TagChicago Tribune

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.

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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).

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.

Illinois will finally begin tracking dooring bike crashes

Governor Quinn made a rule change today requiring Illinois police departments to record dooring-type bicycle crashes on the SR-1050 motorist crash reporting form, according to Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune. The announcement will be made tomorrow.

Apparently, Gov. Quinn read the Chicago Tribune’s article on March 21st about how the Illinois Department of Transportation could not and would not collect information on dooring crashes. I first wrote about this data deficiency on March 11.

For now, responding police officers will have to write DOORING next to the bicyclist’s name on the crash reporting form (the Chicago Police method was to write DOORING on a second piece of paper and record this data internally – IDOT would not accept the second page). The Tribune article explains that IDOT already ordered a bunch of new forms and won’t make a new order until 2013 at which time the form will have a checkbox making this process much simpler.

I would like to thank Governor Quinn, writer Jon Hilkevitch, Amanda Woodall, the Active Transportation Alliance, and all who contacted IDOT asking for their reporting standards to be changed to record dooring crashes. This means that next year you’ll see bike crash maps with a ton more dots – those of doorings, unless we continue educating ourselves, family and friends about riding AWAY from the door zone.

Why collecting this data is important

From the article:

[Active Transportation] Alliance officials said dooring accidents are common, basing the conclusion on reports from bicyclists. But without a standardized statewide reporting system, there has been no way to accurately quantify the problem or pinpoint locations where such accidents frequently occur and where modifications to street layouts would help, alliance officials said.

“We hope to use the data to obtain funding for education safety so drivers as well as bicyclists know what the risks are and what the factors are to create safer roadways,” said Dan Persky, director of education at the alliance.

Ride out of the door zone. Illustration by Gary Kavanagh.

Open letter to Blair Kamin about Safeway and Dominick’s

Blair Kamin, the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic wrote about the new LEED-certified Dominick’s* (Safeway) grocery store in Lincoln Square at Lincoln and Berwyn. This store features copious bike parking of a decent quality and design (see photo below).

In February 2009, I wrote a letter to the General Manager at their 3145 S Ashland store (read my letter). Someone at the company promptly made a request to the City of Chicago in March 2009 for a bike rack. The request was denied because the store is too far away from the nearest public right-of-way.

The following is my letter to Blair Kamin, John Hilkevitch (Tribune transportation writer), and the CEO of Safeway, Steve Burd.

Dear Blair,

I would like your help in getting better accommodations for bike riders at a local Dominick’s.

I read your article about the new, LEED-certified Dominick’s in Lincoln Square with copious bike parking available. (This should help with the potential auto parking issues you identified by encouraging people to bike to the store.)

The Dominick’s nearest me, at 3145 S Ashland, underwent major renovation in 2008 and 2009. People who ride their bicycles to the store (myself included) locked them to the shopping cart guard rails that were removed during renovation.

Bike parking was not included in this renovation.

LEED certification shouldn’t be the only impetus for installing bike parking. Currently it only gains the development 1 point and more than 40 are needed (more for Bronze, Gold, Silver, or Platinum). Installing bike parking should be an economic decision.

A single bike rack (holding two bikes) will cost less than $300 and require no maintenance for at least 5 years (some bike racks installed by the City are over 10 years old and look/work fine). A car parking space costs $1,000 per year to maintain.

We currently lock to garbage bins in a sheltered area near the store entrance. I ask that Dominick’s install real bike parking here in 2010. If they do, I’ll then ask them to work on the bike parking situations at their other stores (like the store at 1340 S Canal).

Thank you for your attention to bicycle infrastructure matters in Chicago.

Steven Vance
http://www.stevevance.net

P.S. The Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland also has the unfortunate situation of being in a strip mall far away from any public roads. This precludes the City from installing bike racks; the nearest public space is more than 50 feet away.

Jewel…you’re up next!

The bike parking area at the new Dominick’s grocery store in Lincoln Square. Sure beats locking to a garbage bin at the Dominick’s at 3145 S Ashland in Bridgeport. That store underwent renovation in 2008 and 2009.

What bike parking at 3145 S Ashland looks like.

*The store is not yet LEED certified. Blair reports it’s expected to receive a Silver rating.

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