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Chicago has too many traffic signals

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People wait at a stop light on the first major ring road in the city center of Amsterdam. Photo: Northeastern University, Boston

I was flabbergasted to learn today that there are only 5,500 signalized intersections in all of the Netherlands. I was reading Mark’s blog “Bicycle Dutch” and he interviewed a city traffic signal engineer in Den Bosch, who described how different road users are prioritized at different times based on the complex programming. (Watch the video below.)

In Chicago there are more than 3,000 signalized intersections. And I believe this is way more than we need.

I understand more than the average person how traffic moves in each place and how it “works”. There is such a thing as too many traffic signals because at some point the signals (their proximity and their programming) start causing delays and conflicts.

Saying that traffic – of all kinds, bikes, trucks, buses, delivery vans, and personal vehicles – moves better in cities in the Netherlands than in Chicago is an understatement.

Aside from their impacts on traffic (which can be good in some situations, but aggravating existing problems in other places), signals are very expensive to purchase, install, and maintain.

In Chicago, an alderman (city councilor) can use part of their $1.3 million “menu” money annual allocation to purchase a traffic signal for $300,000. That’s money that won’t be used for transportation investments that reduce the number of severe traffic crashes as well as reduce congestion like bus lanes and protected bike lanes.

Let’s review

I compared their populations (about 17 million in the Netherlands and 2.7 million in Chicago) and saw that Chicago has a lot more traffic signals per person.

On Twitter, however, I was challenged to find the number of traffic signals per mile driven, not per capita.

So, I did, and I was surprised by the result.

This assumes I collected the right statistics, and converted the driving figures correctly.

The surprise: There are more passenger miles driven (known as VMT) in the Netherlands, per capita, than in Chicago. I actually can’t even get passenger miles driving in Chicago – I can only find “all miles” driven. And that includes trips on interstates that pass through Chicago but where the driver or passengers don’t stop in Chicago.

Here’s the analysis, though.

Driving

  • According to the OECD, there were 145,400 million kilometers driven on roads, for passenger transport, excluding bus coaches, in the Netherlands in 2013 (the latest year for which data was available in the Netherlands). That’s 145.4 billion kilometers. (Source, no permalink.)
  • According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, there were 11,150,109 thousand miles for all kinds of road transport, in Chicago in 2013. That’s 11.2 billion miles, which converts to 17.9 billion kilometers. (Source)

Population

  • In 2013, the Netherlands had 16,804,430 inhabitants (they had declared reaching 17,000,000 this year), according to the OECD.
  • In 2013, the City of Chicago had 2,706,101 inhabitants, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimate.

Signals

Results!

  • The Netherlands has over 39 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.
  • Chicago has over 167 signalized intersections per billion kilometers traveled.

Riding on a ring of Rotterdam

Map of bike ride around some Rotterdam harbors

This map shows my bike ride starting from “My flat” and going west, then south, then east, and north.

Read more frequent sabbatical updates on my Tumblr.

Two Thursdays ago I took a two hour bike ride around the western part of Rotterdam and some of its harbors. I used “GPS Recorder” for the iPhone to track my trip, and it registered that I biked a little under 38 kilometers (24 miles). The trip is notable because it uses both the Beneluxtunnel and the Maastunnel (the river is called “Maas”, pronounced like the Spanish word “mas”), and the route one takes differs depending on where they begin and end.

My bike parked on the canal in front of my flat

Sometimes I park my bike on the canal in front of my flat, and other times there’s bike parking on the sidewalk. Look at the boat; in the back you see a car. Most shippers take a car with them so they can drive around the city at their destination. Some ships have the car already in a kind of tray that can be lifted by a crane dedicated for this purpose where they dock.

I started at my flat in the Nieuwe Westen neighborhood, across the canal from Spangen, about 10 minutes west of the Rotterdam Centraal train station. From there I headed slightly north to cross the canal on a bridge that carries a main road past the Sparta football stadium. Then it heads into the suburb of Schiedam and through a very pretty nature preserve.

Most bridges are moveable. This one is a bascule bridge and those red and white poles are the gates that close the road and the bike path.

Most bridges are moveable. This one is a bascule bridge and those red and white poles are the gates that close the road and the bike path.

Beyond the nature preserve the route winds past some “havens” (harbors) and reaches the north side of the Benelux tunnel. An escalator takes you and your bike down about three levels to a tunnel that’s separated from the northbound highway by a full-height wall. There’s an elevator, also, which “bromfietsen” (scooter) riders must use.

Riding south towards the northern Beneluxtunnel entrance

The north bike/pedestrian entrance to the Beneluxtunnel.

On the south side of the harbor you pass through a village, Pernis, in the city of Schiedam. To give you a sense of how connected small towns in the Netherlands are by transit, it has its own metro rapid transit station. This is the only part of the route where there’s not a dedicated bike path.

Abandoned house in Schiedam

An abandoned house in Pernis, taken from the bike path atop a “dijk” (dike). Behind the line of trees is the Metro line C and the A4 motorway, which is heading to and from the same tunnel I came out of.

After the village, the bike path goes south and up on an overpass to cross over a railroad and then takes you down to the east. The path parallels freight railroad tracks and a highway. Huge machines upon which the AT-AT walker in Star Wars was modeled are dormant in one of the many intermodal yards on the harbor.

The bike path has to cross the highway to the south side of it, and there’s a signalized intersection to make this maneuver. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a timed intersection in the Netherlands. Every one I’ve passed through and paid attention to has a sensor of some kind. In many cases this reduces the amount of time any one person has to wait (okay, that sounds impossible, but it’s also dependent on the time of day, the traffic volumes of each mode, and which road or bike path is supposed to have priority). As I pedal toward the intersection it turns green before I get there, so I don’t have to stop.

I have to make another crossing over railroad tracks and get to the other side of a different highway. There’s another overpass this time. I stopped on my way down because some workers were carrying containers on what looked like Transformers-sized forklifts.

Bike around the Rotterdam harbor from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

After the overpass is a path under the highway, and from here and to the east most of the harbor is far away. There are office buildings on the north side of this path, and a railroad yard on the south side. Between the office buildings are tracks so trains in the yard can reach the harbor. All of the tracks cross the bike path at an angle. Signs say “let op” (caution) and because a fence and hedges separating the bike path from the yard, it seems like a train could pop out onto the bike path at any moment.

Ten minutes later and I’ve reached a neighborhood. On the harbor side is what looks like housing for workers, and the other side is residential. I can see the Maastunnel’s ventilation shaft. One more corner turned and I can see the little house where “fietsers” (cyclists) and “voetgangers” (pedestrians; “voet” is pronounced like foot) take the escalator down.

There are separate levels for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s unclear where the road tunnel is, whereas the low rumbling noise I heard in the Beneluxtunnel gave away its position. The tunnel slopes downward toward the middle, so you can gain a little momentum but it seemed harder in the Maastunnel than in the Benelux tunnel because of what felt like a headwind (maybe the ventilation system is strong).

Maastunnel

Descending into the Maastunnel so I can ride north to home.

The Maastunnel was built from 1937 to 1942, and its 74-year-old age shows: the escalators have fascinating wooden steps. The walls along the escalators are adorned with photographs showing people using the tunnel, and other scenes of building the tunnel. The Beneluxtunnel was built in two phases, with the first group of two tunnels opening in 1967, and the second group of six tunnels, including the bike and pedestrian tunnel, in 2002.

Now that I’ve been riding around Rotterdam for four weeks I can always get home without consulting a map and it’s an easy ride home from the north side of the Maastunnel to home, and I can take several different routes that are all about the same distance and time.

That wasn’t a joyride on Lake Shore Drive

Video starts at Ohio Street (you can see the W Hotel after the curve at Ontario Street); the camera holder and driver speak with expletives.

Craig Newman at the Sun Times is wrong about the person in this video, who was filmed riding a Divvy bike-share bike along the jersey barrier on northbound Lake Shore Drive. He blogged today:

All excellent questions. But let’s maybe simplify and throw a warning sticker on the bikes: NO RIDING ON EXPRESSWAYS

And yes, I am a consistent bike commuter who enjoys the benefits and routinely laments stupidity, four-wheeled, two-wheeled and on foot we all have to fight through daily. But come on. Lake Shore Drive?

This person didn’t want to be cycling there. There are several ways one could make the mistake of riding a bike on this roadway. And once you’re on, you’re on for good until the next exit (which in this Divvy rider’s case is 1/4 mile north from where the video was shot).

She might have known there was something called the Lake Shore Path (as some people call it) or the Lakefront Trail – she couldn’t remember which. She didn’t see any “Route X” signs, or “Interstate Y” signs.

She saw a road that looks like so many others. It’s called a drive, not an expressway (it doesn’t meet those technical standards). She most likely entered from Lower Wacker (which connects to Michigan Avenue, where many people ride Divvy against Alderman Reilly’s desire) and went up the center, northbound ramp to Lake Shore Drive.

Stony Island Avenue in Chicago. The only difference between this and Lake Shore Drive is the more frequent stopping (unless there’s congestion on LSD) and the shopping. Photo by Jeff Zoline.

It can be easily mistaken for a typical road, looking similar to the stroads near wherever she lives. Like Stony Island, Cicero, Columbus, Archer, in Chicago, or any countless “major street” in the suburbs. Maybe she comes from Roscoe Village, where Western Avenue goes over Belmont, or Bridgeport/Brighton Park, where Ashland Avenue goes over Pershing Avenue. Or some other city where regular roads cross other regular roads at different grades.


View Larger Map

Local photographer Brent Knepper tweeted that he made the mistake before.

We have a problem with our design such that the highway didn’t sufficient communicate, “No really, you shouldn’t bike here”. On the contrary, we have roads that should be shouting, “Hey, you really should be biking here!”

Maybe that’s why Netherlands makes it perfectly clear with red pavement.

Believe me, not even Casey Neistat would ride up here intentionally.

Updated with a better guess of where she entered Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago’s train stations are dead zones

Perhaps not all of them: Millennium Station, serving Metra Electric and South Shore Line trains, was rebuilt and given a facelift and new tenants (including a few restaurants) when the City of Chicago constructed Millennium Park atop it. And not Northwestern Station since it has two food courts, activity from the thousands of workers above, and the new(ish) French Market.

But look at Union Station and LaSalle Station – they tell passengers to stay away. It’s obnoxious (and noxious) to be in them. These two stations have quite the space available for pleasant activities and waiting areas. Union Station has the Great Hall and a bar but it’s also a Great Distance away from the platforms. LaSalle Station is probably the worst: a dozen machines squawk at waiting passengers – if there are any – to tell people who are blind where each track is. Every 3 seconds.

I made a video to demonstrate a little of how unlovable train stations are in the United States. Not every station has the squawk boxes right in the main, but empty, waiting area, but the desolation and difficult access is widespread.

There’s a whole lot of nothing at LaSalle Station. Photo by Jeff Zoline. 

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.

Revealing driver behavior on Clark Street with a radar gun

People prefer to cross Clark Street at Menomenee Street in groups of unacquainted individuals.

This is a more detailed post of the one at Streetsblog Chicago.

On the overcast morning of Friday, May 4, 2012, I recorded the speeds of 412 cars at four locations along Clark Street in Old Town and Lincoln Park for 15 minutes at each location. I missed counting the speeds of 42 cars. The embedded map shows the locations and some basic statistics.

What did I find? There’s a relationship between street width and the speed people drive. The highest speeds were found on the widest portions, and the lowest speeds on the narrowest portions. However, this basic study is far from scientific. A better study would record the locations simultaneously (necessitating 4 radar guns), calibrated equipment, consistent training for the researchers on data collection methods, a longer recording duration, and comparison to a control street that had a uniform width at four locations.


View Radar gun places on Clark Street in a larger map

1. Southbound Clark Street at Germania Place

My assistant and I set up the radar gun and camera immediately south of Sandburg Terrace and pointed the radar gun at people driving southbound on Clark Street between a row of parked cars at the concrete median (pedestrian refuge island). Classes would start soon at the Latin School on the east side of Clark Street. Compliance with state law requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk was weak, to say the least, but compliance wasn’t explicitly measured.

  • Average speed: 17.21 miles per hour (MPH)
  • Maximum speed: 30 MPH
  • Cars measured: 151
  • Speed limit: 30 MPH
  • Drivers exceeding the speed limit: 0
  • Width: 224 inches (from west curb to pedestrian refuge island)
  • Effective width: 140 inches (excludes parking by subtracting 7 feet)
  • Crashes: 35, of which 4 were bicycle, and 3 were pedestrian.

Only one car-car crash (actually a 3 car crash) produced an injury. What’s interesting about this location is that in a lot of the crashes, the cars were traveling in the same direction. There’s a lot of school drop off and pick up activity here for Latin School of Chicago students, so it could be that many people are pulling away from the curb to merge into traffic and collide.

2. Northbound Clark Street at Menomenee Street

  • Average speed: 30.83 miles per hour (MPH)
  • Maximum speed: 50 MPH
  • Cars measured: 121
  • Speed limit: 30 MPH
  • Drivers exceeding the speed limit: 53.72%
  • Width: 395 inches (from east curb to dividing line). This includes the parking lane but no cars were parked within 50 feet, north and south, of the measurement location.
  • Crashes: 20, of which 2 were bicycle, and 1 were pedestrian. Many of the non-bike and non-ped crashes involved a parked car or taxi. The only injuries experienced were by the 2 cyclists and 1 pedestrian.

3. Northbound Clark Street at Lincoln Park West

We stood on the “pie” (traffic island) that separates northbound Clark Street traffic from northbound Lincoln Park West traffic to measure the traffic driving on Clark Street between the pie and the concrete median separating it from southbound Clark Street.

  • Average speed: 25.60 miles per hour (MPH)
  • Maximum speed: 40 MPH
  • Cars measured: 58
  • Speed limit: 30 MPH
  • Drivers exceeding the speed limit: 27.59%
  • Width: 252 inches (from concrete median curb to west curb on the pie)
  • Crashes: 4, of which 1 was bicycle, and 2 were pedestrian.

4. Northbound Clark Street between Lincoln Park West and Dickens Avenue

This location is 125 feet north of the previous location.

  • Average speed: 22.54 miles per hour (MPH)
  • Maximum speed: 35 MPH
  • Cars measured: 58
  • Speed limit: 30 MPH
  • Drivers exceeding the speed limit: 2.44%
  • Width: 264 inches (from east curb to dividing line).
  • Effective width: 180 inches (excludes parking by subtracting 7 feet)
  • Crashes: 0

Me measuring speeding drivers on Clark Street with the speed gun, my clipboard and paper, and a GoPro camera to record the speeding drivers and the results on the speed gun. 

Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s proposal

In 2011, Michelle Stenzel and Michael of Bike Walk Lincoln Park published a document to “Make Clark a Liveable Street“. The first two pages show an aerial photo of the same section of Clark Street where I measured automobile speeds, North Avenue and Armitage Avenue. On the first page, existing conditions are laid out. The second graphic shows proposed improvements.

At Menomonee Street, measurement location 2, the document says “pedestrians must cross 6 lanes with no safe haven”, a width of just under 66 feet. In the later pages, the first existing condition is blatant: “Wide lanes of auto traffic moving at speeds in excess of the speed limit”. My analysis in May demonstrates this.

How does BikeWalk Lincoln Park propose to “transform this stretch from a car-oriented ‘super-highway’ to a people-oriented liveable street”? By installing protected bike lanes, putting the street on a diet, and installing new and well-marked crosswalks among other ideas.

Width and speed summary

Ordered by location:

  1. 224/140 inches. 0% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  2. 395/395 inches. 53.72% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  3. 252/252 inches. 27.59% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  4. 264/180 inches. 2.44% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit

Ordered from narrowest to widest to see how width relates to speed:

  • 224/140 inches. 0% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  • 264/180 inches. 2.44% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  • 252/252 inches. 27.59% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit
  • 395/395 inches. 53.72% of drivers exceeded 30 MPH speed limit

Notes

Crash data is within 100 feet to avoid the overlap of the final two locations, which were 125 feet apart. Crash data comes from the Illinois Department of Transportation for 2005-2010. The Bushnell Velocity Speed Gun was borrowed for this analysis. The radar gun was filmed to show a speeding car and its speed simultaneously. The video below shows a driver traveling at 50 MPH in a Children’s Safety Zone (as it’s within 1/8 mile of a park, Lincoln Park, making it eligible for automated speed enforcement).

Curiously, no traffic counts have been collected on Clark Street near any of the count locations.

View the video on Vimeo.

Screenshot of traffic count website. Go to the Traffic Count Database System and search for “1700 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL” in the map. 

Video of the South Shore Line train at Chicago Botanic Garden

I took the UP-North Metra train to Braeside and biked ~1 mile (less than that on city roads) to the Chicago Botanic Garden. I saw a sign for “Model Railroad Garden”, asked a staffer where it was, and immediately made my way there to pay $6 to see the most wonderful garden in the region.

I was here for four hours. Four of my friends then showed up halfway through (they biked from Chicago and had equipment troubles). Afterward, we biked on the Green Bay Trail and Robert McClory Bike Path north to Lake Bluff, Illinois, to eat at Pasta Palooza and drink three growlers from Lake Bluff Brewing Company next door (I added it to OSM today). Their beer is good and it only costs $15 to fill up a growler! (Don’t forget to bring more beer for the Metra ride home.)

The state of bike path signage in Illinois is pretty abysmal and that was made very clear when the RMBP transitioned from the southeast side of an intersection to the northwest side of an intersection (see it on OpenStreetMap). What happened? Well, we were traveling northbound and a sign said “Robert McClory Bike Path; Ends”. This is patently false. The named path keeps going north. There was barely enough visibility to see that there was a “Bike Route [this way>]” sign on the opposite corner of the intersection. Google Maps for iOS verified that this kept us going to our destination.

View more photos from the Model Railroad Garden.

Amtrak “speeding” down the track. This was an interesting model: it’s articulated and electric, a trainset type that Amtrak doesn’t run. 

N.B. This trip is telling me to expand the Chicago Bike Guide map to include at least this far north. The map currently extends to Wilmette. However, there’s a tradeoff: when I extend the map, the file size increases.

Daley Plaza is the “realest” public space in Chicago

People in Daley Plaza from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

I find that Daley Plaza is Chicago’s “realest” public space in the city. Real in the tradition of public spaces in cities around the world where history is made in the form of speeches and protests and where people are not afraid to occupy the space to relax, be idle, chat, and eat. Also real in that the legally space is owned by the city, and by extension its citizens, but never its corporations. Real in that commercial interests for that space are maintained. Real in that people have adopted the space as a natural, close, and unblocked meeting point.

Where Daley Plaza isn’t a real public space is that it is surrounded by roaring machines on three sides (the fourth doesn’t function as part of the plaza). It becomes less peaceful because of the metal boxes hurtling through space at every edge and vertex of the granite.

Millennium Park fails as a public space because it has rules. Because private security enforces these rules and bothers guests for the most normal of activities. The space is managed by contract from the city to a corporation. It has hours of use. You surely can’t protest, let alone ride a bike. Half of it was paid for by the names that adorn its features.

In Millennium Park, and many other corporate “plazas”, you can be told to leave.

Panorama of Daley Plaza during Critical Mass in March 2013. 

It would be disingenuous of me to only compare Millennium Park as an example of real public space in Chicago. It’s the extreme opposite of Daley Plaza in the spectrum of public spaces here. Grant Park is closer to Daley Plaza, but lacks the closeness, the tight feeling that you are in a community of other humans. There are smaller spaces that would be in the same vein as Daley Plaza, like Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square, and Federal Plaza just down the street at Adams. There are plenty of smaller examples, like the sidewalks and tiny plazas at Blue Island, Loomis, and 18th Street.

Daley Plaza’s water fountain near the southwest corner does a good job of masking the rumbling automobile engines and tires rubbing on the pavement. It provides stimulation for other senses, including vision (the water seems infinite!) and tactile perception (the water has a temperature and a texture against the skin).

I wrote this on June 18, 2013. I have a tendency to draft articles and then not publish for a long time. I have a draft about Berlin, Germany, from September 2012. 

OpenStreetMap editing and two Chicago events in April

A mapping party! Photo by MapBox. 

I use OpenStreetMap (OSM) heavily since I learned how to edit the map. OSM is the Wikipedia of worldwide mapping: it allows anyone to edit and contribute and allows anyone to copy and extract the data.

I edit places that lack information, fix mistakes (like how roads are drawn, or typos), and add new places. This work is important to my app because what is shown on OpenStreetMap is what appears in my iOS app, the Chicago Bike Map app.

The Chicago Bike Map app map tiles currently look like the above screenshot. Before releasing the next version I will download the latest version of “planet”, which has 100% of buildings now, thanks to Ian Dees

When I locate a place that needs more detail and I want to add it, I open JOSM.app and then, on the OpenStreetMap.org website, I click “Edit>Edit with Remote Control”. JOSM pans over to that spot and downloads all of the OSM data. It works very much like a GIS application and AutoCAD: it has points and polygons that you can move or resize. When you’re done adding features or editing the geometry or metadata of existing ones, click “Upload data”, add a message summarizing the changes you made, and hit the “Upload” button.

Screencast showing how I locate places to which to add detail and then add them with JOSM.

Your changes will be integrated in the OSM database almost immediately. The changes will appear on the live OpenStreetMap.org map tiles in minutes. The “extract services”, which take the data out and send to you as a compressed file or even ESRI shapefile, will read the “planet” file (complete OSM database) soon; some update nightly while others update weekly.

Here are the extract services I use (each one for different reasons):

  • BBBike.org – nightly; allows you to select any area with a self-drawn polygon; exports in ESRI shapefile and other formats; extracts take 15-30 minutes.
  • Michal Migurski’s Metro Extracts – monthly; has ~100 cities pre-extracted; this is now hosted on Smart Chicago Collaborative’s resources alongside my Crash Browser.
  • GEOFABRIK – nightly; all continents, many countries and all fifty states are pre-extracted;

Events!

These are copied straight from the Smart Chicago Collaborative website. I will be at the Map-a-Thon. I’m still thinking about the Hackathon. While I can’t program in the languages required, I can write decent documentation.

OpenStreetMap Map-a-Thon

Beginning mappers are invited to be a part of a national OpenStreetMap Map-a-thon by learning how to use our tools to improve the map in your area. You can add your favorite restaurant or comic book store, a local school or hospital. During the map-a-thon we’ll walk you through the process of finding your area, creating an account, and making your first edit. With that foundation, you can go on to make an impact by adding tons of information relevant to you and your community!

Attend the Map-a-thon April 20th and 21st at 1871 on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza from 12 PM to 6 PM. Participants will enjoy food and drinks thanks to Smart Chicago Collaborative.

For more information about the map-a-thon and to RSVP, please visit the Meetup page for the event.

OpenStreetMap Hack Weekend

If you know your way around a compiler, feel comfortable with JSON and XML, or know the difference between an ellipsoid and a geoid, then the Hack Weekend is for you. We’re looking for those with technical know-how to help make a difference in OpenStreetMap’s core software by writing patches and new software to help make mapping faster and easier. Special thanks to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews for their support and sponsorship.

The hack weekend will be held April 27th and 28th at 1871 from 9 AM to dinner time each day.

For more information about the hack weekend, please visit the OSM wiki page for the event. Two MapBox staffers will be here. MapBox is awesome; they make TileMill which makes my iOS app possible.

Thank god there’s transit

By Diana Lind for Next City.

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