Authorstevevance

The City of Chicago should implement filtered permeability immediately at Green Street and Milwaukee Avenue

This is not a bikeable block

The multiple threats to bicyclists, to pedestrians, and to motorists, are pervasive in the depicted scene. There is low visibility for turning motorists which in turn causes them to encroach on the right of way of other street users, including other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

This single image shows everything that is inefficient and dangerous to bicyclists and motorists about the intersection between north-south Green Street and diagonal Milwaukee Avenue in River West. Motorists should be physically blocked from entering or exiting Green Street at this point because of the danger inherent in the current intersection design. The block of Green Street south of Milwaukee Avenue is so insignificant to the driving network that no other design intervention should be implemented.

The situation depicted in this photograph demonstrates why the City should implement filtered permeability and close this entrance of the Green Street/Milwaukee Avenue intersection to motor vehicle movement. While motorists would be barred from entering or exiting Green Street here bicyclists would still have access to Green Street as part of the low-stress bicycling network of which Green Street is a part, between Milwaukee and Van Buren Street in Greektown.

I first wrote about this problematic intersection in June on Streetsblog Chicago and it remains an issue. One of the two motor vehicles ahead is blocking part of the bike lane while the second threatens to enter it. The bus on the left prevents the bicyclist in the bike lane from maneuvering around either vehicle. The photo below shows the situation from a different angle, that of the motorist wanting to turn left.

The vehicle operator on the left – a bus driver, in this case – has stopped the vehicle because they can occupy the intersection with the vehicle, or leave it open. Essentially, the bus driver has stopped to “let” the motorists on Green Street proceed across Milwaukee and further north into Green Street or turn left onto Milwaukee. Their movements would, again, put the bicyclist in danger, and put themselves and other motorists in danger because they are making nearly-blind turns into faster moving traffic.

The threats to the motorist are as limitless as the ones to the bicyclist (although the bicyclist will experience much greater injury if the threat is realized). As the motorist is paying attention to other motor vehicle traffic the bicyclist is coming down this bike lane – yep, I took the photograph – and is additionally obscured by the line of parked cars on the bicyclist’s right, and is in the shadow of the bus and the buildings. It’s like there’s a perfect storm of blind spots.

The quickest way to implement a system of filtered permeability and raise the significance and safety of the Green Street and intersecting Milwaukee Avenue blocks within the low-stress bicycling network would be to install a series of large planter boxes that prevent motorists from entering or exiting Green Street but allow bicyclists to filter through the planters.

And skip any traffic impact study. Not a single parking space will be lost or be made inaccessible with the implementation. A traffic study is not an experiment, but has practically been a foreboding document that has only ever said “things will be different”. (A good plenty of them have also suggested adding multiple $300,000 traffic signals.)

I read on Streetsblog USA recently about Pittsburgh’s new protected bike lanes:

“Instead of asking people to judge the unknown, the city’s leaders built something new and have proceded to let the public vet the idea once it’s already on the ground.”

Chicago maintains a Silver bike-friendly commenting ranking, yet my initial analysis shows that our metrics are below average among other Silver communities after which I’m led to believe we’re undeserving of the medal. Safety is a citizen’s number one concern when considering to use a bicycle for transportation and it will take an expansion of the low-stress bicycling network – currently not a priority – to deserve the current ranking or achieve anything higher.

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

This photograph depicts a nearly identical situation but from the perspective of the motorist on Green Street approaching Milwaukee Avenue. Two bicyclists have taken two routes around the motorist blocking the bike lane with their vehicle.

Proposed residential high-rise injects TOD and population loss into Logan Square conversation

A public notice stands in front of an affected property

There used to be a Max Gerber plumbing supply store here that the absent landlord demolished to reduce his property taxes. A developer has proposed built 254 units in two towers here, in spitting distance from the CTA’s 24-hour Blue Line.

Developer Rob Buono has proposed two towers for a vacant property 400 feet away (walking distance) from the Chicago Transit Authority’s California Blue Line station. It has caused quite a stir in Logan Square about how much development is the right amount, and brings into question residents’ understanding of how the neighborhood demographics have changed.

It has also brought “TOD” into the local conversation. Buono will get some relief from exceptional car parking requirements because of the land’s proximity to the ‘L’ rapid transit station.

The process will be a long one. The first meeting, called by Alderman Moreno, was held on Thursday night. I counted over 70 people on the sign-in sheet when I came in, and many people arrive after so saying 100 people were there isn’t a stretch. Moreno described his development policy: whenever they need a zoning change they must present their proposal to the community so Moreno can get their feedback.

Before Buono spoke, though, Moreno asked Daniel Hertz to briefly talk about transit-oriented development and why the development (or at least the number of units and car parking spaces it proposes) is a good project for this place, and in this neighborhood. In balancing concerns about car traffic, keeping people close to the services and products they need, and making it easy to get around, it makes the most sense to put the highest number of housing units in close proximity to high-capacity transit versus anywhere else.

Essentially, Logan Square has lost residents – 10,000 people since 2000 – concentrating the burden of patronizing local businesses, seen as a distinguishing asset in the neighborhood, on fewer people. Additionally, adding housing is the best way to combat rising home prices (and unaffordable rents) by offering more supply which reduces demand on richer people buying, converting, or tearing down existing buildings.

While no building permits will be issued for the towers until Ald. Moreno, Plan Commission, and City Council approve the zoning change, you can track what other kinds of buildings developers are building in the area surrounding 2293 N Milwaukee on Chicago Cityscape.

You’ll see quickly that a majority of the projects permitted this year are for single-family houses. Some of these are built on vacant parcels while at least one is  being built where there was previously a multi-family house.

In 2014, within 1/8 mile of the site:

  • +0 units in multi-unit buildings
  • -1 deconversion, turning two units into one unit
  • -1 teardown, turning a two-unit property into a single-family property
  • +17 single-familiy homes
  • Net gain of a maximum of 15 units

At this rate, Logan Square may grow at an extremely low rate – these homes will likely be filled with small families. The decreasing household size is another factor in Logan Square’s population loss.

Read about people’s reactions to the towers on other sites:

Joe Moreno

1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno gracefully – given the circumstances – moderates the meeting.

I’ve got property tax data for Chicago Cityscape

Wrigley Field Ahead of a Seemingless Meaningless Game, September 2011

Wrigley Field is an old baseball stadium in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Photo by Dan X. O’Neil

1. Licensed Chicago Contractors, my website that tracks what developers and the city are proposing to build or demolish in your neighborhood, is now called Chicago Cityscape.

2. I’m grateful to Ian Dees who helped me get property tax data for 2009-2013 for over 1.4 million PINs (property identification numbers) in Cook County.

I’m going through various parts of the property tax data and figuring out how to integrate it with Chicago Cityscape. The first time Ian got the data I found out I didn’t tell him to get the right PINs. I think I’ve fixed that now.

As part of this process I’m checking properties somewhat randomly, based on the permits I’m browsing. I most recently viewed a Wrigley Field building permit at 1060 W Addison Street – for a Zac Brown concert – so I searched its PIN and how much the property is “worth”. Here goes:

Year Amount Billed Assessed Value
2013 $1,517,665.09 $8,049,996
2012 1,498,971.03 8,049,996
2011 1,493,002.47 8,865,636
2010 1,489,160.89 8,865,636
2009 1,360,673.45 10,613,423

Notice how the assessed value dropped over $2 million from 2009 to 2010. And even though it had three unique assessed values, the annually changing tax rate adjusted the amount billed. You can see this information on the Cook County Property Info portal.

The Chicago Way: Potholes that definitely no longer exist

311 report for a pothole

Screenshot of the 311 service tracker that tells me that the photograph I submitted contains no image of potholes.

The Chicago Way is as much about the process as it is about the result. This story involves what happens when you can’t provide accurate information about a street inspection in the tracking system that has been built, effectively making a group of potholes disappear.

I submitted a pothole report via the Chicago open 311 system – assigning it service request #13-00420100 – on April 12, 2013 for 1653 N Milwaukee Avenue near Red Hen Bakery and Athletico. Three days later the inspection found no potholes and the request was closed.

The website or the Chicago 311 system seemingly could not provide a better answer. Certainly dismissing the existence of potholes is the wrong response. There’s no hope for the future in this response. Maybe there’s a plan to resurface this block. This could be the opportunity to inform a concerned citizen. Instead, the response told me I’m wrong.

Fast forward to now and the situation has devolved. Potholes have gotten a little bigger and they’ve spread as if the street is diseased. What also sucks is that this problem will probably persist for at least another year from my report (unit April 2015) because the hot asphalt plants are going to shutdown soon.

This reminds me of that Chicago maxim: “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent.” Or Metra, that the trains would be on time if they didn’t have to stop to pick up passengers.

#TheChicagoWay

Potholes on Milwaukee Avenue - I reported them over a year ago

The potholes as of August 2014.

The Chicago Way: The Fullerton sinkhole

the sinkhole before repair

The sinkhole before repair. Image from Smith’s newsletter.

In Alderman Michele Smith’s e-newsletter today is a story about #TheChicagoWay, which is that special way of fixing the streets we embrace in Chicago, despite our apparent disgust for low-quality infrastructure.

“Sometimes we really have to persist to get something fixed.” Here’s the story:

A deep sinkhole had formed at approximately 444 W. Fullerton Parkway, creating a significant public safety concern for both pedestrians and motorists. But no city department would repair it until we determined which agency was responsible.

So we called upon each potential agency, leading to almost a dozen separate site visits by various inspectors between July and August. We finally discovered that this site had been an old Commonwealth Edison utility area. The abandoned vault had deteriorated, resulting in the sinkhole.

I am happy to report that Commonwealth Edison filled in the old vault and restored the street. Success!

I would definitely call a sinkhole fix that happens within three months a success.

How would it work for you and your job security if it took two months to find who’s responsible for a known bug?

Other ways to identify #TheChicagoWay:

  • There is a cone or sawhorse-style barrier INSIDE of a hole. And then you’ll see that thing fall deeper into the hole and a new thing will be added.
  • For bigger holes, there are “safety” barriers INSIDE the hole instead of AHEAD of the hole.
  • How do you identify #TheChicagoWay in the context of streets?
after the sinkhole repair

The sinkhole and pavement after repair. Image from Smith’s newsletter.

Finding teardowns in Chicago

1923 South Allport Avenue, built 1884

A recent suspected teardown, at 1923 S Allport in Pilsen (25th Ward, 19th place for teardowns from 2006 to now). The demolition permit was issued August 7 and the new construction permit was issued August 5. The new building will have an increase in density, with three dwelling units. Photo by Gabriel Michael.

From Wikipedia, a teardown is a “process in which a real estate company or individual buys an existing home and then demolishes and replaces it with a new one”.

You can find suspected* teardowns in the building permits data on Licensed Chicago Contractors by looking for demolition permits and new construction permits for the same address. I limited my search to situations where the demolition permit was issued within 60 days prior or subsequent to the new construction permit. This shows properties that have a quick turnaround (thus more likely to get built). I didn’t want to include buildings that may have been demolished one year and got a building two years later.

Analysis

This analysis is based on data since January 1, 2006, the start of the first complete year of building permits data in the Chicago open data portal, and ends today. The first demolition permit in this analysis was issued January 10, 2006, and its associated new construction permit was issued five days prior. There may be a case when the demolition permit and new construction permits were issued in different years, but for this analysis I only consider the year in which the demolition permit was issued. (In my review of permits since March I believe that new construction permits are issued most often after the demolition permit.)

Suspected teardowns

The number for teardowns decreased dramatically as the economic crisis approached.

Results

There were 1,717 suspected teardowns in Chicago distributed across 57 community areas (of 77, whose boundaries don’t change) and 45 wards (of 50, whose boundaries changed in 2012).

West Town, Lake View, and North Center share top billing, with the most teardowns each year, but Lake View was #1 for seven of 10 years. Other top five community areas comprise Logan Square (thrice), Lincoln Square (thrice), Bridgeport (twice), McKinley Park (once), and Near West Side (once).

From 2012 to current, the most teardowns occurred in Wards 32 (Waguespack), 47 (Pawar), 1 (Moreno), 44 (Tunney), and 43 (Smith). All of those wards include parts of the top three community areas mentioned above.

The sixth ward with the most teardowns in this period was 2 (Fioretti) but this boundary no longer represents any part of the pre-2012 boundary that covered almost the entire South Loop. That means Ward 2 is now covering the west side. Additionally, the 2nd Ward made sixth place with 28 teardowns and fifth place, the 43rd Ward had 60 teardowns.

The South Loop, represented by the Near South Side community area, has had 0 suspected teardowns from 2012 to now. There was one teardown in the entire time period, where a three-story commercial was demolished at 1720 S Michigan Ave and replaced with a 32-story residential tower.

What else do you want to know about teardowns in Chicago?

* Notes

I use “suspected” because it’s impossible to know from the data if buildings were actually demolished and constructed.

Download the data as CSV for yourself.

Morgan CTA station ranks highly in rail system for building permits

Let Your Conscious Be Your Guide

The gutted cold storage warehouse in the background is within a quarter mile of the Morgan CTA station. Photo by Seth Anderson.

Excluding all of the Chicago Transit Authority stations in the central business district you’ll find that the new Morgan station ranks highly in the number of building permits issued within a quarter mile. It has a top spot when you calculate those permits’ estimated project costs. The CTA recently discussed with DNAInfo the results of a preliminary study it conducted that showed how the Morgan station is at the center of a lot of construction growth in the West Loop/Fulton Market area, and a contributing factor to this growth.

Now that Licensed Chicago Contractors shows you the two nearest CTA and Metra rail stations to each building permit, and I’ve become well-versed in writing PostGIS queries on the fly, I wrote a query that lists the CTA stations with the most building permits within a quarter mile (“nearby”).

First, though, let’s count how many stations don’t have permits nearby. With the query at the bottom you get a list of station names, the number of permits nearby, and a sum of the estimated costs of those permits sorted by the number of permits. Since I used a “LEFT JOIN” I also get a count of all the permits (the table on the LEFT) that don’t have a match with CTA stations (the table on the right).

There are 127 rows returned and a previous count of the table told me there are 145 stations, including ones outside the Chicago city limits. (There are stations in Cicero, Wilmette, Evanston, Rosemont, Oak Park, Forest Park, and Skokie.) The first row represents NULL, or all of the stations that don’t have permits nearby. That leaves me with 126 rows and 19 stations without permits, or 19 stations outside the City of Chicago.

I verified this by eyeballing it. I looked at a map and counted roughly 19 stations that wouldn’t have the 1/4 mile overlap with a Chicago building permit. The two Austin stations, on the Blue Line Forest Park branch and the Green Line Oak Park branch, are near Chicago and also showed up as a discrete station in the query results. Austin on the Blue Line was dead last, actually!

Let’s get back on track and look at Morgan now. I don’t think it’s fair to compare the Morgan station area with an expected, higher-activity area like the Loop and Central Business District so I eyeballed the list and started the #1 ranking with the first station outside the CBD.

  1. Armitage (Brown, Purple Express) is the station outside the CBD with the most building permits nearby.
  2. Damen-Milwaukee (Blue)
  3. North/Clybourn (Red)
  4. Addison (Red)
  5. Morgan (Green, Pink)

There you have it, from 2009 to today, the Morgan station had the fifth highest number of building permits outside of the Chicago Central Business District. It beat Fullerton (Red, Brown, Purple) in Lincoln Park, and Roosevelt (elevated and subway combined) in the South Loop. The station’s construction began in 2010 and the grand opening occurred May 24, 2012. During this period Morgan had the second highest amount of aggregated estimated costs at $199,911,953.00, behind North/Clybourn, at $218,118,037.37.

Take this analysis with several grains of Morton salt, though, because the following caveats are important to consider: building permits are really speculative development; much of these may be for kitchen renovations or porch reconstructions; I didn’t look up when it was “for sure” that the station was being built so I don’t know when developers would have become interested.

Looking at a longer period

I will, however, run a few more queries to find how Morgan’s position changes, starting with expanding the query to “all time” data (really the end of 2006 to today). It turns out that when looking through all available years Morgan’s position remains at #5 but other stations change position.

  1. Fullerton
  2. Armitage
  3. Damen-Milwaukee
  4. Addison
  5. Morgan

During this period, which covers the end of 2006 until today, Morgan had the highest aggregated estimated costs of the above five stations, at $236,707,083.00. It beat Fullerton’s amount of $160,825,680.30.

Looking only at “new construction”

Since these include all permit types, including water heater installations and window replacements, it doesn’t give us a good look at economic expansion in the areas surrounding CTA stations. I’ve filtered the data so only “new construction” building permits come through. I’m still interested in stations outside the CBD. Here’s how Morgan performed when looking at purely the quantity of new construction permits issued from 2009 to today:

  1. Armitage, 46 new construction building permits
  2. Southport, 38
  3. Addison (Red), 34
  4. North/Clybourn,
  5. Wellington,
  6. California-Milwaukee,
  7. Belmont (Red)
  8. Ashland (Green, Pink)
  9. Irving Park (Brown)
  10. Fullerton
  11. Damen (Brown)
  12. Division-Milwaukee
  13. Western-Milwaukee
  14. Ashland (Orange)
  15. Damen-Milwaukee
  16. Western-Congress
  17. Paulina
  18. Addison (Brown)
  19. Diversey
  20. Sedgwick
  21. Loyola
  22. Montrose (Brown)
  23. Sox-35th-Dan Ryan
  24. Morgan, 13 new construction building permits

Let’s remove that date filter and look at the whole building permits period of late 2006 to today.

  1. Southport (Brown Line), 80 new construction permits, all-time
  2. Armitage (Brown, Purple), 72
  3. Western-Congress (Blue), 66
  4. Addison (Red), 64
  5. Belmont (Red, Brown), 63
  6. Western-Milwaukee, 59
    Damen-Milwaukee, 59
  7. North/Clybourn, 55
    Diversey, 55
  8. Division-Milwaukee, 53
  9. Sox-35th-Dan Ryan, 51
  10. Wellington, 50
  11. 35-Bronzeville-IIT, 48
  12. Irving Park (Brown), 44
  13. Morgan, 43 new construction permits

Now switching the order method around and Morgan appears better when you look at aggregated estimated costs, from 2009 to today.

  1. Illinois Medical District, $236,020,000.00
  2. North/Clybourn, $172,373,335.00
  3. Loyola, $161,744,075.00
  4. Polk, $106,000,000.00
  5. Grand-Milwaukee, $77m224,500.00
  6. Wellington, $72m802,300.00
  7. Belmont (Red), $71,300,302.00
  8. Morgan, $68,300,800.00

Last query – remove the data filter and look at aggregated costs for the whole building permits period where Morgan maintains a top 10 position.

  1. North/Clybourn, $277029045.00
  2. Illinois Medical District, 236,020,000.00 (same as 2009 to today period)
  3. Polk, $188,794,975.00
  4. Loyola, $185,444,075.00
  5. Belmont (Red), $1635,00,085.00
  6. Fullerton, $129,444,051.00
  7. Wellington, $111,335,051.00
  8. Granville, $99,356,702.00
  9. Morgan, $83,995,800.00

The data I’d really like to have, though, is sales tax receipts for the same years.

This is not a valid PostgreSQL query. The brackets indicate the options I was using to retrieve the above results. The geometries are in or transformed to EPSG 3435 (Illinois StatePlane East Feet) and 1,320 feet is a quarter mile.

SELECT
 COUNT (P .permit_) AS count,
 MIN (C .longname) as name,
 min(lines) as lines, 
 sum(_estimated_cost) as sum
FROM
 permits P left join
 stations_cta C
ON
 ST_DWithin (
  ST_Transform (P .geometry, 3435),
  C .geom,
  1320
 )
[WHERE] [EXTRACT (YEAR FROM issue_date) >= 2009] [_permit_type = 'PERMIT - NEW CONSTRUCTION']
GROUP BY
 C .gid
ORDER BY
 [count,sum] DESC

History of Chicago streets

New bridge as seen from Division Street bridge

A new bridge over Halsted Street, opened in 2012 spanning the North Branch Channel on the west and north sides of Goose Island.

I found this document listing what appears to be all Chicago streets, their locations (relative to the Chicago grid whose origin is State/Madison), previous names, and namesakes. I doubt it’s hard to find, but I wasn’t looking for it. In fact, I was searching with queries people used before they came across Licensed Chicago Contractors.

“where is 435 w hobbie st chicago ill” was the specific query and I found Chicago Streets on the first page of results hosted on the Chicago History Museum’s website. (You’ll notice the hosting domain name has the acronym for the museum’s previous name, Chicago Historical Society.)

Halsted Street, which I often tell people is my favorite street because it goes through so many neighborhoods (with lots of gaps and railroads in between), was named after “two New York brothers William and Caleb who helped to develop the west end of the Loop.” William Butler Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago, named it.

Halsted Street was previously known as Egyptian Road from 1830 to 1837.

Halsted from Chicago Streets document

A screenshot of Halsted Street in the document.

Playing around with Chicago data: who’s running red lights?

Range Rover with Illinois license plate "0"

A Range Rover with Illinois license plate “0” is seen moving 40 MPH in a 30 MPH zone through a red light at Ashland and Cortland.

I’m just seeing who’s driving around Chicago one night, using the Tribune-published dataset of over 4.1 million tickets issued from red light cameras.

The City of Chicago has installed at least 340 red light cameras since the mid-2000s to reduce the number of people running red lights and crashing. They’re supposed to be installed at intersections where there’s a higher-than-average rate of right angle (“T-bone”) crashes, which are more injurious than other typical intersection crash types.

Assessing safety wasn’t the Tribune’s story angle, though. It was about showing spikes in the number of tickets issued, which I verified to some extent. The article called the tickets issued during these spikes “undeserved” and “unfair”. The data doesn’t have enough information to say whether or not that is the case; a video or extensive photo review is necessary to rule out rolling right turns while the light was red (a much less dangerous maneuver unless people are trying to cross the street).

The first query I ran assessed the number of people who get more than one ticket from a red light camera. Since I was tired my query was a little sloppy and it missed a lot of more useful order choices and didn’t select the right fields. I fell asleep and started again in the morning. This time, I got it right in just two tries – I needed to try again because I mistakenly put HAVING before the GROUP BY clause.

Here’s the first query, in its final form, to retrieve the number of tickets for each license plate in each state (I assumed there may be identical license plates among states).

select max(ticket_number), max(timestamp), license_plate, state, count(*) AS count FROM rlc_tickets group by license_plate, state HAVING count(*) > 1 order by count DESC NULLS LAST

It resulted in 851,538 rows, with each row representing a unique license plate-state combination and the number of red light violations that combination received. You can reasonably assert that cars don’t change license plates more than a couple times in a single person’s ownership, meaning you can also assert that each row represents one automobile.

851,538 vehicles, which make up 35.1% of all violators, have received 2,601,608, or 62.3%, of the 4,174,770 tickets. (There are 2,424,700 license plate-state combinations, using the query below.)

select count(ticket_number) from rlc_tickets group by license_plate, state

Here’re the top 10 vehicles that have received the most violations:

  1. SCHLARS, IL, 78
  2. 9720428, IL, 59
  3. 8919589, IL, 57
  4. A633520, IL, 52
  5. 3252TX, IL, 45
  6. A209445, IL, 44
  7. N339079, IL, 44
  8. X870991, IL, 41
  9. 239099, IL, 41
  10. 4552985, IL, 40

The next step would be to design a chart to show these vehicles’ activity over the months – did the vehicles’ drivers’ behavior change, decreasing the number of red light violations they received? Did the vehicle owner, perhaps a parent, tell their child to stop running red lights? Or has the vehicle owner appealed erroneously-issued tickets?

When I ran one of the first, mistaken, queries, I got results that put license plate “0” at the top of the list, with only nine tickets (license plates with two or more zeros were listed next).

I googled “license plate 0″ and found a 2009 Tribune article which interviewed the Range Rover-driving owner of license plate “0” and the problems he encountered because of it. The City of Chicago parking meter enforcement staff were testing new equipment and used “0” as a test license plate not knowing such that license plate exists. Tom Feddor received real tickets, though.

I then looked up on PhotoNotice the license plate and ticket violation number to find, indeed, the license plate belonged to someone driving a Range Rover at Ashland Avenue and Cortland Street on July 17, 2008. An added bonus was Feddor’s speed in that Range Rover: the camera recorded the car going 40 MPH in a 30 MPH zone.

I was done browsing around for the biggest offenders so next I wondered how many tickets were issued to vehicles licensed in Arizona, where U-Haul registers all of its nationwide vehicles. Arizona plates came in 29th place for the greatest number of tickets.

select count(*) AS count, state from rlc_tickets group by state order by count DESC NULLS LAST

As you may have expected, four surrounding Midwest states, and Ohio, rounded up the top five states after Illinois – but this isn’t notable because most visitors come from there and they each only comprise less than 1.3% of the total tickets. The next state was Florida.

  • 3,986,739, IL
  • 51,104, WI
  • 40,737, MI
  • 27,539, IN
  • 8,550, OH
  • 7,684, MN
  • 7,139, FL

What’s next: I’m working on finding a correlation between the number of reported crashes, and type, at intersections with red light cameras and the number of tickets they issued. I started doing that before running the numbers behind this blog post but it got complicated and it takes a long time to geospatially compare over 500,000 crash reports with over 4.1 million red light tickets.

What else do you want to know?

I will delete all comments that don’t discuss the content of this post, including comments that call red light cameras, or this program, a “money grab”.

Red light camera ticket data insufficient to find cause for spikes

Spike in tickets issued at 119th/Halsted in May and June 2011. Nodes represent tickets grouped by week.

Spike in tickets issued at 119th/Halsted in May and June 2011. Nodes represent tickets grouped by week.

The Chicago Tribune published a dataset of over 4 million tickets issued to motorists for entering an intersection after the light had turned red. They analyzed the dataset and found unexplained spikes, where the number of tickets, being issued by the handfuls each day, suddenly tripled. (Download the dataset.)

I looked at the tickets issued by two of the 340 cameras. I didn’t find any spikes at Belmont/Sheridan (“400 W BELMONT”) but found a noticeable spike in May and June 2011 at the 119th Street and Halsted Street intersection (“11900 S HALSTED”).

I looked at three violations on one of the days that had an atypical number of tickets issued, May 12, 2011. Each motorist was ticketed, it appears, for turning right on red. It’s not possible, though, without watching the video, to see if the motorist rolled through the turn or indeed stopped before turning right.

The Tribune called tickets issued during these “spikes” “undeserved” but that’s hard to say without see the violations on video. The photos don’t provide enough evidence. The Tribune also reported that appeals during these spike periods were more likely to be overturned than in the period outside the spikes. The reporters discussed the possibility of malfunctions and malicious behavior, calling that an “intervention”.

The Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees the program formerly operated by Redflex and now operated by Xerox, couldn’t refute either allegation, possibly with “service records, maintenance reports, email traffic, memos or anything else”. David Kidwell and Alex Richards report:

City transportation officials said neither the city nor Redflex made any changes to how violations were enforced. They acknowledged oversight failures and said the explosions of tickets should have been detected and resolved as they occurred. But they said that doesn’t mean the drivers weren’t breaking the law, and they defended the red light camera program overall as a safety success story. The program has generated nearly $500 million in revenue since it began in 2003.

The city was unaware of the spikes until given the evidence by the Tribune in January, said David Zavattero, a deputy director for the Chicago Department of Transportation. In the six months since, city officials have not provided any explanations.

“Trust me when I tell you that we want to know what caused these spikes you have identified as much as you do,” Zavattero said. “So far we can find no smoking gun.”

He acknowledged that faulty camera equipment likely played a role.

“I would say that is likely in some of these cases,” Zavattero said. “I cannot tell you that isn’t possible. It is possible. The old equipment was much more prone to break down than the equipment we are currently installing.”

You can download the data but you will likely produce the same results as the Tribune, but maybe a different conclusion. Their analysis has led people at all levels of the civic sphere to call for an investigation, including citizens, some of whom have filed a lawsuit, Alderman Waguespack and 19 other aldermen, and CDOT commissioner – who operates the red light camera program – Rebekah Scheinfeld.

I think they sufficiently identified a suspicious pattern. By the end of the long story, though, the Tribune didn’t prove its hypothesis that the tickets were “undeserved” or “unfair”.

In violation number 7003374335 you can see the driver of a Hyundai Santa Fe turning right at a red light. The Google Street View for this intersection shows that there is no RTOR restriction, meaning the driver is legally allowed to make a right turn here with a red light after coming to a complete stop and yielding to people in the crosswalk. But we can’t see if they stopped first. The next two violations that day at the same intersection I looked showed the same situation. (Find the violation by going to PhotoNotice and inputting 7003374335, NWD648, and CHI.)

I look forward to the investigation. The Tribune made a great start by analyzing the data and spurring the call for an investigation and it seems there’s not enough information in this dataset to explain why there are more tickets being issued.

One dataset that could help provide context – because these spikes, at least the ones that are sustained, don’t seem random – is knowing the number of vehicles passing through that intersection. The speed camera data has this information and allows one to show how different weekend traffic is from weekday traffic.

The "before" image showing the Santa Fe vehicle approaching the stop bar.

The “before” image showing the Santa Fe vehicle approaching the stop bar.

Violation photo 2

After: The Santa Fe vehicle is seen in a right turn.

Note: The Tribune identified 380 cameras but running a DISTINCT() query on the “camera name” field results in 340 values. Some cameras may have identical names because they’re at the same intersection, but you can’t discern that distinction from the dataset.

© 2014 Steven Can Plan

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