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

Our first year: The most popular articles


The new Halsted Street bridge over the North Branch Canal opened Friday. 

We launched on June 17th this year. We reached a few goals, and almost reached a couple others, and published 215 articles. We hit 100,000 page views in November, and we hope to double that soon, in less time.

These are the 10 most viewed articles up to December 22, 2011:

  1. Postal service making a mockery of Kinzie protected bike lane
    I’m not sure if they still are, but I know that FedEx, UPS, and moving companies continue to block the bike lane. This article received 55 comments.
  2. The second annual Bike Fashion Panel: sharp dressed men
    Dottie says: “I see a lot of women on bikes who are looking really nice, but I think I’ve only ever seen one man riding a bike in a suit”.
  3. How did progressive transportation czar Gabe Klein get that way?
    Out of the top 3 articles, this one’s been published for the shortest time. Continue reading Our first year: The most popular articles



Brasília, the capital of Brasil, is one of the cities featured in “Urbanized”. Photo by Bruno Coutinho. 

“Urbanized” is a film about cities, places where a majority of the world’s population lives today. “Urbanized looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design, featuring some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers”.

It first showed once in October at the Music Box Theater, with a discussion afterwards with director Gary Hustwit. He also created the films “Helvetica” and “Objectified“. The film has now opened at the Gene Siskel Film Center at 164 N State St. There are four remaining screenings (listed at the end of this post with the trailer).

I asked some friends for their reviews of the film.

Aaron Renn, urban analyst, author of The Urbanophile:

In Urbanized…Hustwit fails to lock in on anything as an anchor, spinning us around through various places, ideas, and bits and pieces of information, and leaving us to try to sort out for ourselves what it all means. The film, however, does not equip either the urbanist or the average viewer with any tools to do that. Read the full review.

Luke H, urban planner and fellow graduate of UIC’s urban planning college: 

Despite the fact that the film’s focus was entirely on cities and largely on the topic of city planning and design, urban planners played a shockingly minor role. This is either a failure on the part of the film maker or a wakeup call that urban planners have become largely irrelevant. I suspect the latter. It’s time we as planners broke free of our conventional, policy obsessed, design averted shackles and started inventing bold solutions to the very serious problem cities today face.

Let’s be honest: the only film urban planners are going to star in anytime soon will be titled Bureaucratized – and it will be about a profession that became so afraid of repeating past mistakes that it simply removed itself from the dialogue and left a vacuum to be filled by egomaniac architects and the cash-lined pockets of bad developers. This film is beautiful, relevant, and well researched. A must see for anyone interested in cities and the future of the human race–even if your profession is planning. Check your rubber stamp at the door.

Lindsay Banks, bicycling enthusiast & parking nerd:

I thought it was beautifully pieced together, much like his other films, on a topic that I’m very familiar with. While I didn’t learn a lot of new things, I really enjoyed the comments from the couple behind us, awed by Bogota’s TransMilenio (“Whoa, now that’s a bus!”) and their occasional “wows” over different statistics and new approaches to creating livable places. It seemed like the film may have opened their eyes to what livability could be.

The best part of the film was the mayor of Bogota talking about putting people before cars and how there is no constitutional right to a parking space. He rode a bike down an awesome, paved cycling / pedestrian path and pointed out the pothole-filled dirt road next to it. He said that when they have more money they will pave the road, but for now, people come first.

Lynn Stevens, urban planner and Peopling Places author

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to judge Urbanized in lay terms. I found it entertaining and visually expressive. It touched on issues of urban design, alternative transportation, the urgent need for housing solutions in some cities, and by extension issues of equity. Roger Ebert got more out of the film than I can even recall having seen it a couple of weeks ago, but I think that has more to do with my day-to-day existence as an urban planner who is reading about these and more urban issues all the time. The experience of the film for someone less engrossed and engaged in urban issues is bound to be different than mine for whom the content was basic.

Some time ago, I also saw Gary Hustwit’s film Helvetica. While I don’t remember particulars, I was intrigued by some of the design concepts and processes. What is germane is that for someone like me that does not live and breathe graphic design, it was interesting and intriguing, it got me thinking and was accessible in its presentation via documentary and venue of presentation on PBS.

Early viewings of Urbanized are likely to have been preaching to the choir, a self-selected group of urbanists. The film ultimately can best be measured by two questions for the lay viewer:

  • Did you learn anything from it? (and I think you will)
  • Did it stimulate your interest in urban issues? (and I think it will, but I may be biased)


Q & A after an Urbanized screening in Philadelphia with director Gary Hustwit, left. Photo by Tom Ipri. 

Screenings in Chicago

Mon, Nov 7th at 6:15 PM
Tue, Nov 8th at 6:15 PM
Thu, Nov 10th at 6:15 PM
Thu, Nov 10th at 8:15 PM

Tickets are $13. If you want to buy tickets online, you must use the poor shopping experience presented by Ticketmaster. Members of Chicago Architecture Foundation, Landmark Illinois, or the American Planning Association get a $6 discount to the Monday and Tuesday screenings if they present their membership card.



Comparing three Android transit tracker apps


Transit Tracks makes it very easy to find stops near you, and doesn’t place restrictions on how many appear in the map. 

I reviewed only the free versions. Updated October 19, 2011, to add a third transit tracker app.

Chicago Transit Tracker Lite Transit Tracks TreKing 4 Free
  • Locates nearest bus stop
  • Shows system alerts from CTA
  • Shows current temperature
  • Shows time of last update
  • Locates ALL nearby bus stops using your GPS
  • Has a more logical method to manually select bus stops and train stations
  • Allows you to group favorite stops/stations
  • Has better aesthetics – easier to read favorites listing
  • User swipes the screen to show the opposite direction bus or train
  • System map shows the familiar Google Maps and allows user to select nearby bus stops and train stations
  • When no more service, reports “No running buses”
  • Pro version offers Metra schedules and Pace bus predictions (I didn’t test this)
  • Very logical method to select your bus stop or train station (this is called a “trek”)
  • Lets you save a custom name for a specific stop or station (but gives predefined name)
  • Allows you to group saved stops/stations
  • Quick Treks feature locates nearby stops and stations
  • Pro version has a trip planner (“Trek Planner”)
  • Move, rename, or delete groups by holding your finger on the group (very easy)
  • It appears you can set alerts in the pay version that tell you when to get off the bus/train, or when the bus/train is about to arrive
  • In the pay version you can add time to the prediction so you’re less likely to miss a bus/train if it’s early
  • Only displays a single nearby bus stop in free version using your GPS
  • Shows ads in free version
  • Favorites listing appears in a confusing way
  • Shows ALL system alerts, and not ones relevant to my favorite routes
  • System map loads a CTA website
  • When no more service, reports “No arrival times”
  • To add a favorite stop manually, text search function works in unexpected way
  • To add a favorite stop manually, the choices are confusing. There are 4 choices for Addison-Blue, one for each possible terminus (Forest Park, Jefferson Park, O’Hare, UIC)
  • Does not retrieve system alerts from CTA
  • Does not show temperature
  • Does not show time of last update
  • Shows ads
  • When you first select CTA Trains as the system you want to track, a huge list of confusing caveats shows up. I don’t think they’re all true.
  • Method to select your trip route takes a lot of time
  • Selecting a “To Stop”, which is optional, doesn’t change anything
  • Shows ads
  • Quick Trek feature in free version limited to 1/8th mile (one block)
  • There isn’t a function you do without the app showing a popup to tell you about the pay version
  • Map nearly useless in free version: it will only show bus stop with ID 1
  • Map nearly useless in free version: it will only show bus route with route 1, Indiana/Hyde Park
  • Map in free version doesn’t show bus location in real-time
  • “Trek Planner” in free version only shows trip from your location to Sears Tower or Navy Pier – your choice!

On grouping: One group could be for the stops/stations you use to get to work and the other group could be for the return trip.

My recommendation: Transit Tracks. It’s very hard to review TreKing 4 Free because it seems most features are only available in the pay version.

A brand new Klein

Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein meets Chicago’s bicycle community

[flickr]photo:5843410576[/flickr] CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly at the Bike to Work Week Rally.

[This article also appears on Gapers Block.]

Today’s Bike to Work Week Rally in Daley Plaza was inspiring, a far cry from last year’s lackluster event, thanks to big plans for bicycling from new mayor Rahm Emanuel and forward-thinking transportation commissioner Gabe Klein.

Continue reading A brand new Klein