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Track Your Bus over Coffee in Wicker Park/Bucktown

This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.

WPB, the newly renamed easier to remember name of the Special Service Area tax district that works with the Wicker Park/Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, is putting CTA bus tracker data to great use in its eponymous twin near-northwest neighborhoods. How about video screens in your favorite local shops and cafes telling you at a glance how long you can linger before heading out to the bus stop? Wicker Park/Bucktown now has a network of them.

Recently, WPB program manager Jamie R. Simone (AICP, LEED APWPB) and Chris Lackner, principal of the PR firm Lackner/Andrews, walked me through the finer points of the video kiosks at Red Hen Bread on Milwaukee Avenue, where one of the screens is located.

The screens grew out of WPB’s master plan, completed 18 months ago, which sought to make real-time use of CTA’s bus tracker info in the district’s service area (find a PDF map of the district’s boundaries boundaries here.) Around the same time, digital signage company Redpost approached the chamber to explore the potential to roll out a network of neighborhood video screens to promote local news and carry local advertising.

The two ideas merged in the creation of a pilot network of video kiosks installed in 11 locations along the major shopping and transportation corridors of Milwaukee, Damen, and North avenues. The screens, which went live in November, display a real-time scroll of arrival information for CTA bus routes adjacent or nearby to the establishments in which they’re located.

The screens also display a map of the entire network, and carry neighborhood and Ward news and announcements–but at least as of yet, no commercial advertising. Instead, WPB funds the project through the Special Service Area’s own funds and monies collected from organizations submitting news items to be displayed on the screens.

“Our hope is for people to come to see the kiosks as a system,” Simone told me. “And with the CTA service cuts coming in February, information like this is going to become a lot more valuable, too.”

WPB would like to expand the system, and is in discussions with the CTA to post promotional information about the kiosks at local bus stops. For now, the network is promoted by window clings affixed to the outside of participating establishments.

Simone says that no establishment approached by WPB has said no to the bus tracker kiosks. I don’t doubt it. My original reaction to hearing about them was to think, “But I can already look up bus tracker info on my mobile phone.” But I have to pull out my phone, hope for a signal, and connect to bus tracker in order to find the same info a three-second sideways glance at the Red Hen kiosk told me about CTA bus arrival times.

It’s not the kind of time savings that seems significant until you save time by doing it. Especially if you’re a Wicker Park/Bucktown hipster who’s always on the go and looking for any excuse not to have to lift the cell phone away from your face for any reason.

Which, of course, means WPB is one neighborhood organization that has its local populace pegged. The kiosks are a perfect fit, and once you use them you’ll like wish your neighborhood had them, too.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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