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This is why we need more people editing OpenStreetMap

Unmapped homes in the Irving Park community area

These homes were built after the City of Chicago’s building footprints dataset was created (2010?). Ian Dees imported the dataset in 2012. Many of the buildings that you can now see on Bing Maps have not been present on Bing’s satellite imagery since at least 2012.

1. OpenStreetMap is the world’s most complete free map, to which anyone can contribute their “ground truth” data (the location of wells and convenience stores, road names, and whether Lula Café at 2537 N Kedzie Boulevard in Logan Square has outdoor seating).

2. OpenStreetMap is used by thousands of non-profit and non-governmental organizations, corporations, apps, and people daily to locate themselves, locate others, get directions, and find places.

3. Nearly every map is out of date the moment it is published, including online, “current” maps like Google Maps, Bing Maps, their competitors, and OpenStreetMap.

4. Bing Maps provides its satellite imagery to OpenStreetMap editors – you and me – so that we can trace (copy) things on the planet to be things on the map. Google Maps doesn’t allow tracing (copying).

5. Bing updated its satellite imagery for Chicago (and probably a lot of other places) within the last six weeks…and there are hundreds of objects that aren’t yet mapped in OpenStreetMap. In Chicago most of these buildings are newly constructed houses.

Those hundreds of houses now need to be added to OpenStreetMap, with addresses, to complete the buildings collection in Chicago, and to expand the gazetteer (an address book) of places in Chicago.

I’m glad you want to help me do it! Here are two helpful things you can do:

  1. Start tracing the buildings yourself (here’s how new mappers can get started), or
  2. Leave notes at buildings which aren’t yet mapped so that map editors like myself know where to look to trace buildings.

Update: There’s a bonus third thing you can do, and that’s come to the next MaptimeCHI event on Thursday, February 26th, at the Chicago Community Trust (225 N Michigan, 22nd floor). RSVP for Anatomy of a Web Map. The Trust will also provide food and beverages. I’ll be there to teach new mappers and assist generally.

Adding notes is extremely helpful

You can contribute without editing by adding notes describing new things, or identifying problems with existing things. Click the “Add a note” button on OpenStreetMap.org.

Study recommends designing bike paths for bikes, not for sharing

running and bicycling on the lakefront trail

Some parts of the Chicago Lakefront Trail have a 2-foot wide side path designed for pedestrians but the study reviewed very cases where bicyclists crashed with pedestrians. It’s unknown if this side path results in fewer crashes than the parts of the Lakefront Trail without it. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The Active Transportation Alliance posted a link on Facebook to a new study [PDF] in the Open BMJ from December 2014, a free peer-reviewed “version” of the British Medical Journal, and said it “conclusively shows separated space reduces crashes and the severity of injuries when crashes occur”.

The posting was in the context that bicyclists and pedestrians using the Lakefront Trail should have separate paths. I agree, but there’s a problem in how they stated the study’s support for separation.

I wouldn’t say that the study “conclusively” shows that bicyclists would fare better on paths without pedestrians. The study reviewed fewer than 700 crashes in two Canadian cities. Only 11% of those crashes occurred on multi-use trails and only 5.9% of the crashes were with a pedestrian or animal (the two were grouped) – this sample size is too low from which to draw that kind of conclusion.

The study didn’t report the association (correlation) between crash severity and pedestrians. The authors didn’t even recommend that bicyclists and pedestrians have separate paths, but instead wrote “These results suggest an urgent need to provide bike facilities…that are designed [emphasis added] specifically for bicycling rather than for sharing with pedestrians”.

While I don’t discount the possibility that separating bicyclists and pedestrians in off-street corridors will reduce the number of crashes and injuries when those two user groups collide, it’s imprudent to call this study “conclusive” when linking it to the measure of crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians.

The study’s primary conclusion was that bicyclists crash more often when there are high slopes, fast moving cars, or no bike lanes and the authors recommended that bike infrastructure be built for bicycling. That’s a solid recommendation and I recommended that you sign Active Trans’s petition advocating for separate facilities in the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

Jefferson Park station renovation highlights train station planning deficiencies

Jefferson Park train station rendering

Jefferson Park train station rendering from the City of Chicago. The only difference you see is canopies. What you don’t see is a walkable connection ut thisetween shops southeast of here and the train station – they’re separated by a strip of parking.

Plans for the renovation of the Jefferson Park CTA station are illustrative of the City’s failure to think deeply about how to design the projects that is funding in a way that maximizes potential for residential and commercial development around train stations.

The changes proposed for one of Chicagoland’s most important transit centers are weak. There’s no development plan, or any kind of neighborhood plan or “Corridor Development Initiative” for the Jefferson Park transit center.

Current city policy identifies train stations as optimal places to build new housing and commercial uses.

Without challenging the design to respond to this policy the transit center will continue to use neighborhood space inefficiently and doesn’t respond to demands from residents to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and increase economic development.

Judging by the renderings, nothing is changing at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station (4917 N Milwaukee Ave). All of the improvements save for the canopy are invisible in this rendering. The CTA’s list of improvements reads like the superficial makeover that many stations got in the Station Renewal program almost three years ago, a stopgap measure until Your New Blue could begin.

There will be LED lighting, new paint, new escalators and stairs, new paving, and a new canopy. Only a few of those things make the station easier to access and use.

Jefferson Park is a major asset to the neighborhood and the city. The station serves CTA trains, Metra trains, CTA buses, and Pace buses to Chicago’s suburbs. The CTA’s September 2014 ridership report [PDF] said there are an average of 7,420 people boarding the Blue Line here each weekday, a 0.1% increase over September 2013. It’s the busiest Blue Line station outside of the Loop and O’Hare airport.*

On Twitter I said that the station should be surrounded by buildings, not bus bays. I’m not familiar with how many routes and buses use the station daily, and I’m not suggesting that space for buses go away. I’m challenging the Chicago Transit Authority and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come up with a better plan for vehicle and pedestrian movements, and to start welcoming new development.

I pointed out the new Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Virginia where a residential building was constructed atop a bus bay (where I transferred from the Washington Flyer bus from Dulles). A plaza connects the bus bay to and apartment lobby and the Metrorail station.

Bus bays under an apartment building in Reston

The bus bay at the Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Reston, Virginia, is under an apartment building and plaza linking it to the Metrorail station.

The Metropolitan Planning Council conducted a consultation for the Logan Square Blue Line station – Your New Blue will make upgrades here, too – and the next door city-owned parking lot. Their consultation involved 700 people to decide what development at this station should look like. Their desires were pretty specific: there should be affordable housing, but not any higher than six stories.

The current policy, enacted as an ordinance and expressed in other city documents, allows developers to build more units in the same plot and save them and their tenants money by building less parking. But this policy is insufficient in that has no design review or public consultation attached. It also provides no zoning recommendations to expand the number of places to which it can apply.

A development plan, for which the CDI serves as a good, starting model, would bring residents – and people who want to live in the neighborhood – to discussions about if and how the neighborhood should change. It would hook into another city proposal, from the Chicago Department of Transportation, to build protected bike lanes on Milwaukee, but which ultimately failed. The process would probably uncover latent demand to build new housing in the neighborhood that’s stymied by incompatible zoning.**

The city’s recent choices for development and (lack of) urban design at this station as well as across from the Halsted Green Line station in Englewood where the city is selling vacant land to build a Whole Foods-anchored strip mall demonstrates how little deliberation there is in maximizing transit-oriented development, or TOD.

Their suburban forms are the antithesis of how we should be designing the stations and their environs – they should have higher densities and walkable places.

* Metra has published its 2014 station-level counts! This station had 599 daily boardings, yet not every train stops here. The Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) line that stops at Jefferson Park saw a 3.8% increase in ridership [PDF] from January to September 2014 versus the same period in 2013.

** There are no parcels near the Jefferson Park transit center that allow the transit-adjacent development ordinance to take effect; developers have to go through an arduous and sometimes costly process to persuade the alderman to change the zoning. The ordinance only affects Bx-3 districts (where x is 1-3 and -3 is the allowable density identifier).

Links between Emanuel’s campaign donors and their building projects

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

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

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

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

Emanuel campaign contributions

DonorContributionsConnection (Tribune)Notable properties or permits
Grosvenor Capital Management$1,056,287Grosvenor CEO Michael Sacks, vice chairman of World Business Chicago and Emanuel confidante.900 N Michigan Shops
Madison Dearborn Partners$858,800Investor in city contractor CDW Government; co-CEO Sam Mencoff appointed to World Business Chicago.NA
Plumbers and Pipefitters unions$766,500Mayor's water and sewer upgrades boost union jobs.NA
Citadel$559,550CEO Ken Griffin meets with mayor; firm invests in Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which mayor backed for state tax breaks; also invests in companies doing business with city.Renovations in its own building
Muneer Satter$352,600Former executive at Goldman Sachs, which got city bond business; appointed to World Business Chicago.Renovations to its office
Harris Associates$290,000Firm's Oakmark Fund invests in LiveNation, which books concerts at city's Northerly Island.Renovations to its office
DRW Trading Group$255,100Donald R. Wilson Jr., founder of DRW trading firm, is developer of multiple hotel projects; Emanuel appeared with Wilson to lobby regulators on futures trading rules.NA
Henry Crown & Co.$254,400President James S. Crown appointed by mayor to World Business Chicago.NA
Donald Edwards$241,600Mayoral appointee to World Business Chicago and Chicago Park District.NA
Lettuce Entertain You$236,850Partner in restaurants at O'Hare International Airport.Listed under several names. Search "Lettuce"
Groupon$231,200CEO Eric Lefkofsky appointed to World Business Chicago; co-chair of Emanuel-supported Chicago Ideas Week.Renovations to its office
JMB companies$191,900Neil Bluhm, Judd Malkin. Control JMB Realty, Bluhm's Walton St. Capital gets city pension business.Listed under several names. Search "JMB". Also associated with the 900 N Michigan Shops
Teamsters$184,700Emanuel labor rule changes hurt other unions, left Teamsters largely unscathed.NA
David Helfand$180,900Real estate executive, now with Equity Group Investments, major holder of Chicago real estate.NA
Chopper Trading$173,300Emanuel appealed to regulators to ease commodities futures trading rules for firms like Chopper.Renovations to its office
Medline Industries Inc.$171,600COO Jim Abrams appointed to World Business Chicago; mayoral jobs announcement and appearance at business conference.NA
Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar and Scott$162,300Law partner on CHA board.NA
PEAK6$160,000Emanuel appealed to regulators to ease commodities futures trading rules for firms like PEAK6.Renovations to its office
Joe Mansueto$160,000CEO of Morningstar, which has contract with Chicago Public Library.Renovations to the Morningstar office in Block 37
John Buck Co.$140,000Development projects downtown; John Buck appointed to World Business Chicago; gets city pension business.Listed under 10 names. 155 N Wacker Drive skyscraper opened in 2010. New residential tower at 200 N Michigan (yet going under the address of 201 N Garland Ct).
United Airlines$137,783United executives appointed to World Business Chicago; jobs and headquarters announcements.Majority of permits are for O’Hare operations. Others include renovations to its downtown office building.
Beacon Capital Partners$137,000Office building redevelopments.Unknown. There are many entries with "Beacon".
Jenner & Block$136,878Legal fees for O'Hare International Airport litigation.Listed under several names. Search "Jenner & Block"
AT&T$127,600City telecommunications contract. Donations from AT&T Illinois Employee PAC.Listed under 19 names.
Duchossois family$124,900Craig Duchossois appointed to World Business Chicago.NA
DLA Piper$124,700Helps clients get city tax increment financing (TIF) funds.Renovations to its office
Pritzker Group$124,500J.B. Pritzker appointed to World Business Chicago; head of 1871 tech incubator frequented by Emanuel.Only Penny Pritzker is listed, associated with an office renovation.
Exelon Corp.$124,200CEO Christopher Crane appointed to World Business Chicago.Listed under 7 names.
Winston & Strawn$114,000Legal fees on city bond business.Listed under 2 names, associated with an office renovation.
Clayco$105,000Emanuel joined CEO Robert Clark to announce headquarters move to Chicago.Listed under 4 names. Contractor for the University of Chicago and downtown office renovations.
Schiff Hardin LLP$94,250Legal fees on city bond business.NA
Chicago Trading Co.$92,000Emanuel appealed to regulators to ease commodities futures trading rules for firms like CTC.NA
Roger J. Kiley Jr.$75,600Emanuel reappointed to board of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.NA
Friedman Properties$75,550Hotel developments needing city permits.Listed under 6 names.
Sidley Austin LLP$74,450Represents clients on city development issues.Listed under 2 names, associated with an office renovation.
Power, Rogers and Smith$73,500Partner Larry R. Rogers Sr. appointed to City Colleges Board.NA
BDT Capital Partners, LLC$70,900Managing partner Byron Trott appointed to World Business Chicago; BDT bought and re-developing Wrigley Building.Renovations to its office
White Lodging Services$66,100Development partner on River North hotel complex.Minor elevator work
Victory Park Capital$65,000Victory CEO/founder Richard Levy is investor in North Side soccer field that needed city approval; firm owns Giordano's pizza chain that has needed city approvals for expansion.NA
Magellan Development Group, LLC$64,000Development partner on proposed Wanda Vista skyscraper praised by Emanuel.Listed under 4 names. Lakeshore East developer
Centerview Partners$61,500Consultant to Comcast merger with Time-Warner Cable, which Emanuel backed in letter to FCC.NA
Katten Muchin$61,300Legal fees on city bond business.Renovations to its office
Gibsons Restaurant Group$60,113City signed off on sidewalk expansion at Rush Street restaurant.NA
Martin J. Koldyke$55,600Founder of Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which takes over troubled city schools.NA
Richard Sandor$55,000Sandor is board member of Chicago Clean Energy Trust, a nonprofit supported by Emanuel that received a grant worth $2.2 million in federal and private funding.NA
Willis Stein and Partners$55,000Equity firm owns Roundy's, which owns Mariano's grocery chain that gets city TIF money.Search for "Mariano’s" and "Roundy’s". Minor projects.
Comcast$52,000Emanuel supported Comcast merger with Time-Warner Cable in letter to FCC.Listed under 6 names. Renovations to its office and retail store in Lincoln Park.
Jerry Reinsdorf$50,000Reinsdorf owns Chicago Bulls. City approved Bulls practice facility, Emanuel held news conference.New "Advocate Center" practice facility at 15 S Wood Street.
Isaac Goldman$45,300Emanuel appointed Front Barnett principal Isaac "Sandy" Goldman to Illinois Medical District Commission.NA
Chicago Board Options Exchange$40,300Emanuel supported state tax breaks for commodities exchanges; CEO Bill Brodsky on World Business Chicago.Listed under 3 names for renovations to its 400 S LaSalle Street office.
Robert Rubin$40,300Mayor attends Rubin's Hamilton Project retreat.NA
Valor Equity Partners$40,000Emanuel appointed Valor CEO Antonio Gracias to World Business Chicago.NA
Walgreen Co.$38,850Then-Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson appointed to World Business Chicago. Contract for city worker wellness screenings.Listed under 13 names. Many permits are drug store renovations.
PGR Holding LLC$35,500Pat Ryan Jr., son of Aon insurance founder, appointed to World Business Chicago; also founded charter school that receives city support. Pat Ryan Sr. heads PGR Holding.NA
University Public Issues Committee$35,000PAC linked to Northwestern University; Emanuel signed off on request to demolish Prentice hospital.NA
Rooney family$31,298R4 Services, headed by Trisha Rooney Alden, has records storage contracts with city and City Colleges of Chicago. Donations from multiple family members, including former Waste Management CEO Phil Rooney.NA
Willis$28,300City insurance contract. City Colleges partnership with Willis to train potential employees.NA
Northern Trust$25,800Retired CEO William Osborn appointed to World Business Chicago. Also an underwriter on city bond business.Listed under 9 names. Renovations to its various office buildings and bank outlets.
Jimmy John's$25,600Restaurants get various permits for business in Chicago.Sign and awning permits.
System Development Integration$20,000CTA contract, other city technology contracts; sought red light camera contract.NA

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

We’ve already found all the ways to make bike lanes safer in the 43rd Ward

Michele Smith, 43rd ward alderman seeking re-election, responded to Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s addendum questionnaire about active transportation issues in that ward (which also includes part of Old Town).

“We must continue to explore different ways to make our bike lanes safer given the narrow width of our roads.”

I would discuss these points with her:

1. The number of ways to make bicycling in bike lanes safer is very small. The two biggest problems are car doors and people parking their cars in the bike lanes. I don’t know Smith to have supported building the only bike lane type – a protected bike lane between a car parking lane and the sidewalk – currently in our city’s roster of possibilities that mitigate either of these problems.

2. The problem “given” isn’t the narrow width of roads. Streets in the 43rd Ward range in all sizes, from the very small one-way brick streets to the 4-6+ lane behemoths of LaSalle Boulevard, North Avenue, and Clark Street. The problem is one of allocation – storing things or keeping people moving. Again, see the lack of Smith’s support in the previous point. (No other candidate touched on this either*, and one pitted sidewalks against bike lanes, as if that was the choice that had to be made.)

Despite four years of Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s advocacy to redesign Clark Street I know of not a single person hired or a curb moved – aside from a lonely pedestrian island at Menomonee Street, peanuts compared to what’s been discussed as needed – to improve conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit use on this important connector that is currently a barrier for those modes.

* BWLP asked about moving parking spaces around and Alderman Smith mentioned that the city faces financial penalties when removing metered parking spaces from revenue service, even if temporarily. This is true, but she ignores that the city doesn’t do this on a permanent basis and instead finds unmetered spaces in equal-revenue-value locations that can be swapped.

Eight dead cyclists, but red light cameras are the worst

Streetsblog Chicago reader David Altenburg left a salient comment this morning in response to the final tally of cyclists killed in Chicago last year after being hit by cars.

David's comment about cyclist fatalities and red light cameras

David’s comment about cyclist fatalities and red light cameras.

He wrote, “Is there any evidence that those cyclists who were killed were also issued improper tickets from red light cameras? Because if there is, then maybe we can get the current crop of ‘progressive’ mayoral candidates to give a shit about them.”

In 2013, three bicyclists died in car crashes, a fluke, because if you look at RedEye’s chart the annual average of bicyclist fatalities is 6 people. (There was a fourth cyclist death in 2013, but that was a train crash with the Brown Line.)

Exploring Pace’s locations for mysterious Arterial Rapid Transit bus stations on Milwaukee Avenue

intersection of Touchy and Milwaukee in Niles

This is the semi-urban scene at Touhy and Milwaukee Avenue. The police station is ahead on the right. The water fountain (described below) is behind the bus on the left. There are multi-unit buildings to the left and across the street on the right. Image: Google Streetview

Update, Jan 21, 2015: Pace unveiled their plan for ART and their request to Congress to make the ART plan a project of regional significance to attract more funding.

Pace, the suburban bus operator in Chicagoland, is constructed an Arterial Rapid Transit bus route on Milwaukee Avenue from the Jefferson Park Transit Center in Chicago – a busy intermodal station where Metra and CTA buses and trains stop – to Golf Mill Mall in Niles. Both of these are major transfer hubs.

I’ve never looked into ART bus systems before but it seems to resemble what many call BRT Lite. Pace has minimal information on its website. Daniel Hertz, notable bus transit supporter, pointed me to an RFP [PDF, 10 MB] that describes the location and scope of Pace’s first (of many) ART corridors.

The RFP describes this project as one of 24 corridors outlined in its Vision 2020 document “to provide a regional network of premium transit services”. It appears that premium is relative and that bus riders will have a more comfortable and easier-to-find bus station at which to wait – bus travel time will not change.

I’ll try to paint you a picture of the built environment going north to south at the eight intermediate stops.

Dempster Street, Niles

Milwaukee has six general purpose lanes here and Dempster has six, four of which go under Milwaukee; buildings are set back far from the curb and land uses are low-density and optimized for arriving in a car

Main Street, Niles

Milwaukee has four general purpose lanes and one wide parking lane here; Main is a two-lane street; there is some residential on both streets

Oakton Street, Niles

Milwaukee and Oakton both have four general purpose lanes

Harlem Avenue, Niles

this intersection has decades-old buildings that have limited parking up front and smaller setbacks; there’s a Dunkin Donuts here with a drive-through between the building and the sidewalk (that’s novel but awful)

Touhy Avenue, Niles

This intersection may be the most urban, despite its immense size. Touhy has six lanes here meaning pedestrians must cross 100 feet of pavement in a faded, stamped-asphalt crosswalk; there’s a massive police station building on one corner, a large multi-unit building on another, a strip mall that actually has entrances onto a  sidewalk plaza instead of just in the parking lot behind it (the Subway and Starbucks here even have sidewalk cafés), and a fountain rounding out the junction – I recommend demolishing the fountain in favor of selling the land to a developer who can build more of the multi-unit buildings like the ones behind the fountain while also getting rid of the pointless cul-de-sac

Highland Avenue, Chicago

This is one block south of Devon Avenue, in Norwood Park. There’s a conventional bike lane here but the Chicago Department of Transportation has noted that there just enough cars that reducing the number of general purpose lanes from four to two – part of a road diet that would add buffered or protected bike lanes – but many residents don’t support the project so the alderman has decided against supporting it.

The land use and design is a blend of what came before it and what’s typical in Chicago: old buildings up against the sidewalk, closer-built single-family homes, some multi-unit buildings.

Austin Avenue, Chicago

Like Highland but now seeing fewer surface parking lots.

Central Avenue, Chicago

Like the rest of the junctions we’re still in motordom; four of the six “first in line” motorists seen in Google Streetview are blocking the crosswalk while waiting for the light to turn green.

About the stations

Pace has established a $6 million budget for the station construction. The station platforms will span 40 to 110 feet, a raised platform that’s 12 inches tall, a new shelter, real-time bus tracker*, a common vertical marker, a single bike rack to hold two bicycles, and associated roadway, curb, and drainage improvements.

It’s unfortunate to learn that the RFP mentions that shelters in Chicago may have to be the insufficiently designed kind JCDecaux operates for the city as part of a very long advertising contract.

Pace ART station design

Pace shows a rendering mocking up a typical station design. I’m concerned the handrail at the rear of the bus will preclude using longer buses in the future, but that would be the least of Pace’s worries.

* It appears that Pace will be using NextBus‘s real-time arrival information services (page A-6 of 14); they’re a company founded in 1996 and now owned by Cubic, which operates Ventra.

Anti-traffic safety is now a political platform

Three of the five men running for Mayor of Chicago have pledged to eliminate enforcing red light running with cameras. Many aldermen have done the same. The Chicago Tribune has factually pointed out that Mayors Daley and Emanuel have mismanaged the red light camera program, with the bulk of it falling upon staff in the Daley administration. (The only part of the program under Emanuel that could be considered mismanagement was changing the business rules to issue tickets when the yellow light was recorded as 2.90 to 2.99 seconds long; Emanuel’s administration changed the rule back and has implemented many other changes following the inspector general’s report.)

Red light cameras lead to an increase in rear-end crashes but decrease the more severe angle (T-bone) crashes, which the Chicago Tribune “sorta” pointed out when it looked at frequencies but not injury costs.

Current 2nd ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy’ Garcia, William “Dock” Walls, and Willie Wilson all have decided that neither the facts nor safety for people inside and outside of multi-ton machines are important. They are supporting the right to endanger others by respecting the inconvenience of not always being prepared to stop at a traffic signal.

Fioretti has said he will introduce soon an ordinance to remove red light cameras by April, but I haven’t found it in the legislation database.

Even though Streetsblog Chicago is no longer publishing, John Greenfield is hustling to get us both working again. In the meantime I intend to cover parts of the election, which takes place February 24, with assistance.

The effects of TOD bonuses versus what a transit overlay district could do

I responded to Carter O’Brien’s comment on an EveryBlock discussion about a gentrification series on WBEZ, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate. I reposted the comment here because I want to talk about the problems of piecemeal zoning and how the city’s TOD ordinance can be improved to generate more and diverse housing types (by types I’m talking about quantity of units and stories, not rent vs. own).

@Carter: I think we might be on the same page about something. You wrote:

The question becomes to what degree should zoning be used to encourage one form of land use over another. That’s the tool in the City’s toolbox, so to speak.

Substantial zoning bonuses which will create brand new high rise towers in a neighborhood of lower-density historic architecture will encourage the settling of one economic class of people and the removal of another. [snip] The evidence is that we see shrinking populations of lower-middle class people raising families by the L stops in Wicker Park, Bucktown, Old Town, Lincoln Park and Lake View.

[Actually, pause now and go read Carter’s full comment – he mentions teardowns as an issue that should be part of a gentrifying neighborhood discussion.]

I like that the TOD ordinance seems to be fueling proposals to build many units near transit stations, but it may be building more many units than the community prefers.

I’d like to see transit-oriented zoning also used as a tool to also spur smaller, multi-unit buildings (two flats, three flats, four flats, courtyard buildings) by perhaps preventing low-density buildings so close to transit.

Across from Goethe Elementary School a huge parcel of land is being turned into 7 single-family homes on Medill Ave. That’s great land near a good school and 3 blocks from the California Blue Line station.

Zoning could have been used to require 2-4 unit buildings so that more families have a chance of benefiting from that location but instead the zoning district here makes building 2-4 unit residences on those parcels illegal.

A “transit overlay district” would be something new to Chicago and could do away with the piecemeal zoning of differing densities, one right next to or mixed in with the other. You might see Bx-1 next to Cx-2 and then a Rx-4. Create concentric zoning circles that keep the density uniformly high nearest the train station and then drop off the further away you get.

zoning districts around the California Blue Line station

This map includes the California Blue Line station and the Goethe school houses (empty area northwest of the RM-5 zone on Medill Avenue). The school is outlined inside PD 349.

Quick zoning primer

  • Adapted from Second City Zoning’s plain-English zoning district descriptions.
  • B = retail and apartments above
  • C = commercial (more business types than B) and apartments above
  • RS = single-family homes only
  • RT = 2-4 flats, single-family allowed
  • RM = multi-unit, single-family allowed

The -x number of a district indicates the density allowed (this works for single-family homes, too, setting the minimum parcel area upon which the house is built).

Note: This post has slightly different text from my EveryBlock comment because I had to edit that one for length (the site accepts 2,000 characters maximum).

Working with ZIP code data (and alternatives to using sketchy ZIP code data)

1711 North Kimball Avenue, built 1890

This building at 1711 N Kimball no longer receives mail and the local mail carrier would mark it as vacant. After a minimum length of time the address will appear in the United States Postal Service’s vacancy dataset, provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Photo: Gabriel X. Michael.

Working with accurate ZIP code data in your geographic publication (website or report) or demographic analysis can be problematic. The most accurate dataset – perhaps the only one that could be called reliably accurate – is one that you purchase from one of the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) authorized resellers. If you want to skip the introduction on what ZIP codes really represent, jump to “ZIP-code related datasets”.

Understanding what ZIP codes are

In other words the post office’s ZIP code data, which they use to deliver mail and not to locate people like your publication or analysis, is not free. It is also, unbeknownst to many, a dataset that lists mail carrier routes. It’s not a boundary or polygon, although many of the authorized resellers transform it into a boundary so buyers can geocode the location of their customers (retail companies might use this for customer tracking and profiling, and petition-creating websites for determining your elected officials).

The Census Bureau has its own issues using ZIP code data. For one, the ZIP code data changes as routes change and as delivery points change. Census boundaries needs to stay somewhat constant to be able to compare geographies over time, and Census tracts stay the same for a period of 10 years (between the decennial surveys).

Understanding that ZIP codes are well known (everybody has one and everybody knows theirs) and that it would be useful to present data on that level, the Bureau created “ZIP Code Tabulation Areas” (ZCTA) for the 2000 Census. They’re a collection of Census tracts that resemble a ZIP code’s area (they also often share the same 5-digit identifiers). The ZCTA and an area representing a ZIP code have a lot of overlap and can share much of the same space. ZCTA data is freely downloadable from the Census Bureau’s TIGER shapefiles website.

There’s a good discussion about what ZIP codes are and aren’t on the GIS StackExchange.

Chicago example of the problem

Here’s a real world example of the kinds of problems that ZIP code data availability and comprehension: Those working on the Chicago Health Atlas have run into this problem where they were using two different datasets: ZCTA from the Census Bureau and ZIP codes as prepared by the City of Chicago and published on their open data portal. Their solution, which is really a stopgap measure and needs further review not just by those involved in the app but by a diverse group of data experts, was to add a disclaimer that they use ZCTAs instead of the USPS’s ZIP code data.

ZIP-code related datasets

Fast forward to why I’m telling you all of this: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has two ZIP-code based datasets that may prove useful to mappers and researchers.

1. ZIP code crosswalk files

This is a collection of eight datasets that link a level of Census geography to ZIP codes (and the reverse). The most useful to me is ZIP to Census tract. This dataset tells you in which ZIP code a Census tract lies (including if it spans multiple ZIP codes). HUD is using data from the USPS to create this.

The dataset is documented well on their website and updated quarterly, going back to 2010. The most recent file comes as a 12 MB Excel spreadsheet.

2. Vacant addresses

The USPS employs thousands of mail carriers to delivery things to the millions of households across the country, and they keep track of when the mail carrier cannot delivery something because no one lives in the apartment or house anymore. The address vacancy data tells you the following characteristics at the Census tract level:

  • total number of addresses the USPS knows about
  • number of addresses on urban routes to which the mail carrier hasn’t been able to delivery for 90 days and longer
  • “no-stat” addresses: undeliverable rural addresses, places under construction, urban addresses unlikely to be active

You must register to download the vacant addresses data and be a governmental entity or non-profit organization*, per the agreement** HUD has with USPS. Learn more and download the vacancy data which they update quarterly.

Tina Fassett Smith is a researcher at DePaul University’s Institute of Housing Studies and reviewed part of this blog post. She stresses to readers to ignore the “no-stat” addresses in the USPS’s vacancy dataset. She said that research by her and her colleagues at the IHS concluded this section of the data is unreliable. Tina also said that the methodology mail carriers use to identify vacant addresses and places under change (construction or demolition) isn’t made public and that mail carriers have an incentive to collect the data instead of being compensated normally. Tina further explained the issues with no-stat.

We have seen instances of a relationship between the number of P.O. boxes (i.e., the presence of a post office) and the number of no-stats in an area. This is one reason we took it off of the IHS Data Portal. We have not found it to be a useful data set for better understanding neighborhoods or housing markets.

The Institute of Housing Studies provides vacancy data on their portal for those who don’t want to bother with the HUD sign-up process to obtain it.

* It appears that HUD doesn’t verify your eligibility.

** This agreement also states that one can only use the vacancy data for the “stated purpose”: “measuring and forecasting neighborhood changes, assessing neighborhood needs, and measuring/assessing the various HUD programs in which Users are involved”.

© 2015 Steven Can Plan

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