Thursday, April 25, 2019

Flood of 2019: GIS for road status and other government information

While I was researching the Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River, I accessed (April 21, 2019) a MoDOT page. No matter which page I went to, there was a banner saying that I-29 was closed at mile marker 57 at St. Joseph due to flooding, and it recommended that you use I-35 to I-80. So I followed a link to a status map. I finally found the Mile Marker Search button at the top of the page to give me this display:
MoDOT Map, accessed 12:12pm CDT on Apr 21, 2019
(I accessed this map again on 4/21/19 to see what GIS platform it uses. A crawl at the bottom indicating that I-29 is still flooded at mile marker 57 is still running. The crawl covers up the "Powered By" answer.)
This is the relevant part of the key on the left side of the page.

It is weird that the most significant flooding location doesn't have a flood icon on it.

GIS stands for Graphic Information Systems. It occurred to me that GIS is an industry that has grown along with the World Wide Web industry. When I was reading the MoDOT web source code to find the waterways photo below, I learned how much HTML has changed since I used to write it in the 1990s.
The status map key also shows winter weather status. This map looks so useful that I wondered if Illinois DOT had something similar. But first of all, I wanted to determine how easy it is to find this map from the MoDOT home page. It is very easy. In fact, it is the first big icon on the home page. While on the home page, I poked the Multimodel icon. The Waterways icon says: "The waterways unit assists authorized cities and counties in forming port authorities to foster use of Missouri's navigable rivers to make low-cost waterborne transportation benefits available to business." A "Learn More" poke got me to the Wateways page. The banner background was so neat, I figured out how to access a clear image of it. Their summary bragged about the Missouri river, but this is obviously the Mississippi.
MoDOT Banner Image
To finish the comparison, I went to the IDOT home page. A Getting Around Illinois "Learn More" link takes you to a page full of icons. After bookmarking that page, I chose "Road Closures Due to Flooding" and got this map. Unfortunately, I could not find a key. I assume the scale for the dots is yellow, orange, red, and purple.
IDOT accessed on Apr 21, 2019
IDOT accessed on Apr 25, 2019
This is what you get if you click the bar-in-a-circle icon at the Quad Cities:
Clicking the purple icon in the Quad Cities area got me to this page. Note that there was another big storm that dumped more snow and rain on the upper plains a few days ago.
I'm glad to see that Illinois DOT has joined the 21st century and now displays geographic information like road construction activity on maps. It used to be that construction areas were just listed in a text file. And not too long ago real-time information like flood closures wouldn't even be on their web site. I went back and tried all of the icons.
  • Current Conditions Road Construction is not accurate! It does not show the mess at the intersection of I-88 and I-294. (Unless that construction didn't take too long. Maybe I need to try using I-88 again.)
  • Current Conditions Traveler Information has incident reports, construction, delayed traffic, and camera locations. The camera at the intersection of I-88 and I-294 shows the traffic flowing. Again, maybe that construction is done. Unfortunately, IDOT doesn't have any cameras covering the eastbound choke point on I-290.
  • Road Construction was broke. The tab displayed "ArcGIS Web Application" and the body displayed a animated icon, for as long as I was willing to wait. I assume an Illinois server is not providing the information that ArcGIS needs to build a display. 
  • Travel Midwest Information indicates in the small print at the bottom that several states cooperated with the UIC Artificial Intelligence Lab. The map data comes from NAVTEQ.
  • Metro-East St. Louis has Esri in the fine print.
  • Getting Around Peoria doesn't have a map interface.
  • Scenic Byways flashes ArcGIS in the tab that is quickly replaced by Map Viwer. Unlike the above icons, this page did not open a new tab. So I had to be careful to use the "Back" arrow instead of the window close X.
  • IDOT Bicycling   I chose DuPage county, but nothing happened. So this interface defeated me.
  • Rest Areas is another ArcGIS that loads quickly. On 4/25/19, the map shows four of them are closed.
  • Road Closures Due to Flooding is ArcGIS.
  • Road Closures is ArcGIS.
  • Current Road Construction Table is just a bunch of text.
  • Illinois Tollway Construction is Ersi with Garmin, NGA, and USGS. I recognize Garmin as the manufacture of my GPS device for a car. USGS is the federal organization that does the Topo maps. I don't know what NGA is. There were a lot of lane closure icons!
  • E85 Biodiesel Stations   This also shows electric charging stations. It is a U.S. Department of Energy site. The fine print is "MapTiler" and "Open StreetMap contributors." It shows what I discovered after I bought my minivan that has FlexFuel --- I'm lucky to live just a few blocks from a station that has E85.

One GIS web interface I have used extensively during the five years that I have been writing this blog is a map interface to aerial photos of Illinois made in the late 1930s: To zoom in to the part of the state I was interested in, I first used the icons on the left. Then I discovered that you can sweep out a red rectangle around your area of interest using the mouse. When you release the mouse button, it will zoom into that area. Unfortunately, I can't use a screensaver to get a snapshot of a red rectangle for demo purposes because both tools need the mouse. But here is a result of selecting the near northside of Chicago to find the photo for the gasometer that was south of Goose Island.
Then, when you click a red dot, you get a popup offering links to different file formats for the map image. Fortunately, they added "jpg" a couple of years ago because "tif" is big (and breaks some viewers!) and "sid" needs a special app that you have to find and download.

It used to be that when you clicked "jpg", a compressed image would open in another tab. Something changed and now it doesn't fit in a window. Since I hate panning an image with scrollbars, I save the image and use a photo viewer. I would say I use my favorite viewer, but that is still the old Microsoft photo viewer. which they disabled in Windows 10. At least they fixed Photos so that when you double click a file it quickly opens that file rather than try to find and organize every image file you have on your disk drive. And I finally learned that if I hold the "ctrl" key down while I use the mouse's scroll wheel, it zooms the image like the old viewer did. Once I have panned and zoomed to find what I want, I use the old Paint (now called Edit) program to crop the part of interest. (I've read that Microsoft is going to make it harder to access that oldie, but goodie, also.) Sometimes, what I want is not in the "dot" I selected, so I'll access the appropriate neighbor image. When using these historical aerials, you have to remember expressways and other landmarks we use today did not exist. Here is the image I wanted for my gasometer research.
1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP

Something I recently read in a Trains magazine is an interactive interface to USGS Topo Maps. I haven't used that. What I am learning to use is their interactive interface to historical topo maps. (Update: this map also uses USGS, Garmin and Esri. I also now notice that the domain name is arcgis.) Here is the same area in a 1929 map with a scale of 12,000. This is much easier to use than the interface I was using that is the Download Map link in the new interface.
Historical Topos
Another topic I have been researching is C&WI 81st Street Tower. Unlike satellite images, the resolution of the historical aerials is not good enough to count tracks. So I did the following experiment with a 1929 map with a scale of 12,000. The area of interest is in the upper-right corner of the Blue Island map. Otherwise, I would have included more track to the north and east. Gresham Junction is in the lower-left corner of this excerpt.
USGS 1929 Blue Island Topo Excerpt
I zoomed in to experiment with the resolution. You can zoom in until you see imperfections in the paper! So I backed off to this level of resolution. I'm going to have to study some areas I'm familiar with to better learn how the contour lines depict track elevation and road underpasses.
USGS 1929 Blue Island Topo Excerpt
As an experiment concerning the accuracy of drawing tracks, I looked at the 21st Street Crossing. The depiction of lots of tracks is not accurate.
USGS 1929 Englewood Topo Excerpt
Unfortunately, when you use the Download option, the smallest scale is 24,000. It really makes you appreciate the importance of the 12,000 scale in the interactive maps. For example, scroll down in CB&Q's 1860s Industrial Park where I added topo maps of each scale.

Sometimes procrastination pays off. The day after I had intended to publish, the Chicago Tribune had an article on page 3 about "Tech takes up fight against flooding." The photos in the printed version were black&white, but I notice the digital version has color.
Chicago Tribune, Apr 23, 2019, Page 3, "Tech takes up fight against flooding"
Most of the article is about GIS technology. Other technology used to analyze flooding is drones and high-resolution sonar.

The article also provides some information about the Flood of 2019. "U.S. scientists said in their spring weather outlook that 13 million people are at risk of major inundation, with more than 200 river gauges last week showing some level of flooding in the Mississippi River basin....'There are over 200 million people that are under some elevated threat risk,' said Ed Clark, director of the National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala, a flood forecasting hub. Much of the technology, such as the National Water Model, didn't exist until recently. Fueled by supercomputers in Virginia and Florida, it came online about three years ago and expanded streamflow data by 700-fold, assembling data from 5 million miles of rivers and streams nationwide, including many smaller ones in remote areas."

This article also taught me about Esri. Specifically, "Engineers monitoring levees along the Mississippi River have been collecting and checking data using a geographic information system produced by Esri, said Nick Bidlack, levee safety program manager for the Memphis district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The company produces mapping tools such as an interactive site showing the nation's largest rivers and their average monthly flow."

Today's [4/25/2019] Chicago Tribune has "Tool helps you locate neighborhood construction projects" by Mary Wisniewski. Mary is the Tribune reporter that specializes in city transportation issues. ChiStreetWorks, "which became public on Tuesday, allows residents to see the location of current and proposed road repair and utility projects in every neighborhood." The GIS techonology for this site is: "Powered by DoIT, CDOT, Collins Engineers, SADA Systems, Google Maps" Mary reports: "The web-based system was initially developed internally for planning purposes so that CDOT could do a better job of coordinating construction, said CDOT spokesman Michael Claffey. The information had previously been available only to CDOT staff, aldermanic offices and utility companies, the city said." The home page specifies: "The application was created to help facilitate project coordination between city agencies and utilities, and to provide city residents with valuable information about various construction activities and street impacts throughout the City. These activities include construction projects, special events, and roadway moratoriums."

I can relate to "special events." On a field trip on 8/12/2018, one of my goals was to go down Cermak Avenue to check if the track that was used by BNSF/CIRY/CB&Q had finally been pulled up. To my surprise, I could not go east of Allport Street.
So I turned right on Allport and parked. The city had closed Cermak for a street fair of some sort. I took some photos from here, and then I went home because I got the information I wanted --- the tracks had been removed.
By the way, the old Fisk Generating Station is still standing.
So I used the Pilsen Neighborhood to test ChiStreetWork. It is not very useful. Most of those icons were activities that should not impact traffic flow. For example, some of the construction icons that I checked were adding ADA aprons to allies.

I've even dabbled in GIS using Google's API. After studying a recent meander of the Wabash river at Grayville, IN, I searched for and plotted other meanders on the Wabash River. And after describing the railroads in the Western Avenue Corridor,     I plotted the junctions on a map. Unfortunately, I see both are now generating error messages and clicking on the "dots" doesn't give more information anymore. It is bad enough that Facebook keeps changing (breaking) things, now it appears I need to research what changed in Google's API.

I did another attempt to find a site of Indiana 1938ish aerial photos comparable to ILHAP. But every site that I found, that still worked, wants to sell the images. The best index tool I found was IU. Free aerial images makes me appreciate that Illinois has done something good.

No comments:

Post a Comment