TagChicago

Using Google Fusion Tables to create individual Chicago Ward maps

I wanted to create a map of the 35th Ward boundaries using Google My Maps for a story on Grid Chicago. I planned to create this by taking the Chicago Wards boundary shapefile and exporting just the 35th Ward using QGIS into a KML file. I ran into many problems and ended up using Google Fusion Tables as the final solution.

The problems

First, QGIS creates invalid KML files. Google Earth will tell you this. I opened the KML file in a text editor and removed the offending parts (Google Earth mildly tells you what these are; you can use this validator to get more information).

Second, Google My Maps would not import the KML file. I tried a different browser and a different KML file; a friend ran into the same issue. I reported this problem to Google.

The solution

I uploaded to Google Fusion Tables a KML file containing all wards. I did this instead of uploading the single Ward because, like a database, I can filter values in the column, selecting only the row I want with “ward=35”.

After applying the filter, the map will show the boundary for just that ward. I grab the HTML code for an embeddable map and voila, the article now displays an interactive map of the 35th Ward.

Whenever I want to create a map for a different ward, I go back to this Fusion Table, make a new filter and copy the new HTML code.

A screenshot of the embedded map, showing just 1 of 50 wards, in the Grid Chicago article. 

Elsewhere

I had the same problems with QGIS exporting and uploading the KML files to My Maps the other day when I was creating maps for the abandoned railroads for Monday’s Grid Chicago article. Not thinking about Fusion Tables, I drew on the map with my mouse the lines.

Screenshot of the map of abandoned railroads. 

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. 

Park beauty

My friend and her son cross the lagoon on their bike in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

Other views of the park:

“Angry geese in Humboldt Park. They were really hissing.” Photo by Joshua Koonce.

“A lovely gravel path by a lagoon in Humboldt Park.” Photo by Eric Rogers.

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.

Carnage culture: Extrapolating blood alcohol content levels

A breathalyzer test, to measure an automobile driver’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), is not always administered at the time and scene of a crash. I don’t know why it took four hours for Drew Forquer to have his BAC measured, but it registered at 0.045 percent, slightly more than half the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Drew was convicted on Friday, June 17, 2011, of reckless homicide and aggravated drunken driving, but not “aggravated DUI charges that specified he was over the legal limit.”

…but the judge said it was clear to him simply from the results of field-sobriety tests, eyewitness testimony and Forquer’s “bizarre” turn — which was caught on surveillance video — that he was impaired.

The prosecution hired an expert witness to extrapolate Drew’s BAC at the time of the crash, “estimated…to be from 0.084 to 0.123 percent.”

What extrapolation means

Using evidence, prosecution and defense argue about the estimated BAC based on a variety of factors, including:

  • witness statements about driving behaviors (prosecution)
  • evidence of drinking before or during crash (prosecution)
  • field sobriety test (prosecution)
  • individual’s metabolism (defense)
  • “what the driver ate or drank that day” (defense)
  • other health issues (defense)

(The parentheses indicate which side used the factor in Drew Forquer’s case.)

In Drew’s case, his defense attorney argued that the BAC was lower because him having liver disease and chronic alcoholism would have slowed his metabolism (meaning alcohol would enter the blood stream more slowly).

Drew awaits sentencing, which can be from probation to 15 years in prison. They must be joking about probation – he’s gone to court for four previous DUI arrests!

More carnage culture articles

Story sources

Chicago Tribune – Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chicago Tribune – Friday, June 17, 2011

A taxi driver exited Lake Shore Drive and drove across the grass separating it from the Lakefront Trail. This photo, taken on July 4, 2010, is not related to the story above. Photo by Andrew Ciscel.

Photo of B747-200F up close and personal

From a private bus tour around O’Hare Airport.

Photo of Southern Air’s Boeing 747-200F (F for freight/cargo) by Duane Rapp. See the original photo.

My first iPhone app – Request a bike rack

Here’s a video preview of my first iOS app that will hopefully, in the end, allow you to request a bike rack in Chicago based on where you and your device are currently standing.

I don’t know if it will ever hit the Apple App Store because Apple requires developers to pay a $99 fee each year. I’m surely not going to pay this. It will be able to run on jailbroken iOS devices and it will work on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

The code is based on my Bike Crash Portal website that asks permission to use your location (given automatically through HTML5 and the computer’s own location software). A fork of this project may include a mobile-optimized website that allows you to request a bike rack; again, based on your current location.

The purpose of this is to eliminate the need to know the address of where you want to request a bike rack. Oftentimes a person will arrive at their destination and not find any bike racks. Open the app, hit “Share my location” when the app loads and then tap submit. The Chicago Bicycle Parking Program (hopefully) will receive your request.

The bollards are in – ’nuff said

Update June 15, 2011: The Chicago Bicycle Program has uploaded 22 photos and videos today. Here’s a video of workers painting the bike box at southbound Milwaukee. Also, I’ve been wrong about a bike-friendly bridge treatment on Kinzie – I don’t have evidence to support this assertion. We’ll see what happens.

Protected bike lane? Yep.

It should be 100x more clear now that cars are not allowed here. But I’m sure we’ll still seem some goof in the bike lane at least once in the next few days.

Crews installed the base, getting ready to install the pole.

And the bridge has bollards as well! No more double-driving on the bridge. Now it’s time for the new bike lane bridge deck!

Brandon Souba took the photos. Thank you so much.

Federal funding primer and why projects take so long to construct

Many Chicagoans who ride bikes are in awe (myself included) at how fast the Kinzie Street protected bike lane (the first of its kind in the city) has been designed and constructed in four weeks.

I explain how it’s been possible to do something so fast:

  1. Federally funded projects, like “commuter bicycle parking” (u-rack manufacturing and installation, using CMAQ federal funding) in Chicago, are under the control of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which must review and approve every design.  If it takes IDOT six months to tell the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) it does NOT approve and requires revisions, it will take IDOT another six months to review and approve the revised design. I experienced this directly when I was modifying the current bike parking contract. That’s one extra year added to a project based on a cumbersome state review process. Cities and their mayors have been advocating the federal government to give federal aid directly to cities so they can work faster.
  2. All design work must be completed and approved by everyone before a contract can be advertised for competitive bidding. Federal funds generally cannot be used to pay for local city forces, like CDOT crews, to do the work.
  3. Then comes the procurement process…

[This process is nearly the same for all cities.]

While there is room for improvement in the above process, it’s may not be fair to blame the City or CDOT for taking a long time to implement a project like Stony Island (tentatively scheduled for 2014), when Chicago doesn’t have authority over it’s own roads*.

If every project were locally funded – CDOT is funding the project with budgeted but unallocated funds – and approved, we could see a lot more projects like the Kinzie Street protected bike lane happening very fast. It should be obvious, also, that Mayor Emanuel and new CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein are extremely motivated to show their commitment to the transition plan as well as complete this project by the Bike To Work Day Rally on Friday, June 17th.

*This can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. There are roads in the city that are under the jurisdiction of the state providing an additional burden when it comes to modifying them.
  2. The process described above removes from the City authoritative control of its roads when projects modifying those roads are funded in part by the federal government.

Construction on Kinzie Street has been happening at a breakneck pace.

Take a look at Day 7 construction on Kinzie Street

This must be the fastest project ever accomplished by city government – or at least this City’s government. The funding source makes a huge difference: The city is using its own money, using “mini capital project” funding that was budgeted but not yet allocated. If the city was using grant money from the state or federal governments, a four-week turnaround time for a protected bike lane would not be possible.

The pace continues at breakneck speed!

On Tuesday, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews were working on both the eastbound and westbound directions on the west side of the Kinzie Street bridge.

Crews work on the eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge. It does not appear there’s a buffer here (guide lines painted before the stripes aren’t seen).

Painting stripes on eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street, right before the bridge.

CDOT workers inspect the stripes at the stop bar and crosswalk at eastbound Kinzie Street at Canal Street. It appears the stop bar is further from the crosswalk than at most intersections in Chicago.

photo of bike lane

Photo of workers (from StreetPrint?) applying green paint to a bike box and left turn lane on southbound Milwaukee at Desplaines/Kinzie. Photo by Thomas Gonzales.

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