CategoryCities

Designing a new static map style for Chicago Cityscape

I redesigned the static maps that are shown on Chicago Cityscape’s Place pages to tone down their harsh hues, and change what data (which comes from OpenStreetMap) is shown.

All 2,800 maps are automatically generated using a program called MOATP (“Map of all the places”) which is based on Neil Freeman’s svgis program. Both programs are open source.

The map now shows all roads; it was awkward to see so many empty spaces between buildings. Secondary* and residential roads are shown with slightly less thickness than primary and motorway roads. Also included are multi-use trails in parks.

Parks and grass are shown in different hues of green, although I don’t think it’s distinctive enough to know there’s a difference. Cemeteries remain a darker green.

I’ve changed the building color to soften the harsh brown. Only named buildings and schools appear, which is why you see a lot of gaps. Most buildings outside downtown aren’t named.

Retail areas have been added in a soft, salmon and tan-like color to show where “activity” areas in each Place.

I’ll be uploading the new maps soon.

* These road categories come from the OpenStreetMap “highway” tag.

Chicago’s ward boundaries should go down alleys instead of main streets

Dividing a small part of a business district, centered on one street, into three fiefdoms cannot be an efficient way to govern a neighborhood, aggregate resources, or provide services.

This graphic illustrates how many elected “stakeholders” – each with their own ideas – a city transportation department and its contracted engineers have to deal with to repave a street and rebuild the sidewalks.

The constituents are the same, however. They are all small business owners, and if you want to get together and advocate for change, you’ll have to make three different appointments.

Say the first elected official supports your small group’s proposal. Are they going to talk to the next door elected official and collaborate?

Naw. Not in Chicago. This is the city where a bike lane will be repaired on a street, but only up to the point where the fiefdom boundary ends, because the next official didn’t want to pay for the maintenance on their side.

I can see one situation where having three boundaries is good: Say one of the official is really good, responsive to needs, pushes for street upgrades, spends their discretionary funds in ways that you like, and attracts more businesses to locate there.

The next door official, however, isn’t as responsive or “good”, but they want those businesses to locate on their side of the street. They’ll become better, in essence, competing.

I don’t think this happens in Chicago, because you’ll tend to have officials who are about the same.

The depicted project was proposed a little over four years ago, and is now complete, it appears.

This map shows how transit access from Uptown would diminish if the Red Line wasn’t there

The dark pink shows areas you can get to within 45 minutes by transit, and the light pink shows you how far you can get within 60 minutes of transit. The transit shed without the Red Line is much smaller!

I virtually dismantled the Red Line to show how important it is to get around the North Side via transit.

Mapzen, a fantastic company that makes free and open source mapping tools, and for whom I’m an independent contractor, updated its Mobility Explorer map to show where you can go from any point in a city by transit if a piece of existing transit infrastructure didn’t exist.

So, I handily took out the Red Line – the Chicago workhorse, carrying 145,000 people each weekday north of State/Lake station. The map shows the analysis, called an isochrone, as if you were departing from the Wilson station in Uptown.

Try it yourself.

You can download the map as a GeoJSON, open it in QGIS, and measure the area in square miles that each scenario covers.

At least 2.5 percent of the land area in Chicago is covered in parking lots and garages

Here’s how I know that at least 2.5 percent of the land area in Chicago is covered in parking lots and garages, as of February 5, 2017.

That’s a lot of polluted water runoff.

I grabbed the land area of 227.3 from the Wikipedia page.

I grabbed all the parking lots from OpenStreetMap via Metro Extracts, which is going to be the most complete map of parking lots and garages.

Volunteer mappers, including me, drew these by tracing satellite imagery.

With the parking lots data in GIS, I can count their area in square feet, which comes out to 160,075,942.42. Convert that to square miles and you get 5.74.

5.74/227.3*100 = 2.5 percent

The last snapshot of parking lot data I have is from February 2016, when only 3.39 square miles of parking lots have been drawn.

There are still many more parking lots to be drawn!

There are still $1 lots that no one has applied for

I’d like to point out my story on the Chicago Cityscape blog highlighting the fact that ~1,800 city-owned lots that are being sold to $1 to nearby property owners that haven’t been applied for. The City of Chicago is selling 3,844 vacant lots for $1 in these 34 community areas, but the city has received only 2,031 applications.

Day two in Zurich: Combine transit and museums on a single pass

Zurich, Switzerland

I was taking pictures of the tram and when I got home I saw that all three people were staring at my camera. At Bellevue in Zurich.

The post for day 1, Friday, when I went to Mount Rigi, hasn’t been written yet. 

Today was a busy day, which is expected when you travel Steven Vance-style: efficiently (meaning you see a lot of stuff without wasting any time), alone, with a very good sense of what you want to do, where they are, and how you’ll get around.

I’m staying at Hotel Bristol, which came up in an Orbitz search as being a decent place less than $100 per night – that’s hard in Zurich, and even harder if you want a place near the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf). I knew that’s where I would be coming and going a few times to get to Lucerne, the mountains, or to buy cheap (relatively) dinner.

This morning, after eating a continental breakfast in the hotel, I walked a couple of blocks from the hotel to the Hbf – I’m measuring blocks in a Chicago-sense. It was about 4-5 minutes to the nearest station entrance to buy the ZurichCard.

Getting the card was a no-brainer because for 24 CHF (Swiss Francs, about $25) you get a 24-hour public transit card and free entry to dozens of museums. It includes the city zone and the adjacent zones, including the airport. I have to leave for the airport tomorrow by 10 AM and I validated the card at 11 AM so I’m covered there.

After checking out and riding the city’s two funiculars and single rack railway, I visited the tram museum and national museum (Landesmuseum). Add to that the dozens of trams and buses I rode to reach the hill transport and two museums.

Consider that the cost of the train to the airport is 6.40 CHF, the tram museum is 12 CHF, and the Landesmuseum charges 10 CHF, I’d say I got more than my money’s worth.

What’s really great about the ZurichCard is that you can purchase it at any of ticket vending machine, including the ones labeled “SBB CFF FFS”* that also sell national railway and supra-regional tickets. You have to remember to validate the card right before your first use, either at a ZVV (Zurich regional public transport union) ticket vending machine.

My first transit trip this morning was on a fantastic double-articulated bus. That means it has three sections with five doors! These buses are only used on routes 31 and 33 in the city center, and they’re electric and silent, running on overhead trolley wire. The bus has the same priority and comfort as a tram, and multiple screens attached to the ceiling showing the next stop and its connections (transfers).

Zurich, Switzerland

The front two sections of a bi-articulated bus. It’s normally not possible to bring a bike on a bus or tram in Europe, except when the bus has been specially outfitted for the bike to be on the inside. Buses in Europe aren’t allowed to have bike racks on the front.

The tram system in the city center is the perfect complement and support for having so little driving here. Some of the streets restrict driving, and other streets have only a single lane in one direction, or just two lanes, one in each direction. Many of the major intersections within a mile of the Hbf surprisingly have no traffic controls.

Trams and buses load and unload passengers very fast because you can board through any door. “Winter mode” is enabled on many of the vehicles to keep passengers already on board more comfortable by opening doors at the stop only upon request (you push a button on the door).

Streetfilms published a video in 2014 discussing how the city administration has capped the number of parking spaces across the city: if a new parking space is built, a parking space has to be removed in the city center.

Driving in the city center is thus primarily for leaving your parking space for elsewhere in the city or region, or the reverse. Trips are extremely convenient by tram or trolley bus.

Motorists are obliged to stop for people who want to cross the road in zebra crossings, and trams which are turning across the lanes. Then, unless a road sign or marking dictates the priority of a lane, the rule “yield to the motorist on your right” reigns.

I never waited more than 7 minutes for a tram (I know because the countdown signs never exceeded 7 minutes for the route I was going to ride) and the average was probably closer to 4 minutes. It seems that a majority of the time trams run in exclusive right of way and traffic signals are set up to prioritize their movement.

Transit signal priority isn’t a given in all cities with trams; in Amsterdam and Budapest it seemed the tram waited just as long for a “green” light as adjacent, same-direction motorists did.

At the tram museum I talked to a staffer there who was pointing out features in a model created by a city task force which was investigating a potential U-bahn (underground) system for Zurich. He said that a couple of years ago the museum hosted an event to talk about whether the city was better off without the system.

The consensus amongst the attendees was that the city was indeed better off without a subway because the trams have a higher frequency than what the subway would have had. Another point made was that the connections between trams are easier and faster than between other modes.

Nevertheless, a few underground stations were built, but they aren’t subways. Two tracks, 21 and 22, carry the two routes of the Sihltal Zürich Uetliberg Bahn (SZU), One goes up the Uetliberg mountain in the city and the other serves the Sihl valley suburbs. There are also three underground tram stations away from the city center on line 7.

Traffic on the local transit was lighter than yesterday. Many riders I saw today were headed to a hill to go sledding. It might also be a coincidence that I rode all three hill-climbing funicular and rack railway lines, as well as the train that goes up “Mount Zurich” (870 meters; its real name is Uetliberg).

The Dolderbahn heads up the hill from Romerhof to the Dolder recreation area. At least half of the passengers today were children going with their parents and friends to sled down a hill there.

The Dolderbahn is a rack (cog) railway that heads up the Adlisberg mountain from Römerhof to the Dolder recreation area. At least half of the passengers today were children going with their parents and friends to sled down a hill there.

The last word on Zurich: It’s very expensive to eat here. I paid 11.50 CHF (about the same in USD) for a “döner box” which is something I paid about $5 in Rotterdam. A döner box is fast food. The cheap beer that went along with it was $5, which I could probably get for less than $2 in Rotterdam.

* “SBB CFF FFS” is a set of three acronyms that when expanded mean “Swiss Federal Railways” in German, French, and Italian, respectively. It’s normally abbreviated to SBB – German is the most commonly spoken language in Switzerland. Each of the acronyms plus dot “ch” has its own website that loads the organization’s website in the respective language.

You want a plan for Logan Square infrastructure? Let’s try out the one we got

I posted a modified version of this post to Streetsblog Chicago.

extralarge

A group in Chicago says “current infrastructure” cannot handle ~120 more people moving into Logan Square. Ring the NIMBY warning bell!

Logan Square is more equipped to handle ten times that number of new residents than most neighborhoods.

The Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association’s (boundary map) Zoning and Planning Committee’s submitted their opinion on a proposed building on the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Campbell Avenue to 1st Ward Alder Proco Joe Moreno.

They wrote, “Current infrastructure cannot sustain the increase in density and ZAPC would like to know how is this is being addressed by the City”.

“Of the 88 units”, DNAinfo Chicago reported, “28 would be studios, 48 would be one-bedroom units and 12 would be two-bedroom units.”

What’s wrong with current infrastructure that it can’t handle 120 new residents? The GGNA doesn’t say. 

The context of this demand is a bit unfortunate, as far as good city planning goes. The city is in no way required to respond with how the city is addressing how current infrastructure can or cannot handle 120 new residents. And neither is Alder Moreno. Neither the city nor the developer* are required to do anything to change infrastructure in the area.

Logan Square’s population is much, much less than its peak. These 120 new residents are in some ways making up for the loss in units in the neighborhood due to deconversions. And their supply will help stem any rapid rise in rent increases.

What would be a good outcome, I believe, is that there’s a process or three:

  1. Measure the impact of new housing on current infrastructure (housing availability and pricing, sewer, transportation, roads, and parks).
  2. Measure the impact of converted or demolished housing on current infrastructure.
  3. Measure the potential impacts of not building the proposed building.

This stretch of Milwaukee Avenue had a plan adopted for it in 2008. It would be nice to try and stick to a plan’s recommendations, for once. As far as neighborhood plans go, it is pretty good.

Wanna know what the plan said? Build more housing.

Higher density housing is often attractive for young couples, as well as new families, singles, and empty-nesters looking to downsize their housing units and spend less time on home maintenance and repair. These residents are drawn to urban living because of the goods and services that are available in pedestrian-oriented environments.

Taller buildings would continue the streetwall found along other sections of the Corridor. This would accommodate higher density housing to maximize the number of residents in the area who could conveniently take advantage of the existing transportation and the existing stores, restaurants and services located along the Corridor.

These housing types will help build the immediate population density necessary to create a vibrant and growing Study Area.

I despise this kind of comment from neighborhood organizations: “The density is of major concern for the surrounding residents of the proposed project and is not received favorably.”

How would you feel if someone got to influence the approval process for the place you live now? How would you feel if someone was saying you should live elsewhere? How come people who live in a part of a city get to decide who else can live near them? Why do people say they don’t want to live around a bunch of other people?

* It’s actually a group of developers.

Bicyclists in Chicago can travel pretty far in 15 minutes

Mapzen* released Mobility Explorer last week. It is the graphical user interface (GUI) to the Transitland datastore of a lot of the world’s transit schedules and maps.

It also has isochrones, which are more commonly known as “mode sheds”, or the area that you can reach by a specific mode in a specific amount of time.

I wanted to test it quickly to see what these mode sheds say about where I live, a block north of Humboldt Park. From my house, on a bicycle, I can reach the edges of an area that’s 25 square miles in 15 minutes.

Isochrones map of transportation distance from my house

The distance you can travel from my house at the north end of Humboldt Park in 15 minutes by three modes, assuming you leave at 2:21 PM today (in increasing distance/area): Transit (dark purple) Bicycling (burgundy) Driving (pink)

You can request these isochrones through this API call for any location and they’ll be returned as GeoJSON.

I’m still learning how isochrones work, and how they can be adjusted (to account for different rider seeds and route costs or penalties). One difference between bicycling and driving is that the driving area is increased by expressways while the bicycling area has a more uniform shape.

The bike shed is 25.7 square miles, and the driving shed is 52.0 square miles.

*I do contract work for Mapzen and maintain parts of the Transitland Feed Registry.

Alder Pawar’s message to the 47th Ward – and all people

Alder Ameya Pawar emailed this story to subscribers of his 47th Ward newsletter. I am posting it here because there was no other way to view this online. I received it on Thursday, November 10, 2016, at 15:19.

—–

Dear Neighbor,

I am the son of Indian immigrants and my dad was just five years old during the British partition of India and Pakistan. The trauma associated with splitting one nation into two by religion is still felt by Indians and Pakistanis today. The impacts to his family were very real. It wasn’t until he came to the United States in 1972 that he experienced a life without food rations. My wife, Charna, is Jewish and her family is made up of recent immigrants and refugees and survivors of the Holocaust. Charna often talks about how Jews have spent millennia running from one place to the next in search of a stable home. And she often talks about how our families, and millions of immigrants and refugees come to the United States because our country is the freest place in the world. Her family’s experience led her to a career in human rights where she worked with and taught unaccompanied undocumented minors at the International Children’s Center, led the Heartland Alliance’s Refugee and Immigrant Community Services department resettling refugees from Sudan, Iraq, and beyond, and was one of the leaders in Chicago’s efforts to resettle over 10k Hurricane Katrina evacuees, America’s refugees. She did so out of a sense of service to our country, a country that allowed entry to her family and millions of others; and she did so to help make the world a better place.

So when the Presidential campaign devolved into denigrating and casting refugees and immigrants as weak, drains on our government, and people to be feared, we were offended and horrified. Charna often says that refugees and evacuees are the most resilient people on the planet. They walk continents, survive warehousing, flee their homelands to escape violence, or leave their homes after a massive natural disaster in search of safety and the dream of a better life for themselves and their families. And that search for safety, security, and a better life is the definition of the American experience. So as the campaign rhetoric escalated over the last year, Charna and I had a conversation about some of the anti-immigrant, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic rhetoric coming from the President-elect’s campaign. What would we do if he won? What would we do if he was serious about a religious litmus test? What we do if he began rounding up undocumented immigrants, immigrants, and refugees? What would this mean for our family and our friends and neighbors from diverse backgrounds? Based on our collective experience and from history, we know how ugly rhetoric can spin from just that into policies and actions. So we asked ourselves, where would we go if we unimaginably had to leave? And the irony of the last question? My wife said “Germany”, the country that part of her family fled to escape the Holocaust, the country that today takes in hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world, is one country that we could consider due to WWII reparations for the descendants of families that were forced to flee. And that was saddest conversation of our life.

I say all of this because we know what if feels like to be seen as ‘the other.’ And I know most of the 48 million people who voted for the President-elect do not believe, subscribe to, or hold values which align with the rhetoric of his campaign. My guess is that for many people who voted for the President-elect, they too felt like ‘the other.’ Economic policies, widening income inequality, and a lack of investment in communities manifested itself in the results on Tuesday night. We must deal with these issues and hear people before suffering forces more people into the arms of a demagogue. That’s really all I have to say on this because there is so much I don’t understand about Tuesday.

All said, I will continue to push back on the idea that wealth equals competence in government. I will continue to push back against leaders who seek to create ‘the others’, whether they are immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, people of color, women, LGBTQ, or members of unions. My commitment to social justice will never change. I do feel that the level of our discourse has been cheapened by social media and other platforms where people and politicians seek immediate responses and appeal to and act on one another’s most base instincts. So my office is going to take a break from the echo chamber that is social media and find better ways to engage and promote rational public discourse.

In the coming days and months, we should all start a new level of discourse by engaging and helping organizations that do the hard work of protecting American values and serving our neighbors in need. I hope you’ll join us and get involved with organizations like Planned Parenthood, La Casa Norte, the Sierra Club, Heartland Alliance, Apna Ghar, Thresholds, the Center on Halsted, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Consider volunteering your time or making a financial contribution to an organization of your choice. Let’s all do our part.

In closing, I don’t have a prescriptive idea today – writing this letter to you is cathartic for me and an expression of many conversations I’ve had with some of you over the last 48 hours. I’ll simply end this week’s letter by going back to my dad’s story. My dad is 5 foot 2. I am 6 feet tall. And there is a reason for why there is a major height difference between the two of us. In India, my dad battled typhoid as a young boy and lived off food rations; I grew up here with plenty of food to eat and without any health or public health concerns. In just one generation, and because of American immigration policies, my parents were able to see their son elected as the first Asian American alderman in Chicago’s history and watch their daughter graduate with a doctorate from Northwestern University. America is a great country. Americans are a good people. And nowhere else in the world is my family’s story possible. But today, it is the hope and dream realized by my parents and my wife’s family that we cling to for support and hope. We have to chart a course forward and we will.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Sincerely,
Ameya

Big Marsh Bike Park is the coolest new city park

Big Marsh Bike Park opening day from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

Rahm Emanuel has opened a lot of cool new parks – Maggie Daley, Northerly Island, 606, and Grant Park Skate Park – since he became mayor. (Making arguments that the parking lot south of Soldier Field can’t be anything but a parking lot pretty lame.)

This morning Emanuel cut the ribbon on the Big Marsh Bike Park, first announced in July 2014. It’s still known as Park 564, until the Chicago Park District board adopts a new name.

It’s located at 11599 S. Stony Island Ave. in the South Deering community area in an area already known as Big Marsh. I mapped the park into OpenStreetMap based on a map from the architect, Hitchcock Design Group*.

I've traced an architect's map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

I’ve traced an architect’s map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

The single-track trails, terrain park, and pump track, are free and open to the public every day from dawn until dusk. It resembles the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder Colorado, which I visited in 2014.

Big Marsh was listed in the city’s Habitat Directory in 2005, noting, “Big Marsh is the largest individual wetland in the Calumet Open Space Reserve with approximately 90 acres of open water. Hiking and biking trails and canoe launch are ideas for this area in the future. As of this writing, the site is undeveloped.”

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago's Habitat Directory.

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago’s Habitat Directory. The bike park is mainly in the cleared space east of the #2 on the map.

The area is also part of the the State of Illinois’s Millennium Reserve program, a group of projects to restore natural areas, create new economic development opportunities in the area, and build more recreational sites.

There is no bike infrastructure to access the site, and many roads leading to the site are in bad condition, or have high-speed car traffic. There is a large car parking lot at the site.

* If you would like to help me map the bike park into OpenStreetMap, you can load the architect’s map of the site into JOSM using this WMS tile layer.

Panorama of the bike park, and the landfill to its south

A rider on the terrain park small trail

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