Updated ClearStreets, alternative to Plow Tracker, brings new features and mobile-friendly design


ClearStreets’s new look. 

Last January I told you about ClearStreets, an alternative to the City of Chicago’s Plow Tracker website. The main difference is that Plow Tracker shows the current location of snow plows while ClearStreets tracks where they’ve been. Both sites have been updated today in time for our first winter storm, but since the world is ending tonight, you better look at them quickly.


Photo of mobile-friendly Plow Tracker by Dan O’Neil.

Plow Tracker has been updated to better display on mobile devices, at a different URL: http://m.cityofchicago.org/plowtracker. If you load it on a desktop browser, it doesn’t appear correctly.

During my conversation with lead creator of ClearStreets, Derek Eder, I told him that I believe there’s a weak relationship with the focus of Grid Chicago – sustainable transportation. The updates don’t change that, but we had a good discussion about the future of ClearStreets, and the implications and potential it has, as a platform, for other ideas and apps where that relationship could improve. Also, I’ve been exploring technology and transportation with this blog for some time as I’m a programmer myself. Continue reading Updated ClearStreets, alternative to Plow Tracker, brings new features and mobile-friendly design

Tracking transit: Three apps for Android reviewed


Even though the train platform heaters have started working (since November 1) the cold might still prevent you from wanting to wait there for any longer than you need to. These transit apps for Android can help you bide your time. Photo by Chicago Transit Authority.

Ed. note – This guest post was contributed by Nick Puczkowskyj, one of the producers of this year’s Cycle Messenger World Championship, and a daily Chicago Transit Authority rider. Nick offered to test transit apps for Android after seeing our review of iOS transit apps proceeding the iOS 6-Apple Maps debacle. 

For the commuter who needs to be in the know at all times, there are several apps available for Android phones. I went about testing three popular Chicago transit apps on my Samsung Galaxy S II. The apps were put through all of the same hurdles for my commute, which involves both bus and rail. Each app was used entirely for one day and then all three were used at once for one day. Every app was able to assist me with every part of my commute. However, some had stronger attributes than others.

Continue reading Tracking transit: Three apps for Android reviewed

Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting


Are you ready to start reporting street problems using your smartphone? Install one of the apps listed below. 

The City of Chicago launched its public Open 311 application interface in October allowing residents to quickly make a report, online or with a smartphone, bypassing the lengthy process of calling. App developers are now able to build programs that interact with the City of Chicago’s 311 database, created in 1997, via the Open 311 application interface to provide a faster and richer user experience. While such a process could have been established years ago, we’re happy to have it in Chicago now.

Currently only 14 service request types are available (see list below), which were said to be among the most commonly requested services. The application interface (known to programmers as “API”) was developed in part by Code for America fellows who researched the 311 implementation here and interviewed myriad users (alderman, city employees, operators, neighbors) in February and were coding all the way up until the last week of October. The undertaking has led to a great outcome, shaking up the tedious process of asking for a city service.

Rob Brackett, one of the four Code for America fellows to work on this project in Chicago, came to a recent Hack Night event at 1871, a tech hub at the Merchandise Mart, to showcase the city’s and fellows’ progress (slideshow). Two city staffers – Kevin Hauswirth (social media director in the Mayor’s Office) and Ryan Briones (IT director at the Department of Innovation and Technology, DoIT) – attended to join the discussion with civic coders and designers about the future of 311 and the Open 311 API. We – the public, really – were invited to contribute our own code updates for the city’s Open 311 website on the social coding website called GitHub.


My service request as submitted to the city’s new 311 website (it currently accepts 14 service types).  Continue reading Open 311 technology now implemented in Chicago with apps to help speed up reporting

Chicago bike sharing suggestion map is now live, public meetings coming soon


The Chicago Department of Transportation has made public its bike sharing station suggestion map, where you can click on a location on the map to say “this is a good place for a bike sharing station”, up-vote others’ suggestions, and see the most popular suggested locations.

Go suggest a good location now.

As of this writing, there are 116 locations suggested (and 123 additional votes for those locations), many (or most) of which were made during testing periods. Additionally, the map doesn’t show the ~150 locations that Bicycle Program Coordinator Ben Gomberg said at the September Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting were already selected (the majority of which he said were at train stations). I expect there will be 1,000 suggestions within two weeks, so get crackin’.

There are five meetings on three days coming up later this month (you can see them in our calendar).

At the meetings in late October and early November, representatives from CDOT and Alta, the bicycle provider and operator, will discuss the new program and answer questions. Attendees can suggest locations to install bike stations in the proposed service area.

Monday, October 29
11:30h – 13h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

15 – 17h
Pop‐up meeting at Union Station

18:30 – 20h
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S Michigan Avenue

Tuesday, October 30
18:30 – 20h
Lincoln Belmont Public Library
1659 W Melrose Street

Tuesday, November 7
18:30 – 20h
Charles Hayes Center
4859 S Wabash Avenue

Tracking the rate of submissions

24 hours and 22 minutes later, on 10-17-12 at 20:50, there are now over four times as many station suggestion locations (477) and 1,963 additional votes for those locations. The most popular location is somewhere around the Polish Triangle, at Milwaukee/Ashland/Division, with 33 votes. The second most popular locations is the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station, with 28 votes (I submitted this one).

49 hours and 20 minutes after we first collected the suggestions, on 10-18-12 at 21:48, there are 578 suggested locations (an increase of only 21%) with 3,076 votes for those locations (only 5 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). First place remains the same, while the Western CTA Brown Line station is tied with the Logan Square CTA Blue Line station.

On 10-22-12 at 12:14, there are 826 suggestions and 5,759 votes for those locations (only 2 locations lack non-submitter support, 1, 2). The Polish Triangle location keeps its first place crown, now with 85 votes. Logan Square Blue and Western Brown CTA stations are no longer tied: Logan Square is 1 vote ahead!

Ride into the safety zone: new traffic calming and ped safety treatments


Englewood resident Denise King tries out the new refuge island at 63rd and Claremont.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

Running late as usual, I hop on my bicycle and sprint south from Logan Square, fortunately with a sweet tailwind at my back. I’m heading to the ribbon cutting for new Children’s Safety Zone traffic-calming and pedestrian-safety treatments at Claremont Academy Elementary School, 2300 West 64th Street in West Englewood.

The city has 1,500 of these safety zones, designated areas within one-eighth mile of schools and parks. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is planning to install additional infrastructure at dangerous intersections within these sectors to discourage speeding and make crossing easier. Currently there are about 3,000 pedestrian crashes a year in the city, with about 800 involving kids (full data below). And in this era of rising obesity rates, the goal is also to encourage more children to walk to school and to play at their local park.

Continue reading Ride into the safety zone: new traffic calming and ped safety treatments

Upcoming events: Two technology and planning roundtables at Metropolitan Planning Council


Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), speaking at the value capture event. Photo by Ryan Griffin-Stegink of MPC. 

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) hosts roundtables each month about different planning topics. Many are centered on economic or transportation initiatives. Two in October will focus on technology. The first, on Tuesday, October 9, is “Plugging in to Placemaking: Technology’s Role in Community Planning”, and the second, on Thursday, October 11, is “State-of-the-Smart: Maximizing Capacity with Intelligent Transportation Systems”.

For these events, MPC brings in guest speakers from around the country to share their expertise with an audience of professional workers, scholars, and community organizers. I’ve been to several and written about one of them: replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging. They are good for staying abreast of current events, academic work, and best practices. Students will find them a good networking opportunity and a break from university-oriented programming.

Both events are at 140 S Dearborn, Suite 1400, and will be live streamed for free. They have a fee of $15 for MPC donors, $30 for everyone else.

Plugging in to Placemaking: Technology’s Role in Community Planning

October 9, 2012, 12–1:30 pm

Imagine a busy Dad who spends his days at the office and his evenings shuttling kids to practices and play dates. Or a businesswoman whose work frequently takes her out of town. Consider the night student, the small business owner, the shift worker: These are just a few of people who have something to contribute to local community decisions, but rarely have the time to attend traditional public meetings. Read more. Register here. Watch live stream on YouTube.

State-of-the-Smart: Maximizing Capacity with Intelligent Transportation Systems

October 11, 2012, 12–1:30 pm

Improving transportation infrastructure means more than building roads and bridges. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) use technology to maximize the capacity of existing infrastructure to improve traffic flow, decrease delays, and give riders up-to-the-minute system information for a relatively low cost. The Chicago region has several examples of ITS, such as the Chicago Transit Authority’s bus and train trackers and the Illinois Tollway’s I-PASS electronic tolling system. Still, there is tremendous room for growth. This roundtable will showcase how cities around the world are proving the real potential of ITS by implementing such technologies as congestion pricing, variable priced parking, and smartphone apps. Read moreRegister here. Watch live stream on YouTube.