Tagconstruction

Using open data: Showing what projects licensed Chicago contractors are working on

The New City developer recently received permits for over $50 million of construction work across from the Lincoln Park REI.

The New City developer recently received permits for nearly $50 million of construction work across from the Lincoln Park REI.

I wrote in my last post that I found “pain” in the process of finding a licensed contractor in the city (the pain of finding one who can install in the public way remains unmedicated).

I wanted to provide more than a list (and a map) and EveryBlock has already answered “What’s going on across the street from my house?”. I wanted to add value by helping people answer the question, “What contractor should I choose?”

Several other sites help you do this, like BuildZoom, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau, by showing you customer reviews or complaints. I needed something different from mimicking a review site (a lot of the businesses are also on Yelp) so I decided to answer the question, “What projects have these companies done?”

That’s where the City of Chicago’s open data portal comes in: it has a dataset for Building Permits.

Check out 180 Properties, LLC from Skokie, Illinois. They’ve had two permits issued within the last three months. One project, at 3705 N Hoyne Avenue, is for interior renovation: “Remove/replace cabinets, countertops, flooring, patch & repair drywall”. The estimated cost for the project is $80,000. Sound like the kind of contractor you’re looking for? Call them up or keep researching.

You can even see who else is working on this project. Burnham Nationwide is listed as an expeditor on this project which means they’re likely acting as the intermediary between the Chicago Department of Buildings and the companies actually doing the work. Burnham will do site plans, drawings, occupancy, and ensure everything is in order. The property owner is also listed in the permit information.

For people who want to explore construction activity the other way around, finding projects before contractors, I created a “Permits explorer” page. This page searches the Building Permits dataset to show the most recently issued permits for the most expensive projects. Right now a project to alter and renovate Chicago Vocational High School at 2100 E 87th Street has an estimated cost of $40 million. I didn’t realize how much the Department of Buildings is funded by permits until I saw the permit fees.

The permit fee for the school renovation would have been $372,598 fee but the dataset said the entirety was waived (likely because it’s a Chicago Public School). Other projects I reviewed had permit fees between $30,000 and $75,000.

Real estate speculators, development watchers, and editors of Curbed Chicago should find browsing permits useful. The list includes two projects associated with the New City development at Halsted Street and Clybourn Avenue, across from the Lincoln Park REI store. The two permits are held by 1515 N Halsted, LLC. The first is for a “3 story steel framed mixed-use retail, restuarant, assembly (movie theater) building” at 1500 N Clybourn Avenue (for an estimated cost of $26,403,193), and the second permit describes a 7 story parking garage at 710 W Schiller Street (for $21,518,012).

How it works

I used my programming magic – I prefer PHP – to query the Socrata Open Data API (or SODA) to look for the given contractor’s name in one of eight name fields (there are 16 name fields) and then return information about the most recent permits. The Building Permits dataset gives the project location, work description, and its estimated cost. I figured you could use the project’s estimated cost to gauge the kind of work the contractor does – is the contractor more familiar with big jobs, or little jobs?

This method isn’t the best. Ideally there’d be a relational database where the “Contractor ID” in the licensed contractors dataset would match a “Contractor ID” field in the permit dataset. But the licensed contractors dataset doesn’t have a unique ID field, and isn’t even on the data portal.

Instead, I’m finding contractor-to-project matches by finding the first two or three words of the contractor’s name at the beginning of eight of the 16 name fields in the permit field. SODA works quickly on the query and it passes the results back to PHP in no time.

In the future I’d like to pull in scores and reviews from Yelp and other sites that have APIs (Angies List and Better Business Bureau don’t), as well as try to determine the name of the building – if it has one – by querying OpenStreetMap Nominatim.

Evidence of “Olympic change” in Rio’s favelas

I have never read Al Jazeera’s English edition until yesterday. I think I saw a post to this article on Twitter; it’s about how construction for the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Rio, Brasil, is already removing parts of the favelas, or hillside shantytowns. The article is quite relevant for me because I wrote last week about how rising ticket prices threaten the egalitarian nature of watching futebol at the Rio’s most famous stadium, the Maracanã. From Al Jazeera:

This week came a series of troubling tales of the bulldozing and cleansing of the favelas, all in the name of “making Brazil ready for the Games”. Hundreds of families from Favela de Metro find themselves living on rubble with nowhere to go after a pitiless housing demolition by Brazilian authorities. By bulldozing homes before families had the chance to find new housing or be “relocated”, the government is in flagrant violation of the most basic concepts of human rights.

As you might expect, residents and planners have different ideas on what it means to remove these homes:

[Eduardo] Freitas doesn’t need a masters from the University of Chicago to understand what is happening. “The World Cup is on its way and they want this area. I think it is inhumane,” he said.

The Rio housing authority says that this is all in the name of “development” and by refurbishing the area, they are offering the favela dwellers, “dignity”.

The same thing has happened all across the United States and is still happening in Chicago. The Chicago Housing Authority, very quickly in the past 10 years, has demolished all of its high-rises (some were converted to condominiums, like Raymond Hilliard Homes at 54 W Cermak, or transferred to different ownership) under the Plan for Transformation. This displaced thousands of residents; some were moved to newly-built multi-flat buildings in specially-designed, mixed-income neighborhoods. But there weren’t enough of these buildings to absorb all of the residents who had to move out of the high-rises. I’m still not clear on where they went.

A favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Kevin Jones.

Chicago’s final public housing high-rise was demolished in April 2011.

Construction update: Halsted bridge over North Branch Canal

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) contractor*, Walsh Construction (search for them on the City’s contracts website), is hard at work removing the existing bridge on Halsted Street between Goose Island and Division Street (about 1150 N Halsted).

The two-lane bridge with dangerous open metal grate deck will soon be replaced with one that has 4 shared lanes, 2 bike lanes and made with a concrete deck. CDOT has not released any information explaining the widening or how the street north or south of the bridge will be aligned. This is disconcerting as street width and street design are the major factors that determine traffic speed. While the road surface will be improved, especially for those bicycling, the added street width may influence an increase in automobile speeds negating any perceived improvement in safety.

As of Monday, January 24, 2011, parts of both spans of the moveable bridge have been removed and crews were actively removing additional parts of the deck and overhead cross pieces.

Using a torch to remove the cross pieces.

Removing the deck.

The official detour does not invite people bicycling to go any certain way. If people bicycling take the car route, they will be guided onto a narrowed lane over another part of the North Branch Canal on Chicago Avenue (lanes were realigned from two to three – two eastbound, one westbound).

Idea to improve the detour

As the detour exists now over the Chicago Avenue bridge (between Halsted and Kingsbury), there are three narrow shared lanes (two eastbound, one westbound) on an open metal grate bridge. When dry, the bridge is slippery. When wet, the likelihood of falling while bicycling over it increases. I propose that an official detour be created for people bicycling on this route to go on the sidewalk as near to the bridge span as possible. On the eastside of the bridge sidewalks are stairs – build a ramp over each staircase. Allow people to ride their bikes on the sidewalk but install signage to ask them to dismount and yield when people walking are present. For those biking north in the detour (onto Kingsbury), a bike box will be provided at northbound Kingsbury before it crosses Chicago Avenue (so people riding bikes can position themselves in front of the queuing cars). See the graphic below:

*Walsh has had at least $292,639,510.94 in contracts awarded in 2007-2010 and is one of the Illinois’s largest construction companies.

Chicago’s first protected bike lane!

UPDATE 04-28-11: I’ve written new articles about this subject. The first is “Put the first cycle track somewhere else.” Then there’s my list of proposed protected bike lane locations.

Chicago just got its first two-way protected bike lane! And all because of a construction detour for the next 17 months!

I’m sort of joking, but sort of not.

This detour from the Lakefront Trail onto a street for 100 feet should give Chicagoans a taste for what a protected bike lane looks like, until April 2012. You can see it’s quite simple to build: shift traffic over, install K-rail concrete barriers, paint a dividing line. But what’s simple to build is not always simple to implement.

But how can we get a real one constructed?

It’s not for lack of demand. But it could be that our demand for a safer bike lane is not well known.

The Chicago Bicycle Program has “proposed” a buffered bike lane on Wells Street (by merely displaying a rendering of it on the backside of a “public meeting” handout). They have no released any further information about this. It would most likely be paid for with Alderman Reilly’s Menu Program funding. (Each alderman gets $1.3 million annually to spend at their discretion and he spent some of it on new bike lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.)

Contact the Alderman to let him know you want to be able to bike more safely on Wells Street into downtown. And make sure he and the entire Department of Transportation (CDOT; contact Commissioner Bobby Ware) know that people who ride bikes want to be involved in its design; when it comes to informing the public, CDOT has a lot of room for improvement. They could do this by being more timely in providing project updates, like the status of awarding contracts or starting construction on streetscape projects (the website lists the names and locations, but no other information). A major project missing is the Lawrence Avenue streetscape and road diet between Ashland and Western.

Other streets in Chicago are ripe for protected bike lane similar treatment. Can you suggest some places? I’ll keep a list here where we can debate the pros and cons of each location. Through an educated and data-supported campaign, we can advocate for the best locations at which protected bike lanes should be installed.

The new two-way protected bike lane in Chicago on a Lake Shore Drive offramp. More photos.

The Sands Street bikeway becomes protected as you ride closer to the Manhattan Bridge ramp. More photos of biking in New York City.

Protected bike lanes are all the rage in New York City. They have several miles of buffer and barrier separated bike lanes. Portland, Oregon, also has a diversity of protected bikeways. Minneapolis has several miles of off-street trails going to and through neighborhoods (which is why they’re key to the overall network).

Short video on 31st Street marina construction

UPDATE: Thank you, Bill, for sending me a Chicago Park District document with additional artist’s renderings of the promenade, playground and restaurant.

Many Chicagoans are curious about the new marina the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Building Commission are building on Lake Michigan at 31st Street (3100 S Lake Shore Drive) near Bronzeville and the old Michael Reese Hospital campus.

Taken with a Sony HX5V on the handlebars of my Yuba Mundo cargo bike.

This video shows the new access path to the Lakefront Trail, the pier upon which construction equipment is stored, and some people working at the end of the newly constructed breakwater.

Also features a passing Metra Electric train and a view from the marina of the factories in Whiting and East Chicago Indiana.

I took these photos at the same time as the video:

A temporary new path will replace the existing access path. In the artist’s renderings for the new marina and surrounding facilities, the Lakefront Trail will go underneath a marina and parking lot access road that will intersect where the existing access path does now. People who want to access the Lakefront Trail will travel (off street) a little north to an intersection.

Construction equipment on the pier.

Chicago and Illinois construction updates, October 2010 edition

This post will be updated as I receive more information and shoot more photos. Please contribute your own updates and news.

  • High-speed rail in Illinois – Yes, America is building some “high-speed” rail (for the second time). The first leg of track replacement is from Springfield to Alton (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis). I am really interested in renting a car and driving down here to see it for myself.
  • 31st Street harbor/marina – Originally introduced on my blog in July and again in August. The Chicago Park District is developing a full marina, including a boat ramp and restaurant.
  • Sustainable streetscape in Pilsen – A water feature and bioswale was recently installed at Benito Juarez Community Academy on Cermak Road. I’ve been told it’s especially fantastic during the rain, as the water is collected from the roof, pours down a spout into a small creek.
  • 35th Street Metra station – Originally introduced on my blog in July. The line will help my roommate get to his old neighborhood faster. Oh, it will improve access to the White Sox stadium, hopefully helping to reduce idling and congestion on the Dan Ryan expressway and our neighborhood roads that get backed up during baseball games.

31st Street Beach and harbor construction.

Do you have construction updates for your city or state?

High-speed rail under construction in Illinois

UPDATE: The City of Carlinville Facebook page provides consistent and timely updates on the railroad crossing closures while the Union Pacific track is upgraded. The City posted photos, too.

If you weren’t specifically seeking out information on high-speed rail (HSR) construction, and you weren’t searching for “track renewal train” and other obscure keywords, you wouldn’t actually know about the status of HSR.

But that’s why you follow my blog – I’ll keep you updated.

Right now, crews are working 10 hour days, working 10 days on, and 5 days off* in Carlinville, Plainview (photo), and Alton, Illinois, to remove existing track and wooden ties and replacing them with concrete ties and continuously welded rail (CWR).

The proof is in the videos, taken only four days ago in Carlinville (map) on October 1, 2010. Watch more videos from PSQLead.

The Harsco Track Technologies Track Renewal Train 909 (TRT-909) does the following:

  • Picks up and carries out of the way old rail
  • Removes old wooden ties with a robot arm
  • Digs up ballast
  • Places new concrete ties
  • Drops in new rail and heats it so it can be “continuously welded”
  • Clamps new rail to new ties

What the beast looks like from afar. Photo of Union Pacific’s TRT-909 in Aldine, Texas, by Matthew Holman.

Thankfully Illinois doesn’t have a growing anti-rail political force like Ohio, California, Florida, or Wisconsin. All of these states have Republican candidates running for governor who say they will stop the train in its tracks. Read more about this unfortunate situation in The New York Times.

*This information comes from a secondary source. I hope to get in touch with someone who knows more about the work.

Proposed changes to 31st Street Harbor

Copied directly from the 31st Street Harbor Traffic Impact Analysis (PDF), prepared for the Chicago Public Building Commission by AECOM.

See Exhibit B on page 12 for a drawing and list of proposed changes. They’re exciting. When designing for the lakefront, the stakes are pretty high.

The only mention of “bike” or “bicycle” is misnaming the Lakefront Trail as the “Chicago Lakefront Bike Path.” Can’t anyone get this right? According to the LEED Strategy document, though, the project aims to get 1 point for a “bicycle storage/changing room.”

Stay on top of construction updates with this blog.

The 31st Street Harbor project is one of two new harbors being designed for the Chicago Park District along Chicago’s lakeshore. Located in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the 31st Street Harbor will incorporate extensive new community amenities and a new 950 slip marina. These include over two new acres of green space located on a peninsula of land formed by a 1,200 foot long breakwater sheltering the new harbor, providing exceptional views of the Chicago skyline to the north. The breakwater will also create new underwater habitat and provide opportunities for fishing.

Photo shows the new breakwater and pier under construction. See Exhibit B.

The existing surface parking will be removed and relocated within a new parking structure covered by an accessible green roof that allows park users improved views of the lake while reducing impervious surface. Landscape plantings will include native plants selected to provide food and cover for the twice yearly bird migrations through the City, while also reducing maintenance and irrigation demands. A new fully accessible play area that connects the green roof area to the beach will replace an older existing playground, while improvements to pedestrian and vehicular circulation will improve connections to the neighborhoods in Bronzeville to the west. Located atop the green roof will be a new LEED Certified community center and restaurant, providing sorely needed facilities currently missing along the south lakeshore.

The marina itself will include approximately 950 new slips ranging from 35’ to 80’ in length, on site covered storage in the parking structure, fuel dock, marina store, dedicated shower facilities, and a public access boat ramp. Additionally, youth sailing programs and storage for small craft including kayaks will be provided, allowing this facility to make boating economically accessible to a very large portion of the community.

Breakwater and pier construction panorama at the beach in August 2010.

As part of these improvements, additional parking accommodations in addition to the new parking structure are being planned. Approximately 200 new parking spaces will be incorporated along the Fort Dearborn access road north of 31st Street, serving 31st Street beach. A new surface lot west of Lake Shore Drive and immediately south of 31st Street will be constructed with a capacity of over 150 spaces.

The existing attractions of Burnham Park near 31st Street will remain, including 31st Street Beach, the beach house, and the Burnham Skate Park.

Parking options:

  • 31st Street Harbor Parking Garage (310 covered spaces)
  • Surface Lot on Fort Dearborn north of 31st Street (202 spaces)
  • Surface Lot off Moe Drive south of 31st Street (161 spaces)
  • Total: 573 spaces

[Currently this beach has 188 auto parking spaces, a difference of 355% compared to the proposed quantity. It currently has about 14 bike parking spaces and needs more but I cannot find evidence that this number will increase when the new harbor opens.]

Update on the new Chicago harbor

Since I posted an article about new, non-auto infrastructure projects in Chicago, a lot of people looking for information on the 31st Street Harbor (now visibly underway) have come across my blog. For them, I give this update.

A new breakwater and new piers will be built. I really want to know what the floating eyeballs are for. I imagine they’re markers for construction.

I was counting people entering the Lakefront Trail from the 31st Street access point yesterday for an Active Transportation Alliance project. Afterwards, I moseyed over to get a glance at the construction.

This photo shows how the pier has been closed for construction. I hardly see anyone using the pier except just to walk down and back – it seems few people fish here.

Non-auto construction projects in Chicago

There are 17 construction projects listed here and none are about automobiles. Additionally, there is information about 2 studies for bus rapid transit-like projects.

Download all of these into Google Earth with this KML file.

A couple of these projects are being held up by the current Illinois roadway construction workers’ strike. UPDATE: Apparently a deal has been reached to end the strike.

Streetscapes

  • Blue Island/Cermak – I wrote about this project at length in October 2009. Construction should begin as soon as the strike is resolved. CONSTRUCTION UPDATE, 10-21-10: Bioswale, or creek, is mostly complete at Benito Juarez Community Academy (BJCA). Plaza with permeable pavers, and sheltered bike parking also complete. Photos here.
  • Congress Parkway – Full details and renderings from CDOT (PDF). Project should begin in 2010 and will narrow lanes, reduce number of lanes, straighten lanes (no more mid-intersection lane shifts), widen sidewalks, and improve crosswalks. Will add a lot of landscaping and unique and decorative lighting.
  • PROPOSED: Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western. Reduce the number of travel lanes from four to three, adding bike lanes and a center turn lane. Project limits include the rebuilt Ravenswood Metra station at 1800 W Lawrence. More details on Center Square Journal. Construction wouldn’t begin until 2011.

Transit

  • Morgan/Lake Green and Pink Line CTA station (new) – Details and renderings from CDOT (PDF) – Overview from Chicago Transit Authority – Tons of bike parking included at the beginning, how it should be. Construction should start this year. To better serve the West Loop area, where more people are moving to, but also has lots of existing businesses.
  • State/Grand Red Line CTA station renovation – Construction should finish this year.
  • 35th/Federal Rock Island Metra station (new) – Construction started in 2010.
  • LaSalle/Congress Intermodal Center – To improve connection between buses and the LaSalle Metra station. Mentioned in the Congress Parkway streetscape presentation (PDF).
  • Wilson Red Line CTA station renovation – Down the street from a new Target store that opens this weekend and hundreds of brand new housing units in the Wilson Yard development. Will use TIF funds from the Wilson Yard district. Overview on CTA Tattler.
  • Ravenswood Metra Station – A popular station on the Union Pacific-North line (to Kenosha). Will add longer and sheltered platform and become accessible. Details with Chicago Square Journal.
  • FLOATING: New Green Line CTA station at 18th or Cermak. Roosevelt station serves three lines. South Loop neighborhood fast growing. The new station would improve transit access to McCormick Place (at least if built at Cermak). Follow the Chicago Journal for more news on this topic.

morgan cta station rendering

Rendering from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) showing context-sensitive design. See the full presentation (PDF) for architectural influences.

Bridges

  • Halsted Street over North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Replaces 99-year old moveable span with fixed span. No information on how it will accommodate the Halsted Street bike lane. Construction to begin in 2010 (PDF). CDOT project number 74062.
  • Navy Pier Flyover – Elevated section of the Lakefront Trail to bypass current bottleneck where the Lakefront Trail currently enters the Lake Shore Drive bridge over the Chicago River and DuSable park. Details from CDOT presentation on July 15, 2010.
  • PROPOSED: 35th Street pedestrian bridge over Metra/Illinois Central tracks and Lake Shore Drive to lakefront and Lakefront Trail. Bridge will be self-anchored suspension, like the new Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. Overview on Burnham Centennial (drawing says 2007).

Rendering of the Navy Pier Flyover as it travels over the Lakepoint Tower condominiums as seen at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Other

  • Various CREATE projects. All CREATE projects involve railroads in some way and most projects will construct grade separations. I’ve written about CREATE.
  • The Chicago Park District opened a new beach at Oakwood/41st Street this year. The grand opening for the beach house happened this past Saturday.
  • The Chicago Park District is currently building a harbor and marina immediately south of the 31st Street beach. The Public Building Commission of Chicago has the details and renderings. AECOM, the architect of record, produced these concept drawings (PDF). It appears how bike riders currently navigate the intersection at the entrance to the beach will change to be a little more normal and not force bike riders on the sidewalk. It’s unclear how many new parking spaces are being created along the lakefront – the fewer the better. The concept plan shows a new parking lot on the west side of the railroad tracks, a design I wholly support.
  • FLOATING: Luann Hamilton mentioned at the Cities and Bicycles forum with David Byrne in June that CDOT was thinking about a buffered bike lane on Wells Street.

31st street harbor concept rendering

Rendering of the 31st Street harbor concept plan. As seen in the contractor’s presentation to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

Related

Although not construction projects, two additional proposals merit your attention. The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority each received grants this month to study and develop two corridors with bus rapid transit-like features. CDOT’s plan is to develop a priority bus lanes for up to seven routes between the Metra stations and Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue (the Miracle Mile). Thank you to Kevin Z for the update.

CTA’s grant money is to fund the development of a speedy bus service from the southeast side to the West Loop via the north-south Jeffrey Avenue.

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