Tagvideo

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.

An enjoyable Friday morning collecting car speeds on Clark Street

Watch this 7 second video of a person driving a late model Toyota Camry in Lincoln Park at 50 MPH, next to the park. 

mean 30.83 mph
median 31
mode 30
min 17
max 50
frequency: 121 cars
greater than 30 mph: 65 cars
% greater than 30 mph: 53.72%

Statistics exclude the three buses counted at 26, 18, 20. Time was 8:23 to 8:38 on Friday, May 4, 2012, at Clark Street and Menomenee Street. The street width at where I collected the data is 65’9″ (789 inches). This location is eligible for a speed camera as it is within 1/8 mile of a park and is thus a “Children’s Safety Zone”.

I’m still working on the report for an article to be published on Grid Chicago. I used this Bushnell Velocity Speed Gun.

Driving in the protected bike lane, eh

Updated 4/5/12 to add links to other discussions on this topic, my response to one of the discussions, and a link to my tweet mention this issue to 25th Ward Alderman Solis. 

I was hanging out on 18th Street on Tuesday, watching traffic as I often do, and interviewing Alyson Fletcher about her bike count project. I captured this driver of a Chevy Malibu casually driving in the protected bike lane.

Aside from emailing this to Alderman Solis and the Chicago Department of Transportation, I have no idea what to do about this (I haven’t done either of those things yet – maybe you, as a resident, should do that; I tweeted to Alderman Solis on April 4, 2012). I think the design could be modified to physically prevent automobile traffic here (except, perhaps, emergency vehicles). Other things could be added to make this more apparent as a bike lane, by adding more color and doubling the size of the pavement bicycle symbols.

I also photographed two other people driving in the bike lane. Is there not a place where people can cycle without the danger of drivers impeding their space?

Kia Forte driver.

BMW driver.

Follow the discussion elsewhere:

  • The Expired Meter – Author poses question about possible lack of clarity in the signage, symbols, or road design that sends the message that the curbside lane is for cycling only. I haven’t investigated this part. I don’t know if there are signs at the entrances to the lane that describe it as “right lane bike only” (I’m not sure if this sign is acceptable to the MUTCD – I can’t find it there – but there are many instances of it being used in Chicago). However, that sign’s posted restriction is further than what’s necessary. A sign that says “bike lane” (R3-17) is sufficient to cause that any driving in said lane is a citable offense under Municipal Code of Chicago 9-40-060.
  • EveryBlock – I posted it here.
  • Grid Chicago – I posted this about this topic later on Grid Chicago asking which bike issues most concerns readers.

Video tour of Open Streets

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.

Cycling in Milwaukee

I visited Milwaukee on the Sunday before Labor Day this year. I haven’t uploaded any photos or written about the trip. My friend Brandon and I brought our fixed-gear bicycles and rode around town for several hours. Here’s a video of some of their streets and trails.

The 3-way street

Update June 12, 2011: Added a link to and excerpt from commentary by David Hembrow, a British blogger in the Netherlands.

How does a 3-way street work? Easy, just watch the video.

I like the term “aggressive yield” to describe the situation when a motorist does yield to pedestrians crossing the street, but in a way where they inch forward continually, slowly pushing, with a buffer or air, the people out of the way.

I really like the comment from Tuesday by Anthony Ball:

those red markers are just showing the limits of tolerable risk as established by years of system development. If the collision speeds were higher, those red circles would be far few – it’s simply a system finding its own point of stability.

If you really want to wreak havoc – try to control that system without corrective feedback (eg more rules, lights, controls, etc) and you’ll see the system kill people while it tries to find new stable relationships.

don’t forget that rules, signs, lights, etc have no direct impact on the system – they only work through the interpretation of the users.

What did David Hembrow have to say? David lives in the Netherlands and disagrees with the common sentiment that these conflicts are caused by selfish users.

I don’t see the behaviour at this junction as being about “bad habits”. What I see is simply a very badly designed junction which almost invites people to behave in the way that they do.

Dutch road junctions don’t look like and work like this – they are different for a reason: it removes the conflicts and improves safety. A long-standing theme of Dutch road design is the concept of Sustainable Safety. The concept is to remove conflict so that collisions are rare and the consequences of those which remain are relatively small. Roads are made self-explanatory so that bad behaviour is reduced and the way people behave is changed.

Reading this reminds me of the work of the students in George Aye’s class at SAIC, “Living in a Smart City.” The students attempted, through an intersection redesign, to reduce the stresses that lead to crashes.

Where are the 3-way streets in your city? Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee in Chicago comes to my mind easily. Also a lot of streets in the Loop. Oh yeah, and The Crotch, at Milwaukee/North/Damen.

Living in a smart city

What does living in a smart city look like?

It might look like this.

When a city can gather data on every aspect of it’s citizens activities, what should we do with it? What products, services and environments should we develop?

Many private and public sector organisations are rushing us towards a future state where every cup of coffee, cell phone, taxi, bus, street and building will be self-aware and communicating with us and each other. Rather than asking when is this future coming, I’d like to ask what will we do once it’s here.

That’s the description of a class taught by George Aye at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I visited the class twice to hear and watch their presentation on minimizing disruptions caused by traffic crashes at a specific intersection, but whose new system elements can be transferred to other intersections in the city. When I came back the second time, the students had figured out a way to animate the intersection using a projector and mirror (which you see at the end of the video).

A static shot of the animation on the 3D paperboard and mixed material model.

The intersection in question is “The Crotch”, or the center of Wicker Park, at Milwaukee-North-Damen. The goal was to imagine how smart processes, policies, and technologies can be used to minimize the disruption of crashes at this intersection and others like it. The first phase of the students’ plan is about preventing crashes and the second phase is about speeding up the investigation. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the class blog, which documents, through narrative, photos and video, the students’ progress.

Some of their proposal for Milwaukee Avenue in this area included:

  • Barring private automobiles at certain times to give more room to more efficient modes, like buses and bicycles
  • During the ban period, allow taxis and possibly car-sharing cars
  • At all times of the day, deliveries (like beer) would be scheduled in advanced to better use existing and consolidated loading zones; when trucks use loading zones, they aren’t blocking traffic
  • Implement a Barnes dance (pedestrian scramble) at The Crotch to accommodate existing pedestrian crossing behaviors and speed up crossing times of what are now two-leg crossings (like walking north or south on west side of Damen Avenue, which requires a crossing distance of about 180 feet on two segments while the crosswalk signal cycle may not let you do consecutively; a direct crossing is only 72 feet)

View the full Living in a smart city photoset

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