TagBike Program

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.

On sucker poles

Twice in the past seven days I’ve encountered an unsecured sucker pole.

A sucker pole next to a highly-secure bike rack provided by the City of Chicago’s Bicycle Program. The adjacent placement of the two fixtures is an unfortunate side effect of construction crews who didn’t receive guidance on bike rack placement. 

What’s a sucker pole? Any sign pole that’s not embedded in concrete or securely fastened to the ground in another fashion. A simple hex nut on a bolt fastens the pole to the base.

So last Saturday I encountered my latest one in front of India House (59 W Grand), just hours after Alexis Finch of Thought You Knew pinup calendar fame mentioned a specific sucker pole at the Green Eye (2403 W Homer) – I could completely remove the pole from its base.

Alexis reported that when she visits that bar, she removes the pole from its base and lays it on the sidewalk to prevent others from locking their bikes there.

I want you to spread the word about sucker poles while at the same time requesting a bike rack for that spot. I invite designers to remake this crappy poster I created and thankfully never printed.

Remake this “beware of sucker poles” poster into something cool and I’ll pay to print a few copies for you to keep and give to friends or bike shops. 

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

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