Taggeography

Trying out uDig, a free, multi-platform GIS application

ArcGIS is the standard in geographic information system applications. I don’t like that it’s expensive, unwieldy to install and update, and its user interface is stymying and slow*. I also use Mac OS X most of the time and ArcGIS is not available for Mac. It doesn’t have to be the standard.

I’ve tried my hand at Cartographica and QGIS. I really like QGIS because there’re many plugins, it’s open source, there’s a diverse community supporting it, and best of all, it’s free. I’ve written about Cartographica once – I’m not a fan right now.

My project

  • The data: Bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago as reported to IDOT for 2007-2009
  • Goal: Publish an interactive map of this data using Google Fusion Tables and its instant mapping feature.
  • Visualizing it: Added streets (prepared beforehand to exclude highways), water features, and city boundary (get that here)
  • Process: Combine bike crash data; reproject to WGS84 for Google; remove extraneous information; add latitude/longitude coordinates; export as CSV; upload to Google Fusion Tables; map it!
  • View the final product

Trying out uDig

In reaching my goal I had a task that I couldn’t figure out how to complete with QGIS: I needed to combine three shapefiles with identical table schemes into one shapefile – this one shapefile would eventually be published as one map. The join feature in fTools wasn’t working so I looked for a new solution, uDig, or “User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS.”

The solution was very easy. Highlight all the records in the attribute table of one shapefile, click Edit>Copy, then select the destination table and click Edit>Paste. The new records were added within a couple seconds. I could then bring this data back into QGIS to finish the process (outlined above under Project). I did use fTools later in the process to add lat/long coordinates to my single shapefile.

After adding more data to better visualize the crashes in Chicago, I noticed that uDig renders maps to look smoother and slightly prettier than QGIS or ArcGIS. See the screenshot below.

A screenshot of the three bicycle crash datasets (2007, 2008, 2009) with the visualization data added.

The end product: three years of police reported bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago on an interactive map powered by Google Fusion Tables, another product in Google’s arsenal of GIS for the poor man. View the final product.

*I haven’t used ArcGIS version 10 yet, which I see and read has an improved user interface; it’s unclear to me and other users if the program’s been updated to take advantage of multi-core processors. ESRI has a roundabout way of describing their support.

Obtaining Chicago Transit Authority geodata

A reader asked where they could get Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) data I didn’t already have on the “Find GIS data” page. I only had shapefiles for train lines and stations. Now I’ve got bus routes and stops.

You can download General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data from the CTA’s Developer Center. It’s updated regularly when service changes.

Screenshot from ESRI ArcMap showing the unedited shapes.txt file loaded via Tools>Add XY Data. Shapes.txt is an 18 MB comma-delimited text file with thousands of points that can be grouped together with their shape_id.

The GTFS has major benefits over providing shapefiles to the public.

  1. It can be easily converted to the common shapefile format, or KML format.
  2. Google, the inventor of GTFS, has defined and documented it well; it is unencoded and plaintext. These attributes make it easy for programmers and hackers to manipulate it in many ways. (see also item 4)
  3. Google provides a service to the public on its website, an easy to use and robust transit planning service.
  4. The data is stored as plaintext CSV files.
  5. While an agency like CTA may have a geodata server on its intranet, it is less likely it has the addons that provide mapping and geodata services for the internet. A server like Web Mapping Service, or ArcIMS. These systems can be expensive to purchase and license. And we all know how the CTA seems to always be in a money crunch. While the CTA updates its GTFS data for publishing to Google Maps, the public can download it simultaneously to always have up-to-date information, providing the same geodata that ArcIMS or WMS would offer but for no additional cost.

I couldn’t have pulled off this conversion in 24 hours without the help of Steven Romalewski’s blog, Spatiality. He pointed me to the right ArcMap plugin in this post about converting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s GTFS data into shapefiles. I hope Steven doesn’t move to Chicago less my authority on GIS and transit be placed in check!

Make your own map of the CTA train routes and perform some kind of analysis – then share it with the rest of us!

Read more about my exercise in geodata conversion in the full post.
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Trying out new GIS software

I want to draw 50 and 120 feet buffers around the points of store entrances to show where bike parking should and shouldn’t be installed. I want to follow this example:

walgreens with bike parking buffers

Aerial photo of a Tucson, Arizona, Walgreens showing the location of existing bike parking and two buffers (50 and 120 feet) where proposed city rules would allow bike parking. I advocate for ratifying the 50 feet rule, which I’ve discussed on this blog and elsewhere many times.

I want to do this easily and accurately, so I will use GIS software to create a “buffer.” I use QGIS occasionally, but I want to try out other Mac-friendly applications. I’m getting my orthoimagery (geometrically corrected aerial photography) from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) using a web protocol called Web Map Server. I’m trying:

  • Cartographica, $495, with free trial license.
  • uDig, completely free software. UPDATE: I have had NO success getting any data to load from a WMS connection into uDig. I would like to understand why. Cartographica can obtain some of the WMS-stored data I want, although it messes up often.

I’m having success with neither – both are having issues downloading or maintaining a connection to the USGS orthoimagery. In one case, Cartographica trims the Bing Maps imagery to match the extent of my other objects (the buffer). In another case, it won’t even download the USGS imagery (and gives no indication that anything is happening). uDig hasn’t been able to download anything so far – I hope it’s asking for the current extent, instead of all data because it’s taking a looong time to do anything (so long that I just quit in the  middle of it).

This screenshot shows how to add new WMS connections to Cartographica.

UPDATE: I did it! I successfully used Cartographica (and the integrated Bing Maps) to create this drawing that shows the current (abysmal) bike parking at a Chicago Home Depot outside the 50 feet line.

Quotes about transportation equity

My master’s project involves a discussion about equity. Equity of bike parking distribution is the main focus of my project.

I picked up some great books at my school’s library. Here are some selected quotes (many of which I’ll use in the project’s paper).

  • “Transportation improvements distribute nonuniformly over space, implying that they affect diverse populations disproportionately” (Berechman).
  • “Geography defines the contours of the equity analysis in two important ways. First, since investment in transportation infrastructure is geographically specific, there is inherent competition and conflict between places” (Hodge).
  • The “costs and benefits of transportation policies may take place in different time periods” (Bae and Mayeres). For example, “mega projects are often built with excess capacity aimed at satisfying future needs. Such a pattern imposes inequitable intergenerational transfers, favoring the future rather than the present generations” (Berechman).
  • “Indirect benefits…represent real impacts that probably benefit some people more than others. It is exceedingly difficult, however, to trace through the benefit stream of these broad impacts” (Hodge).

And my favorite: “Transportation is an unusual public service in that it is not consumed for its own sake but, rather, as a means to another end. Thus, the value of the service depends primarily on how well it provides access to other places” (Hodge).

My professor last semester said the same thing, actually, and then we had a huge discussion trying figure out situations where this isn’t true. The only thing our class (well, the professor himself) could come up with was joyriding (driving aimlessly in a car). But is joyriding really transportation? The trip origin and destination are the same and the trip has no purpose.

I thought of the transportation system at Walt Disney World, but I eventually withdrew my support – although the goal of that system is to make it easy for guests to spend more money, the system has a legitimate role in giving access to places inside and outside the “pay area.”

Sources

Bae, Chang-Hee Christine and Inge Mayeres. “Transportation and Equity.” Donaghy, Kieran P, Stefan Poppelreuter and George Rudinger. Social Dimensions of Sustainable Transport: Transatlantic Perspectives. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2005. 164-192.

Berechman, Joseph. The Evaluation of Transportation Investment Projects. New York City: Routledge, 2009.

Hodge, David C. “My Fair Share: Equity Issues In Urban Transportation.” The Geography of Urban Transportation. Ed. Susan Hanson. Second. New York City: Guilford Press, 1995.

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