I started listening to podcasts in 2021. I am sharing a list of four that I listen to regularly. Surprising to me, none of them are about Chicago.
UCLA Housing Voice is hosted by four UCLA researchers and teachers. Every week during the season (they’re on season two now) they summarize an academic paper about housing and cities and interview the authors. What I like about this is a few things: the consistent format, summarizing academic papers that I don’t have access to and are sometimes painstaking to read and understand, and getting the authors to expand on what they published.
The Livable Low-Carbon City are short, explainer-style episodes about the essentials to designing and redesigning cities and neighborhoods for the low-carbon future that we need. Mike Eliason is well known on “Urbanism Twitter” and “Architecture Twitter” for pushing passive house building techniques, baugruppen (a kind of cooperative housing), and point access blocks. Eliason’s episodes are brief and easy to understand, and are a great outlet to hear about his time working and living with his family in Germany.
This panel has the light rail station next to an office complex that had the United Airlines headquarters and the office for “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region”.
I lived in suburbs until I was 22. The suburbs of Houston, of San Francisco, and of Chicago.
And from when I was 11 years old to about 15 years old I drew a municipality called “Vanceville” (and “Vancin” at one point) on 13 adjoining panels, each a standard size grade school poster. I started in fifth grade, within a couple of months of moving to Batavia, Illinois.
The first panel was drawn on the backside of a poster that displayed my study for class that counted cars on my street categorized by their manufacturer.
The suburban pattern of development was all I knew – and it really shows. I didn’t make it into the respective city centers that often, and when I did it was mostly by car. I think I drew the ultimate suburb of NIMBYs.
I don’t support this kind of development. Back then I thought I was designing the best city. I had no idea that what I was drawing wasn’t a sustainable way to develop places where people live.
You can see how four panels adjoin.
I mean, just look at all the massive parking lots I drew. I seriously thought that that was how cities should be designed. I didn’t know that they paved over natural areas and caused dirty water to run off into the river I drew.
There are no multi-unit buildings. In fact, each single-family house is built on a huge lot. I gave each house a big garage, writing explicitly “2 + 1” and “2 + 1/2”.
I drew townhomes, a denser housing style than single-family, because I had a few friends who lived in them. This panel has my house in the lower-left corner.
Sidewalks are rare, but they become more prevalent in later design phases. You can forget bike lanes, but you may be lucky and find a bike path, again, in a later design phase. Those phases are also distinguished by smoother lines, fewer stray markings, and a lighter touch of the pencil.
People have to drive to the parks. Strip malls abound. Many of the shops are named for real businesses in Batavia.
Oh, wait, I drew in light rail tracks and stations. But I didn’t draw them because I knew or thought transit was a good thing. None of the places I lived had it. I drew the light rail because I loved trains.
Vanceville was so oriented to driving that some of the road lanes had “ATM” imprinted where a right-turn arrow would be, to signify that there was an upcoming turn off for a bank drive-through, with two lanes that had only ATMs. Even “Steve Vance Enterprises – Western Region” was connected to a 5-level car park.
There are just so many roads. I drew what appear to be interchanges between two “connector” roads within a residential neighborhood! That same panel seems to have as much asphalt as any other surface, be it developed or grass or water.
I’m not surprised this is the kind of city I drew.
If I still drew, the outcome would be completely different. It would probably look like a mix of Rotterdam, Madrid, and Houten.
West Town Bikes sent these young adults to Youth Bike Summit in New York City (2013). Photo: Michael Young
I am copying this message straight from the West Town Bikes e-newsletter I just received, with some personal notes in brackets. WTB holds multiple fundraisers each year. Tour de Fat is their largest, but we need something to do in the winter, right?
Bikecitement in three weeks is a time for people to get to know more about West Town Bikes, its people and its programs, than possible at Tour de Fat – all while enjoying Revolution Brewing refreshments.
1. Support one of Chicago’s premier bike-based, youth development organizations.
[I support it in multiple ways: blogging about it now, going to their events, taking friends there to help them fix their bikes, and buying my bike parts there. I also make monetary donations.]
2. Meet our talented & enthusiastic youth leaders.
[The youth who join West Town Bikes – either as students, or as apprentices and later staff members – are the coolest, brightest young adults I know.]
3. Bid on auction items like theater and performance tickets, dinner at fine restaurants, Chicago sports memorabilia, and much, much more.
[I don’t like going out to these things, so I’ll leave room on the silent auction bidding sheet for your name.]
4. Enjoy craft beers & tasty treats from Revolution Brewery.
5. Enjoy the “Bike Scene” with the West Town Staff!
[The staff, what can I say, are committed, passionate, and fun to hang out with.]
Emily Leidenfrost, a program coordinator at West Town Bikes, helps kids make crafts at Tour de Fat this summer. Photo: Daniel Rangel
Addendum: This summer I co-taught a bike planning class with Emily Leidenfrost. She led the class while I joined a few times each week to teach urban planning and bike infrastructure design concepts. I instructed a group of five high school students (most of whom became college freshman last month) to collect and analyze data, and prepare a professional report that described the problem of bicycling among key sites along Western Avenue in multiple neighborhoods.
Monday, November 9, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
at Revolution Brewing’s brewpub in Logan Square
2323 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Me bicycling on the Hovenring in Eindhoven. It’s the world’s first, floating bicycle roundabout. It’s a gratuitous way to solve the problem the city had at this intersection outside the built up area. Despite its frivolity, it wasn’t as expensive as something that solves a similar problem in the United States. 6.3 million euros in 2012. The Navy Pier Flyover in Chicago is over $60 million in 2014.
In my last trip to Europe, which concluded three weeks ago, I hadn’t yet scheduled where I would stay on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights on my final full week (I came home the following Tuesday).
On that Monday I was in Barcelona but my mother was going back home and I had to move on. On Thursday I was going to be in Bonn.
“Where should I go?” I debated. I considered Morocco (that was a complicated journey and I didn’t want to go alone), and Salzburg or Austria. Then, after talking to a couple before and during my trip I decided I would stay in Lyon, France.
Once I was in Seville, though, right before heading to Barcelona, I started looking at possible journeys from Barcelona to Lyon. They weren’t looking good. They were cheap, but the timing was bad – flights weren’t frequent enough, departed and arrived at odd times, and the train journeys were long.
But “timing” turned out to be just an excuse to avoid having to go to France and skip going to the Netherlands. I really wanted to go to the Netherlands. It wasn’t possible for me to skip visiting some Dutch friends and the greatest country for transportation and utility cycling. I still had more things to see there!
My favorite train station in Europe: Rotterdam Centraal.
My friend Daniel in Rotterdam was available to host me for a couple nights. There was no contest anymore: I booked a flight on Vueling from Barcelona to Rotterdam, just 90 minutes away. And he was even going to pick me up at the tiny airport so we could take the bus to the central train station and get me an OV-fiets bicycle (it’s the national bike-sharing system that requires a Dutch bank account to rent).
On this trip to the Netherlands, though, I only added one new Dutch city: Eindhoven, where I had to see the Hovenring. I paid an arm and a leg to get there – thanks, expensive intercity Dutch train travel prices!
So here’re the 16 cities where I’ve stayed or visited in the Netherlands, in chronological order:
Amsterdam (2011, 2012, 2014)
Utrecht (2011, 2015)
Zandvoort an Zee (2012)
Den Haag/The Hague (2012)
Den Bosch/s’Hertogenbosch (2014)
Veendam, Bourtange (Spanish fort) (2014)
Rotterdam (2014, 2015)
Delft (2014, 2015)
The list excludes cities I only transited or biked through. I’ve transited through Venlo half a dozen times by now. It’s on the German border. It’s a tiny station, tiny town, but has a lot of intercity traffic. I’ve biked through Pijnacker twice, now: once while biking from Rotterdam to Delft in 2014, and the second time, in 2015, I took the metro there and biked the rest of the way to Delft (this time to see the new train station).
I’ve also biked to the Hook of Holland in 2014; not the city, but the port, canal, and to see the Maeslantkering, a flood barrier that’s part of Delta Works.
This week, though, I uploaded 500 photos from a three mile journey on California and Milwaukee Avenues in Chicago – streets that no one else had photographed for the Mapillary street view service.
Mapillary is an open source (sort of) street view service, originally developed in Sweden, which allows the public to contribute photos taken with their smartphone app.
What’s “sort of” about Mapillary being open source is that it appears that the company owns the photos once you upload them. People are free to use the photos to edit OpenStreetMap, or publish elsewhere – for personal use only – with attribution that adheres to Creative Commons 4.0. People who want to use the photos in a commercial application must subscribe to a pay service.
Mounting an iPhone to a bicycle
I took the jump from contributing nothing to uploading a whole lot because I bought an iPhone mount for my bicycle. After months of research – okay, chalk it up to my being lazy and it being really cold outside – I settled on the DgRock Universal Bicycle Mount from Amazon for $9. I was perplexed that there was a gap in choices between this decent $9 product and the next group, hovering around $30-40.
After three days of use, I’m satisfied, despite limitations that are present in all mounts I surveyed. The DgRock mount is solid, barely moves even as the bike bounces along Chicago’s pothole-ridden streets, and securely holds the iPhone with a strong, spring-loaded grip. It’s universal in two ways: it holds nearly any smartphone (it probably can’t hold one with a screen 5″ or larger) and it attaches to most bicycle handlebars.
The first day I used the DgRock mount Mapillary complained with a red icon that it couldn’t get a proper fix on its location and therefore it wouldn’t start photographing. Fine, I was in downtown Chicago where connecting to GPS satellites can be hard. I figured the wifi positioning system that all smartphones and tablets use would suffice.
There are problems with the mount, but I think these apply to all bicycle smartphone mounts: When the phone is in position to take photos, meaning its horizontal and level to the ground, you can’t see the screen. That’s because the screen, mounted on the handlebars, is much lower than your eyes and faces vertically, instead of angled towards your face. The only way around this, I believe, is to either get an upright bicycle (like my WorkCycles Fr8) or an adjustable lens (I can’t find any).
This position allows the user to manipulate the smartphone but you cannot take street view-style images.
The possible position angles of the smartphone when held by the mount was my main concern as I was shopping on Amazon: The mount need to have the flexibility to position the smartphone so its rear camera could be level with the ground. Smartphone mounts, though, are made to put the device in a position to be used and viewed frequently by the bicycle rider – it was unclear if many of the other smartphone mounts could accommodate the street view angles requirement.
The DgRock has no issue moving the iPhone into the right position, as you can see in the photos from my journey (or scroll to the end). Its issue, though, is that you have to put the smartphone in “backwards” so that the claw covers up part of the screen. I call it an issue but it doesn’t disturb the mount’s primary purpose when using Mapillary – the phone still has a clear view of the street.
Even with an upright bike like mine, though, it’s difficult to see the screen. I believe that Mapillary can actually design its app to help overcome this physical limitation.
The Mapillary app has improved greatly since the first version. It allows you to delete bad or undesired photos before uploading, and it has a simpler interface to go from opening the app to making your own street view. There are a couple changes I think would improve the user experience and lead to more contributions.
I would like to be able to turn off the screen while using Mapillary to save battery life. I think that the screen could fade to black and a small white dot or halo appears frequently to remind you that it’s working. I’d also like it to chime when iOS throws the “low storage” warning. Otherwise I may be riding along, thinking Mapillary is capturing the street, when iOS had actually run out of storage 10 minutes ago.