Tagdowntown

I need a visualization tip for showing pedestrian and auto traffic in downtown Chicago

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Madison Street over the Chicago River. Pedestrian traffic is very high, and very constrained, near the Metra stations.

Here’s the goal:

Show that pedestrians don’t get sufficient space or time to have a high quality pedestrian experience given that they comprise the largest mode share on streets in the Loop. The trips are highly delayed at traffic signals, pedestrian space is encroached upon because of automobile turning movements, and the sidewalks aren’t wide enough for two-way or even one-way traffic at certain times of the day. It’s possible to build our way out of pedestrian traffic…

Here’s an example data set:

On October 3, 2006, for all of the 24 hours, at 410 W Madison Street, there were 17,100 automobiles counted.

On some day in summer 2007, for 10 hours, at 350 W Madison Street, there were 43,987 pedestrians counted.

The two locations are practically the same as the bridge here prevents more pedestrians or automobiles from “slipping in”.

It’s possible to download the data sets from CDOT’s Traffic Tracker so you can see the whole city on your own map, but you’ll have to do some digging in the source code to find them.

What downtown means

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Not the guy from the story. 

I was “downtown” photographing situations that make it hard to walk (hard to be a pedestrian) on Sunday, November 13, 2011. While waiting for the light at LaSalle and Adams, a man wearing a Bears jersey in the front passenger seat of a taxicab asked me if I had pizza in my Yuba Mundo’s Go-Getter bag.

“No”, I said, adding, “It has my backpack in there”.

“It’s a very large bag”, he replied.

Realizing that he was sober and that we could hold a conversation, I explained, “It holds a lot of groceries”.

“Oh, you live downtown”, he ascertained.

Not quite. “I live a few miles outside of downtown”.

The light turned green and the driver moved on, but the guy left me with, “Have a nice day”. I said, “You, too”.

After I got home and was looking through my photos and recounted this story, I  realized that to him, “downtown” meant the entire City of Chicago. To me, downtown meant the Loop community area and some surrounding blocks. I might define “downtown” as a place bounded by Kennedy, Division, Lake Michigan, and Roosevelt. But to this suburban football fan, downtown is that big place that one has to travel a ways to get to. I remembered that I had the same understanding of downtown when I lived in Batavia, Illinois, a suburb 40 miles west of Chicago. You can access it by driving on I-290 and I-88, or by taking the Metra UP-West line to Geneva.

There’s at least one other assumption I can make from this conversation: If I shop for and carry groceries on a bicycle, I must live in Chicago; people in the suburbs are never seen shopping for and carrying groceries on a bicycle.

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Another photo from my photo mission on Sunday. It’s Roosevelt University’s vertical campus building on Wabash and Van Buren. 

Video tour of Open Streets

[vimeo]29913024[/vimeo]

What is Open Streets?
It’s when a street is closed to cars and transformed into a safe place for fun and recreation. Read more on Grid Chicago.

Filmed by Steven Vance while sitting on the cargo deck of a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt, John Player Spezial. Cycling by Brandon Gobel, Bullitt owner.

Filmed with a handheld Sony DSC-HX5V. Edited with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.

Gaps

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A map that focuses on striped bikeways in downtown Chicago.

When you look at your bikeways more abstractly, like in the graphic above, do you see deficiencies or gaps in the network? Anything glaring or odd?

It’s a simple exercise: Open up QGIS and load in the relevant geographic data for your city. For Chicago, I added the city boundary, hydrography and parks (for locational reference), and bike lanes and marked-shared lanes*. Symbolize the bikeways to stand out in a bright color. I had the Chicago Transit Authority stations overlaid, but I removed them because it minimized the “black hole of bikeways” I want to show.

What do you see?

Bigger impact map

This exercise can have more impact if it was visualized differently. You have to be familiar with downtown Chicago and the Loop to fully understand why it’s important to notice what’s missing. It’s an extremely office and job dense neighborhood. It also has one of the highest densities of students in the country; the number of people residing downtown continues to grow. If I had good data on how many workers and students there were per building, I could indicate that on the map to show just how many people are potentially affected by the lack of bicycle infrastructure that leads them to their jobs (or class) in the morning, and home in the evening. I don’t know how to account for all of the bicycling that goes through downtown just for events, like at Millennium and Grant Parks, the Cultural Center, and other theaters and venues.

*If you cannot find GIS data for your city, please let me know and I will try to help you find it. It should be available for your city as a matter of course.

Spires above the clouds

I met with a friend of a friend yesterday to talk to them about blogging and some strategies they can use to promote their eBooks.

I told her, “Post on your blog at least once a week and if you don’t have much to write, just post a new photo.”

I’m following my own advice, kind of.

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Photo of downtown Chicago by Payton Chung, formerly of Chicago and now of Washington, D.C.

Buffered bike lanes make bicycling easy

UPDATE: With the post you’re reading and this post, I want to show you what a bicycle lane can do! Also clarified definition of buffered and protected bike lanes in second paragraph.

All of this talk about protected bike lanes made me want to watch some videos! Here’s a clip of my friend and I riding on our first ever buffered bike lanes. As seen on Stark Street in downtown Portland, Oregon.

[youtube]eq36sHsSjPw[/youtube]

The next video is about Sands Street (over 1 year old now) in New York City that I’ve been raving about for a couple weeks and months now, since riding on it in late August 2010. One half is protected by a concrete wall, and the other half is semi-protected by having raised pavement and a buffer. A bike lane with only a spatial buffer is not considered protected (like in the first video, above).

[youtube]Wy74wohQjto[/youtube]

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People riding their bikes westbound (right side of bike lane) on Sands Street toward either the Manhattan Bridge (turn left, south), or Dumbo Brooklyn and the waterfront (turn right, north).

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

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People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

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Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

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Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Where to start with off-bus fare collection

Right here, at Madison and LaSalle.

After reading this article on Human Transit about off-bus fare collection in Paris*, I thought, “Where in my city can we implement that system?”

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I count 61 waiting passengers in this photo. If the routes that picked up here had off-bus fare collection, all 61 passengers would have paid for their upcoming ride and would be able to board at all doors. Instead of idling for 4 minutes, the bus would leave in 2.

“Proof of payment,” as off-board fare collection is commonly known, is typical in light rail systems around the world, including in North America, but not so much on buses.

Is there a stop or route in your town where off-bus fare collection would speed boarding and improve travel times? Do you see any disadvantages to collecting payment before passengers board?

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Four routes stop here and use high-capacity buses (they’re articulated). All use LaSalle Street until its end and then continue on to different north side neighborhoods.

Typical Bean behavior

When you visited the Chicago Bean (er, Cloud Gate), did you do this?
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How else did you see your own reflection?

Would you believe me if I told you this was the singular most popular attraction in the Second City?

Civic celebration

City Hall workers stand near the ledge during last Friday’s Chicago Blackhawks parade and rally.
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I don’t like any professional sports teams. But I like celebrations and excitement. I watched the parade from my office window (a prime view) in its entirety.

I was excited because everyone else was excited. I think parades and rallies like these are necessary to keep afloat civic pride, our humanity, and to remind us that we live and work together.

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Photo: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane celebrate on the last bus in the parade, followed by the most diehard fans. I’ve posted more photos of a fraction of the 2 million spectators.

© 2014 Steven Can Plan

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