Taggovernment 2.0

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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MBAC meeting now online

In a small victory for open government (Gov 2.0), one new City of Chicago meeting has gone “live.”

Well, it was live two Wednesdays ago (if you showed up at City Hall at 3 PM on the 11th floor*), but you can watch the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council on Ustream. Thanks to Jim Limber for setting up the webcam and streaming it. I haven’t watched it yet; you can also read the meeting minutes and see one of the distributed handouts.

MBAC is where people involved in bicycle projects come together to talk about them. It includes riding and racing clubs, police, city agencies, CTA, advocacy groups, messengers, and regular citizens.

An MBAC meeting in June 2009. This was a special meeting and the only relevant photo I had for this blog post.

*I missed this MBAC; first one since working at the Chicago Department of Transportation, where I started in October 2007. I’ll be leaving at the end of this month and I’m looking for new employment. You can hire me.

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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