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I’m here in Rotterdam

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I arrived in Rotterdam last Saturday, 9 April. A friend of a friend, PK, picked me up at Rotterdam Centraal, the main station, the design of which I find fucking fantastic. By “picked me up”, he really did. He used his fancy “OV-chipkaart” multi-use transit card with associated “OV-fiets” bike-share membership to check out two bikes for me and him. I carried two pieces of my luggage, and he carried a third, and we biked back to my friend DS’s apartment. (PK had been living there temporarily while he looked for an apartment somewhere in the country.)

I’m posting frequent updates to my Tumblr. And my photos get automatically uploaded to Flickr. I also post photos to Instagram, and to Twitter.

All the luggage I brought for three months in Europe

PK let me into the apartment and then we went to the Albert Heijn grocery store. PK soon departed to catch a train to another city for a birthday party. I took a three hour nap. I didn’t do anything else on Saturday. DS would return from his holiday on Monday evening.

  • On Sunday I biked around the city.
  • On Monday I met with Meredith, an expat living in Amsterdam. I also slept a bunch off and on. DS came home and we went out to dinner. We also went back to the grocery store and tried to figure out why neither my debit nor credit card would work. Albert Heijn, since I was there in September 2015, has changed their machines and policy and won’t accept my bank cards!
  • On Tuesday I met with my friend Stefan. I found “Bataviakade” in Delfshaven. And slept at odd hours. I fell asleep on the couch at 20:00 and went to bed at around 00:00.
  • On Wednesday I slept until 13:00. I then followed up on some emails, fixed some stuff on Chicago Cityscape, and vacuumed the carpets. Then DS and I went out for beers and burgers. On our way home I bought a six-pack of (small cans) Heineken beer for €7 at a “night shop” called, well, “Night Shop.”
Bataviakade street name in Delfshaven, Rotterdam

“Bataviakade” means “Batavia quay”. I grew up in a city called Batavia, Illinois. The city was named after Batavia, New York. Batavia is the Latin word for the “Betuwe” part of the Netherlands.

It’s now Thursday and I’m going to try and open a bank account here. This means I’ll get a debit card which will open so many doors; many places don’t accept international bank cards. It also means I can pay rent and for a bicycle without lower or no fees. After I get a bank account I can get a discount travel card to use on NS, the national intercity train operator.

For €99 per month I can take unlimited trips on the intercity trains during off-peak hours and on weekends. I’ll be able to visit a lot more cities with this card, and I already have plans to use the train tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday (that’s three round trips). The train fares add up! At least this weekend I’ll be traveling with DS; he has a travel card and companions can buy travel together with a 40% discount.

I didn’t get to publish this before I left the house. I went to the bank and the kind worker said it wasn’t possible to open a bank account for someone who’s staying here for such a short time. She said there’s a monthly maintenance fee, and I said I would be okay paying that while I’m not in the Netherlands between visits.

Anyway, my friend is going to help me get the discount travel card, which, to me, is the most important product I need.

I also need to file my American tax return today.

Streetsblog Chicago deserves to come back

John and Steven dining at a restaurant table

John and I at Taqueria La Zacatecana in Avondale, where we first hashed out the details of what would become Grid Chicago that later transitioned into Streetsblog Chicago.

I haven’t talked about this here, but two months ago this weekend I got the message that Streetsblog Chicago wouldn’t continue because we didn’t raise enough money in the last fundraising round.

I didn’t talk about it here because I was busy with dealing with shutting that down, working with my partner John Greenfield to come up with a transition plan (to resurrect the site) and because I have myriad side projects that quickly and easily captured my newly-available attention. I eased right into developing those more and into involving myself in new jobs on a freelance basis.

Our readers dutifully expressed their support for my and John’s work at Streetsblog Chicago – providing an alternative voice for transportation and land use policy discussion.

The most heartening and unexpected expressions have come from the very agencies on which we report and criticize.

Our reporting was thoughtful and necessary they said, even though, and this has been unanimous, they sometimes disagreed with our perspective.

I believe their appreciation of our work has always been there but there was never a good moment, or a necessity, for them to make it known.

It’s heartening to know that our writing – advocating for safer streets, funding allocation that promoted efficient and active transportation, converting street space from moving cars quickly to moving people – was making its way in the corridors of the bureaucracies and street managers and place makers and bus operators.

I think what we did with Streetsblog Chicago was necessary, too, and I waited and worked to make it happen since 2007. I bided my time with this blog until meeting editor-in-chief Ben Fried in 2010. The conditions weren’t right then, and a friend at a 2011 Star Trek watching party (don’t ask) in Logan Square put me and John together after which we made the next best thing: Grid Chicago.

I want to keep writing Streetsblog Chicago and we need your help. John and I are raising $75,000 to resume publishing at very-close-to-before rate of five to seven original posts per week. Donate now.

We’ve already raised $36,905 and the Chicago Community Trust will give us $25,000 when we reach $50,000. The catch is that we must get there by April 8. Otherwise we’ll return all of the donations.

Since the January 8 hiatus we held a fundraiser in the pedway, which Moxie founder Daniel Ronan organized. We’ll be holding another fundraiser in Revolution Brewing’s taproom on Kedzie on Wednesday, March 26, at our donor appreciation party: Everyone is welcome but those who donate $100 on or before the party will get John’s book “Bars Across America” and their first round on the house.

I’m also putting together a tour of developments around Chicago near transit stations that have taken advantage of a city ordinance reducing their parking minimum. Save the date, Saturday, April 4.

Why architects should learn OpenStreetMap

I’m teaching OpenStreetMap 101 at the first MaptimeCHI.

Architects will learn that OpenStreetMap can be used as a data source when developing projects and as a basis for designing custom maps in project publications (website, anthology, monograph, client presentations).

This meeting is about getting an introduction to OpenStreetMap and learning to make your first edit in the “Wikipedia of maps”.

Thursday, July 17th, from 6-8 PM
Thoughtworks office
200 E Randolph St

RSVP on EventBrite.

Here are two examples of how architects could use OpenStreetMap data.

Example 1 of how to use OpenStreetMap. Instead of publishing a screenshot of Google Maps in your documents or website, create a custom design map like this without having to spend so much time tweaking it in Illustrator. This map was created by Stamen Design using TileMill.

Example 1 of how to use OpenStreetMap. Instead of publishing a screenshot of Google Maps in your documents or website, create a custom design map like this without having to spend so much time tweaking it in Illustrator. This map was created by Stamen Design using TileMill.

And the second.

Willow Creek Church on OpenStreetMap: After

Here’s one example where OpenStreetMap could be useful. Let’s say you’re working on a site plan for Willow Creek Church in South Barrington and you need a general layout of the parking lot. 1. You can get it from OpenStreetMap because it’s already there. 2. You can draw it in OpenStreetMap yourself (to benefit all other OSM users) and then extract it as a shapefile.

Maptime is time for mapmaking and it’s taking the country by storm.

Customer reviews for my bike map app

Only reviews left for the current version are displayed on the iTunes Preview page, and the default view of the iTunes Store. 

I’m appreciative of the two reviews people have left for my app – it’s a bike map for Chicago stored in your phone, download in iTunes. Their positivity and the slight increase in sales this past week has increased the ranking of my app. I don’t know what the ranking means.

When my app first ranked, in its Reference category, it was 385, then 289, and now stands at 315. I’m not sure on what factors the ranking is based, but I’ve gathered some clues from other bloggers:

[In addition to the number of downloads, other] factors play into the ranking equation such as how long the app is opened as the active app and how often the app is opened.

There’s no mention of reviews on that page, but I found another article that mentions more ways to improve your app, which includes having positive reviews. (Another factor it mentions is frequently updating the app.)

I’d like to hear from my app’s users what their feedback is before they leave a review in the iTunes Store. I can address issues directly with users and discuss how they can (or cannot) be incorporated in a future update to the app. You can send your feedback to me, and your love to the app store. (A major downside of the customer reviews process in the iTunes Store is the inability for the developer to respond.)

My app’s received two reviews (both 5 stars!) so far:

Saw this app being discussed on Twitter and thought I’d check it out. So, on the hottest day of 2012, I jumped on my bike and rode around my area checking out the apps features. Color me impressed! I rode to a few areas that I was not over familiar with and activated the app to peruse my options via my bike (or CTA). I look forward to using this on my far south/far north bikiing adventures soon!

The first reviews about the first version:

Would be great if it could locate on the map with GPS. Also if it could zoom out more. These bike lanes have come a long way recently. There are some really nice new places to ride like the cycle track on Kinzie. But there are also some old routes out there that are great biking such as the Boulevard System (Humboldt, Logan, Palmer Sq) that you could show on your map. And it says it supports German, but it is in English 🙂

The part about my app being available in German was true for v0.1, but I’ve fixed that for v0.2. If you’re going to leave a review, I’d like to leave you with this advice, for I feel it makes for a constructive review:

  1. Describe what is good about the app, and what you like about the app.
  2. Describe how you’ve used the app.
  3. Suggest ways the app could improve.

This was what the first version looked like. It wasn’t very good. 

I am not your representative

This guy showed up. Why didn’t you?

I’ve struggled inviting friends and peers to the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 public meetings and open houses. A couple of said something along the lines of “I don’t need to go if you’re going”.

That’s not my job.

My job is to tell you what happened. But you have to show up. You have to increase the numbers of people who are demanding changed streets. I am one person, with a blog. When I put my name on the sign-in sheet, or leave a comment, I am only signing my own name, not the names of my blog’s readers, or my friends and neighbors.

There are 4 more meetings. The draft network will be presented there. This is basically your last chance to affect what the final plan will say. What kinds of things will it say? It will make recommendations as to which type of bikeways will go where. Want a protected bike lane and road diet on Chicago Avenue, because there’s so much retail and services you want to visit, but people are driving too fast? Yeah, go to the meeting and make sure it’s on there.

These people showed up. Were you there? Photos are from the Sulzer Library event on February 1, 2012. 

Freight trains in the city: photos from Ping Tom Park

The train is entering the crossing. 

If you weren’t aware, Chicago has a ridiculous number of trains passing through here. We’ve been the freight train capital of the country for over 100 years (I’m not going to verify this). And apparently it takes a train the same amount of time to pass through Chicago as it takes to travel from here to Los Angeles.

One of the interesting places they pass through in Chicago is at Ping Tom Park, in Chinatown, on the Chicago River at 18th Street. A double track part of the CN line borders the park on the east, separating the park from rowhouses in Chinatown. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Orange Line elevated viaduct shares the right of way.

I was showing the park to some visitors from Spain after we ate at Joy Yee Noodles (2159 S China Place)*. The at-grade crossing bells starting to ring, and the red lights started to flash. Then the gates came down. We were trapped! That’s the neat thing about the freight railroad here and the park: there’s a single entrance that’s blocked by a train. And this one was long.

A pagoda in Ping Tom Park. Here’s another view of the pagoda where you can also clearly see the Orange Line viaduct. 

As we just arrived, we weren’t interested in leaving. We explored the new north section of the park. This outing gave me several opportunities to test out the capabilities of my new camera, a Panasonic GH1, and accompanying lens, a LUMIX G 20/f1.7mm (that means it’s fairly wide angle and has an enormous aperture)**. It takes great photos in the dark without a flash. I was photographing the train, using the “panning” technique – this means you set the focus beforehand and then move (pan) the camera with the object to ensure it appears in focus in the resulting image. I succeeded with 50% of the photos; my issue was choosing the right speed at which to pan the camera.

This photo is one of the better panning shots I created. 

The train, as many Illinois railfans probably expect, was carrying ethanol and empty flatbed cars, but also some hydrochloric acid. I’m going to guess some of the tankers were filled with America’s favorite artificial sugar: high-fructose corn syrup.

* There are two Joy Yee Noodles restaurants in the same Chinatown Square shopping center. They are of the same company.

** I bought the body from a friend and I bought the lens separately. I paid more for the lens than the body.

Meeting readers

I was at the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 meeting last night in the Garfield Park Conservatory. I was walking behind someone towards the meeting room and he turned to me and said, “Are you Grid Chicago?” (I realize he may be reading this.)

I said, “Yes,” and he immediately said “I read it every day. Thank you.”

I thanked him for reading. I like it when people tell me they read that blog and they appreciate what John Greenfield and I are writing. It definitely lets you know that (in addition to the comments that people leave) that the work we’re doing is important.

Anyway, I never know what to say to people who let me know they read Grid Chicago. I used to ask what their favorite article is and no one seemed to know how to respond so I stopped asking. To this reader, I asked, “Do you comment?” Also a lame question.

Sorry!

This photo of a bus with double articulation has nothing to do with this post. I didn’t have a relevant photo ready to go. 

Europe: A year ago at this time

A year ago during Christmas, New Year’s, and today, I was on my 18-day trip through Europe. To share that trip (again), I’ve been uploading more photos from the trip to my Flickr. I’ll double the number uploaded in a couple of days. A year ago on January 3rd, I traveled from Bremen to Wuppertal, Germany, and then to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with train transfers in Venlo (at the border) and Eindhoven.

Italy

I added a bunch of new photos from Italy, mostly from the mountain bike ride I took in Como and Brunate with my friend’s brother. This was December 27, 2010.

Matteo and I on a mountain above Lake Como and very near the border with Switzerland on Monte Boletto. View on OpenStreetMap

A panoramic view of Lake Como and central Como. Brunate is a village on top of the mountain in the middle. We took the funicular up there

Germany

I also uploaded new photos of Bremen, Germany. I added many more pictures of the Valentin submarine pens, the ferry ride across the Weser River into Vegesack, and the trams that run constantly 24/7.

The tram station in front of the Bremen Haupthbahnhof (central station). Notice how familiar the people are with walking near and around the trams. View this on OpenStreetMapThis was January 1, 2011. 

What the submarine pen looks like from the land side, south of it. Read more about these storage facilities of Nazi submarinesThis was January 2, 2011. 

From the Weser River ferry into Vegesack I saw this enormous shipbuilding facility with a yacht parked out front. It appears comparable in size to the submarine pen. This was January 2, 2011. 

More photos

The list above contains the dates for which I uploaded many photos recently. Here’s the full set of photos and here’s a collection of the different topics.

Past posts about this trip

I’ve written many times about this trip. If you want to read more, I suggest you go to my index of all trips I took in 2009 through 2011. The different cities and countries are linked there. But here are a couple other posts that are more than photos:

Logan Square McDonald’s crash map

This is part of a series of articles on the issue of lifting the pedestrian street designation on a part of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square so that the McDonald’s franchise owner can demolish the building, build a new building, and build a double order point (“tandem”) drive through. Read the first post

At the hearing on December 13, 2011, Alderman Reilly asked if there was evidence of injuries or crashes due to the drive through. No one brought this data to the hearing. I cannot directly attribute the crashes to the existence of the drive through (unless I had the original crash reports), the drive through probably generates traffic that would not be there without the drive through, and it causes people to have to turn across a lane of traffic, either to enter the driveway on Milwaukee, or when exiting the driveway onto Sawyer, or when turning onto Milwaukee from Sawyer. I am looking for studies that research the impacts of drive throughs at fast food restaurants and pharmacies.

37 people were involved in 13 crashes within 100 feet of the center of the McDonald’s driveway from 2007-2010. Seven people were injured, one was a pedestrian. Double the search radius to 200 feet and we see 87 people involved in 35 crashes. Now, four pedestrians and cyclist were injured in addition to the 10 drivers and passengers injured.

Download the data in this map. View a larger map

This was my testimony at the zoning committee hearing (this may not be verbatim, but it’s really close):

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route.

I ask that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study before this matter is discussed further.

Lynn, a Logan Square neighbor, describes more of what happened at the hearing, as well as the next step at the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Here’s a map of all pedestrian streets in Chicago. View larger map.

Download a KML file of all the pedestrian streets. Download the shapefile of all the pedestrian streets. Thank you to Azad Amir-Ghassemi and Bill Vassilakis for their help in digitizing the table of pedestrian streets in the zoning code.

Update January 10, 2013

Driving danger

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation show several crashes along Milwaukee Avenue from 2005 to 2011. If this location hadn’t been removed from the P-Street ordinance, McDonald’s would have been required to install both the drive-thru’s entrance and exit on Sawyer, where there is markedly less traffic than on Milwaukee (or not build them at all). This project has not only allowed a documented hazard to persist (despite the P-Street designation), but perhaps to be worsened.

From 2005-2011, there were 3 bike-automobile crashes and 5 pedestrian-automobile crashes within 200 feet of the drive-thru entrance, which includes the intersection of Sawyer and Milwaukee (where many people will drive back onto Milwaukee from the drive-thru exit). There were 82 car-car crashes in the same period. At a nearby intersection, Milwaukee/Dawson, an intersection with a similar retail makeup and traffic count, shows about half the number of crashes.

Too much talking, not enough documenting

I took this photo for several reasons: to show a sidewalk reconstruction project that forces people to walk in the street; to show that people bicycling will advance from where I took this photo to the location across Grand Avenue to get a “head start” on cycling across Halsted Street to Milwaukee Avenue. 

Or doing.

I talk to a lot of people about cycling in Chicago and they’ve good stories to share. Stories about positive experiences they’ve had, about negative experiences, or of problems they’ve seen others encounter. I always encourage people to do something about this experience. My advice almost always involves them documenting it in some way; things like reporting a bike crash to the police, even afterwards, or taking a photo of a major pothole. I might suggest they write down their thoughts to share privately with close friends. Or it might be as simple as calling 311 to report an abandoned bike.*

There are lots of things that we want to change. Keeping track of what they are can help focus energy on making that change happen. (That’s why I carry my camera with me at all times outside my home.) One way I’ve started to document and share is by writing about the good and “needs improvement” parts of Chicago transportation on my new blog, Grid Chicago.

If you cycle in Chicago, I implore you to attend the Streets for Cycling planning meetings – the first one is December 10th – so you can express your concerns and desires. There are one hundred other ways to be involved in supporting a change in Chicago, and I might be able to link you one you’re interested in.

Note: The CTA has started several online efforts to collect feedback from and communicate with customers, but they’ve always collected feedback through their email address, [email protected], where they always respond. These new efforts are Facebook, Budget Ideas, and Twitter.

Let’s do this for bike crashes: I guess I’ll start a bike crash documentation project right now (January 5, 2012). Write up a report and share me a link, or leave a comment on one of these pages:

Another person bicycles across Grand Avenue to get that head start. 

*These are all things I do, but I encourage everyone to think creatively and do what interests them.

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