza” throughout all boroughs.

Ravenswood Manor is a wealthy area, but the reason this project is being tried there and not one of the dozens of other places where a lot of car traffic makes it uncomfortable or dangerous to walk and bike is because of the need to connect the trails.

photo of a temporary car traffic diverter

These temporary car traffic diverters are set up at Manor Avenue and Wilson Avenue to force motorists to turn off of Manor Avenue while still allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to go straight. Photo: John Greenfield

The diverter should drastically reduce the amount of through traffic in the neighborhood. Its effect on motorists’ speeds will be better known when CDOT finishes the test in November.

A worker installs a barrier identifying the entrance to a “superilla” (singular superblock) last month. Calvin Brown told me, “I prefer the name ‘super islands’ because it is more poetic and captures the peaceful setting that they create.” Photo via La Torre de Barcelona.

I see a connection between the “superilles” plan in Barcelona, and what CDOT is piloting in the small neighborhood. The next step for CDOT is to try iterative designs in this and other neighborhoods and start converting asphalt into space for other uses, but we may have to rely on local groups to get that ball rolling.

I had the great fortune of visiting Barcelona a year ago, and I had no idea about the plan – but I was impressed by Cerdà’s design of Eixample. I will return, and next time I’ll spend a little time bicycling around.

Day trips from Amsterdam

This is a list of day trips that you can take from Amsterdam. We might have different ideas of what constitutes the duration of the day. Once I get to a city I “travel quickly”: I walk fast, bike fast, and don’t linger too often at a point of interest, so I can see lots of places. This advice assumes you’ll arrive into the city center (where the train stations are) between 10 and 11 AM.

Naarden and Hilversum

Visit “vesting” Naarden (Naarden fort) to see a star-shaped fortress from the 1600s. You can take a bus or bike there from the train station.

Hilversum is a richer city and has a lot of typically Dutch architecture, especially of buildings designed by Richard Dudok. Go here if you’re in the TV and radio industries. You’ll need a bike if you want to see even half of them. A lot of them are schools and apartment buildings.

These two cities are a <15 minute train ride away from each other, with trains every 15 minutes.


Haarlem is a short ride from Amsterdam and has a working windmill museum, near a panopticon-style prison. Perhaps stop here on your way to Zandvoort an Zee (beach resort).


Get here early and leave late. Take the Intercity Direct to the city by 10 AM. That’s the high-speed train, and don’t forget to pay for or buy the “toeslag” (supplement) and you’ll get there about 30 minutes faster for a minor extra cost. Or, take the slower, scenic route there in the morning and the fast route back to your lodging in Amsterdam at night.

Rotterdam is a very large city and has a lot to do. Rent a bike from Zwaan Bikes in Groothandelsgebouw on the next block west of the train station (my favorite in the world).

Go on the 75-minute long harbor tour operated by Spido that starts on the northwest side of the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus bridge).

In the evening, grab a bite to eat at Fenix Foods Factory and get a beer from Kaapse Brouwers in the same converted warehouse building.


Delft is a very pretty city to walk around. It’s very touristic so you will see a lot of shops selling the local blue porcelain. I bought lavender goat cheese here, and it was delicious. Climb the steps to the top of the cathedral in the Grote Markt (main square). If you like architecture, head over to the university, TU Delft. You can walk there from city center in less than 20 minutes.

Eat at Huszár which is a couple “blocks” south of the train station.

The Hague – beach alert!

If you don’t go to the beach, you could do Delft and The Hague in the same day, providing you aren’t spending time at museums and you have a bicycle to move a little quicker. Walk through the royal palace, Binnenhof.

Take a tram or a bike to the beach at Scheveningen.

Zandvoort an Zee – beach alert!

This is a small beach resort town on the North Sea. Walk from the train station to the beach and keep walking until you find a beach lounge you like. Then grab a seat and order a drink (it’ll take a while for someone to come over, so find a menu yourself because it’s typical for a Dutch server to not bother bringing you one unless you ask for it).


This one’s only for people who want to see a New Town in the Netherlands, or are really curious to know and see how polder works, and how the Dutch reclaimed an entire province from a sea (which is now a lake). Research the history: IJsselmeer, Zuiderzee, Flevoland (the province)

Chicago has too many traffic signals


People wait at a stop light on the first major ring road in the city center of Amsterdam. Photo: Northeastern University, Boston

I was flabbergasted to learn today that there are only 5,500 signalized intersections in all of the Netherlands. I was reading Mark’s blog “Bicycle Dutch” and he interviewed a city traffic signal engineer in Den Bosch, who described how different road users are prioritized at different times based on the complex programming. (Watch the video below.)

In Chicago there are more than 3,000 signalized intersections. And I believe this is way more than we need.

I understand more than the average person how traffic moves in each place and how it “works”. There is such a thing as too many traffic signals because at some point the signals (their proximity and their programming) start causing delays and conflicts.

Saying that traffic – of all kinds, bikes, trucks, buses, delivery vans, and personal vehicles – moves better in cities in the Netherlands than in Chicago is an understatement.

Aside from their impacts on traffic (which can be good in some situations, but aggravating existing problems in other places), signals are very expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.

In Chicago, an alderman (city councilor) can use part of their $1.3 million “menu” money annual allocation to purchase a traffic signal for $300,000. That’s money that won’t be used for transportation investments that reduce the number of severe traffic crashes as well as reduce congestion like bus lanes and protected bike lanes.

Let’s review

I compared their populations (about 17 million in the Netherlands and 2.7 million in Chicago) and saw that Chicago has a lot more traffic signals per person.

On Twitter, however, I was challenged to find the number of traffic signals per mile driven, not per capita.

So, I did, and I was surprised by the result.

This assumes I collected the right statistics, and converted the driving figures correctly.

The surprise: There are more passenger miles driven (known as VMT) in the Netherlands, per capita, than in Chicago. I actually can’t even get passenger miles driving in Chicago – I can only find “all miles” driven. And that includes trips on interstates that pass through Chicago but where the driver or passengers don’t stop in Chicago.

Here’s the analysis, though.


  • According to the OECD, there were 145,400 million kilometers driven on roads, for passenger transport, excluding bus coaches, in the Netherlands in 2013 (the latest year for which data was available in the Netherlands). That’s 145.4 billion kilometers. (Source, no permalink.)
  • According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, there were 11,150,109 thousand miles for all kinds of road transport, in Chicago in 2013. That’s 11.2 billion miles, which converts to 17.9 billion kilometers. (Source)


  • In 2013, the Netherlands had 16,804,430 inhabitants (they had declared reaching 17,000,000 this year), according to the OECD.
  • In 2013, the City of Chicago had 2,706,101 inhabitants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimate.



  • The Netherlands has over 39 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.
  • Chicago has over 167 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.

Essential apps for traveling in parts of Europe

Train Radar

The Train Radar in Reisplanner Xtra (from NS, the Dutch intercity train operator) is a fun feature to show you trains nearby. The rest of the app is essential for efficient use of NS trains.

I’ve used a bunch of apps that are necessary when you’re traveling within and between countries in the parts of Europe I’m staying in an visiting this year.

The first app you should install is (iOS, Android, Amazon). It stores maps offline by downloading them from OpenStreetMap. Before leaving for the next city, download it on wifi! Each city takes up 25-60 MB on your phone, and it’s easy to delete a city’s map after you depart. This app is super fast, looks nice, has offline route planning, and can show any area in the world.

Travel apps for the Netherlands

  • Reisplanner Xtra, is essential because it has a journey planner for traveling within the country. It also shows real-time information, and even has a map of all the trains running in the country at that moment. It lists real-time OV-fiets bike availability.
  • NS International, for looking up timetables for trains between the Netherlands and France, Germany, and Belgium. You can’t buy tickets in the app, but it will link you to a shopping cart on the NS International website.
  •, journey planner app for all public transport in the Netherlands. It doesn’t have network maps, though, if you’re only interested in where the Rotterdam Metro goes. gets data from OpenStreetMap, the wiki-style map that regular people around the world edit (including myself). The map improves as more people add more information! gets data from OpenStreetMap, the wiki-style map that regular people around the world edit (including myself). The map improves as more people add more information!

Travel apps for Germany

  • DB Navigator, this has all public transport in Germany, including intercity trains. It even has intercity trains for so many other countries, regardless if that train has service in Germany. When you look up timetables for trains outside Germany, it will rarely be able to show you the price, but just seeing the schedule, and what trains are available, is important. You can buy tickets within the app, and use the app as a mobile ticket.

Other travel apps

  • Rome2rio, is remarkable because it will show you all ways to get between two cities, and it works worldwide. It incorporates timetables and maps from local transit systems, intercity coach buses, intercity trains, flights, and driving. It’s multimodal, too. It won’t book tickets, but it’s the only service I know of that focuses on showing the multitude of options – simultaneously, with prices! – for future travel planning. And it’s super fast – I think it’s getting results before you even push the “search” button.
Rome2rio showing directions between Stockholm and Malmo

Rome2rio shows results for all modes (and combined modes) between two cities, here listing 11 options on trains, buses, cars, and plans between Stockholm and Mälmo, Sweden.

  • Skyscanner, this flight-finding service has more intra-Europe airlines than services popular in the United States (like Hipmunk, Orbitz, and KAYAK).
  • Captain Train is a continental train ticketing company with a nice app that will sell you tickets for service within and between many countries.
  • Voyages-sncf, is useful if you’ll be taking fast or regular intercity trains in France, but I don’t believe it has mobile ticketing. However, you can buy tickets in the app or on the website and pick up the tickets at a vending machine at many train stations in France. This is where I bought a Thalys (high-speed train) ticket; it’s better than NS International and the Belgian equivalent from SNCB.
  • United, this airline has implemented a superior entertainment system. I call it “Netflix in the sky”. To be clear, Netflix isn’t involved. It works like this: Install the United app on your device, and then connect to the airplane’s wifi network. There’s a server in the plane that has a lot of movies and TV shows, and these stream directly to your device. This is especially useful in United’s older 767 planes that don’t have seatback screens (IFE).

What apps do you recommend and why?

There are many kinds of shared space

A guy standing in the middle of the intersection

I took this photo outside the café Memory Lane in Rotterdam because the man in the white shirt was standing in the “middle” of this intersection for a couple of minutes. Before he took this position, he was walking slowly across the intersection to the opposite corner as his car. He’s a livery driver, and he appeared to be waiting for his passenger.

This intersection is raised (the sidewalk is level with the road surface), and is uncontrolled (there are no traffic signals, stop signs, or yield signs). A bicyclist or motorist can pass through this intersection without having to stop unless someone is walking, or a bike or car is coming from their right.

This junction has no crosswalks, either. And no one honks. Especially not at the man who’s in the roadway.

Because he’s not in the roadway. He’s in a street, and streets are different. Streets are places for gathering, socializing, eating, connecting, traveling, and shopping. There was plenty of space for him to stand here, and for everyone else – including other motorists who were in their cars – to go about their business.

Oh, how Chicago land use is controlled by spot zoning

If you only had a zoning map to try and understand how the different blocks in the City of Chicago relate to their neighborhoods and the city at large, you might have the idea that the city has no neighborhoods, but is actually a collection of tiny, randomly dispersed zones of differing land uses.

And then when you walked those areas you’d find that the zones, which attempt to prescribe a land use, at least nominally, don’t have anything to do with the restaurant, housing, and commercial building mix of uses actually present.

No plan would have been devised to create a map like this.

Over the last five years, and surely over the last 14, the City of Chicago has been divided (really, split) into an increasing number of distinct zoning districts.

The city’s zoning map is updated after each monthly city council meeting, to reflect the numerous changes that the 50 alders have approved individually. (Their collective approval occurs unanimously in an omnibus bill.)

Every few months I ask the Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) for the latest zoning map, in the form of a shapefile (a kind of file that holds geographic information that can be analyzed by many computer programs). While Chicago has one of the country’s best open data offerings, some datasets, like zoning, don’t get updated in the catalog.

There are two ways I can analyze and present the data about the quantity of zoning districts. Both, however, show that the number of distinct zoning districts has increased. This means that the city is divided even more finely than it was just six months ago.

Analysis 1: Period snapshots

I have the zoning shapefile for five periods, snapshots of the city’s zoning map at that time. From August 2012 to now, May 2016, the number of discrete zoning districts (the sum of all B3-5, RS-1, DX-7, etc. zoning classes) has increased 7.8 percent.

Period Zoning districts change

August 2012


September 2014



June 2015



November 2015



May 2016



I collect the period snapshots to show the history of zoning at a specific address or building in Chicago, which is listed on Chicago Cityscape. For example, the zoning for the site of the new mixed-use development in Bucktown that includes a reconstructed Aldi has changed four times in four years.

aldi zoning history

Analysis 2: Creation date

The zoning shapefiles also have the date at which a zoning district was split or combined to create a new district, either with a different zoning class (RT-4, C1-1, etc.) or a different shape.

With the most recent zoning shapefile I can tell how many new zoning districts were split or combined and a record representing it was added to the list. The records start in 2002, and by the end of the year 7,717 records were created.

The following year, only 14 records were added, and in 2004, only 6. The Chicago City Council adopted a rewritten zoning code in 2004, and I guess that the zoning map was modified prior to adoption. After 2004, the number of new zoning districts picks up:

year zoning districts added by splitting/combining cumulative change




























































none listed



It seems there’s a light relationship between the recession that started in 2008 and the number of zoning changes made. There are more made annually before the recession than after it. It actually seems to track with building permits (sorry, no chart handy).

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