TagCDOT

Barcelona’s superblocks are being implemented now to convert car space to people space

Most of the urban block pattern in Barcelona is this grid of right angles (like Chicago) with roads between blocks that range from small to massive (like Chicago). Barcelona’s blocks, called “illes”, for islands*, are uniform in size, too. This part of Barcelona is called Eixample, designed by ldefons Cerdà in 1859.

The city is rolling out its urban mobility plan from 2013 to reduce noise and air pollution, and revitalized public spaces. Part of this plan is to reduce car traffic on certain streets in a “superblock” (the project is called “superilles” in Catalan) by severely reducing the speed limit to 10 km/h.

Vox published the video above, and this accompanying article. The project’s official website is written in Catalan and Spanish.

My favorite quote from the video is when someone they interviewed discussed what tends to happen when space for cars is converted to space for people:

“What you consistently see is when people change their streetscapes to prioritize human beings over cars is you don’t see any decline in economic activity, you see the opposite. You get more people walking and cycling around, more slowly, stopping more often, patronizing businesses more. That center of social activity will build on itself.”

A superblock is a group of 9 square blocks where the internal speed limit for driving is reduced to 10 km/h, which is slower than most people ride a bicycle.

A superblock is a group of 9 square blocks where the internal speed limit for driving is reduced to 10 km/h, which is slower than most people ride a bicycle. That’s the second phase, though. The first phase reduces it first to 20 km/h. During phase 2, on-street parking will disappear. In addition to the reduced speed, motorists will only be able to drive a one-way loop: into the superblock, turn left, turn left, and out of the superblock, so it can’t be used as a through street even at slow speeds, “allowing people to use the streets for games, sport, and cultural activities, such as outdoor cinema” (Cities of the Future).

A grid isn’t necessary to implement the “superblock”; it can work anywhere.

In Ravenswood Manor, the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing a car traffic diverter at a single intersection on Manor Avenue, where drivers have to turn off of Manor Avenue. This effectively creates a small superblock in a mostly residential neighborhood, but one that is highly walkable, because schools, parks, a train station, and some small businesses are all within about four blocks of most residents.

The trial is complementary to an upcoming “neighborhood greenway” project to use Manor Avenue as an on-street connection between two multi-use trails along the Chicago River.

The Vox video points out that “walkable districts are basically isolated luxury items in the United States”. I agree that this is often the case, although NYC, pointed out as a place where people spaces are being made out of former car-only spaces, is spreading its “pedestrian plaza” throughout all boroughs.

Ravenswood Manor is a wealthy area, but the reason this project is being tried there and not one of the dozens of other places where a lot of car traffic makes it uncomfortable or dangerous to walk and bike is because of the need to connect the trails.

photo of a temporary car traffic diverter

These temporary car traffic diverters are set up at Manor Avenue and Wilson Avenue to force motorists to turn off of Manor Avenue while still allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to go straight. Photo: John Greenfield

The diverter should drastically reduce the amount of through traffic in the neighborhood. Its effect on motorists’ speeds will be better known when CDOT finishes the test in November.

A worker installs a barrier identifying the entrance to a “superilla” (singular superblock) last month. Calvin Brown told me, “I prefer the name ‘super islands’ because it is more poetic and captures the peaceful setting that they create.” Photo via La Torre de Barcelona.

I see a connection between the “superilles” plan in Barcelona, and what CDOT is piloting in the small neighborhood. The next step for CDOT is to try iterative designs in this and other neighborhoods and start converting asphalt into space for other uses, but we may have to rely on local groups to get that ball rolling.

I had the great fortune of visiting Barcelona a year ago, and I had no idea about the plan – but I was impressed by Cerdà’s design of Eixample. I will return, and next time I’ll spend a little time bicycling around.

Red light camera ticket data insufficient to find cause for spikes

Spike in tickets issued at 119th/Halsted in May and June 2011. Nodes represent tickets grouped by week.

Spike in tickets issued at 119th/Halsted in May and June 2011. Nodes represent tickets grouped by week.

The Chicago Tribune published a dataset of over 4 million tickets issued to motorists for entering an intersection after the light had turned red. They analyzed the dataset and found unexplained spikes, where the number of tickets, being issued by the handfuls each day, suddenly tripled. (Download the dataset.)

I looked at the tickets issued by two of the 340 cameras. I didn’t find any spikes at Belmont/Sheridan (“400 W BELMONT”) but found a noticeable spike in May and June 2011 at the 119th Street and Halsted Street intersection (“11900 S HALSTED”).

I looked at three violations on one of the days that had an atypical number of tickets issued, May 12, 2011. Each motorist was ticketed, it appears, for turning right on red. It’s not possible, though, without watching the video, to see if the motorist rolled through the turn or indeed stopped before turning right.

The Tribune called tickets issued during these “spikes” “undeserved” but that’s hard to say without see the violations on video. The photos don’t provide enough evidence. The Tribune also reported that appeals during these spike periods were more likely to be overturned than in the period outside the spikes. The reporters discussed the possibility of malfunctions and malicious behavior, calling that an “intervention”.

The Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees the program formerly operated by Redflex and now operated by Xerox, couldn’t refute either allegation, possibly with “service records, maintenance reports, email traffic, memos or anything else”. David Kidwell and Alex Richards report:

City transportation officials said neither the city nor Redflex made any changes to how violations were enforced. They acknowledged oversight failures and said the explosions of tickets should have been detected and resolved as they occurred. But they said that doesn’t mean the drivers weren’t breaking the law, and they defended the red light camera program overall as a safety success story. The program has generated nearly $500 million in revenue since it began in 2003.

The city was unaware of the spikes until given the evidence by the Tribune in January, said David Zavattero, a deputy director for the Chicago Department of Transportation. In the six months since, city officials have not provided any explanations.

“Trust me when I tell you that we want to know what caused these spikes you have identified as much as you do,” Zavattero said. “So far we can find no smoking gun.”

He acknowledged that faulty camera equipment likely played a role.

“I would say that is likely in some of these cases,” Zavattero said. “I cannot tell you that isn’t possible. It is possible. The old equipment was much more prone to break down than the equipment we are currently installing.”

You can download the data but you will likely produce the same results as the Tribune, but maybe a different conclusion. Their analysis has led people at all levels of the civic sphere to call for an investigation, including citizens, some of whom have filed a lawsuit, Alderman Waguespack and 19 other aldermen, and CDOT commissioner – who operates the red light camera program – Rebekah Scheinfeld.

I think they sufficiently identified a suspicious pattern. By the end of the long story, though, the Tribune didn’t prove its hypothesis that the tickets were “undeserved” or “unfair”.

In violation number 7003374335 you can see the driver of a Hyundai Santa Fe turning right at a red light. The Google Street View for this intersection shows that there is no RTOR restriction, meaning the driver is legally allowed to make a right turn here with a red light after coming to a complete stop and yielding to people in the crosswalk. But we can’t see if they stopped first. The next two violations that day at the same intersection I looked showed the same situation. (Find the violation by going to PhotoNotice and inputting 7003374335, NWD648, and CHI.)

I look forward to the investigation. The Tribune made a great start by analyzing the data and spurring the call for an investigation and it seems there’s not enough information in this dataset to explain why there are more tickets being issued.

One dataset that could help provide context – because these spikes, at least the ones that are sustained, don’t seem random – is knowing the number of vehicles passing through that intersection. The speed camera data has this information and allows one to show how different weekend traffic is from weekday traffic.

The "before" image showing the Santa Fe vehicle approaching the stop bar.

The “before” image showing the Santa Fe vehicle approaching the stop bar.

Violation photo 2

After: The Santa Fe vehicle is seen in a right turn.

Note: The Tribune identified 380 cameras but running a DISTINCT() query on the “camera name” field results in 340 values. Some cameras may have identical names because they’re at the same intersection, but you can’t discern that distinction from the dataset.

Divvy isn’t a real bike

Riding on Divvy in the snow.

Divvy, for the first time in its short, seven-month existence, shut down today at 12 PM on account of the weather and keeping members and workers – who move bikes, shovel snow, and drive vans around town – safe.

Every news media in town reported on the shutdown. Chicagoist, ABC 7, NBC 5, FOX 32, Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times – you name it they had it.

But nothing has been published, except parts of this story from DNAinfo Chicago, that discusses how bicycling – whether on Divvy or your own bike – is very difficult in Chicago winters because of the poor coordination between the Streets & Sanitation and Transportation departments’ snow removal efforts, and the slow pace at which CDOT gets around to removing snow from the protected bike lanes. (I was quoted, alongside someone I recommended the author get in touch with, and we have differing views on the matter.)

In winter the protected bike lanes are the only bikeable kind of bike lane as conventional bike lanes become snow storage areas because plows can’t reach further right when there are parked cars (to avoid knocking off car mirrors).

This problem is not unique to Chicago and other cities have solved it. The cold isn’t why people in Chicago stop biking: it’s that snow and ice make it even more difficult in a region with little, separated (meaning safe and desirable) cycling infrastructure. There are climes with similar and worse winters where a large portion of people who bike in the summer keep biking in the winter. Places like Boulder, Minneapolis, Montréal, and Copenhagen.

A well-plowed, separated bike lane in a Copenhagen winter. Stranded? Put your bike on the back of a taxi (their buses don’t allow bikes).

I think it’s good that news media have recognized Divvy’s position as a transit system in the area, which they do by holding it to the same, weird standard they do Chicago Transit Authority and Metra, and posting about it frequently. When the CTA or Divvy has some marginal or perceived issue with its finances or service, an article gets written. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure they give the city a pass where it doesn’t deserve one.

The media cares about Divvy, but it doesn’t care about bicycling. It might be the 11,000 Divvy members (more than Active Transportation Alliance or The Chainlink), however, that gets the city to kick up its bike lane snow removal efforts up a notch and I anxiously await that day.

Getting a little closer to understanding Chicago’s pothole-filling performance status

Tom Kompare updated his web application that tracks the progress of potholes based on information in the city’s data portal in response to my query about how many potholes the city fills within 72 hours, which is the Chicago Department of Transportation’s performance measure.

He wrote to me via the Open Government Chicago group:

Without completely rewriting http://potholes.311services.org, I added a count of the number of open (not yet addressed) pothole repair tickets (requests) that exceed 3 days old. As of today, the data from the City of Chicago’s Data Portal shows 1,334 or the 1,404 open tickets in the 311 system are older than three days.

Full disclosure: The web app actually looks for greater than 4 days old. The Data Portal’s pothole data are only updated once a day, so these data are always a day old. 4 – 1 = 3.

Keep in mind that this web app only shows how many are yet to be addressed, and does not count how many have been patched within CDOT’s 3-day goal during some arbitrary time period. That is a much more intense calculation that this pure client-side Javascript web application can handle due to bandwidth restrictions on mobile (3/4G). This web app already pushes the mobile envelope with the amount of data downloaded. I can fix that, but, again, not without a rewrite.

Still, 1,334 open repair requests (12/16/2013 Data Portal data) is quite different than the number of open repair requests reported by CDOT (560 in Alley, 193 on street) on 12/16/2013. I’m not sure what is the difference.

This reminds me of a third issue with the way CDOT is presenting pothole performance data online (the first being that it’s PDF, the second that it doesn’t work in Safari). The six PDF files are overwritten for every new day of data. If you want information from two days ago, well you better have downloaded the PDF from two days ago!

CDOT misses the lesson on open data transparency

Publishing the wrong measurement as a PDF isn’t transparency.

The Chicago Department of Transportation released the first progress report to its Chicago Forward Action Agenda in October, two and a half years after the plan – the first of its kind – was published. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time reading it and putting off a review. Why? It’s been a difficult to compare the original and update documents. The update is extremely light on specifics and details for the many goals in the Action Agenda, which should have organizational (like record keeping and efficiency improvements) and public impacts (like figuring out which intersections have the most crashes). I’ll publish my in-depth review this week.

Aside from missing specifics and details, the update presents information differently and is missing status updates for the three to five “performance measures” in each chapter. It was difficult to understand CDOT’s reporter progress without holding the original and update side-by-side. I think listing the original action item, the progress symbol, and then a status update would have been an easier way to read the document.

The update measures some action items differently than originally called for, and the way pothole repair was presented, a problem for people bicycling and driving, caught my analytical eye.

CDOT states a pothole-filling performance measure of the percentage, which it desires to be increased, “patched or fixed within 72 hours of being reported” but the average, according to the website Chicago Potholes, which tracks the city’s open data, is 101 days*. The update doesn’t necessarily explain why, writing “the 72 hour goal for filling potholes is not always feasible due to asphalt plant schedules” and nothing related to the performance measure.

As originally written, the only way to note the performance would be to list the percentage of potholes filled within the goal time, at the beginning and in the update. This performance measure has a complementary action item – an online dashboard – which could have provided the answer, but didn’t.

CDOT published that dashboard this summer as a series of six PDF files that update daily and you can hardly call it useful.

Publishing PDF files in the day and age of open government data – popular with President Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel – is unacceptable. Even if they are accessible – meaning you can copy/paste the text – they are poor outlets for data given the nationally-renowned civic innovation changes that Emanuel has succeeded in establishing.

There’s another problem: the dashboard file for pothole tracking doesn’t track the time it takes to close a pothole request, nor the number of pothole requests that are patched within 72 hours. It simply tells the number completed yesterday, the year to date, and the number of unpatched requests. (I’ve posted the pothole-tracking file to Scribd because the dashboard [PDF] doesn’t work in Safari; I also notified city staff to this problem which they acknowledged over three weeks ago.)

The “Chicago Works For You” website reports a different metric, that of the number of requests made each day, distributed by ward.

I discussed the proposed dashboard with former commissioner Gabe Klein over two years ago. He said he wanted to create a dashboard of projects “we’re working on that’s updated once a week.” Given Klein’s high professional accessibility to myself, John Greenfield and other reporters, I’ll give him and CDOT a pass for not doing this. But Klein also said, “I’m really big on transparency and good communication. When I left [Washington,] D.C. our [Freedom of Information Act Requests] were dramatically lowered.”

I’ll consider the pothole performance measure and action item “in need of major progress.”

* For stats geeks, the median is 86 and standard deviation is ±84.

Desplaines Street bike lane design facilitates right hooks for bicyclists

Photo 1 of 2: At Randolph Street I approach the “mixing zone” and position my bicycle to ride from the bike lane to the left side of the drivers waiting to turn right. 

In some of my social circles where bicycling is frequently discussed (with fellow transportation planners, advocates, or just people who bike commute frequently) we talk about Chicago’s new protected bike lanes, which started appearing in 2011.

The subject of their design is brought forth: they exacerbate turning conflicts between bicyclists going straight and drivers turning right (and to a lesser extent, left). Participants in these discussions usually express appreciation for the protected bike lanes, largely because of their ability to  reduce injuries overall and influence in bringing new people to bicycling, but are hard pressed to ignore this issue.

The issue is created in some instances when bicyclists are removed from sight of drivers because the bike lane is separated from the travel lanes by a vision-blocking lane of parked cars. However, the Chicago Department of Transportation has attempted to mitigate the turning issue by creating “mixing zones” where turning cars are and through-bicycles are mixed into the same, very wide lane prior to the intersection. When there is a green light, drivers typically merge into the mixing zone without much deceleration and then make the turn regardless of the bicyclist’s position.

Allowing turning cars and through-bicycles to go through these movements in the same place at the same time is a situation of incompatible demands.

Photo 2 of 2: I apparently didn’t position myself far enough to the left because the driver of this black Toyota turned right across my path. 

It’s highly unclear where the bicyclist is supposed to go and how they’re supposed to maneuver themselves in the mixing zone. If the bicyclist follows the lane and then the sharrows, they will be stuck behind cars. One of the pavement markings shows a small arrow above a bicycle symbol possible indicating that bicyclists must turn here (even though a sign says bicyclists and buses don’t have to turn from the lane).

The mixing zones on Desplaines Street are the worst at this, possibly because of the street’s nature as one that moves drivers exiting the city onto streets that lead into the Kennedy Expressway. People are gunning for the highway to get home and people bicycling tend to be in the way.

Additionally, the mixing zones on Desplaines Street differ from other protected bike lane installations (like the first one on Kinzie and subsequent ones on Elston, 18th, and Milwaukee) in that they lack the green lanes that CDOT has been using to highlight where car traffic crosses bike lane traffic.

Desplaines Street has another issue that arises when the signal is red and a bicyclist and a driver are both waiting for a green light. The bicyclist is between the car and the curb. The driver then makes a right turn on red (disregard whether or not a sign control makes this illegal) across the path of the stopped bicyclist. No harm done, right? Maybe, but there are a couple possibilities where this could be dangerous: the driver makes this movement as the light turns green and the bicyclist is attempting to move straight. Or there’s the possibility that the bicyclist also wants to turn right and the driver and bicyclist do so simultaneously without accommodating what the other may be doing. Both situations could lead to the dreaded “right hook”.

The driver of this white Hyundai makes a legal right turn from a “mixing zone” to Madison Street. However, what if the bicyclist wanted to also turn right, or the driver made this as the light was turning green?

The solution to the incompatible desire for one group of roadway users to turn and for the other group to go straight is to separate their movements with traffic signals, which CDOT has done on Dearborn Street.

With these situations in mind, it’s not unexpected to see a bicyclist move through the intersection on a red light to avoid a potential incident at the intersection, the site of most bike-car crashes. CDOT has reported that the red light compliance of people bicycling on Dearborn Street – the only street with bike-only signals – “has increased from only 31 percent of cyclists stopping for reds before the lanes and bike-specific traffic signals were installed, to 81 percent afterwards”.

I don’t think there’s not a problem with protected bike lanes but their precarious design in Chicago as well as the variations within Chicago and across the United States.

#protip: Businesses must tell their customers that a Divvy station is out front

I bet you want a Divvy station in front of your business. 

Gabe Klein, commissioner of transportation in Chicago, said on WBEZ on Monday that (paraphrased) “business owners are calling us to say ‘we’d like to buy a Divvy station to put in front of our restaurant’“.

Excellent.

Regarding my headline, I’m talking about telling customers on websites that, in addition to “where to park” and “which highway to take to access our location”, the website needs to give more diverse transportation directions. It should say how to get here by bike, and where the nearest Divvy station is.

When I worked at CDOT – I left before Klein arrived – I had the responsibility of increasing the number of visitors to the Chicago Bicycle Program’s website. I developed a set of strategies including making the content more searchable, adding more content, diversifying content types (like uploading photos staff took to Flickr), but also by increasing the number of inbound links. To satisfy that strategy I listed organizations where biking should be encouraged, like train stations and museums. I contacted many museums individually and asked them to include “bike here!” text on the webpage that otherwise told people to drive on I-290 and exit some place. I gave them sample text and even mentioned where the nearest city-installed bike racks were.

Several museum websites were updated as a result of this effort, but now I cannot find the evidence on Shedd, Field, or Adler websites.

Heck, forget the web. When your customers call, forget the assumption that most people drive and just start giving them directions as if they’re going to arrive in this order of transportation modes:

  1. Walking
  2. Biking
  3. Transit
  4. Scooting
  5. Running
  6. Taxi
  7. Ride sharing
  8. Pedicab
  9. Driving

Every mode requires different directions because people move about the city differently. Here’s an example: I’m giving directions to someone who’s going to drive from my house in Avondale to our friend’s house in the same neighborhood about five blocks away. I tell them, well turn here and there, and then drive through the alley to cross over this one-way street in the “wrong” direction… and “wait, those are directions on how to bike there. With all the one-way streets in my neighborhood, I honestly don’t know a good way to drive there, so ask Siri.”

CDOT’s response to helmet inquiry at MBAC

Waiting at a red light on Milwaukee Avenue at Western Avenue. 

Erica Salem of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) emailed me in February asking about data on children’s bike accidents (crashes) and any related data about ER visits and head injuries. I forwarded her to my friend Bill who is working on such data at UIC’s Urban Transportation Center (UTC).

She was looking for information to make the case for kids to use helmets while biking. And she brought this up at the June 2012 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC). She’s a member of the council under the new rules and format.

Here’s a paraphrased version of the discussion:

Erica Salem (ES): How do you quantify the increase in bike riders in the city?

Mike Amsden: That’s a huge challenge. Bike/ped data collection is very difficult. Right now it’s just work trips, and there’s even talk of eliminating that. We do before/after data collection of bikeway facilities. That’s where this Green Lane Project will come in and help with promotion and resources.

ES: The CDC released data showing 88% CPS middle schoolers and 94% of CPS high schoolers don’t wear a helmet when biking. Some of us think there should be an ordinance for helmet use in children. And some of us don’t.

Charlie Short: Safe Kids Program out of Children’s Memorial has done bike helmet giveaway. Targets low-income children. That seems to be where most initiative is coming from.

ES: The funds are drying up. I’ve talked to them already.

James Boratyn (of Illinois Department of Transportation): IDOT helps fund Children’s Memorial’s Safe Kids Program [also funds Bike Ambassadors]

Alex Wilson (of West Town Bikes): Major issue was storage concerning their move. We just filed a grant for 500 helmets.

Luann Hamilton (representing the Chicago Department of Transportation): We’ve always taken the position to provide education, outreach, and providing free helmets, as opposed to mandate. Of all the issues the police are dealing with, it doesn’t seem like a useful way to deal with the issue. [emphasis mine]

A cogent and welcomed response.

Mayor Bloomberg (of New York City) responds directly to a question about helmet laws:

It would be better if everybody wore a helmet. I think in a practical sense a lot of people won’t, and they’re better off taking a bike than driving or walking in the streets and getting pedestrian accidents (sic). The most important thing we can do is separate bicycles lanes from traffic, and that’s one of the things we’re really trying to do.

Infrastructure and traffic enforcement will do more to reduce injuries than helmets.

My friend Brian pointed me to this article about how a helmet law may make a killed child’s parents (somewhat) responsible for their own child’s death. A 14-year old boy was cycling and killed by a then-48-year old driver. The boy was not wearing a helmet but state law requires that children 15 and younger wear helmets while cycling. The lawsuit was filed by the driver, from prison, in 2010. I don’t know what the outcome is.

Updated June 19 at 13:34 to add Mayor Bloomberg’s response to a question about helmet laws. Updated June 28 at 20:31 to add link to child death article. 

“My” new bike racks have appeared at CTA and Metra stations

I received some exciting news last week in the form of a photo a friend posted to Twitter. He took it at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Loyola Red Line station and it features a double deck bike rack from Dero.

Photo by Erik Swedlund.

Erik didn’t know this, but that bike rack was installed there because of a project I worked on at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2009. The working title was something like “bike parking RTA ICE grant”. That means an Innovation, Coordination, and Enhancement grant from the Regional Transportation Authority. It was also known as round 2 of transit bike parking. You might know round 1 as the project that put hard-to-use double deck bike racks at four CTA stations: Midway Orange (well used), Sox-35th Red (mostly well used), Damen Blue (not used), and Jefferson Park Blue (mostly well used) – all opened in 2008. Round 1 was paid for by CMAQ funding CDOT received in 2003.

The scope of my involvement was limited to finding stations “at which sheltered, high-capacity bike parking will be used most effectively”. Looking back, that should probably have said, “will be most used”. What does “used most effectively” even mean? The scope did not include deciding what the bike parking area would look like, or how many spaces there would be. That was up to an engineer who was managing the overall grant and project – I just recommended stations.

Summary of my methodology

I developed my own method (after researching the method for round 1 selections, and other methods) to select several train stations geographically distributed around the city where bike parking would be most used. I developed a spreadsheet and inputted the station attributes my method required. The formula then ranked the stations. The outcome I wanted was essentially a number that represented the likelihood of people cycling to that station. I tweaked the formula many times based on what rankings it came up with and whether or not the top ranked stations fit expectations I came up with for a station that would have a lot of people cycling there (access mode data didn’t exist at all for CTA stations, and was old for most Metra stations).

For example, if my formula ranked Pulaski Orange very high, did that station fit the expectations of a station that attracted a lot of CTA passengers to arrive by bicycle?

After coming up with a “top 30” of geographically diverse CTA and Metra stations, my boss and I rented an I-GO car to visit 15 of them to record measurements of physically available space, take photographs, and discuss things like how people might access the station with their bicycles (it wasn’t always clear, and many stations turned out to have sufficient bike parking for the amount of people who cycled there).

To make this project respect geography, and to do it as simply as possible, I divided the stations into north and south categories, separated by Madison Street. Stations in the south category were compared only with fellow south stations. I don’t know if this was an appropriate to consider geographic equity, but I had limited time and resources to develop a method and complete this project. In other words, I did the best I could and I think I did a pretty good job. Hopefully time will tell and I can learn from successes and mistakes with this project. That it’s actually being constructed makes me very happy.

Considering the stations

Lots of u-racks at the 55th-56th-57th Metra station in Hyde Park. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

I recommended that bike racks for the 55th-56th-57th Street station be installed at 57th Street because it has more space than the other entrances. Here’s what else I said about the space:

North side of 57th St, east of station house

This space is very large like Space C, but it’s extremely grungy and dank. The restaurant in the station house is currently storing its garbage bins here. The space receives natural light all day because of a gap in the viaduct. There’s an attendant at this station house on weekdays from 6 AM to 2:30 PM, but this person has NO view of the space. 57th St is one-way east of Lake Park Ave, and two-way west of Lake Park Ave.

Sheltered, except for gap in the viaduct roof.

I’m happy to report that the situation has been improved over the description in my “station profile”: the sidewalk concrete was replaced, and the walls and pylons were cleaned and painted white. The restaurant’s garbage bins were moved east in the open air (not under the viaduct). Another change was at Loyola Red Line station: I recommended they be installed in one of two outdoor locations but the bike racks were installed inside the station house.

The other tier 1 locations in my recommendation were Western Orange Line and 95th Red Line (both CTA). Howard Red Line was a tier 2 station (and is built), along with Ravenswood Metra and Logan Square Blue Line. I found out later that the Howard Red Line station also received some double deck racks. Ravenswood station is being completely replaced soon so I understand why that didn’t get any new bike parking as part of this project. I don’t know why Logan Square Blue Line didn’t receive any, if Howard did. It might be that there wasn’t enough money in the $375,000 grant, or that someone has other plans for the CTA station.

A sixth station was part of the project, but not part of my recommendations. The Clybourn Metra station (2001 N Ashland, serving both the UP-North and UP-Northwest lines) was already in planning and design phases and was included in the RTA ICE grant round 2 project to complete the funding arrangement. The bike parking area at Clybourn was to be paid for by Chicago TIF funds; combining the TIF funds with the RTA ICE grant would provide the local match the RTA ICE grant needed (requiring a local match is typical).

See more photos and information on Grid Chicago.

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.

© 2017 Steven Can Plan

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑