Converting a transit agency’s GTFS to shapefile and GeoJSON with QGIS

Many years ago I wrote a tutorial on how to use an ArcGIS plugin to convert a transit agency’s GTFS package – a group of files that describe when and where their buses and trains stop – into files that could easily be manipulated by popular GIS desktop software.

That was so long ago, before I became an expert in using QGIS, a free and open source alternative to ArcGIS.

This tutorial will show you how to convert GTFS to a shapefile and to GeoJSON so you can edit and visualize the transit data in QGIS.


First you’ll need to have QGIS installed on your computer (it works with Linux, Mac, and Windows). Second you’ll need a GTFS package for the transit agency of your choice (here’s the one for Pace Suburban Bus*, which operates all suburban transit buses in Chicagoland). You can find another transit agency around the world on the GTFS Data Exchange website.

Section 1: Let’s start

  1. Open QGIS.
  2. Load your GTFS data into the QGIS table of contents (also called the Layers Panel). Click Layer>Add Layer>Add Delimited Text Layer. You will be adding one or two files depending on which ones are provided.

    QGIS add delimited text layer

    Add delimited text layer.

  3. Now, here it can get tricky. Not all transit agencies provide a “shapes.txt” file. The shapes.txt file draws out the routes of buses and trains. If it’s not provided, that’s fine, but if you turn them into routes based on the stops.txt data, then you will have funny looking and impossible routes.

    QGIs browse for the stops.txt file

    Browse for the stops.txt file

  4. Click on “Browse…” and find the “stops.txt”. QGIS will read the file very quickly and determine which fields hold the latitude and longitude coordinates. If its determination is wrong, you can choose a different “X field” (longitude) and “Y field” (latitude).
  5. Click “OK”. A new dialog box will appear asking you to choose a coordinate reference system (EPSG). Choose or filter for “WGS 84, EPSG:4326”. Then click “OK”.
  6. The Pace bus stops in the Chicagoland region are now drawn in QGIS!

    Pace bus stops are shown

    Pace bus stops are shown

  7. If the GTFS package you downloaded includes a “shapes.txt” file (that represents the physical routes and paths that the buses or trains take), import that file also by repeating steps 4 and 5.

Section 2: Converting the stops

It’s really easy now to convert the bus or train stops into a shapefile or GeoJSON representing all of those points.

  1. Right-click the layer “stops” in the table of contents (Layers Panel) and click “Save As…”.
  2. In the “Save vector layer as…” dialog box, choose the format you want, either “ESRI Shapefile” or “GeoJSON”. **
  3. Then click “Browse” to tell QGIS where in your computer’s file browser you want to save the file. Leave the “CRS” as-is (EPSG:4326).

    Convert the bus stops to a shapefile or GeoJSON.

    Convert the Pace bus stops to a shapefile or GeoJSON.

  4. Then click “OK” and QGIS will quickly report that the file has been converted and saved where you specified in step 3.

Section 3: Converting the bus or train routes

The “shapes.txt” file is a collection of points that when grouped by their route number, show the physical routes and paths that buses and trains take. You’ll need a plugin to make the lines from this data.

  1. Install the plugin “Points to Paths”. Click on Plugins>Manage and Install Plugins… Then click “All” and search for “points”. Click the “Points to Paths” plugin and then click the “Install plugin” button. Then click “Close”.

    Install the Points to Paths plugin.

    Install the Points to Paths plugin.

  2. Pace bus doesn’t provide the “shapes.txt” file so we’ll need to find a new GTFS package. Download the GTFS package provided by the Chicago Transit Authority, which has bus and rail service in Chicago and the surrounding municipalities.
  3. Load the CTA’s “shapes.txt” file into the table of contents (Layers Panel) by following steps 4 and 5 in the first section of this tutorial.  Note that this data includes both the bus routes and the train routes.

    QGIS load CTA bus and train stops

    Import CTA bus and train stops into QGIS

  4. Now let’s start the conversion process. Click on Plugins>Points to Paths. In the next dialog box choose the “shapes” layer as your “Input point layer”.
  5. Select “shape_id” as the field with which you want to “Point group field”. This tells the plugin how to distinguish one bus route from the next.
  6. Select “shape_pt_sequence” as the field with which you want to “Point order field”. This tells the plugin in what order the points should be connected to form the route’s line.
  7. Click “Browse” to give the converted output shapefile a name and a location with your computer’s file browser.
  8. Make sure all  of the options look like the one in this screenshot and then click “OK”. QGIS and the plugin will start working to piece together the points into lines and create a new shapefile from this work.

    These are the options you need to set to convert the CTA points (stops) to paths (routes).

    These are the options you need to set to convert the CTA points to paths (routes).

  9. You’ll know it’s finished when the hourglass or “waiting” cursor returns to a pointer, and when you see a question asking if you would like the resulting shapefile added to your table of contents (Layers Panel). Go ahead and choose “Yes”.

    QGIS: CTA bus and train points are converted to paths (routes)

    The CTA bus and train points, provided in a GTFS package, have been converted to paths (routes/lines).

  10. Now follow steps 1-4 from Section 3 to convert the routes/lines data to a shapefile or GeoJSON file.**


* As of this writing, the schedules in Pace’s GTFS package are accurate as of January 18, 2016. It appears their download link always points to the latest version. Transit schedules typically change several times each year. Pace says, “Only one package is posted at any given time, typically representing Pace service from now until a couple of months in the future. Use the Calendar table to see on which days and dates service in the Trips table are effective.”

** Choose GeoJSON if you want to show this data on a web map (like in Leaflet or the Google Maps API), or if you want to share the data on GitHub.

How to extract highways and subway lines from OpenStreetMap as a shapefile

It’s possible to use Overpass Turbo to extract any object from the OpenStreetMap “planet” and convert it from a GeoJSON or KML file to a shapefile for manipulation and analysis in GIS.

Say you want the subway lines for Mexico City, and you can’t find a GTFS file that you could convert to shapefile, and you can’t find the right files on Sistema de Transporte Colectivo’s website (I didn’t look for it).

Here’s how to extract the subway lines that are shown in OpenStreetMap and save them as a GIS shapefile.

This is my second tutorial to describe using Overpass Turbo. The first extracted places of worship in Cook County. I’ve also used Overpass Turbo to extract a map of campgrounds

Extract free and open source data from OpenStreetMap

  1. Open the Overpass Turbo website and, on the map, search for the city from which you want to extract data. (The Overpass query will be generated in such a way that it’ll only search for data in the current map view.)
  2. Click the “Wizard” button in the top toolbar. (Alternatively you can copy the code below and paste it into the text area on the website and click the “Run” button.)
  3. In the Wizard dialog box, type in “railway=subway” in order to find metro, subway, or rapid transit lines. (If you want to download interstate highways, or what they call motorways in the UK, use “highway=motorway“.) Then click the “build and run query” button.
  4. In a few seconds you’ll see lines and dots (representing the metro or subway stations) on the map, and a new query in the text area. Notice that the query has looked for three kinds of objects: node (points/stations), way (the subway tracks), relation (the subway routes).
  5. If you don’t want a particular kind of object, then delete its line from the query and click the “Run” button. (You probably don’t want relation if you’re just needing GIS data for mapping purposes, and because routes are not always well-defined by OpenStreetMap contributors.)
  6. Download the data by clicking the “Export” button. Choose from one of the first three options (GeoJSON, GPX, KML). If you’re going to use a desktop GIS software, or place this data in a web map (like Leaflet), then choose GeoJSON. Now, depending on what browser you’re using, a couple things could happen after you click on GeoJSON. If you’re using Chrome then clicking it will download a file. If you’re using Safari then clicking it will open a new tab and put the GeoJSON text in there. Copy and paste this text into TextEdit and save the file as “mexico_city_subway.geojson”.
Overpass Turbo screenshot 1 of 2

Screenshot 1: After searching for the city for which you want to extract data (Mexico City in this case), click the “Wizard” button and type “railway=subway” and click run.

Overpass Turbo screenshot 2

Screenshot 2: After building and running the query from the Wizard you’ll see subway lines and stations.

Overpass Turbo screenshot 3

Screenshot 3: Click the Export button and click GeoJSON. In Chrome, a file will download. In Safari, a new tab with the GeoJSON text will open (copy and paste this into TextEdit and save it as “mexico_city_subway.geojson”).

Convert the free and open source data into a shapefile

  1. After you’ve downloaded (via Chrome) or re-saved (Safari) a GeoJSON file of subway data from OpenStreetMap, open QGIS, the free and open source GIS desktop application for Linux, Windows, and Mac.
  2. In QGIS, add the GeoJSON file to the table of contents by either dragging the file in from the Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows), or by clicking File>Open and browsing and selecting the file.
  3. Convert it to GeoJSON by right-clicking on the layer in the table of contents and clicking “Save As…”
  4. In the “Save As…” dialog box choose “ESRI Shapefile” from the dropdown menu. Then click “Browse” to find a place to save this file, check “Add saved file to map”, and click the “OK” button.
  5. A new layer will appear in your table of contents. In the map this new layer will be layered directly above your GeoJSON data.
Overpass Turbo screenshot 4

Screenshot 4: The GeoJSON file exported from Overpass Turbo has now been loaded into the QGIS table of contents.

Overpass Turbo screenshot 5

Screenshot 5: In QGIS, right-click the layer, select “Save As…” and set the dialog box to have these settings before clicking OK.

Query for finding subways in your current Overpass Turbo map view

This has been generated by the overpass-turbo wizard.
The original search was:
// gather results
// query part for: “railway=subway”
/*relation is for "routes", which are not always
well-defined, so I would ignore it*/
// print results
out body;
out skel qt;

How to make a map of places of worship in Cook County using OpenStreetMap data

The screenshot shows the configuration you need to find and download places of worship in Cook County, Illinois, using the Overpass Turbo website.

If you’re looking to make a map of churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, you’ll need data. The Yellow Pages won’t help because you can’t download that. And Google Maps doesn’t let you have a slice of their database, either. That’s where OpenStreetMap comes in. It’s a virtual planet that anyone can edit and anyone can have for free.

First we need to figure out what tag people use to identify these places. Sometimes on OSM there are multiple tags that identify the same kind of place. You should prefer the one that’s either more accurate (and mentioned as such in the wiki) or widespread.

The OSM tag info website says that editors have added over 1.2 million places of worship to the planet using “amenity=place_of_worship”.

Now that we know which tag to look for, we need an app that will help us get those places, but only within our desired boundary. Open up Overpass Turbo, which is a website that helps construct calls to the Overpass API, which is one way to find and download data from OSM.

In the default Overpass Turbo query, there’s probably a tag in brackets that says “[amenity=drinking_fountain]”. Change that to say “[amenity=place_of_worship]” (without the quotes). Now change the viewport of the map to show only the area in which you want Overpass Turbo to look for these places of worship. In the query this argument is listed as “({{bbox}})”.

The map has a search bar to find boundaries (cities, counties, principalities, neighborhoods, etc.) so type in “Cook County” and press Enter. The Cook County in Illinois, United States of America, will probably appear first. Select that one and the map will zoom to show the whole county in the viewport.

Now that we’ve set the tag to [amenity=place_of_worship] and moved the map to show Cook County we can click “Run”. In a few seconds you’ll see a circle over each place of worship.

It’s now simple to download: Click on the “Export” button and click “KML” to be able to load the data into Google Earth, “GeoJSON” to load it into a GIS app like QGIS, or “save GeoJSON to gist” to create an instant map within GitHub.

The best way to store directions on your smartphone is low tech

map of southern illinois as seen in the OsmAnd app

OsmAnd has great offline mapping features but it was tedious to ensure I had all of the maps at the desired zoom levels for the three-city bike ride in southern Illinois (pictured).

My friend is going to pick up a unique bicycle in Ohio and ride it back to Chicago. He designed a good route on Google Maps but now he needs to save it to his smartphone so he doesn’t have to constantly load directions and use data and waste battery life.

I gave him these instructions:

The best way to get a mobile view of the route is to use the Google Maps print feature and save it as a PDF. Then transfer that PDF to your phone through the Dropbox app. Then, in the Dropbox app, mark the PDF file as a favorite so that it’s stored offline, onto the phone.

There’s probably an app that can do what he wants, but I don’t know about it. There are hundreds of “maps” apps to sort through in each the App Store for iOS and the Play Store for Android.

In fact, I’ve downloaded OsmAnd, an offline maps app, for my Android tablet. I installed it and tried to learn how to use it in order to follow a downstate, intercity bike camping route. The app, though, required that you zoom in to each part of the map you wanted to store and then press “download”.


I spent 30 minutes downloading parts of the map, manually panning to the next section, before I decided to instead obtain one of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s regional bike maps and just draw it on there and write out a “cue sheet” (turn by turn directions).

How to ascertain the area of Chicago beach parking lots to find the largest one

This tutorial is a direct response to a question about which Chicago beach has the largest parking lot. Matt Nardella of Moss Design, in a response to a Twitter-based conversation about Alderman Cappleman’s suggestion that perhaps Montrose beach has too much parking, researched on Wikipedia to find the answer. This is where it said that Montrose beach has the largest parking lot of any of Chicago’s 27 beaches.

Now we’re going to try and prove which beach has the largest associated parking lot.

This tutorial will teach how you to (1) display Chicago beaches, (2) download data held in OpenStreetMap, (3) find the parking lots within the OpenStreetMap data, (4) find the parking lots near the beaches, and (5) calculate each parking lot’s area (in square feet). You can use this tutorial to accomplish any one of these three tasks, or the same tasks but on a different part of OpenStreetMap data (like the area of indoor shopping malls).

You’ll need the QGIS software before starting. You’ll also need at least 500 MB of free space. Start a project folder called “Biggest Parking Lots in Chicago” and make two more folders, within this folder, called “origdata” and “data”.

First, let’s get some data about beaches

Since we only want to know about the parking lots near Chicago beaches we need to get a dataset that locates them. This data is presumably within the same OpenStreetMap extract we’re waiting for, but it’s best to go to the most reliable source.

  1. Download the Parks – Facilities & Features shapefile from the City of Chicago open data portal. I’ve already verified that it has all the beaches (as points).
  2. Open the parks shapefile in a new document in QGIS (call it “map01a.qgs”). You might not see the data so right-click the parks layer and select “Zoom to layer extent”.
  3. Filter out all the points that aren’t beaches by using the query builder. Right-click the layer and select “Filter…” and input this filter expression: “FACILITY_N” = ‘BEACH’
  4. Your map will now show 26 points along an invisible lakefront and then the beach at Humboldt Park.
  5. For the rest of this tutorial we’ll reference the beaches layer as ParkFacilities.

Second, let’s get some data from OpenStreetMap

The easiest way to grab data from OpenStreetMap is by using QGIS, a free, open source desktop GIS application that has myriad plugins that match the capabilities of the heavyweight ESRI ArcGIS line of software. We can download OpenStreetMap data straight into QGIS.

  1. Click on the Vector menu and select OpenStreetMap>Download data.
  2. We want as much data as will cover the beaches information so in the Extent section of the dialog box choose “From layer” and select the beaches layer (called ParkFacilities).
  3. Browse to the “origdata” folder you created in the first task and choose the filename “chicago.osm”.
  4. Click OK and watch the progress meter tell you how much data you’ve downloaded from OpenStreetMap.
  5. Once it’s completed downloading, click “Close”. Now we want to add this data to our map.
  6. Drag the chicago.osm file from your file system into the QGIS Layers list. A dialog box will appear asking which layers you want to add.
  7. Select the layer that has the type “MultiPolygon”. This represents areas like buildings and parking lots.

Third, display the OpenStreetMap data and eliminate everything but the parking lots

We only want to compare parking lots in this dataset with beaches in the previous dataset so we need to eliminate everything from the OpenStreetMap data that’s not a parking lot. Since OSM data depends on tags we can easily select and show all the objects where “amenity” = “parking”.

  1. Filter out all the polygons that aren’t parking lots by using the query builder. Right-click the layer and select “Filter…” and input this filter expression: “amenity” = ‘parking’. Hopefully all the parking lots have been drawn so we can analyze a complete dataset!
  2. Your map will now show little squares, rectangles, and myriad odd shapes that represent parking lots around Chicagoland. (Most of these have been drawn by hand.) It should look like Image XXX.
  3. Since this data is stored in a projection with the codename of EPSG:3435 and the OpenStreetMap data is stored with codename of EPSG:4326 we need to convert the beaches to match the beaches (because we’re going to be using feet as a  measuring distance instead of degrees).
  4. Right-click the layer and select “Save As…” and choose the format “ESRI Shapefile”. Then click the top Browse button and select a location on your hard drive for the converted file.
  5. For “CRS” choose “Selected CRS”. Then click the bottom Browse button and search for the EPSG with the codename 3435. Select the checkbox named “Add saved file to map” so the new layer will be immediately added to our map.

Fourth, select all the parking lots near a beach

This task will select all the parking lots near the beaches. I chose 2,000 feet but you could easily choose a different distance. You might want to measure on Google Earth some minimum and maximum distances between beaches and their respective, associated parking lots.

(This task is easier using PostGIS which has a ST_DWithin function to find objects within a certain distance because we can avoid having to create the buffer in QGIS.)

  1. Create a 2,000 feet buffer. Select Vector>Geoprocessing tools>Buffer.
  2. In the Buffer(s) dialog box, select ParkFacilities (which has your beaches) as the “Input vector layer”. Choose a distance of 2000 (the units are pre-chosen by the projection and since we’re using a projection that’s in feet, the distance unit will be feet).
  3. Browse to your project folder’s “data” folder and save the “Output shapefile” as “beaches buffer 2000ft.shp”.
  4. Click “Add results to canvas” and then click OK.
  5. Double check that 2,000 feet was enough to select the parking lots. In my case, I see that the point representing Montrose beach was further than 2,000 feet away from a parking lot.
  6. Let’s do it again but with 3,000 feet this time, and saving the “Output shapefile” as “beaches buffer 3000ft.shp”.
  7. This time it worked and the nearest parking lots are now in the 3,000 feet radius buffer. You can see in Image XXX how the two concentric circles stretch out from the beach point towards the parking lots.

We’re not done. We’re next going to use our newly created 3,000 feet buffers to tell us which parking lots are in them. These will be presumed to be our beach parking lots.

  1. Use the “Select by location” tool to find the beaches that intersect our 3,000 feet buffers. Select Vector>Research Tools>Select by location.
  2. Follow me: we want to select features in parking 3435 [our parking lots] that intersect features in beaches buffer 3000ft [our beaches]. We’ll modify the current selection by creating a new selection so that we don’t accidentally include any features previously selected.
  3. You’ll now see a bunch of parking lots turn yellow meaning they are actively selected.
  4. Let’s save our selected parking lots as a new file so it will be easier to analyze just them. Right-click “parking 3435” and select “Save Selection As…” (it’s important to choose “Save Selection As” instead of “Save As” because the former will save just the parking lots we’ve selected).
  5. Save it as “selected parking 3435.shp” in your “data” folder. The CRS should be EPSG:3435 (NAD83 Illinois StatePlane East Feet). Check off “Add saved file to map” and click OK.
  6. Turn off all other layers except ParkFacilities to see what we’re left with and you’ll see what I show in Image XXX.

Fifth, let’s calculate

Calculating the area is probably the easiest part of this tutorial.

  1. Close all attribute tables you may have opened.
  2. Select Vector>Geometry Tools>Export/Add geometry columns and choose “selected parking 3435” as your input vector layer.
  3. Leave all other options as-is and press OK. When told about how QGIS can’t access something simultaneously, choose “Yes”.
  4. QGIS should have told you that “selected parking 3435” has been updated. Right-click the layer and choose “Open Attribute Table”.
  5. Scroll to the far right and you’ll see a new column called AREA. This represents the parking lot’s area in square feet.
  6. Click on the AREA column heading to sort it from smallest to largest. Scroll to the bottom of the list and you’ll find the parking lot with the largest area. Double check – is it near a beach?


With my analysis, and with the data available from OpenStreetMap when I created this tutorial, there are three abnormally large parking lots:

  1. A linear lot near the Lincoln Park Zoo and North Avenue beach (6.8 acres)
  2. A curving lot near Montrose Beach (4.75 acres)
  3. An irregularly shaped lot near Montrose Beach (4.5 acres)

There’s one major caveat in this analysis and that’s the missing parking lots on beaches south of Navy Pier. This means that no one has drawn them into OpenStreetMap so it’s time to start editing!

How many cars are in Rogers Park?

There are a gazillion cars in Rogers Park, and there’s no place to park them. That’s the declaration you would gather if you listen to “Lakefront Car Tower” (a parking garage) proponents, including the 49th ward alderman, Joe Moore.

The parking problem is so bad in Rogers Park that a parking garage at Sherwin Avenue and Sheridan Road that would provide less than 100 overnight parking spaces to the public was actually sent from Asphaltia, the god of car parks. It’s so bad that “[m]any car owners find themselves stuck in their home at night” – yes, the alderman really published that on his website – because they find a parking space on Friday night and can’t move the car until Monday morning. The horror of using your feet, pedals, the bus, the train, car sharing, paratransit, or a Segway!

(I’d love to get into parking pricing policy now, but I’ll just leave you with this: of course there is going to be a demand problem when the supply of publicly-owned on-street parking costs $0 per year.)

This post is actually a tutorial on how to use United States Census data to find how many cars are in the neighborhood of Rogers Park, not a laugh about Asphaltia’s teachings.

Let’s begin! Continue reading

How to convert bike-share JSON data to CSV and then to shapefile

Update January 4, 2013: The easiest way to do this is to use Ian Dees’s Divvy API as it outputs straight to GeoJSON (which QGIS likes). See below.

For Michael Carney’s Divvy bike-share stations + Census tract + unbanked Chicagoans analysis and map he needed the Divvy station locations as a shapefile. I copied the JSON-formatted text of the Divvy real-time station API, converted it to CSV with OpenRefine, and then created a shapefile with QGIS.

Here’s how to create a shapefile of any bike-share system that uses hardware from Public Bike System Co based on Montréal and is operated by Alta Bicycle Share (this includes New York City, Chattanooga, Bay Area, Melbourne, and Chicago): Continue reading

How many miles of roads are in your ward?

Screenshot 1: Showing how some streets are not being counted. There should be a yellow section of road between the two existing yellow road sections. 

A friend recently asked me how many blocks of road are in his ward. He wanted to know so that he could measure how many blocks of streets would have an older style of street lighting after X number of blocks receive the new style of street lighting. For this project, I used two datasets from Chicago’s open data portal: street center lines and wards. The output data is not very accurate as there may be some overlap and some uncounted street segments; this is likely due to a shortcoming in my process. I will show you how to find the number of blocks per ward using QGIS (download Quantum GIS, a free program for all OSes).

Here’s how I did it

  1. Load in the two datasets. Wards and street center lines (zipped shapefiles). They are projected in EPSG:3435.
  2. Exclude several road classifications in the street center lines by querying only for "CLASS" > '1' AND "CLASS" < '5'. The data dictionary for the road classifications is at the end. We don’t want the river, sidewalks, expressways, and any ramps to be included in the blocks per ward analysis.
  3. Intersect. In QGIS, select Vector>Geoprocessing Tools>Intersect. The input vector layer is “Transportation” (the name of the street center lines dataset) and the intersect layer is “Wards”. Save the resulting shapefile as “streets intersect wards”. Click OK. This will take a while.
  4. Add the “streets intersect wards” shapefile to the table of contents.
  5. You’ll notice some of the issues with the resulting shapefile: missing street segments (see screenshot 1). What should QGIS do if a street is a ward boundary?
  6. Obtain street length information, part 1. Remove all the columns in the “streets intersect wards” shapefile that have something to do with geometry. These are now outdated and will confuse you when you add a geometry column generated by QGIS.
  7. Obtain street length information, part 2. With the “streets intersect wards” shapefile selected in the table of contents, select Vector>Geometry Tools>Export/Add geometry columns. Select “streets intersect wards” shapefile as your input layer, leave CRS as “Layer CRS” and save as new shapefile “streets intersect wards geom”.
  8. Add the “streets intersect wards geom” shapefile to the table of contents.
  9. You will see a new column at the end of the attribute table called LENGTH. Since the data is projected in EPSG:3435 (Illinois StatePlane NAD83 East Feet), the unit is feet.
  10. Simply export “streets intersect wards geom” to a CSV file and open the CSV file in a spreadsheet application. From there you can group the data by Ward number and add the street lengths together. (I thought it would be faster to do this in a database so I imported it into a localhost MySQL database and ran a simple query, SELECT wardNum, sum(`chistreets_classes234`.`LENGTH`) as sum FROM chistreets_classes234 WHERE ward > 0 group by wardNum. I then exported this to a spreadsheet to convert feet to miles.)

Because of the errors described in step 5, you shouldn’t use this analysis for any application where accuracy is important. There are road lengths missing in the output dataset (table with street lengths summed by ward) and I cannot tell if the inaccuracy is equally distributed.

[table id=7 /]

Wards 19 (south side) and 41 (Norwood Park, including O’Hare airport) have the highest portion of street length in the city.

Screenshot 2: Ward 41 is seen. 

Street data dictionary

Column is “CLASS”. The value is a string. This dataset lacks alleys. Adapted from the City’s data dictionary.

1. Expressway

2. Arterials (1 mile grid, no diagonals)

3. Collectors (includes diagonals)

4. Other streets (side streets, neighborhood streets)

5. Named alleys (mostly downtown, like Couch Place and Garland Place)

7. Tiered (lower level streets, including LaSalle, Michigan, Columbus, and Wacker)

9. Ramps (goes along with expressway)

E. Extent ( not sure how to describe these; includes riverwalk and lake walk segments, and Navy Pier, also includes some streets, like Mies van der Rohe Way)

RIV. River

S. Sidewalk

99. Unclassified

Converting shapefiles to GeoJSON, and other format conversions

To develop the Chicago Bike Map app, I had a problem I thought would be simple to solve: load train lines into a Leaflet-powered map. I had the train lines stored as a polyline shapefile but Leaflet can only read the GeoJSON format or a string of geographic coordinates representing lines.

I eventually found a solution (I can’t remember how) and I need to share it with you. The converter can do more than ESRI shapefiles to GeoJSON. It can reproject the data in the conversion. It can convert from several formats to several other formats.

The site is called MyGeodata Converter. You upload a ZIP file of geographic files – .shp and its companion files (.prj, .dbf, .shx), .kml, and .gpx. Let’s take the Chicago Transit Authority train lines shapefile straight from the City of Chicago’s open data portal. It downloads as a zipped collection of a shapefile and its buddies and we can take this file straight to the Converter and upload it. The Converter will unzip it and read the data; it will even identify the projection system (for Chicago-based geographic data, its common to use NAD83 Illinois StatePlane East FIPS 1201 Feet (SRID 102671, the same as SRID 3435).

The Converter will convert to one of the following formats, with same or new projection; accepts SQL statements to extract a subset of data:

  • ESRI shapefile
  • GML
  • KML, KMZ
  • GeoJSON
  • Microstation DGN
  • MapInfo File
  • GPX
  • CSV

How I created a map of Illinois Amtrak routes in TileMill in less than 30 minutes

This interactive map was created for a Grid Chicago article to show the cities and Amtrak routes mentioned. Click and drag it around or hover your mouse on the red train station markers. 

Want to create a map like that and publish it on your own website? It’s easy. I’ll show you how to do it in less than 30 minutes. First, download the following files:

All shapefiles are from the United States Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics’s National Transportation Atlas 2012 edition except for Illinois places, which comes from the Census Bureau’s TIGER project.

At the end of this tutorial, you’ll have a good introduction on how to find geographic data, build a map with TileMill, style the map, and publish it for the public. Your map will not look like mine as this tutorial doesn’t describe how to add labels or use the hover/info feature.

Tutorial to make Amtrak Illinois map

  1. Unzip the four ZIP files you downloaded and move their contents into a folder, like /Documents/GIS/Amtrak Illinois/shapefiles. This is your project folder.
  2. Install TileMill and open it.
  3. Set up a project. In the Projects pane, click “New Project”. In the filename field, title it “amtrak_illinois”. Ensure that the checkbox next to “Default data” is checked – this shows a world map and helps you get your bearings (but it’s not absolutely necessary).
  4. Get familiar with TileMill’s layout. Your new project will open with the map on the left side and your Carto style code on the right side. There are four buttons aligning the left edge of your map. From top to bottom they are: Templates, Font list, Carto guide, and Layers.
  5. Add a layer. We’re going to add the four shapefile layers you downloaded. Click the “Layers” button and then click “Add layer”. In the ID field, type in “amtrak_routes”. For Datasource, browse to your project folder and find “amtrak.shp” – this file has the Amtrak route lines. Then click “Done”. Click “Save & Style”.
  6. Style that layer. When you click “Save & Style” after adding a layer, your attention will be called to the Carto style code on the right side of TileMill. A section of code with the “amtrak_routes” #selector will have been inserted with some default colors and styles. If you know CSS, you will be familiar with how to change the Amtrak routes line styles. Change the “line-color” to “#000”. After “line-color”, add a new line and insert “line-opacity: 0.5;”. This will add some transparency to the line. Press the “Save” button above the code.
  7. Add remaining layers. Repeat Step 5 and add 3 more layers: “amtrk_sta.shp” (ID field: “amtrak_stations”), “state.shp” (ID field: “states”), and “tl_2012_17_place.shp” (ID field: “illinois_cities”).
  8. Hide bus stations. The Amtrak stations layer shows bus and ferry stations as part of Amtrak’s Thruway connections. You probably don’t want to show these. In your Carto style code, rename the #selector from “#amtrak_stations” to “#amtrak_stations[STNTYPE=’RAIL’]”. That makes the following style code only apply to stations with the “rail” type. Since there’s no style definition for things that aren’t of that type, they won’t appear.

Screenshot of my map.

Prepare your map for uploading

TileMill has many exporting options. You can save it as MBTiles and publish the map for free using MapBox (TileMill’s parent), or you can export it as image files (but it won’t be interactive), or you can display the map using the Leaflet JavaScript map library (which I use for the Chicago Bike Map app). This tutorial will explain how to export MBTiles and upload to MapBox, the server I’m using to display the map at the top of this page.

  1. Change project settings. To upload to MapBox, you’ll have to export your project as MBTiles, a proprietary format. Click the “Export” button above your Carto style code and click “MBTiles”. You’ll be asked to provide a name, description, attribution, and version. Input appropriate text for all but version.
  2. Adjust the zoom levels. Adjust the number of zoom levels you want (the more you have the longer it takes to export and upload your project, and you might exceed MapBox’s free 50 MB account limit). My map has zoom levels 8-11.
  3. Adjust the bounds. You’ll then want to draw your bounds: how much of the map’s geographic extents you want to export. Zoom to a level where you can see the entire state of Illinois in your map. Hold down the Shift key and drag a box around the state, plus a buffer (so viewers don’t fall of your map when they pan to the edges).
  4. Export your map. Click Export and watch the progress! On a four-year-old MacBook it took less than one minute to export the project.
  5. Bring the export to your project folder. When export finishes, click the “Save” button and browse to your project folder. Click the file browser’s save button.
  6. Upload to MapBox. Login to MapBox’s website and click “Upload Layer”. Browse to your project folder, select the .mbtiles folder, and click “Upload file”. Upon a successful upload, your map will display.
  7. Embed it in your website. Click the “Share” button in the upper left corner of your map and copy the embed code. Paste this into the HTML source code of a webpage (or in a WordPress post) and save that (I’m not going to provide instructions on how to do that).

Now you know how to find geographic data, build a custom map using the TileMill application, begin to understand how to style it, and embed your map for the public on a website or blog.

N.B. I was originally going to use QGIS to build a map and then publish a static image before I realized that TileMill + MapBox (the website) can build a map but publish an interactive feature instead of a static image. I’m happy I went that route. However, I did use QGIS to verify the data and even create a new shapefile of just a few of the key train stations on the Lincoln Service (the centerpiece of my Grid Chicago article).

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