Highlights from December’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting


Bicycle signals on Dearborn Street at Madison Street were turned on as of Wednesday. Photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz. 

Meeting minutes for the September 2012 can be downloaded (.pdf); read our recap of it.

Streets for Cycling Plan 2020

Download now (.pdf).

A few months late, the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 will be released today, including a Bicycle Facilities Guide designed for all Chicagoans that shows the new facility types being installed on Chicago roadways and how to use them (no matter your transportation mode).

Bike sharing

The current focus is on finalizing the contract with Alta Bicycle Share. Chicago Bicycle Program coordinator Ben Gomberg said they would finish selecting the sites for bike sharing stations in January or February. Gomberg mentioned that Alderman Pawar is using menu funds to purchase 5 stations for the 47th Ward; Bill Higgins, a transportation planner in Pawar’s office, said that the “shortening” of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) 11-Lincoln bus route (eliminating it from a 3 mile stretch between Western/Lawrence and Fullerton Avenues) was a basis for buying the stations. Alderman Moreno is also using menu funds to purchase 2 stations for the 1st Ward. DePaul University, Gomberg said, was interested in purchasing 3 stations.

No mention was made of the investigation by the Chicago Inspector General. Jane Healy, an activist from Blue Island, Illinois, and a board member for Active Transportation Alliance, asked if there was a timeline. Luann Hamilton, Deputy Commissioner of Project Development at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), replied that there wasn’t one.

The cost of purchasing an additional station (there will be 300 purchased by the City in the first year an additional 100 kiosks in the following year) is $56,000, which includes 19 docks and 15 bicycles; there’s a discount if you buy more than one. CDOT will not be charging an operating fee to those entities who purchase kiosks, a policy in place at the Washington, D.C.-centered Capital Bikeshare program.

CDOT is looking for an organization to sponsor the bike sharing program. Citibank paid $41 million for the naming rights in New York City: “Citibike”.  Continue reading Highlights from December’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting

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

Infrastructure updates: 18th Street bike lane and inaccessible sidewalk ramp to be modified


A person drives their car in the 18th Street separated bike lane. 

Grid Chicago gathered photos, videos, and reports from neighbors in April and May about parking and driving in the 18th Street separated bike lane (from Clark Street to Canal Street) and discussed the situation with 25th Ward Alderman Solis’s office in June. Lauren Pacheco tells us that the bike lane design will be modified and that police will pay more attention to the street:

A series of CDOT and Aldermanic driven initiatives will be launched in ensuring bicycle lane safety along this route inculding bike ambassadors educational outreach at the site for drivers, moving the bollards closer to the sidewalk thereby narrowing the bike lane preventing automobile use, and increased police district enforcement requests by Alderman Solis.

How much closer to the sidewalk the bollards will be moved is not known; we are waiting for a response. The bike lane is currently 7 or 8 feet wide and there is a 2 or 3-feet-wide buffer between the bike lane and 10-feet-wide travel lane. The bollards are currently closer to the travel lane, on the left side of the buffer (in the direction of travel). Continue reading Infrastructure updates: 18th Street bike lane and inaccessible sidewalk ramp to be modified

Calling 311 to make service requests about infrastructure is an onerous task


Reporting street issues to 311 was an arduous process that absorbed 24 minutes and 37 seconds of my Monday. I called to follow up on the issue of accessibility I reported in February for the southwest corner of Kinzie Street and Clark Street. After 14 minutes and 09 seconds, the 311 operator found three calls for service – all were marked closed – for that stepped curb! She asked if the problem still existed (it does) and made a new record (the fourth one). The other two records, neither of which were mine, both indicated that it was inaccessible to wheelchairs. She told me that on one of the existing records there was confirmation that it was a vaulted sidewalk (meaning there’s a hollow space underneath). This may be part of the reason this corner wasn’t fixed after the ADA lawsuit.

My original request for this curb problem is 12-00337103, made on February 22, 2012. Today’s request is 12-01060656. Continue reading Calling 311 to make service requests about infrastructure is an onerous task

Calling 311 to report dangerous taxicab drivers works


The taxi driven by the man who harassed me and against whom I testified in an administrative hearing.

This is the story of my being harassed by a taxi driver while cycling in downtown Chicago the day before Thanksgiving in November 2011. I was riding from Grant Park to meet my mother and sister for lunch at Xoco (449 N Clark). It’s also a set of loose instructions on curbing car culture.

The article is divided into three sections: the incident, the hearing, and the results. I am not revealing the taxi driver’s name or cab number: he’s already had his hearing and received due process; additionally, he may not always drive the same cab number. On the day of the incident, November 25, 2011, he leased his cab from the Chicago Carriage Cab Corp.

If you feel unsafe from the behaviors of a taxi driver, call 311 immediately after composing yourself and ask to file a complaint against a taxicab driver. You must have the time, location, and taxi number. If your immediate safety is threatened, call 911 first.


This is the description I submitted to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, who regulate public chauffeurs.  Continue reading Calling 311 to report dangerous taxicab drivers works

Street issues, 311, and apps: better communication with Open311 – part 2


A screenshot of the Spothole homepage. 

In part 1 of Street issues, 311, and apps: tying them all together I talked to Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer, John Tolva, who painted the picture of how we can interact with 311 and city services in the near future. Open311, among other things, is a platform to enable a connection between apps (web- and smartphone-based) and the service request system.

For part 2, I talked to Stefan Draht, a designer and programmer who created Spothole (with design contributions from Brett Schnacky). The app is ready for your vote in the Apps 4 Metro Chicago contest. It’s an intuitive and interactive way to report potholes in Chicago. I met Draht at Moving Design during the summer, for which he originally created the app; it’s now in version 2.0. Continue reading Street issues, 311, and apps: better communication with Open311 – part 2