Vote on the best apps for metro Chicago


The Grand Challenge of the Apps for Metro Chicago Contest starts today. Everyone will have the opportunity to vote for the best apps that take Chicagoland data and make it more useful, interesting, or engaging. Apps can be for the web, or specific smartphone operating systems. Winners get recognition and cash prizes.

I’ve re-submitted the Bikes on Metra app my friend and I worked on. We weren’t finalists in the first round, about transportation, and I didn’t make any changes in the re-submission because I’m working on so many projects (book club being the latest).

So browse the gallery and leave your votes at 4 PM. Voting ends Monday, December 12, at 4 PM. I hope things go better this time around than in the first round, after the rules changed and the first batch of votes were invalidated.

Aside from Bikes on Metra (described below), I’d like to promote Chicago Lobbyists. This website shows which client paid which firm’s lobbyist how much to lobby which City department. The creators developed version 2 for the Grand Challenge, which incorporates additional data they were able to obtain after a meeting with Chicago’s Chief Data Officer, Brett Goldstein (a new position Mayor Emanuel created). All of the data is online for anyone to download, browse, and manipulate, at the City of Chicago Data Portal.

Interesting tidbits from Chicago Lobbyists

Bikes on Metra

This new website grew out of a personal project, suggested to me by a different friend, to quickly ascertain whether she could bring her bike on Metra at the moment or not. The original was called “Can I bring my bike on Metra right now?” That’s not a title I could quickly communicate, thus the new name to go along with the new website.

Why does that question need a website devoted to its answer? The rules for bringing bikes aboard Metra aren’t particularly complicated, nor do they change often, but the rules are lengthy making them hard to remember. Can I bring my bike on outbound trains before 3 PM or before 4 PM? Can I bring my bike on inbound trains after 9 AM or 9:30 AM? The answers are 3 PM and 9:30 AM, respectively.


A screenshot of the homepage. Notice that I still call it by its old name, but the app title is Bikes on Metra. The homepage shows you quickly, yes or no, if you can bring your bike aboard Metra. 

Bikes on Metra still gives you that answer, but visualizes it differently in an effort to communicate it even faster. But if you can’t bring your bike aboard now, the graphic helps you understand when you can bring it aboard. Additionally, there’s a location-aware bike rack finder: using the GPS on your mobile phone, or the wifi on your personal computer, your web browser can tell the app where you are, then show you bike racks nearby. The app queries the Chicago Bicycle Program’s Bike Parking database live so that it always has the latest information on bike parking locations*. I made my best efforts at making this web app, originally designed for personal computers, to appear nicely on iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, and Android smartphones.

Share in the comments what apps in the gallery you think deserve to win.

*It only finds bike racks installed by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

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