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Morgan CTA station is fueling new West Loop development

First day of CTA Morgan Station serving the Green and Pink Lines

The Morgan Station was designed by Ross Barney Architects.

DNA Info Chicago discusses an informal study the Chicago Transit Authority conducted that showed, “since the [Morgan Green/Pink Line] station opened in May 2012, residential and business development in the surrounding neighborhood has continued at a faster pace than nearly all other markets within the city during the post-recession period.”

Morgan connects two major restaurant rows, one on Randolph Street that stretches much further east at Jefferson all the way west to Racine, and another on Fulton Market that starts at Carnavale (next to the Kennedy Expressway) and stretches to Morgan. Google’s huge new headquarters (under construction) and Coyne College – an HVAC institute – are within walking distance.

Using ridership information and commercial rents data, as well as information from the Chicago open data portal, CTA spokesperson Catherine Hosinski listed the following findings in the study:

  1. “A more than 20 percent increase in new business licenses.”
  2. “New construction and demolition permits spiked from one to 15. (The new construction/demolition permits issued after the opening of the station were compared to a 21-month period during the construction from August 2010 through May 2012)”
  3. “Average weekday ridership increased 30 percent between May 2013 and May 2014, according to information reflecting a 12-month rolling average over a 36-month period.”
  4. “Average weekend ridership increased more than 20 percent.”

Item #2 is data that we can see on Licensed Chicago Contractors. To help CTA planners and residents see this information more readily I’ve added all 145 CTA stations as places you can explore from the Places page.

How can you use this new place in connection with CTA’s study? With it you’ll be able to easily see building permits issued within half a mile from the CTA station and download this data for the last 9 years. You can also sort by projects’ estimated costs to find the biggest investments near the station.

Hosinski admits an important part of the study when she told DNA Info, “the West Loop was showing signs of becoming a booming neighborhood before the station was built…its presence has contributed to the migration of commuters and residents to the area.” Hosinski also said that you’ll find CTA stations at the heart of “most” Chicago neighborhoods and now CTA stations are part of the heart of tracking building permits.

Here’s how to track building permits (including demolitions and new construction) around any CTA station:

  1. Open the Places page on LicensedChicagoContractors.com
  2. Search for a station name (like Morgan), route name, or click “CTA Rail Station” in the right sidebar.
  3. Done! The list is sorted by the permit’s issue date, but click on any of the table headers to sort differently.
Morgan station on Licensed Chicago Contractors

We’re tracking over 1,700 building permits within a half mile of the Morgan station since July 2005.

New iOS app offers most advanced Divvy route directions

Chicago Bike Route for iOS

Walking directions from my house to the Divvy station at the CTA California Blue Line station, and then from there to the Divvy station at LaSalle/Illinois Streets. Lastly, there’s walking directions to some arbitrary N LaSalle Street address.

Adam Gluck and Andrew Beinstein showed up at OpenGov Hack Night on July 16, 2013, to show off the technical concept of their forthcoming app for iOS devices. I looped them into the Divvy app-making progress I and others were undertaking (documented on a shared Google Doc).

They said they would make their app was going quite different from all of the eight apps for using Divvy that have since launched before theirs: it would offer directions for walking to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, directions to the Divvy station nearest their destination with open docks, and then walking directions from that end station to their destination.

Chicago Bike Route launched Friday last week. Currently only three of the eight iOS apps released before Chicago Bike Route have routing. CBR takes directions to a new level by giving you directions from where you are to where you want to go, and not necessarily from a specific Divvy station (like my Chicago Bike Guide does). Instead, CBR gives you complete directions between origin and destination and smartly picks the nearest Divvy station with available bikes. Now, I believe most often this will just be the nearest Divvy station, period, as it’s relatively rare for a station to lack bicycles.

The app uses Google Directions and for every trip makes a maximum of three calls to their API; counts against the app’s free quota from Google. The first call gets walking directions from the origin to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, and the second call gets bicycling directions to the Divvy station with available docks nearest the destination, and the third call (assuming the destination isn’t that Divvy station) gets walking directions from the end Divvy station to your destination. The next step, I believe, is to have the app use a prediction model to accurately choose the end Divvy station. A lot can happen at that Divvy station in the 30 minutes (or whatever) it takes to get there. It may not have open docks when you arrive.

Two other suggestions I have: an improvement to the autocomplete destination function because it didn’t recognize “Chicago city hall” or its address, “121 N LaSalle Street”; and adding a “locate me” button. Additionally I’d like them to add some basic resources to advise users on where they can get more information about Divvy or bicycling in Chicago.

Adam and Andrew are going to publish a “dock surfing” function in the app that will incorporate multiple segments on Divvy to make a trip longer than the free 30 minute period. This would probably mean a fourth call to the Google Directions API. I emailed Adam and Andrew to learn more about the app development.

Video of Beinstein and Gluck presenting their app to Hack Night. Created by Christopher Whitaker for Smart Chicago Collaborative.

Why did you make Chicago Bike Route?

We made the app because we wanted to make something civic related. We thought that Divvy was an exciting new civic program coming into existence, and we kept seeing it all over the place. It also solves a real problem in public transportation that we notice and hear about a lot living in Hyde Park called the “last mile problem.” We also had the data in our hands from having attended civic hack night at 1871 when Divvy came and we thought “let’s make a native Divvy app!” And that’s what we did. We also released a framework for interacting with the Divvy API natively for developers who don’t want to get their hands dirty playing around with the iOS frameworks.

What makes your app stand out from the pack?

I think the routing but also the simplicity of design of the app.  We wanted it to be something you could just open up and use and was like all the other mapping utilities that one has on their phone (Google Maps, Apple Maps). And that’s what we did. You open it, enter an address, and you get routed to that address. Something that people could use to get up and running with Divvy with basically no familiarity with the system.

What features are you planning for the future?

Bike surfing! Seriously though. We think that it would be a really useful feature for some people, and also help reduce the cost of using the bikes. It would be useful for the regular riders where the $2 additional charge could really add up but also if you are someone who is not part of the program and are just taking the bike out for a joy ride. It can actually get kind of expensive, since every half hour after the first hour in a half is an additional $8, rather than $4.50 for members. You would also be less familiar with the bike stations under that situation. We also need to integrate with Chicago public transportation. But, we also want to keep with the simplicity, and create a user experience with basically no learning curve, and we are a little cautious to throw something in that could complicate things.

Converting Google My Maps to KML and GPX

Convert your routes that you made in Google My Maps to GPX so that you can view them on Garmin GPS devices, or upload them to MapMyRide.

  1. Access your My Map. Your My Map must have lines or routes in it. It appears that a My Map with only points doesn’t convert correctly.
  2. Click on View in Google Earth. Your web browser will download a KML file. It may automatically open in Google Earth, but this is not necessary.
  3. Visit GPS Visualizer to convert your KML file to GPX
  4. Select GPX as your output.
  5. For the input, choose the KML file you just downloaded from Google My Maps.
  6. Click Convert. Your file will be uploaded and your GPX file will be presented for download on the next page.
  7. Download your GPX file from the link on the page.

You can now transfer the GPX file to your GPS device, or upload it to MapMyRide. I confirmed that MapMyRide successfully imports the Google My Map I converted following these instructions.

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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How to convert GTFS to GIS shapefiles and KML

This tutorial will teach how you to convert any transit agency’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data into ESRI ArcGIS-compatible shapefiles (.shp), KML, or XML. This is simple to do because GTFS data is essentially a collection of CSV (comma separated values) text files (really, really large text files).

Note: I don’t know how to do the reverse, converting shapefiles or other geodata into GTFS data. I’m not sure if this is possible and I’m still investigating it. If you have tips, let me know.

Converting GTFS to GIS shapefiles

Instructions require the use of ArcGIS (Windows only) and a free plugin called ET GeoWizards GIS for any version of ArcGIS. I do not have instructions for Mac users at this time.

I wrote these instructions while converting the Chicago Transit Authority’s GTFS files into shapefiles based on a reader’s request. “Field names” are quoted and layer names are italicized.

  1. Download the GTFS data you want. Find data from agencies around the world (although not many from Europe) on GTFS Data Exchange.
  2. Import into ArcGIS the shapes.txt file using Tools>Add XY Data. Specify Y=lat and X=lon
  3. Using ET GeoWizards GIS tools, in the Convert tab, convert the points shapefile to polyline.
  4. Select the shapes layer in the wizard, then create a destination file. Click Next.
  5. Select the “shape_id” field
  6. Click the checkbox next to Order and select the field “shape_pt_sequence” and click Finish.
  7. Depending on the number of records (the CTA has 466,000 shapes), it may take a while.
  8. The new shapefile will be added to your Table of Contents and appear in your map.
  9. Import the trips.txt and routes.txt files. Inspect them for any NULL values in the “route_id” field. You will be using this field to join the routes and trips table. It may be a case that ArcGIS imported them incorrectly; the text files will show the correct data. If NULL values appear, follow steps 10 and 11 and continue. If not, follow steps 10 and 12 and continue. This happens because ArcGIS inspected some of the data and determined they were integers and ignored text. However, this is not the case.
  10. Export the text files as DBF files so that ArcGIS operates on them better. Then remove the text files from the Table of Contents.
  11. (Only if NULL values appear) Go into editing mode and fix the NULL values you noticed in step 9. You may have to make a new column with a more forgiving data type (string) and then copy the “route_id” column into the new column. Then continue to step 12.
  12. Join routes and trips based on the field “route_id” – export as trips_routes.dbf
  13. Add a new column to shapes.shp called “shape_id2″, with data type double 18, 11. This is so we can perform step 14. Use the field calculator to copy the values from “shape_id” (also known as ET_ID) to “shape_id2″
  14. Join routes_trips with shapes into routes_poly based on the field “shape_id” (and “shape_id2″)
  15. Dissolve routes_poly on “route_id.” Make sure all selections are cleared. Use statistics/summary fields: “route_long,” “route_url.” Save as routes_diss.shp
  16. Inspect the new shapefile to ensure it was created correctly. You may notice that some bus routes don’t have names. Since these routes are well documented on the CTA website, I’m not going to fill in their names.

Click on the screenshot to see various steps in the tutorials.

Converting GTFS to KML

After you have it in shapefile form, converting to KML is easy – follow these instructions for using QGIS. Or if you want to skip the shapefile-creation process (quite involved!), you can use KMLWriter, a Python script. Also, I think the latest version of ArcGIS has built-in KML exporting.

Converting GTFS to XML

If you want to convert the GTFS data (which are essentially comma-separated value – CSV – files) to XML, that’s easier and you can avoid using GIS programs.

  • First try Mr. Data Converter (very user friendly).
  • If that doesn’t work, try this website form on Creativyst. I tested it by converting the CTA’s smallest GTFS table, frequencies.txt, and it worked properly. However, it has a data size limit. (User friendly.)
  • Next try csv2xml, a command line tool. (Not user friendly.)
  • You can also use Microsoft Excel, but read these tips and caveats first. (I haven’t found a Microsoft application I like or think is user friendly.)

Google snaps up another open web advocate

I’ve been following the work of Chris Messina (also known by his handle, factoryjoe) for a couple years now. I can’t remember how I found him (maybe it was BarCamp, OpenID, of the Firefox ad), but I know why I follow him. Like me, he wants to keep the web open and data transferrable or transportable.

While browsing the New York Times Technology section Monday morning (my favorite tech news site, hands down), I saw the headline that he now works for Google (Monday was the first day). This kind of shocked me. I feel Google gets a little scarier every week: some of my friends have admitted that a lot of their online life exists on Google servers and feel queasy about what could happen (some call this “the cloud” and have pointed out the devastating possibilities for privacy and business).

Open web advocate, Chris Messina, presents at the Open Source Bridge conference in Portland, Oregon, in June 2009. Photo by Aaron Hockley.

The author pointed out Messina’s history in open web advocacy (he hijacked his high school’s website because of its refusal to allow an ad for a new gay/straight alliance). The article offers some speculative reasons why Messina made the move, but I want to discuss the inclusion of a quote from Eran Hammer-Lahav, who works for Yahoo!.

With Messina, Smarr, [inventor of OpenID and more Brad] Fitzpatrick and others all working for Google, focusing on the Social Web, there is less and less incentive for Google to reach out. Google has a strong coding culture which puts running code ahead of consensus and collaboration. Now with so many bright minds in house, they are even less likely to reach out. Quote continues…

In other words, with all of the open web advocates being Open Web Advocates (Messina’s new title), who will advocate for web users now? There’s me, for sure. And there are folks standing behind Open Government and Government 2.0. People like Barack Obama (he issued the Transparency and Open Government memo), Adriel Hampton (host of Gov 2.0 Radio podcast), Mark Abraham (urbandata on Twitter), and anyone in the government “black box” who’s willing to set government data free.

In addition, new websites are up and running that remix and mash up government data into useful applications that can promote, through the web, a different level of ownership of one’s community. Or websites that provide useful and relevant information for residents. Websites like SeeClickFix (identify problems in your neighborhood to get city politicians and staff to take notice), or the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index.

And don’t forget that the Chicago Bicycle Parking Program liberated its bike parking data into Excel, KML, and GIS-compatible formats in 2009.

Screenshot of the Advanced Search page in the Chicago Bike Parking Public Interface web application from which you can download bike rack installation data.

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