Tag: map

Divvy considers my suggestions in bike-share kiosk map redesign

The new design that will appear at the newest stations first and then rolled out to all stations. 

I posted two months ago a critique of the Divvy bike-share maps, seen at 284 stations scattered around Chicago, focusing on the clutter of having so many maps (with the third being useless), unclear labels and labels that covered map objects, and the low prominence of the smartphone app and map legend. Two weeks ago the Divvy public relations manager emailed me a screenshot of the new map design and said that these points had been changed. He said they considered four of my suggestions:

  1. Make CycleFinder, the official Divvy smartphone app, more prominent
  2. Change “You are here” design to make it clear where you are
  3. Make streets and streets’ label text smaller
  4. Removed service area map and make legend more prominent

I replied to the manager and suggested that the “You are here” label be made slightly transparent to show that the road does continue beneath it.

Close-up of the original “you are here” design that covered up other objects and wasn’t centered in the walking distance circle.

Why food and drinks cost more downtown

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority is a quasi-governmental body created by the Illinois legislature, similarly to how it created the Chicago Transit Authority. The authority is also known as McPier. McPier is able to add 1% sales tax to the sale of food and drinks in three areas in Chicago, apparently to support the operations of Navy Pier (a place I avoid) and McCormick Place. I’m writing this post because of an article I read on Crain’s Chicago Business about Chicago having the highest restaurant tax rate that failed to describe the area in question.

The main area is downtown, although the boundaries extend far beyond downtown. I first came encountered the tax as a manager of the Jamba Juice at 1322 S Halsted Street (at Maxwell Street) in the University Village development on UIC’s south campus. The other two areas encompass Midway (MDW) and O’Hare airports (ORD). I haven’t mapped them to see exactly how much land beyond the airports the areas encompass.

The downtown area is described in 70 ILCS 210, section 13, as follows:

(b) (3) that portion of the City of Chicago located within the following area: Beginning at the point 150 feet west of the intersection of the west line of North Ashland Avenue and the north line of West Diversey Avenue, then north 150 feet, then east along a line 150 feet north of the north line of West Diversey Avenue extended to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, then following the shoreline of Lake Michigan (including Navy Pier and all other improvements fixed to land, docks, or piers) to the point where the shoreline of Lake Michigan and the Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway extended east to that shoreline intersect, then west along the Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway to a point 150 feet west of the west line of South Ashland Avenue, then north along a line 150 feet west of the west line of South and North Ashland Avenue to the point of beginning.

View Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority boundaries in a larger map. I created this map by following the directions in the block quoted text above. Do not use this map to determine if your business is required to collect and remit the McPier tax. It’s not an accurate map: I didn’t measure 150 feet from any street line – I guessed.

Also interesting: all drinks (alcoholic and sodas) and food sold on boats that arrive at or depart Lake Michigan shores within the area described above are subject to the tax. And more interesting is that sales at stores whose principal income is from drinks (alcoholic and sodas) and food for off-site but immediate consumption are also subject to the tax. You can supply the Illinois Department of Revenue with your sales tax information.

I like what Bonnie McGrath said in the Chicago Journal last year:

Is this fair? Why should we South Loopers–not to mention the other neighborhoods near downtown–have to pay extra for restaurant food? What exactly are we getting that other Chicago residents don’t get that we have to pay an extra tax?

I’d also like to know why McPier needs additional revenue to supplement the millions (maybe billions?) it revenue it receives from vendor fees, events, rents, and other sources in the operation of Navy Pier and McCormick Place.

McPier also gets a cut of hotel room bookings.

Are protected bike lanes going in the right places?

Bike crash map of Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago

Common bike-car crash locations in West Town. The bottom blue circle identifies Ogden/Milwaukee, where there is a yellow trap for northbound, left-turning motorists (from Milwaukee to Ogden) that makes them run into southbound bicyclists who have a green light.

My contribution to a discussion on The Chainlink, Are protected bike lanes going in the right places?

Kelvin, Milwaukee/Ogden/Chicago is the intersection along Milwaukee Avenue with the highest number of bicycle crashes. I created this table and map to show them, using data from 2007-2009.

The blue rings on the map are called, in GIS parlance, “buffers” and are circles used to select things (in this case, bike crashes) within a certain distance of the circle center. In this map I used 50 feet radius buffers (100 feet diameter). While this distance encompasses the intersection from center to all four curbs, it doesn’t encompass the crashes that happened just outside the buffer that were still most likely influenced by the intersection (like drivers’ turning movements).

I am working on a project with three friends to create a better map and “crash browser”. I mentioned it in the last story on Grid Chicago in this post. For this project, we are using 200 feet radius (400 feet diameter) buffers to ensure we encompass the entire intersection and the area in which it still has an effect. This also grabs the bike lane “pinch points”, places where a bike lane doesn’t start until 100-200 feet beyond the intersection.

I am also concerned with the strategy and approach CDOT is using to choose locations. It’s not transparent; at MBAC, CDOT said they were choosing locations “without controversy and that could be implemented quickly”.

Read more about Kinzie Street, Chicago’s first protected bike lane, and my other thoughts on protected bike lanes

Initial intersection crash analysis for Milwaukee Avenue

Slightly upgraded Chicago Crash Browser

This screenshot from the Chicago Crash Browser map shows the location of bike-car collisions at Ogden/Milwaukee, an intersection that exemplifies the yellow trap problem the city hasn’t remedied.

List of the most crash-prone intersections on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Using data from 2007-2009, when reported to the Chicago Police Department. Dooring data not included on the bike crash map. I used QGIS to draw a 50-feet buffer around the point where the intersection center lines meet.

Intersecting street (class 4*) Bike crashes
Chicago Avenue (see Ogden below) 12 (17)
California Avenue 9
Halsted Street & Grand Avenue 7
Damen Avenue & North Avenue 6
Western Avenue 6
Ogden Avenue (see Chicago above) 5 (17)
Ashland Avenue 5
Diversey Avenue 5
Fullerton Avenue 5
Elston Avenue 5
Augusta Boulevard (not class 4) 5

Combine the six-way (with center triangle) intersection of Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago, and you see 17 crashes. Add the 6 just outside the 50-feet buffer and you get 23 crashes. Compare this to the six-way (without center triangle) at Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand, where there’s only 7 crashes.

What about the two intersections causes such a difference in crashes? Let’s look at some data:

Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand
Automobile traffic Approx 58,000 cars per day Approx 50,000 cars per day.
Bicycle traffic Not counted, but probably fewer than 3,100 bikes More than 3,100 bikes per day*
Bus traffic Two bus routes Three bus routes
Intersection style Island; three signal cycles No island; one signal cycle


Traffic counts are assumed estimates. Counts are taken on a single day, either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Bike counts at Halsted/Milwaukee/Grand were actually taken on Milwaukee several hundred feet northwest of the intersection so DO NOT include people biking on Halsted or Grand! This means that more than 3,100 people are biking through the intersection each day.

Intersection style tells us which kind of six-way intersection it is. At island styles you’ll find a concrete traffic island separating the three streets. You’ll also find three signal cycles because there are actually three intersections instead of one, making it a 12-way intersection. Also at these intersections you’ll see confusing instructional signage like, “OBEY YOUR SIGNAL ONLY” and “ONCOMING TRAFFIC HAS LONGER GREEN.”

These intersections are more likely to have a “yellow trap” – Ogden/Milwaukee definitely has this problem. The yellow trap occurs at that intersections when northbound, left-turning motorists (from Milwaukee to Ogden) get a red light but they still need to vacate the intersection. Thinking that oncoming traffic has a red light but are just being jerks and blowing the red light (when in fact they still have a green for 5-10 more seconds) they turn and sometimes hit the southbound traffic. The City of Chicago acknowledged this problem, for bicyclists especially, in summer 2013 but as of November 2014 the issue remains.

Here’s a more lengthy description of one of the problems here as well as an extremely simple solution: install a left-turn arrow for northbound Milwaukee Avenue. The entire intersection is within Alderman Burnett’s Ward 27.

Source and method

I can’t yet tell you how I obtained this data or created the map. I’m still working out the specifics in my procedures log. It involved some manual work at the end because in the resulting table that counted the number of crashes per intersection, every intersection was repeated, but the street names were in opposite columns.

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Street data from the City of Chicago. Intersection data created with fTools in QGIS. To save time in this initial analysis, I only considered Milwaukee Avenue intersections with streets in the City of Chicago centerline file with a labeled CLASS of 1, 2, or 3.


A map that focuses on striped bikeways in downtown Chicago.

When you look at your bikeways more abstractly, like in the graphic above, do you see deficiencies or gaps in the network? Anything glaring or odd?

It’s a simple exercise: Open up QGIS and load in the relevant geographic data for your city. For Chicago, I added the city boundary, hydrography and parks (for locational reference), and bike lanes and marked-shared lanes*. Symbolize the bikeways to stand out in a bright color. I had the Chicago Transit Authority stations overlaid, but I removed them because it minimized the “black hole of bikeways” I want to show.

What do you see?

Bigger impact map

This exercise can have more impact if it was visualized differently. You have to be familiar with downtown Chicago and the Loop to fully understand why it’s important to notice what’s missing. It’s an extremely office and job dense neighborhood. It also has one of the highest densities of students in the country; the number of people residing downtown continues to grow. If I had good data on how many workers and students there were per building, I could indicate that on the map to show just how many people are potentially affected by the lack of bicycle infrastructure that leads them to their jobs (or class) in the morning, and home in the evening. I don’t know how to account for all of the bicycling that goes through downtown just for events, like at Millennium and Grant Parks, the Cultural Center, and other theaters and venues.

*If you cannot find GIS data for your city, please let me know and I will try to help you find it. It should be available for your city as a matter of course.