CategoryAccessibility

How to download data from ArcGIS MapServers using your computer’s command line

A lot of geospatial data (GIS) is stored on ArcGIS MapServers, which is part of the Esri “stack” of products that municipalities use to manage and publish GIS data. And a lot of people want that data. If you have ArcGIS software on your Windows computer, then it can be pretty easy to plug in the map server URL and manipulate and extract the data.

For the rest of us who don’t have an extremely expensive license to that software, you can use a “command line” tool (written in Python) on any computer to download any layer of GIS data hosted on the ArcGIS MapServer and automatically convert it to GeoJSON.

You’ll need to install the Python package pyesridump, from the OpenAddresses GitHub repository, created by Ian Dees and other contributors.

Installing pyesridump is easy if you have pip installed, using the command pip install esridump.

The next thing you’ll need is the URL to a layer in a MapServer, and these are not easy to find.

Finding data to download

I can guarantee the county where you live has one. Before you continue, check to see if your county (or other jurisdiction) has the “open data portal” add-on to their ArcGIS stack.

Here are links to the open data portals enabled by Esri for Lake County, Illinois, and Broomfield County, Colorado). This is much easier to browse and find data to download (in shapefile and other formats) and you can skip this tutorial.

I don’t have a good recommendation to find the MapServer URL, though. A reader suggested looking for MapServers for jurisdictions around the world by looking through Esri’s portal of open data called ArcGIS Hub. Once you locate a dataset you want, you can find the MapServer URL under About>Data Source on the right side of the page.

I normally find them by looking at the HTML source code of a MapServer I already know about.

For this example I’ll use one of the GIS layers in the Cook County, Illinois, election service MapServer – here’s the layer for the Cook County commissioners districts.

Fetch the data

Once you have the URL the command is simple:

esri2geojson http://cookviewer1.cookcountyil.gov/ArcGIS/rest/services/cookElectnSrvc/MapServer/11 cookcounty_commissioners.geojson

  • The first term, esri2geojson tells your computer which program to load.
  • The second term is the URL of the MapServer URL.
  • The third term is the filename and location where you want to store the file. I prefer running the command “inside” the folder where I want the file to be stored. You can also specify a full path of the file. On a Mac this would look like ~/Users/username/Documents/GIS/projectname/cookcounty_commissioners.geojson

After you enter the command into your computer’s terminal, press enter. esri2geojson will report back once, after it finds and understands the MapServer URL you gave it. When it’s done, the command will “close” and your computer’s terminal will wait for the next command.

Do you have questions, or need some help? Leave a comment below.

Cataloging the city’s emails about what staff said regarding Laquan McDonald’s death

Screen grab from the released Laquan McDonald video

The City of Chicago released a trove emails spread over eight PDF files containing 3,000 pages, on New Year’s Eve, wherein city staff, including from the mayor’s office, police department, law department, discussed how they should handle countless requests from the media for information about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

In the middle of the night on October 20, 2014, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him.

Over a year later, a dashcam video of the shooting was released, sparking protests, theresignation of Chicago’s Police Chief, a federal investigation, and calls for the Mayor and State’s Attorney to resign.

I set to work that night reading as many as I could, and gathering strangers on Twitter to help read and catalog them.

This blog post is intended to point to the Google Sheet where we – over a dozen people who congregated here via Twitter – recorded the details of each message, including what it said, what we think the communicators meant, and what information was missing.

Read the Laquan McDonald emails catalog.

Links between Emanuel’s campaign donors and their building projects

The Tribune called out Emanuel’s appearance at a press conference as an endorsement of a locally-designed skyscraper (Studio Gang and bKL Architecture) to be built by Wanda, a Chinese development company – it has yet to receive any approval. Photo: Ted Cox, DNAinfo.

The Chicago Tribune reviewed the campaign contributions of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top donors and linked each donor to how it does business with Emanuel or the city. The article overall discussed how easy it is for Rahm to raise more money than what’s probably necessary to be elected a second time.

The Tribune graciously provided this data as a simple table which I’ve republished here in order to add links to building permit information from Chicago Cityscape. The website I’ve developed lists company and person names in an immediately searchable form. Currently there are over 90,000 companies, architects, and property owners that have received a building permit since 2010. Use the Illinois Sunshine database to find out who’s contributing to whom in the Chicago election.

Note: You’ll see “listed under [many] names” for several companies; this indicates that the Chicago building permit database uses different spellings, or the company has changed their name.

[table id=1 /]

Neither the article nor this table are meant to indicate any wrongdoing – campaign donations are public and it’s common to receive them from companies that do business in Chicago. It’s the extent that the donation appears to pay for favors or favoritism over other donors (which may be competing companies), or what’s right, that determines when immorality becomes an issue (a connection that’s hard to demonstrate).

Respect the corner!

Buildings on corners should have corner entrances or minimally deviate.

Contractors work on building the new entrance.*

The residential building on the northwest corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Halsted Street was built in 2003 with a first-floor commercial space with an entrance on the Milwaukee Avenue side. Normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal – Milwaukee is a busy street and this side of the street has a fair amount of foot traffic. But the other side of the building, on Halsted Street, faces one of two entrances to the Grand Blue Line subway station and a major transfer bus stop.

7-11 is moving into the building and have built a new entrance out of the corner space with floor-to-ceiling windows. Now it’ll be much easier for transit riders to get to a convenience store. The other advantage is the added visibility: seeing the entrance from far away, from all sides, saves milliseconds in our internal GPS processing time – make a bee-line to the entrance instead of “hunting” it down after you make your way in the general direction of the building.


View Larger Map

* You can see that there’s a step here so it’s not currently accessible. Originally this wasn’t the entrance so that makes sense. I don’t know what these contractors are doing but 7-11 must make the entrance accessible.

Going to worship at The Beer Temple takes too long

Minor suggestion to improve Elston-California-Belmont

A map of Belmont, Elston, California with lines and labels that show how I get to The Beer Temple and where I think the city should add car parking.

The Beer Temple opened two blocks from my house in Avondale last year, at 3185 N Elston Ave, on the six-way intersection of Belmont Avenue, Elston Avenue, and California Avenue. This intersection is beastly.

And it’s timed wrong. Since I live southwest of the great craft and imported beer store and it’s on the northwest corner of Elston (a diagonal street) and California, I have to cross twice. I make the first crossing, east-west across California at my street, and then walk north to the second crossing, north-south across Elston.

I cross at my street across California because there’s no light to wait for, and the crossing isn’t diagonal like my other option at Elston (which would mean I walk north, then diagonally south and east). Once I get to Elston, though, I’m screwed because the walk signal is about 15 seconds long but the wait for the next walk signal is about 90 seconds long.

It’s so long because the green for Elston is held for Elston traffic, but also held green for eastbound Belmont traffic that makes a right turn onto southeast-bound Elston. Instead of the walk signal being green for two phases of the cycle (for two of the three streets), it’s green for only one cycle: California’s.

This is because this six-way intersection is the less common type, the type with an island in the middle. It’s got the island because the three streets cross each other at different points and don’t share a common cross point. I’ve got to wait for two phases because Elston needs to stay green for Belmont traffic because you can’t have drivers waiting in the island area – too many cars may stack up and block cross traffic during another phase.

(At many intersections I would just cross whenever there’s a gap between fast-moving cars, but with six-way intersections you don’t always know from where a car will be speeding towards you.)

I get that, but that makes it suck for walking in this area. This design also makes it suck for people biking and driving to turn left from certain streets to other streets because they can’t make the left turn and keep on going. They make the left turn and then have to stop and wait for a second phase to keep going.

I’ve racked my mind for ideas on how to improve this intersection just mildly, in such a way that few would oppose (because that’s really the threshold you can’t cross to have a nice outcome in Chicago).

My idea? Add car parking in front of Dragon Lady Lounge in the “non-identified lane” there. It’s used as a travel lane, or a right-turn lane, depending on who’s driving and how they choose to maneuver their vehicle. It’s not needed for either because of the way traffic moves southbound on Elston past Dragon Lady Lounge and that Elston only has one travel lane in each direction on either side of this big intersection.

The parking would have the obvious benefit of putting customers closer to their destination, but would have the less obvious benefits of protecting people on the sidewalk, buffering noise and speeding vehicles from sidewalk users, and slow traffic past Dragon Lady Lounge when people are parking.

Let’s get rid of beg buttons

As much as you may believe, because you encounter them so rarely, Chicago indeed has several types of “beg buttons”. This is a mechanism wherein a person walking along a street must apply to cross another street. You are begging for permission. They are not popular, many are not even hooked up anymore, and they don’t call the pedestrian signal any sooner (their purpose is to make the green traffic signal long enough for a person to cross).

Jan Gehl et. al. succinctly demonstrate in Cities for People the opposing methods of telling a person when they can cross the street (meaning cross traffic has been halted).

The 2013 Chicago Complete Streets Design Guidelines and 2012 Pedestrian Plan reorients the city to prefer facilitating and encouraging transportation by foot over all other modes of travel.

The Pedestrian Plan says that beg buttons should have an LED light that indicates to the pusher that the button has been pushed. (The Pedestrian Plan also calls “traffic signals” a high cost pedestrian safety tool, alongside the high cost of “pedestrian hybrid beacons” and the medium cost of “rectangular rapid flash beacons”. Slow traffic, on the other hand, doesn’t have an operating cost, but it definitely has a “we’re getting there cost”.)

The Plan also says to get rid of them “except for locations where they are necessary to bring up a WALK phases for pedestrians” and without saying what makes it necessary to bring up a WALK phase (versus always having a WALK phase for that direction of traffic) and if that “necessary” is aligned with the Complete Streets Design Guidelines’ paradigm shift. Systematically removing inoperable ones is a separate, medium term milestone (alongside developing a location database).

The CSDG thankfully considers many other realities in Chicago that go against the new transportation paradigm that puts the pedestrian first. For example, it calls for the systematic removal of all slip lanes – none of which I’ve heard or seen removed in the year since CDOT created the guidelines.

Untitled

I want the city to systematically remove all beg buttons. If the green signal is too short for a person to cross the street, then it’s probably too short for a bicyclist to cross in the green signal (yes, this exists in Chicago). It also means the street is too wide to foster it being a place over being a pipe for cars. And if it’s not a place, what is it and why are people walking there? What personal needs – like a job, food, and socializing – are not being fulfilled where they live that people have to cross this road to meet those needs?

Updated March 10 at 12:56 to clarify what the Pedestrian Plan says about beg buttons.

Residents are gathering on Wednesday to voice opposition to wheel-friendly park along Bloomingdale Trail

Walsh Park rendering, from a September 2012 public meeting.

This message is for everyone who likes using parks designed for skating, BMX, Razor scooters, and doing tricks with wheelchairs. They’re typically called skate parks, but they’re not just for skateboards and inline skates anymore. The 606 should have (if not shut down by these people) a “wheel friendly park” at Walsh Park, at the eastern terminus of the Bloomingdale Trail, a constituent feature, at about 1800 N Ashland. Some neighbors will be gathering at the next Chicago Park District board meeting on Wednesday to voice their opposition. They have a petition.

Someone forwarded me their letter to people in the neighborhood (and to staff working on the Bloomingdale Trail project), pasted below, doesn’t describe their basis of opposition. It must be all those 5-year-old girls on push scooters, and 10-year old boys learning to ride a skateboard.

Can you spread this to a wider community of people who use skate parks? The Trust For Public Land, in charge of fundraising, describes the feature in Walsh Park as a “wheel friendly” zone, agnostic to the equipment (bikes, skateboards, and wheelchairs will be allowed).

—–

Hello Bloomingdale Trail Neighbors,

The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners is having a meeting on August 14th. My husband John will sign up to put our opposition to a skateboard park on the agenda. He would also like to present the Board with our signed petitions. Anyone with signed petition sheets please let me know so that we can work out a way to collect them. Anyone who has yet to sign the petition please let us know that as well so we can arrange to get your John Hancock.  (John’s email is [email protected] )

If you are able to attend, please join us.  The more supporters the better!  I’ll let you know what time slot John gets.  [text removed.]  He is a great spokesperson for us.  Please pick up a copy of the Red Eye on Monday to read an extensive article about Bloomingdale Trail.  John was interviewed for the article [excerpted below].  Ananda Breslof is also scheduled to appear before the Board regarding the Dog Friendly Area of the Park.  She needs all the supporters she can get as well.

LOCATION:
Board of Commissioners, Chicago Park District, 541 N. Fairbanks Court, 7th Floor, Chicago  60611

This is what the Park District sent out:

The Public Participation portion of the Board’s regularly scheduled committee meetings will commence at 10:30 a.m.; and  at 4:00 p.m. for the Board’s regularly scheduled Board meetings. Any individual interested in making a presentation must register with the Office of Secretary in person between 9:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. on the day of the Board committee meeting; and between 2:30 P.M. and 3:30 P.M. on the day of the Board meeting. Individuals may also sign-up to speak via the Park District’s web site beginning at approximately 7:00 P.M. the Friday before the board meeting and ending at 5:00 P.M. the Tuesday before the board meeting.

Please pass this along to anyone I may have missed who would be interested in this important decision.

Here’s to a safe and well thought out 606 Project.

Judie Knoerle
[address redacted]
[phone number redacted]
John Knoerle
[phone number redacted]

—–

Interview with John Knoerle about the wheel-friendly zone in Walsh Park, published in the RedEye on August 11, 2013

JOHN KNOERLE

Author of the American Spy Trilogy, a series of World War II-era novels, but his housing situation may be more dramatic

When Knoerle first moved off the 606 with his wife, Judie, in 1999, freight trains were still traveling the trail.

Now Knoerle’s neighboring Walsh Park may feature a concrete skateboard space.

“It’s going to be insane,” Knoerle said. “We’ve been blessed to have a very quiet block here, and that’s going to change.”

Though he believes the project will increase his property value, and he enjoys occasionally walking the trail, he has concerns that crime and traffic will increase.

Beth White, the Chicago-area office director for the Trust for Public Land, said the concrete space in Walsh Park won’t just be for skateboarders, but rather a “wheel-friendly space” that can be used for concerts and plays. People in wheelchairs will be able to utilize it as well.

“It’s going to be a far safer space and actually a more quiet space than what is there now,” White said.

Knoerle said in recent years, trailgoers have thrown rocks at car windows and tagged walls of homes adjacent to the 606. Knoerle said he’s asked for an increase in bike patrols of the area. A Chicago police spokesman said the trail sees very little crime and police regularly patrol the area.

Knoerle’s now worried that the proposed changes would significantly increase the amount of traffic to his block. Knoerle said he’s gathering petition signatures so the Trust could rethink the skate park for Walsh Park, which is expected to be the largest of the five access parks. “It will be like living along the bike trail on the beach,” Knoerle said. “It doesn’t seem a pleasant prospect.”

Walsh Park’s final rendering, from a June 2013 public meeting. 

Get out of Googleville: my presentation on web mapping

Alternate headlines: Google Maps versus OpenStreetMap; why OpenStreetMap is better than Google Maps

I presented to the Chicago GIS Network Meetup group on February 5,2013, about alternatives to Google when it comes to mapping on the web. I created the presentation and outline a couple hours before giving it and came up with this slideshow with three frames.

Googleville 1 of 3

Google Maps and its data is a one-way street (or many one-way streets). Google will take data but won’t give it back.

Googleville 2 of 3

Google Maps has all of these features, but they’re easier to manipulate when you use an alternative. Alternatives like: MapBox, TileMill, OpenLayers, OpenStreetMap (made easy with JOSM), GeoCommons – I’m sure there are plenty more.

Googleville 3 of 3

OpenStreetMap is the Wikipedia of online mapping and geographic data. Considering switching to OSM.

Stolen Bike Registry data: Which train stations have the most bike theft?

If you can help it, don’t park your bike on the sidewalk under the tracks at the Clybourn Metra Station. Too many opportunities for theft here. 

The Stolen Bike Registry is a website created by Chicagoans for people to notify the community that their bike has been stolen. I make no claims to the accuracy or completeness (or anything) about this list or the dataset from which it was created. Because of less than optimal data collection practices, and a diversity of website users, the location information is difficult to comb through and present. I’ve used Google Refine to clean up some of the location data so that I can pick out the theft locations that represent CTA or Metra stations.

This is a list of the most reported bike theft locations that are CTA or Metra stations, from about June 13, 2006, to April 2, 2011, representing 1,740 bike theft reports*. It’s not known how many bike thefts were reported to the police because they don’t know.

CTA (13 stations)

Logan Square Blue Line CTA 8
Rockwell Brown Line CTA 5
Addison Brown Line CTA 2
Fullerton Red/Brown Line CTA 2
Paulina Brown Line CTA 2
Western & Milwaukee (Blue Line) CTA 2
Western Brown Line CTA 2
Addison Blue Line CTA 1
Chicago Brown Line CTA 1
Damen Blue Line CTA 1
Ashland Orange Line CTA  1
Cumberland Blue Line CTA 1
Wellington Brown Line CTA 1

The new bike racks at Clybourn Metra station are in a more visible spot. Maybe there’s even a security camera pointed at them some of the time. 

Metra (24 stations)

Clybourn Metra 19
Ravenswood Metra 18
Edgebrook Metra 4
Evanston Main Street Metra 2
Forest Glen Metra 2
Healy Metra 2
Lake Cook Metra 2
Ogilvie Metra 2
57th Street Metra 1
College Avenue Metra Train Station 1
Corner of Maple & Church in downtown Evanston, near Metra 1
Glenview Metra Station 1
Harlem Metra Station Berwyn, IL 1
Irving Park Metra Stop 1
Jefferson Park Metra 1
LaSalle Street Metra 1
Mayfair Metra 1
Metra Station at Davis Street, Evanston 1
Morton Grove Metra Station 1
Prairie Crossing Metra Station 1
Rogers Park Metra 1
Union Station Metra 1
Western Metra Station 1
Wilmette Metra 1

* Reports come from around the world. 10 dates have been excluded because their dates were anomalous, empty, or not possible.

Updated September 30 to correct a Metra station and combine it with another.

Where else is it hard to “be a pedestrian” in Chicago?

I’m researching for an article about the many places in Chicago where pedestrian facilities should be improved. This is not about the lack of pedestrian safety in Chicago, but about deliberate designs that place push buttons or street crossing out of reach for some residents. So far this is what I’ve got.

Jackson Drive to cross Lake Shore Drive. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to step in a big mess of mud.

Robinson Street to cross Ashland Avenue. To press the crosswalk signal activation button you have to reach over or through a fence.

Southwest corner of Kinzie Street at Clark Street. There are no ramps at this crosswalk. A short distance west of here on the south side of Kinzie Street there are also stairs to traverse.

Where are there others?

N.B. While the word “pedestrian” is based on the word for “feet” in other languages, a pedestrian is considered anyone who isn’t getting around on a bicycle or automobile and uses the sidewalk. People using wheelchairs are grouped into “pedestrians” along with those who don’t.

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