CategoryStates

Vote “no” on the proposed constitutional amendment to create a “transportation lockbox”

Updated Oct. 10 with more examples of why this could be a problem. Updated Oct. 13 to include CMAP’s review of the amendment. I also posted an alternative version on my new Medium account

Illinois voters are being asked in the current election – early voting has started – to support or opposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict spending of certain revenue sources.

The amendment to the Illinois constitution says that revenues derived from transportation sources – gas and related taxes, license and registration fees, sales taxes for transit, airport fees – can only be used to fund transportation initiatives. (see full text below).

The problem this amendment intends to solve is that sometimes Illinois legislators spend transportation funds on non-transportation projects, people, and services, depending on their priorities at the time – even when existing laws says they can’t.

Your ballot says: “The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds.”

A “yes” vote means you want the Illinois Constitution to have this amendment.

A ChiHackNight member asked the #transportation channel in our Slack about this amendment.

Just got my copy of Proposed Amendment to the Illinois Constitution and bicycle and pedestrian paths are perhaps intentionally not listed as possible places to spend transportation tax revenue. Thoughts?

Very little (oh, so little) money is spent on bike and pedestrian things. Despite what you’ve read, there’s no way to guarantee that the recovered money – the small portion that’s being diverted – would be used to enlarge the pot spent on bike, pedestrian, or transit projects.

Existing laws dictate how the money is supposed to be spent

Many of the money categories in the amendment are already protected by either state or federal law. For example, the Passenger Facility Charge that each airline traveler pays to each airport on their itinerary can only be used on certain capital improvement and maintenance projects at that airport. The PFC differs by airport.

And just so we’re clear, there is no such thing as a “road tax” or “driving tax” in any part of Illinois. There is no fee for anyone to use the roads. What gas taxes are supposed to be spent on, first, and then allowed to be spent on, second, are defined in 35 ILCS 505/8 (from Ch. 120, par. 424). 

Bike lanes and sidewalks are rarely called out separately because they are part of streets and roads, which are funded, and I don’t think it’s significant that the constitutional amendment doesn’t list “bicycles” and “pedestrians”.

It’s up to IDOT and other agencies that have jurisdiction over a road to choose to include those things as part of larger road changes. This constitutional amendment won’t change any policies, which are already mildly supportive of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Priorities and policy makers are the problem

I oppose this on the grounds that it restricts setting state priorities while it doesn’t actually prioritize anything within transportation.

Sometimes there are things that are more important than what the state buys with transportation money.

I have a huge problem with those things it buys, though. The priorities that Illinois legislators have for spending transportation moneys isn’t going to improve.

The state built the MidAmerica-St. Louis airport in Mascoutah for $313 million to serve as a “secondary” airport to the St. Louis airport. It opened in 2000. There are only flights to tourist destinations in Florida; the St. Louis airport never had a capacity problem.

The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to extend the St. Louis light rail through rural areas for 5.3 miles, but is still obtaining funding. However, they are spending about $300,000 annually on something for this project.

Illinois budget line item screenshot

A screenshot of the Illinois FY17 enacted appropriations showing spending $330,010 annually for a project to extend a light rail station to an underused airport that cost the public $313 million.

That is exactly the kind of thing that has to stop and this amendment doesn’t do it. That money can still be spent on bad projects. There’s no shortage of bad projects, but there’s also no shortage of good projects that don’t get funded. States are already spending most of their money on new roads instead of maintaining existing ones.

Since projects are often selected and prioritized to serve political needs, and politicians oversee specific geographies, good projects will still linger in some geographies while bad projects are implemented in others.

In other words, the $300,000 on spending for the light rail extension to the underused airport can’t go to build pedestrian overpasses along well-used multi-purpose trails in DuPage County. It’s going to stay in that downstate legislator’s district because “economic development”.

Staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s designated regional planning organization, issued a memo to the board a few days before I wrote this describing that the amendment is “unclear” on so many topics. They cite their discussions with unnamed amendment proponents who explain how the lack of clarity won’t be a problem because the General Assembly can pass laws clarifying that bike lanes won’t need a dedicated user fee if the amendment passes and that it doesn’t impinge on the rights of home rule cities to use gas taxes as they need to.

Spending is based on politics, not performance or need

With the amendment, the state will have to dream up some other transportation project in that district – I see a highway widening in their future. Without the amendment, the state could use that money for an important project in that area, but even that isn’t supposed to happen because the state already has laws dictating how project-specific bond funds can be spent.

This is also the problem with the Illiana Tollway that Governor Quinn so much wanted to build to gain favor with Southland legislators.

Whatever the case is, adhering more to performance (merit) measures on transportation spending – rather than political and district appeasement – is the most important change we can make.

It makes us inflexible

Finally, I question the amendment text. It’s hardly possible or easy for us non-legislators to know if the text covers everything that transportation funds are currently allowed to be spent on. What if there’s some project that turns out not to be an eligible recipient for these funds? Do we wait for the next election when we can get another constitutional amendment on the ballot, or hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will interpret the amendment to favor that project?

In fact, we already have a lot of laws that say how transportation-derived moneys are to be spent. The amendment, then, is a solution to the problem of trusting our state legislators.

The Civic Federation says that money is transferred from the various transportation funds to close budget gaps. “Limiting access to transportation-related revenues such as motor fuel taxes and motorist user fees could put additional strain on the State’s general operating resources” and “similarly affect local governments”. They also said that year-to-year figures of transfers and diversions have been calculated differently.

Additionally, DOT workers’ pensions may be paid for by transportation funds. Does this amendment cover that provision? If not, where else in the state’s budget would their pensions be funded?

Some of the work done by staff at other state departments is funded by some transportation user fees. Would the lockbox cut off their funding supply? A little of the work each department can be considered transportation related, but will the road lobby proponents of this amendment see it that way?

I dislike the inflexibility the amendment creates. Constitutions are meant to protect our rights. I don’t think that there’s a right that gas taxes must be used to pay for roads, while a sliver goes to build new CTA stations.

My writing partner at Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield, wrote an article that interviewed leaders at three transportation advocacy groups who were all in favor of the proposed amendment. The Tribune editorial he responded to is against it because it seems like a scam that the road lobby is promoting.

I am not in favor of the amendment.

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

Range Rover with Illinois license plate "0"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What else do you want to know?

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

Compiling and mapping Chicago-area campgrounds

I’m adding Chicago-area campgrounds to the Chicago Bike Guide to entice new users and to espouse the enjoyment of medium-distance bike camping (which I’ve now done officially once, earlier this year).

<The Chicago Bike Guide is available for Android and iOS.>

I’m taking a systematic approach to finding all the publicly-owned campgrounds in the area by looking at primary sources.

First, though, I’ve used Overpass Turbo to create a list of all existing campgrounds in OpenStreetMap. You can see a gist of these places.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

Camp sites at Greene Valley forest preserve I mapped.

The next method is to find out which campgrounds are operated by the county forest preserves, which are usually well-documented on their respective websites. Then I will look at state parks in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, operated by states’ respective Departments of Natural Resources (DNR). Next I will look at national parks and finally commercial campgrounds.

The app will display campground information such as alcohol rules, if cabins or lodging is available, and how you can get there (which trails or train lines).

I’ve so far mapped the campgrounds in two ways, as nodes and as areas. At the Greene Valley forest preserve in DuPage County, for example, I’ve mapped the 11 individual camp sites (see map), but at Blackwell forest preserve in the same county, I’ve mapped the area as the camp site (see map).

Blackwell has over 50 sites in a discrete area and it’s more efficient to map them as a single node, while Greene Valley had far fewer sites but scattered over a couple areas.

Cross-posted to Web Map Academy.

Something new in Salt Lake City transit

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve visited my mom in Salt Lake City and there’s a new transit line to gawk at. Three years ago it was the FrontRunner North commuter line between SLC and Ogden. Two years ago it was two new light rail lines (with new Siemens S70 vehicles). Last year was FrontRunner South to Provo (where my brother lives), and this year it’s the S-Line streetcar line.

On Wednesday, on my way back to SLC from Provo, I took a bus from my brother’s office to the Provo FrontRunner station, then the FrontRunner train to Murray station, where I switched to TRAX to ride up to Central Pointe station where the streetcar line terminates. A test vehicle was stopped at the single-track platform.

I wanted to see the route, the stops it makes, the station design, and the adjacent biking and walking path so I started walking up and down and across the blocks to check it out. I ran into two train several times while UTA staff tested them and made the video above.

Creating a bike map for Richmond, Indiana

A cycle map of Richmond, Indiana, before I added the city’s signed routes as a “relation”.

I visited Richmond, Indiana, in early August with my friend who grew up there. There isn’t much to do there, but there are a lot of neat places to bike to. Richmond had more features mapped than I expected, but I was happy to contribute via Pushpin and JOSM. With Pushpin OSM, an app for iOS, I added a couple of venues I visited, including Firehouse BBQ & Blues.

With JOSM, though, I wanted to add the city’s bike routes so they would appear in OpenCycleMap and could then be immediately embedded as a (somewhat) interactive map on the Bike Richmond website. I asked a city planner for a bike map and he gave me a GIS printout that showed the “recommended routes” (which are unsigned) and then he drew on the signed route that augment the recommended routes. The signed route essentially creates a loop.

I tagged all of the recommended routes as “bicycle=designated”. After the tiles in OpenCycleMap updated to include my work in Richmond I realized that OCM doesn’t symbolize “bicycle=designated” unless they’re in a relation. I created a relation, calling it the “City of Richmond Signed Bike Route“.

The new cycle map of Richmond, Indiana. 

This was cross-posted to my OpenStreetMap diary. My next project for OSM in Richmond is to map all the murals with the tag “tourism=artwork”. The mural below was designed by my friend, Ryan Lakes. There are murals painted on the sides of many buildings. One motif is to paint realistically, so it appears that the building really has the Wright brothers bicycle shop.

Mural in two-point perspective. 

A painted fire on the side of Firehouse BBQ & Blues. 

A new freeway depreciates itself and the city as fast as your new car

A Metra train bypasses congested automobile traffic on the free-to-use Kennedy Expressway. 

Elly Blue wrote about automobile depreciation last week. Depreciation is the value of the automobile that disappears because it’s not as valuable anymore, for reasons of mechanical decay and the “used” factor.

Depreciation is, for many individual consumers a hidden cost. But any responsible accounting of the costs of driving includes it as one of the largest associated with car ownership. The fact that such a large and unprofitable investment is necessary to living and working in most areas of this country is a major source of poverty and failure to get ahead for people and families, and is a hidden source of poverty on a national scale.

The same exact principle is at work in our road system.

It’s depreciation at the societal level. It’s irresponsible not to plan for it, but we do not. A freeway, once built, immediately begins to deteriorate and become congested, it loses its ability to provide the jobs that often were much of the argument for building it in the first place.

Think about the Circle Interchange project the Illinois Department of Transportation is bent on building. For 10 minutes I monitored the “public forum” room at the late June – and final – public meeting about the project to rebuild and increase capacity at the intersection of I-290, I-90/94, and Congress Parkway. I heard seven people speak and at least five of them focused their two minute speeches on the “good jobs” that this project would provide. These are the same “good jobs” that $470 million spent on any other transportation project would generate, like the underfunded but highly beneficial CREATE project that reduces congestion and travel times for freight, Metra, and Amtrak trains in the region.

The Circle Interchange will add an imposing flyover to Greektown and residents and workers on Van Buren Street. 

Building something for jobs is the worst reason to build something. At least with transit (or tollways, for this matter) there is a recurring funding stream, with every use. Oregon is slowly moving in the direction of taxing drivers by mile instead of by gallon, but starting only with electric vehicles. Illinois is issuing bonds for its freeways with the country’s worst credit rating.

Elly’s article had me thinking of other ways cities lose. One of the commenters mentioned there is a loss in property taxes, when properties are demolished to make way for the highway. As Rick Risemberg wrote, “Roads themselves do not pay property tax, of course.” The revenue from those razed properties is eliminated, permanently.

This train flyover represents what the Circle Interchange flyover, over Halsted, will look like. At least this flyover has a revenue stream.

Another way cities lose property tax because of highways is that it makes properties around highways less valuable. It also makes existing, now vacant properties less desirable to developers. So, we have less revenue and then a lowered desire to develop there. Seems like a Catch-22.

However, urban rail stations and bikeways are now known to raise property values and thus government incomes, though this money generated by them is usually not allocated to the infrastructure that created it. (Some places are beginning to use “value capture” mechanisms to do so.)

Risemberg makes sure to point out that gas taxes hardly cover the costs of building highways. I would add that, at least in this state, more and more is being spent on debt service.

And this is all slightly relevant to the article I posted Tuesday on Streetsblog Chicago about transit-oriented development. It’s the third of three articles on the topic based on a report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that essentially says that Chicagoland, compared to San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, are not experiencing the same benefits of them as adding housing to the transit shed (within 1/2 mile of a train station) and that driving is up in the transit shed of Chicagoland while transportation costs, as a portion of household income, are rising faster in the transit shed than outside. These were surprising to CNT, where the expectation was, in brief, that living near a train station provides more mobility, closer retail and services opportunities, and thus would reduce dependence on expensive automobile ownership.

Current madness of the week: investigating car crashes

Gravity should have prevented this car crash, as would not placing buildings near roadways. But we’ve figured out how to defy gravity. Photo by Katherine Hodges.

“Police closed the street to investigate”.

What a waste of time. The investigation will conclude the same way as any other, with one or more of the following contributing factors: exceeding the speed limit, alcohol, a deficiency in someone’s driving skills or knowledge, or some defect in the road (I’m excluding poor road design as it could almost always be better, designed in such a way to reduce the occurrence of poor quality driving).

The story: a person driving an SUV side swipes another SUV. The driver loses control and then hits the center concrete barrier. The SUV flips over and the driver dies. (Yes, this is in relation to an incident on I-294 in Glenview this weekend.)

We already know how to fix all of these issues.

Mapping guns in your town: is that okay?

This screenshot shows the pistol permit holders in Westchester County, New York. The highest density of permit holders appears to be at the border with Bronx County, also known as the northern edge of New York City. 

An ABC News story I read through the Yahoo! News website tells about The Journal News, covering Westchester (Yonkers, New Rochelle) and Rockland (New City, Pomona) counties in New York, posting the names and addresses, on a map, of gun permit owners. The map contains:

…the addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Each dot represents an individual permit holder licensed to own a handgun — a pistol or revolver. The data does not include owners of long guns — rifles or shotguns — which can be purchased without a permit. Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so. [Notice that some dots are outside the county.]

This article is interesting to me for two reasons:

1. The article has hyperlinks to the (alleged?) Facebook profiles of two people who commented on The Journal News’s website. I predict this will only become more common. I don’t have a Facebook profile to link to.

2. The rationale to make a map seems reasonable: so people know where there are potentially guns in their neighborhood. It seems reasonable that people want to know where there are potential sources of danger and harm near them.

The names and addresses were obtained through “routine” (their words, not mine, but it is pretty routine and normal) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The quantity and types of guns are not considered to be public record, although this may not be true, according to the ABC News article.

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).

Brief history of suburbs and sprawl, according to Taras Grescoe’s “Straphanger”

The Metra station in Riverside, Illinois, a version 1.0 streetcar suburb designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. 

I’m reading another book a publisher sent to me. It seems pretty biased, and it’s biased in the direction I already feel, so it’s really easy reading. But it seems that people like me are its only audience and that it assumes I’m already pro-cities, anti-suburbs and maybe even anti-car. Definitely not a book that’s going to espouse the benefits of transit to those who don’t use it, don’t want to use it, or are on the fence for either situation.

If I could get my father or brother to read this book, that would be an accomplishment just short of a miracle.

The book is Straphanger: Saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile, by Taras Grescoe. I really like the section I just finished reading, a “condensed history of sprawl”. I had recently “argued” with my father about the development of the subdivision he lives in, east of Phoenix. He posited that suburbs were the result of consumer desires. Grescoe writes to the contrary. Here we go:

The origin of the Anglo-American suburb has been traced to Clapham, five miles south of London, where, in the 1790s, Evangelical Christians eager to remove their families from the evils of the city began living in what had formerly been their weekend villas, and commuting to the City by private carriage. In the United States, [author Kenneth] Jackson dates the beginning of the process to 1815, when regular steam ferry service to Manhattan made Brooklyn Heights the nation’s first true commuter suburb. (page 89)

American suburb version 1.0

  • When: 1853 onward
  • What it was: picturesque, full of green space, near central cities, attached by rail line
  • Who lived there: As mortgages didn’t exist, only those who could afford to buy a home outright
  • Examples: Llewellyn Park, NJ; Riverside, IL.
  • Note: Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City” design is related.

American suburb version 2.0

  • When: Post World War II
  • What it was: cheap, small housing on vast land tracts; pre-assembled homes
  • Who lived there: Families with soldiers that expanded quickly so new homes were needed fast.
  • Examples: Levittown, Long Island; Lakewood, Los Angeles.
  • Note: “The prevailing myth”, writes Kenneth Jackson, “is that the postwar suburbs blossomed because of the preference of consumers who made free choices in an open environment. Actually, most postwar families were not free to choose among several residential alternatives. Because of public policies favoring the suburbs, only one possibility was economically feasible”.

American suburb version 3.0

  • When: Late 1980s, 1990s to now
  • What it was: Found near office parks, also known as “edge cities”, “common interest communities” (gated and homeowners associations)
  • Who lived there: Single races (self-segregating), people who lean conservative
  • Examples: Silicon Valley, Nevada, Florida
  • Note: Under the George W. Bush administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offered easy credit and homeownership rate rose to 69% by 2004. “(By 2012, it is expected to drop to 62%, the lowest level since 1960.)”

American suburb version 4.0

  • When: 2008, easy credit crisis, underwater mortgages
  • What it is: Least glamorous, the clichéd image of the inner city has moved to the suburbs. Arizona has highest rate of property crime. Nevada and Florida, the most suburbanized states, have highest rates of violent crime (Florida also has highest rate of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities).
  • Who lives there: A diverse group of people.
  • Examples: See “What it is”
  • Note: “Humans are social animals. I [Kenneth Jackson] think the biggest fake ever perpetrated is that children like, and need, big yards. What children like are other children. I think we move children to the suburbs to control the children, not to respond to something the children want. In the city, the kids might see somebody urinate in public, but they’re much more at risk in the suburbs, where they tend to die in cars.”

What are those public policies as described in American suburb version 2.0?

The federal government had carrots and sticks. Carrots were subsidies for homeownership (could be deducted from income taxes) and no down payment required for returning soldiers. Sticks included redlining (racial segregation), propagated by the Federal Housing Administration and banks. Zoning was another stick, which dictated what could go where.

Another carrot was the federally-funded highway system, the “greatest public subside to private real estate in the history of the world”.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑