The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices


I have 9 transit apps installed, including 1 for Portland, Oregon. Seven are reviewed here.

If you upgraded your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad this week, you’ll find yourself without transit directions in the built-in Maps application. Wednesday was the first day you could download and install the latest version of iOS 6, your iDevice’s operating system. The Maps app was previously powered by all things Google but in iOS 6 the app is powered by Apple-owned technologies and partner companies’ data. It’s been known for months that the new Maps app wouldn’t come with built-in transit directions. (However, Apple Maps does scan your phone for compatible transit apps and links you to them, or helps you find them in the App Store.)

Don’t fret, though, as there are several apps for free and purchase that take over transit directions duty. I’ll review six apps, some of which I downloaded after I started writing this post. Visit the CTA’s Transit Apps webpage for more apps.

See all the screenshots created for this post.

Buster (CTA)

Download for $1.99. Arrival times, no trip planning.

Buster has four features: a bus route list (from which you can find a specific stop), find bus stops near where you’re currently standing, favorite bus stops, and an interface to the CTA mobile Train Tracker website. The first three are quite standard among Chicago transit apps, but each has a unique way of helping you find “your” stops and bookmarking them. Continue reading The best Chicago transit apps for iOS 6 devices

Open 311 public tools and developer access for Chicago “weeks” away


Jesse Bounds talks about the “311 volley” at the last OpenGov Meetup. 

Update September 14: One month later and the Service Tracker is now live. Input your SR number and watch its status (hopefully) change. 

At the August OpenGov Meetup, Jesse Bounds, developer with Code for America, demonstrated some of the tools to interface with “Open 311” that are available now for many cities around the country to improve city services data collection and presentation. John Tolva, Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer working with Bounds and other Code for America fellows, said that a read and write programming interface for developers will be available “in weeks, not months”.

You can view two of the tools now, but neither show information from Chicago until the launch. They’re part of “311 Labs”: The Daily Brief, and Open 311 Status – both of these are designed for non-developers. Bounds also showed off the “311 Service Request Tracker”, which was designed after shipping company package tracking websites. It shows step-by-step the process for a citizen’s request for service.

Continue reading Open 311 public tools and developer access for Chicago “weeks” away

My first time driving a hybrid vehicle from I-GO Car Sharing


On Saturday I needed to pick up a bunch of houseplants from a home improvement store and it seemed like it would be a hassle to carry them safely on my Fresh Air bicycle trailer. Also, after a lot of procrastinating, I recently got my Chicago Card Plus, which provides access to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and I-GO Car Sharing, replaced after the old one cracked and stopped functioning months ago. So this seemed like a good opportunity to try out my new card by checking out a vehicle from I-GO, the nonprofit service operated by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

When I logged onto the I-GO website, I noticed that there were a couple of locations near my home in Logan Square with standard Toyota Prius hybrid cars. I-GO also offers plug-in electric hybrid Priuses, which they say can get 100 mile-per-gallon for trips under forty miles. This results in up to two-thirds lower fuel costs and emissions than the standard Prius, I-GO says, but currently all of the plug-in hybrids are located downtown. The service also recently added several Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan LEAF electric cars to their fleet.

Continue reading My first time driving a hybrid vehicle from I-GO Car Sharing

New digital information screens bring peace and quiet to CTA stations


The new screen shows estimated train arrival times most of the time. If you watch it long enough, you will see weather information. 

A new feature that debuted at the Chicago Transit Authority’s Oakton-Skokie station in April and Morgan station in May gives riders better Train Tracker information without a noisy distraction. The brand new digital information screens provide useful countdown times to the next train “at nearly all times” without the chaff offered by existing screens in the CTA system.

These screens are more informative than the loud and large Titan screens seen at more stations; they also rarely display the number of minutes until the next train. When Grid Chicago asked the CTA about its intentions in using the new screens, spokesperson Brian Steele replied, “They’re consciously designed to focus on real-time customer information, and don’t show ads, agency promotions or PSAs”.

Continue reading New digital information screens bring peace and quiet to CTA stations

Put Chicago on the path to an electrified Metra


Ed. note: Roland Solinski is a graduate student of architecture at Tulane University. “I am a Chicagoan by birth and the city runs in my blood. I’m fascinated by all aspects of urban design and urban systems, but especially transit systems and public space.” Photo is of a southbound Metra Electric train. 

In November of 2010, the Chicago Tribune published an article that shocked Metra commuters. In it, Tribune reporters revealed that massive quantities of diesel exhaust were hanging in the air on platforms at Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center. Worse, the atmosphere inside each railcar contained the same exhaust at even higher concentrations – 72 times that of a normal city street.

In numerous other cities, commuters do not need to worry about harmful exhaust fumes, because their trains run off of electric power. In fact, many cities installed rail electrification systems at the turn of the last century specifically to eliminate toxic smoke emissions, including the Illinois Central’s line right here in Chicago, now called Metra Electric. Continue reading Put Chicago on the path to an electrified Metra

BRT update: what you should know before the comment period ends Wednesday


Chicagoans inspect the presentation boards at the open house.

As part of the federal public planning process, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is required to hold at least one public meeting for any project funded by federal grants. This is the case with the Central Loop BRT project for which an open house was held Wednesday, May 2, 2012. CDOT requests comments about the project, to go on public record and to be included in a submission to the federal government, to be submitted by May 9.

You can email your comments to To help you prepare a comment, the following materials and information is being provided:

What is BRT?

In as few words as possible, it’s a bus system that offers the some of the advantages associated with rail service.

From CDOT’s fact sheet handed out at the open house, “BRT is a term applied to a variety of bus service designs that help provide faster, more efficient and more reliable services than an ordinary bus line.” “True” or “gold standard” BRT systems include these four critical elements:

  1. Dedicated lanes that no other motor vehicles can use. The Central Loop BRT project will have dedicated bus lanes with tinted pavement.
  2. Off-board fare collection. you pay before you get on the bus to speed boarding. This will not be present in the Chicago projects.
  3. Signal priority at intersections, letting the bus go first when it’s green. The Central Loop BRT project will have this.
  4. Level boarding. No stepping up or down from the bus to the street. Of the three scenarios, the “Basic” scenario would not have this. “Balanced” and “Focused” would.

Continue reading BRT update: what you should know before the comment period ends Wednesday