TagAPI

New iOS app offers most advanced Divvy route directions

Chicago Bike Route for iOS

Walking directions from my house to the Divvy station at the CTA California Blue Line station, and then from there to the Divvy station at LaSalle/Illinois Streets. Lastly, there’s walking directions to some arbitrary N LaSalle Street address.

Adam Gluck and Andrew Beinstein showed up at OpenGov Hack Night on July 16, 2013, to show off the technical concept of their forthcoming app for iOS devices. I looped them into the Divvy app-making progress I and others were undertaking (documented on a shared Google Doc).

They said they would make their app was going quite different from all of the eight apps for using Divvy that have since launched before theirs: it would offer directions for walking to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, directions to the Divvy station nearest their destination with open docks, and then walking directions from that end station to their destination.

Chicago Bike Route launched Friday last week. Currently only three of the eight iOS apps released before Chicago Bike Route have routing. CBR takes directions to a new level by giving you directions from where you are to where you want to go, and not necessarily from a specific Divvy station (like my Chicago Bike Guide does). Instead, CBR gives you complete directions between origin and destination and smartly picks the nearest Divvy station with available bikes. Now, I believe most often this will just be the nearest Divvy station, period, as it’s relatively rare for a station to lack bicycles.

The app uses Google Directions and for every trip makes a maximum of three calls to their API; counts against the app’s free quota from Google. The first call gets walking directions from the origin to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, and the second call gets bicycling directions to the Divvy station with available docks nearest the destination, and the third call (assuming the destination isn’t that Divvy station) gets walking directions from the end Divvy station to your destination. The next step, I believe, is to have the app use a prediction model to accurately choose the end Divvy station. A lot can happen at that Divvy station in the 30 minutes (or whatever) it takes to get there. It may not have open docks when you arrive.

Two other suggestions I have: an improvement to the autocomplete destination function because it didn’t recognize “Chicago city hall” or its address, “121 N LaSalle Street”; and adding a “locate me” button. Additionally I’d like them to add some basic resources to advise users on where they can get more information about Divvy or bicycling in Chicago.

Adam and Andrew are going to publish a “dock surfing” function in the app that will incorporate multiple segments on Divvy to make a trip longer than the free 30 minute period. This would probably mean a fourth call to the Google Directions API. I emailed Adam and Andrew to learn more about the app development.

Video of Beinstein and Gluck presenting their app to Hack Night. Created by Christopher Whitaker for Smart Chicago Collaborative.

Why did you make Chicago Bike Route?

We made the app because we wanted to make something civic related. We thought that Divvy was an exciting new civic program coming into existence, and we kept seeing it all over the place. It also solves a real problem in public transportation that we notice and hear about a lot living in Hyde Park called the “last mile problem.” We also had the data in our hands from having attended civic hack night at 1871 when Divvy came and we thought “let’s make a native Divvy app!” And that’s what we did. We also released a framework for interacting with the Divvy API natively for developers who don’t want to get their hands dirty playing around with the iOS frameworks.

What makes your app stand out from the pack?

I think the routing but also the simplicity of design of the app.  We wanted it to be something you could just open up and use and was like all the other mapping utilities that one has on their phone (Google Maps, Apple Maps). And that’s what we did. You open it, enter an address, and you get routed to that address. Something that people could use to get up and running with Divvy with basically no familiarity with the system.

What features are you planning for the future?

Bike surfing! Seriously though. We think that it would be a really useful feature for some people, and also help reduce the cost of using the bikes. It would be useful for the regular riders where the $2 additional charge could really add up but also if you are someone who is not part of the program and are just taking the bike out for a joy ride. It can actually get kind of expensive, since every half hour after the first hour in a half is an additional $8, rather than $4.50 for members. You would also be less familiar with the bike stations under that situation. We also need to integrate with Chicago public transportation. But, we also want to keep with the simplicity, and create a user experience with basically no learning curve, and we are a little cautious to throw something in that could complicate things.

BikeLock app based on dataset I opened up

Bike parking at Daley Plaza, downtown Chicago. 

It’s really cool to see work you did “go places”. A friend of mine who works at Groupon just linked me to an iOS app called BikeLock that finds bike racks near you on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. It’s based on bike rack location data in the City of Chicago’s Data Portal. (The data on there is old, while the data in the public API I built is real time.)

Download it from the iTunes Store for 99 cents. The developer is Mike Jahn, another Groupon staffer. You can get the same information for free, though, on my mostly mobile-friendly Can I bring my bike on Metra? web app, and a website I made for the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

A screenshot of the Can I bring my bike on Metra? bike rack finder website. 

That data comes straight from the Bike Parking Web Application I started developing in 2008 soon after I started working in the Chicago Bicycle Program. It was good that my supervisor had the same perspectives I did about open and transparent data and work. But it didn’t start like that; here’s the full story:

My first job at the Bicycle Parking Program was to deal with abandoned bikes, get them off the street. I was taught the existing method of keeping track of my work, but I used my programming skills (in PHP, MySQL, and with the Google Maps API) to develop a web application that tracked it faster and mapped out the abandoned bikes I had to visit and tag with a notice. I was using this for a few days or few weeks and then show my boss. His reaction was something like, “Great! Now make one for bike racks!”

Why? Well, let’s take this quote from Judy Baar Topinka, Illinois comptroller, speaking Tuesday about her office’s new website, The Ledger, which lists the state’s unpaid bills among other financial data.

“The object of the exercise is to make everything that we know of in the comptroller’s office public. If we know it, you’ll know it.” WBEZ

I made one for bike racks. I created two environments, one for private administration at the office (“Bike Parking Web Application”) and one for the public (“public interface”). A later feature I added to the public interface was the Advanced Search. This allows you to filter by Ward, Community Area, and Status. You can then choose your sorting method. A map will appear above the results. You can download the results as either an XLS file, and XLS file that’s designed to be imported in GIS programs (like QGIS), or a KML file.

I’m aware of just one other app that uses this data set: MassUp.us. I don’t know if MassUp uses the real-time API that my Metra bike rack finder uses.

Give the CTA a medal, or a pony, for Train Tracker

The Chicago Transit Authority released the Train Tracker API to developers with little fanfare. But it’s some high-quality stuff. At least this guy thinks the documentation is excellent*:

“Dear CTA: please give whoever wrote the Train Tracker API docs a medal, or a pony, or something. Thanks.” Original tweet by cieslak.

I think they got the message. You can bet they asked for the pony.

*I haven’t taken a look at the Train Tracker API documentation, but I did review the Trademark/Branding Guidelines for developers. It’s very clear how you should and shouldn’t use the CTA name and service marks and graphics. I also had a sneak preview in December 2010 of the Train Tracker website, to give user feedback. I was shocked and impressed to find that it worked on my Samsung Slash, a remarkably dumb phone that happens to be able to run Opera Mini (see photo below). The API wasn’t available until June 2011.

TransportationCamp: Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location, Session Two

Real-Time Pedestrian and Bike Location How can we get it? What can we do with it? How can it not be creepy?
By Eric Fischer.

My summary of the discussion

There are many existing data sources that are published or have APIs that could stand as reasonable proxies for tracking people who are walking, biking, or just ambling around the city – some of this information is given away (via Foursquare) by those who are traveling, and other information is collected in real time (buses and taxis) and after the trip (travel surveys and Flickr photos). I don’t think the group agreed on any good use for this data (knowing where people are in the city right now), nor did the group come up with ways to ensure this collection is not “creepy.”

Eric’s original question involved the location of people bicycling, but the discussion spent more time talking about pedestrians. However, some techniques in tracking and data gathering could be applied to both modes.

See final paragraph for links on “further reading” that I find relevant to this discussion.

Schedule board at TransportationCamp West on Saturday in San Francisco at Public Works SF, 161 Erie Street.

[Ideas and statements are credited where I could keep track of who said what, and if I could see your name badge.]

Eric, starting us off:
We have a lot of information about where motor vehicles (MV) are in cities.
A lot of experience of city is not about being in a MV, though.

How many bikers going through intersection that are NOT getting hurt.
Finding places where people walk and where people’ don’t.

Where do people go on foot and on bikes?
As far as I know this isn’t available

Foursquare has benefits (awards) so people are willing to give the data, but we don’t want another Please Rob Me.

In SF, there are flash mobs, sudden protests, Critical Mass

Data sources:
-buses – boarding and deboarding – you can get a flow map from this. Someone said that Seattle has this data open.
-CTPP (Census Transportation Planning Package)
-city ped count
-Eric: Where people get on/off taxis.

“CycleTracks” – sampling bias, people with iPhones
-70% of handheld devices are feature phones, not smart phones. So there’s another sampling bias.

Opt-in factor
How do you sample?

SF Planning Dept. had a little program or project ask people to plot on a map your three most common walking routes.
What is your favorite street, and where do you not like to walk?

Eric: My collection tool is Flickr. Geotags and timestamps.
flickr.com/walkingsf

Magdalena Palugh: Are there incentives for commuting by bike? There are incentives for people who vanpool.
If there is incentive, I would gladly give up my data.
Michael Schwartz (SFCTA, sp?) What is difference <> SFCTA/MTA?

-If part of this is to get at where the trouble spots are, could you have people contribute where the good/bad parts are? “This overpass really sucks.”

Tom: Can you get peds from aerial images?
-Yes, but there’re too many limitations, like shade, and tree cover. Also, aerial images may be taken at wrong time (for a while the image of Market/Castro was during festival).

Brandon Martin-Anderson: What strategies have you tried so far?
-aerial images
-Flickr/Picasa location
-Street View face blur (a lot false positives)
Anything you plot looks kind of the same.

People like to walk where other people are. For safety reasons. -Good point on real-time basis.
Eric: Not a lobbying group for peds.
Eric: Find interesting places to go.
Richard: We need exposure data.

Paris bike sharing report showed that “Cycling is faster on Wednesdays.”
Europeans more open to sharing their private details – possibly because of stricter regulation on what agencies can do with the collected data. (There was a little disagreement on this, I personally heard the opposite).

Andrew: Can we use something like Xbox Kinect to track these people?

National Bike/Ped Documentation Project – same format
Seattle – 4 different groups that do annual bike counts. UW bike planning studio.

Who pays for this?
-Transportation planners pay for this.
-Private development projects (from contractor).
-Universities, NSF, Google
-Community groups –

Further reading

People

Mike Fleisher – DS Solutions
Andrew – @ondrae – urbanmapping.com

Notes to self

Is Census question about commuting about time or distance of “most traveled” mode?
Splunk – data analysis tool
What is difference <> SFCTA/SFMTA?

More data goodness for Chicago: TIFs, vacant and abandoned buildings

Derek Eder emailed me to tell me about two web applications he created based on Google Fusion Tables and its API (application programming interface, basically a question and answer program for designers and programmers to interact with).

He created searchable/filterable maps for TIF districts (tax increment financing, the Chicago mayor’s pet project bank account) and vacant and abandoned buildings. Both use data straight from the City of Chicago.

Screenshot of the Derek Eder’s TIF district web application.

Essentially, the web applications work like this (in case you want to build one yourself):

  • Load the data into Google Fusion Tables (this is very easy)
  • Build a custom interface on your own website (not so easy)
  • Hook into the Fusion Tables API to load the data into your custom interface

As for me, I might look into building a custom interface on my website, but right now I’m going to create a pedestrian crash map for Chicago using Polymaps, a Javascript library. I specifically want to use the k-Means Clustering to show crash hotspots. We already know where they are based on a 2007 report from the University of North Carolina – see that map here.

These markings are intended to reduce the number of pedestrian crashes by increasing the walking person’s visibility.

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