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

Shovel it: How two ideas plan to impact sidewalk snow removal this winter


A woman walks in the street after snowmageddon 2011. The City administration wants to avoid forcing people to walk in the street. Photo by Jim Watkins.

Mayor Emanuel announced on Tuesday, in a press release, a new website and effort to address snow shoveling and removal problems. The complete effort is packaged nicely on ChicagoShovels.org. It has many features, and I’ll focus on three (only one of which is available right now):

  • Plow Tracker – When there’s a snow storm, the position of every snow plow will be tracked and published on a map. See Plow Tracker in action.
  • Adopt-A-Sidewalk – Claim a portion of the sidewalk that you’ll shovel, and share your equipment with neighbors (coming soon).
  • Snow Corps – Become a volunteer to shovel the sidewalk and door path to seniors and people who are disabled who call 311 to request a volunteer.

Continue reading Shovel it: How two ideas plan to impact sidewalk snow removal this winter

Replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging


In the future, you may receive a bill that shows you a map of where you drove and how much you owe. The map above shows an actual, circuitous route I took from Avondale to the Loop, and was generated by a GPS device I carry. 

This is part two of two about a seminar in October about infrastructure funding and financing held by the Metropolitan Planning Council at their office at 140 S Dearborn. The first article talked about innovative ways to fund construction of highways, airports, transit, and other capital-intensive projects. The final speaker, Dr. Paul Hanley from the University of Iowa, talked about charging drivers based not on how much gas they use, but the distance they drive. This is known under several names but here I’ll be using “mileage charge” (see note 1).

A mileage charge can make up for the loss of gas tax revenues that’s happening because of an improvement in cars’ fuel efficiency, and that Americans as a whole are driving less. It would also charge those who drive electric cars; the current gas tax system, in essence, has those who drive the least efficient automobiles pay more for 100 miles of driving on roads than those with the most efficient automobiles. Each jurisdiction you drive through could have a different charge, similar to how each state, county, and city can charge a different rate for gas taxes (see note 2). Continue reading Replacing the gas tax with distance-based charging