The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Better information leads to happier commuters

Two days each week I have to go out to a client's office about 40 km from home. Only one route works to get me there, and that route includes the infamous Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) leading to the west from the Chicago Loop.

In the last few years, though, the Illinois Dept. of Transportation and neighboring agencies have created Travel Midwest, which has vast stores of traffic data. This has helped me stay sane. The site allows you to query the database to find out, in simple visual charts, when traffic is worst.

This chart compares my morning commute from the Circle Interchange to Wolf Road (22½ km). The red line shows travel times Monday through Thursday; blue line shows Friday times. (The data are from the last 12 months.) This shows why I hit the road around 8:30, instead of earlier, which gets me to the Eisenhower around 9 and here by 9:30:

But here's the return trip; again, Monday-Thursday is red and Friday is blue:

Then there's the chart going the opposite direction right now:

In the chart above, the thick red line shows the mean travel time, and yellow area shows 1 standard deviation on either side of the mean. The lines at 15, 23, and 56 minutes represent 88 km/h (full legal speed), 56 km/h, and 24 km/h. At the moment, the 65-minute travel time means traffic is moving at the breakneck speed of 20.6 km/h, which most bicyclists would find a relaxing speed.

I think I'll stay put for a while. Damn.

Having this information makes it relatively easy not to travel when everyone else is on the road. Yeah, I get home a little later, but the cost to me of spending 30 minutes in slow traffic is higher than the cost of shifting my commutes an hour forward.

Why am I inside?

We have our first really great spring day—it's 18°C and sunny—and I'm inside. It's also the warmest day we've had since November 13th (21°C).

That is all. Back to the mines.

Happy birthday, Chicago

The City of Chicago received its first city charter 175 years ago today:

Chicago's earliest charters reflected its small population, restricted geographic area, and limited governing needs. These first town charters were conferred in 1833 and 1835, when only a few hundred settlers clustered on a small site along Lake Michigan. Under its town charters, Chicago was governed by an elected Board of Trustees which wielded little political or financial power. In 1837 Chicago received its first city charter, which divided the city into six wards, allowed for a mayor elected to a one-year term, and legally incorporated Chicago as a municipality. The city grew so rapidly thereafter that new charter legislation was constantly needed. In 1847 charter legislation increased the wards to nine and designated annual elections for a city attorney, treasurer, tax collector, and surveyor. Still another charter was granted in 1851, followed by more charter legislation in 1853, 1857, and 1861.

On 4 March 1837, Chicago had 4,170 people spilling out of 250 Ha; today, with 2.6 millions in 567 km², we're the 3rd largest city in the U.S. and the 53rd largest in the world. (The metropolitan area, with 9½ million people, is 29th largest in the world.)

On the day Chicago became a city, the spot where I'm sitting was a few meters above a marshy beach, 4 km outside of town. Today it's considered "downtown" in one of the most vibrant and well-balanced cities in the world. And it's my home.

It really was a warm winter

While Chicago finished its ninth-warmest (meteorological) winter in history on February 29th, Illinois as a whole finished its third warmest:

This year the average winter temperature was 1.2°C, 2.9°C above normal, and the third warmest winter on record. Here are the top four warmest winters. As you can see, we had a two-way tie for second place.

  • First place, the winter of 1931-32 at 2.8°C;
  • Second place, a tie between 1997-98 and 2001-02 at 1.4°C;
  • Third place, this winter at 1.2°C.

Not only was it warm in terms of the average temperatures, but this winter lacked the really cold weather. Only a few place had temperatures drop below zero [Fahrenheit, -17.2°C]. The coldest reading for the winter was a mere -21°C at both Galena and Elizabeth in the far northwestern corner of the state.

Chicago had no days below zero Fahrenheit, thanks to the inland sea next to us.

We're now looking forward to a warm and wet spring...

The dry wedge

That's where Chicago found itself today, inside the warm, dry southern sector of a major winter storm. The temperature got up to 15°C, with 65 km/h wind gusts, but as the cold front has pushed through behind the dry wedge, temperatures have fallen 6°C in the last three hours.

Still, today we finish the 10th warmest winter in recorded history:

Meteorological winter finishes as it began in Chicago---milder than normal. The three month season is noteworthy on a number of fronts. It's the mildest winter in 14 years and has posted more 40-degree (Fahrenheit) and warmer temperatures than any winter in the 80 years since 1931-32. It also ranks 10th mildest of the past 142 winter seasons.

Each of the three months of soon-to-close meteorological winter 2011-12 have posted temperature surpluses. February becomes the fifth consecutive month in Chicago to finish with temperatures which have averaged above normal. And as if that's not impressive enough, a stunning 76 of this winter season's 91 days—84 per cent of them—have finished at or above normal!

Climatologists predict that spring will be warm and wet as well. I can definitely get used to winters like this, though.

Late-season cooling dashes hopes of record warmth

We came close. Mid-January it looked like Chicago would have its warmest winter in 80 years, but with the cool-down last weekend, the ranking has slipped a bit:

Two days remain in February and the 2011-12 meteorological winter season! It closes at midnight Thursday and is on track to finish the 10th-warmest December through February period of the past 142 years.

Estimates that this season's average Chicago temperature is to come in at 0.3°C places it 3°C above the long-term average and the mildest here since 1997-98's 0.5°C average.

But:

The chances for a -18°C or lower temperature occurring this late in the cold season are fading fast. Prospects "low" at best. Failure to produce a 0-degree reading would make this only the 13th cold season since the city's observational record began in 1870 to be "zero-free" and mark the first time in the three decades since 1982-83 that a winter has failed to produce a single -18°C temperature here.

While this winter's limited chill and lack of snow have garnered a good deal of attention, so has its generous number of 4.4°C and warmer days. The last winter winter with as many 40s (°F) occurred 80 years ago.

Even though we didn't get quite to the record, we're still quite happy that we went from fall to spring with only about four days of winter. I, personally, could get used to this.

Let there be light!

At this time of year, people from the tropics to the poles really become aware of changes in the lengths of the days. Yesterday Chicago had 11 hours of daylight for the first time since October 18th; we get 12 hours of daylight less than three weeks from now. Tuesday the sun set at 5:30pm for the first time since standard time returned on November 5th; it sets at 7pm on March 16th.

From the solstice through February 1st we only get about one additional hour of daylight (though, because of the Earth's orbit, most of it comes in the evening). But the really dramatic changes are now: from February 20th to April 20th, we get 3 more hours of daylight—an average of 3 minutes per day. Plus, the second weekend of March puts us into Daylight Saving Time, so sunsets occur more than two hours later in April than in February.

A direct result of lengthening days is increasing temperatures. It turns out that summer temperatures don't predict winter temperatures at all, but winter temperatures predict summer temperatures quite well. With only 12 days of snow on the ground this year, the warmest winter since the 1920s has felt more like Raleigh, N.C., than Chicago. This means, of course, next summer will feel like Raleigh as well. I can't wait.

Early ice-off in the northern suburbs

Nature Nerd Naomi observed ice-free ponds up near Gurnee about three weeks earlier than normal:

Finally, there is no ice at all on the lakes today... late last week, some kids in my neighborhood fell through the ice... meaning that it wasn't thick, but there was an ice cover. Yesterday about half the water area was covered on most lakes, and today, nothing. This is an early ice-off, as you can see if you look at the dates below. (The kids were rescued, btw.)

2006 -- Mar 10
2007 -- Mar 18
2008 -- Mar 31
2009 -- Mar 9
2010 -- Mar 18
2011 -- Mar 18
2012 -- Feb 22!

Winter weirdness continues

With only a week left in meteorological winter, Chicago's weather continues its near-record mildness:

With 4°C+-degree highs predicted the next two days, the tally of 40s (°F) will grow to 46 by Thursday's close. That's nearly twice the 141 year average of4°C or milder temperatures through Feb. 23 and just shy of six times last winter's total of 8 days in the 40s over the same period.

In only 6 other winters----all but one of them occurring prior the beginning of the last century in 1900---have as many or more 40s been logged through Feb. 23. The most recent winter with a comparable number of 40s occurred in 2001-02 when 47 were on the books.

But: "An in-house analysis of a series of mild winters---not unlike this one---continues to indicate a bias toward warmer than normal summer weather, including more 90s (°F) than usual. In 7 of 10 years we examined, summer (June through August) temperatures and 32°C tallies each finished above normal."

Apparently summer temperatures don't influence winter temperatures as much as the other way round. I like warm winters; warm summers, not so much. We'll see.

San Francisco MUNI buses issue tickets

If you're driving in San Francisco, don't block the MUNI:

By early next year the city's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. A city employee then reviews the video to determine whether or not a violation has occurred — there are, of course, legitimate reasons a car might have to occupy a bus lane for a moment — and if so the fines range from $60 for moving vehicles to more than $100 for parked cars.

City officials consider the pilot program a success. "Schedule adherence" has improved, according to that update, as has general safety, since access to proper bus-stop curbs is impeded less often. In addition, the number of citations issued has risen over the past three years — from 1,311 in 2009 to 2,102 in 2010 and 3,052 last year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

At the root of the problem is a disconnect between the automobile and transit worldviews, transit planner Jarrett Walker explains in his excellent new book, Human Transit. (More on this in the coming days.) While an empty bus lane is actually a functional bus lane, an empty car lane is a wasted car lane, so drivers are quick to capitalize on what they view as a transportation inefficiency.

That's pretty cool. In principle, I approve of automated parking enforcement, such as Chicago's street sweeper cameras, even though I've had to pay fines as a result. Fair enforcement is all right with me. (But don't get me started on how Chicago puts up street-sweeping signs the day before...)