Mapping 311, Part 2: Chicago’s Worst Shoveling Scofflaws

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There's a part two! Of course there's a part two. I wouldn't crack open a resource like the one I used last week and just dip a toe in. If I'm going in, I'm going for the deep dive.

Returning readers will know that last week I did a trial run of some new mapping software to plot out snow removal complaints received by Chicago's 311 non-emergency reporting service since the start of October. But the available information in the source I used actually goes back to December 18, 2018. Now that I am more comfortable with using Leaflet it's time to dig a little deeper through that data.

Single reports across two snowstorms are great and interesting but with a full year of data we can look for trouble spots that pop up over and over. After all, missing one snowstorm worth of shoveling isn't all that bad. We've all done it now and then. But failing to shovel for an entire winter is just plain rude.

It's time to find out which of those reports should actually be points of concern for renters and buyers looking to move to a new area of the city. Today we'll be culling through the reports in the portal to find the real snow shoveling scofflaws.

Filtering the Data

I used the same Chicago Data portal table from last week but filtered a little differently. This time I pulled every row where the "SR_SHORT_CODE" field was "SWSNOREM", the city's shorthand for "Snow - Uncleared Sidewalk" complaints. I exported the data to Excel and then ran several filters on it to consolidate, count and remove duplicates.

The original data dump contained 8,190 rows. But when someone calls in an unshoveled sidewalk they won't always know the correct address so I fuzzed the geographic location to 3 decimal places, which translates to a rough estimate of 100 meters or one city block. Also, I wasn't looking for locations where the neighbors are particularly vocal but rather where the owners are particularly bad at shoveling. So I also grouped the report creation dates by week. This would allow for residents to clean up after a snowstorm and reset for the next one.

I removed any locations where all of the complaints occurred in a single week. I didn't want to get someone in trouble for going on vacation during one particular weather event. I was looking for blocks where the owners failed to shovel week after week across a full year.

Finally I counted all the duplicates and consolidated them into 1,051 single points. I exported this to a GeoJSON array and mapped it.

The Map

Individual locations shown below received reports during anywhere from 2 to 7 separate weeks between December 18, 2018 and November 22, 2019.

In the map below, 701 locations that received reports during 2 separate weeks have gray dots. Locations that were reported during 3-5 separate weeks are tinted yellow (341). The 9 locations that were reported at least 6 times are marked in red. Based on National Weather Service historical climate data, Chicago O'Hare airport has logged roughly 16 snow events and 2 heavy snow events during the same time frame.

The 9 Worst Scofflaws

With only 9 locations incurring at least 6 separate reports we can take some time to look at each of them in detail. Bearing in mind that we fuzzed the locations to a single city block we can't be sure exactly which addresses are causing problems but we can get an idea of the predominant character of each block. This may clue us in on what factors contribute to a location getting reported over and over.

  • 5100 N Sheridan: Uptown. High density residential condominiums with a bus stop.
  • 3800 N Janssen: Lakeview. 1 way residential by a Level 1+ Fine Arts Magnet elementary school.
  • 800 W Aldine: Boystown. Medium density residential intersecting with the commercial Boystown district.
  • 2300 W McLean: Bucktown. Medium density residential across the street from a Level 1+ IB elementary school.
  • 1200 N Wolcott: Wicker Park. Medium density residential, no other standout traits.
  • 1100 N State: Viagra Triangle near a bus stop. High density commercial.
  • 1000 W Jackson: Near West Side office/industrial with a large parking lot, near Target.
  • 160 W Harrison: South Loop. High density residential near the Metra depot. Lots of parking lots.
  • 5800 S Kenton: Midway. Low density residential one block from the edge of the airport grounds and the Orange Line CTA Terminal.

It's clearly apparent that most of these areas have some attraction nearby that serves as a big pedestrian draw for people who are likely to have their phones, be concerned for the welfare of others and be sufficiently educated to know about 311. School playgrounds. Big nightlife spots like Boystown and the Viagra Triangle.

Neighbors aren't narcing on their neighbors. They can walk next door and say, "hey, would you mind shoveling?" It's the outsiders passing through these heavy foot traffic areas who are making all of these reports.

Of course there are plenty of other elementary schools and nightlife districts throughout Chicago. There's also one completely nondescript location on the list above at 1200 N Wolcott. I'm not sure if these 9 locations have really careless owners, really vocal pedestrians, or a combination of both. (Although let's face it, it's probably both.)


The distribution of reports is quite similar between last week and this week. Heavy in the north, sparse in the south. But the addition of the color coding reveals something interesting. The north side's dots are mostly low severity locations with just two reports in the span of a year. The south side has a lot more of the medium severity yellow dots. This tells me that the North side pedestrians are varying their routes throughout the winter while the South siders are taking the same routes over and over.

There's certainly a correlation between high foot traffic and complaints as we saw above. The discussions about the lack of businesses, grocery stores and other public attractions on the south side have been plentiful across the news and civic blogosphere. People walk on sidewalks when there's something close by for them to walk to. During the winter they will for the most part only do so if it's an essential need. The sparseness of the dots on the south side is a clear demonstration of how sparse the points of interest actually are throughout this region.

But what about the areas with no dots at all? There's big chunks of the city with no dots. Some are along the rivers of course but there's also huge swaths of the south and west side that must have shoveling problems but don't see the reporting problems. For me the answer lies in the comparison between the map above and this color coded map of Chicago's race demographics. It may just be me seeing correlation without causation, but what I'm seeing here is an absence of familiarity? Trust? Awareness? of the 311 system within Chicago's black community.

So if you're going to own property on a block that gets a lot of pass through pedestrian traffic, make sure you've got someone on board to shovel the walks. If those pedestrians are parents of gifted children, business travelers or wealthy socialites you might want to plan on preventive salting.

If you're looking for new housing this is probably a good map to save in your browser. Remember that only 1% of people are likely to make reports, so even a gray dot can indicate a bigger problem on the block in question. One lot with an unshoveled walk might be OK, you can always cross the street or walk on the snowy grass instead of the sidewalk. But having to do so day after day through an entire winter is going to get really annoying not to mention potentially hazardous.

People with trouble walking and those with pets can potentially use this map to help them plan their travel routes through the city. Avoiding any block with a dot might make your walk easier although judging by the density of the dots it could also make it much longer.

If you're someone who makes a spare buck shoveling other people's walks in the winter, maybe you can use this as a planning tool to figure out people to target. They clearly need the help.

Can you figure out any other interesting connections based on the map? Let me know in the comments! Also as usual if you want to see maps any of the other 311 complaints just give me a shout.

Thanksgiving Reminder

Next week there will be no article due to the Thanksgiving Holiday. Enjoy the week and I'll see you in December!

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Published by

Kay Cleaves