New plow tracker-style website hits the web in time for today’s snow storm


Snow plows already rumbling in West Loop. Photo taken this morning by Seth Anderson.

The City of Chicago’s Plow Tracker, debuting for last week’s snow storm, has some competition from Derek Eder and Forest Gregg, a programmer and a University of Chicago graduate student, respectively. Gregg is also the author of SVO: Powering your vehicle with straight vegetable oil.

Gregg found the data feeds that were powering Plow Tracker and worked with Eder to build a site that shows where snow plows have been, intimating which streets may have been plowed. Visit ClearStreets to see if a plow has traversed your street. The site is from a new organization called Open City.

Since the discussion on this site last a week, Eder and Gregg worked with others to develop a plan for a snow plow tracking application that improves upon Plow Tracker. They notified me today that ClearStreets was the result of that collaboration. I asked Derek about what those discussions and the result.


A screenshot of ClearStreets

Why did you create ClearStreets?

We had frustration with the city’s Plow Tracker. I went to use it and it didn’t answer any questions I had, and it didn’t work very well. Forest was the first to find and take a look at the data and to see where it’s coming from, see what information it’s giving. The city is sort of revealing the data and we took it and made something interesting.

What are the differences between ClearStreets and Plow Tracker?

Plow Trackers shows you where plows are, and ClearStreets shows you where they’ve been. I think it’s more important to see which streets have been plowed. It’s impossible to follow a single moving truck icon in Plow Tracker; you could, but you can only follow one at a time, and it’s slow.

The idea behind ClearStreets is, “We have this data, why not show where they’ve been and at what time they were there”. You can see priority and which streets are getting plowed first.

What is the next step?

We might build some new features. We could take current snow fall information to see how much snow has accumulated since the last plow went by. The ClearStreets name is probably misleading, because the black line shows where plow have been and not actually that they’re plowed.

We can see how the city performed in other snow storms. We partially captured the data for the first snow storm [on Thursday, January 12, 2012]. Are there patterns in difference in how the streets were plowed? In that storm, we could show that “these streets were plowed first”, and “these were plowed last”. We could develop a prediction model, and maybe we can tell you, based on this pattern, your street will be plowed by a certain time.

How does it work?

  1. Data from city as JSON. Script converts this to GPX file.
  2. Script converts the points to streets via MatchGPX2OSM.
  3. Script reads that file and then generates a KML line segment and inserts a timestamp and PlowID and updates Fusion Tables.

The source code will be released on GitHub, a social coding website, very soon.

4 thoughts on “New plow tracker-style website hits the web in time for today’s snow storm”

    1. When they say on the website that they built this last night, they weren’t kidding. While the prep work happened over the course of a week, a lot of the programming happened overnight. It wasn’t their intention to actually make this website. Everything just kind of “fell into place”. 

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