ArcGIS Pro – My New Favorite Software

ArcGIS Pro ScreenShot of 3D Map

As a public works professional, one of the best things you can do in the new year is to check out ArcGIS Pro – a GIS mapping software by ESRI. I admit, like many GIS software products, ArcGIS Pro can be a little overwhelming to use right out of the box. Even though I am a regular user of ESRI’s older product, ArcMap, the user interface was nothing like what I was used to and the workflows somewhat different. But after trying it out for a few weeks, I have found ArcGIS Pro offers more effective features that increase flexibility, capabilities, and ease of use. It was definitely worth taking the time to figure it out.

If your workplace does not yet have a subscription, you can download a free trial to try it out. Because the new software is so different from past products, I went through the great tutorials ESRI has on their website to help me learn the software. After completing these trainings, I felt confident in making the switch to ArcGIS Pro for all of my GIS work.

The best way to explore what ArcGIS Pro offers is to download the software and use it yourself so I won’t try to lay it all out here in this post. Instead I included a few screenshots from the tutorials so you can get an idea of the layout and look. The data displayed is for Wellington, New Zealand and is provided by ESRI for use in the tutorials.

In the screenshot below, you can see the menus are displayed across the top in a manner similar to other Windows-based products. A content window is located on the left and lists the data included in the map. When you start accessing other menus such as catalog or symbology, they will show up in this same space. Then you can switch between them by clicking the tab for each located at the bottom of the window. In this image, I only have the content and catalog menus open.

ArcGIS Pro ScreenShot of MapArcGIS Pro screenshot of a 2D map

You can also see in this image several tabs shown above the map window. This is because ArcGIS Pro allows you to create multiple maps and layouts as a project rather than just creating one map at a time. With this format it is easy to switch between maps and layouts and copy data from one map to another. In the image below, a layout for this project is displayed.

ArcGIS Pro ScreenShot of LayoutArcGIS Pro screenshot of a layout

The other feature I really like is the ability to easily create 3D maps. Below is another screenshot of a map showing buildings in Central Wellington, New Zealand. This map displays the same data as shown in the layout in the image above, but in a 3D format. I clicked on one of the buildings to get a pop-out window of the information stored for that structure. Also I had changed the basemap to get an aerial view which displays more of a picture of the ground.

ArcGIS Pro ScreenShot of 3D MapArcGIS Pro screenshot of a 3D Map with data displayed

Finally in the screenshot below, I had clicked in the Analysis menu to display some of the tools available. You can customize these display windows to show tools you frequently use.

ArcGIS Pro ScreenShot of Analysis ToolsArcGIS Pro screenshot of available tools in the Analysis menu

Another added bonus with ArcGIS Pro is the integration ESRI included between the software and ArcGIS Online. With the Share menu, you can easily copy your maps to your ArcGIS Online account where they can be displayed as web maps or used to create other applications such as story maps.

To give you an idea of why being able to easily share to ArcGIS Online is so important and powerful, I included just a couple examples of maps created and shared through that online service. The first is a very useful map created by the Maryland DOT. People can use this web map to figure out which entity has maintenance responsibility for any road in the state:

Maryland DOT Maintenance Responsibility Web Map

Another great example is this story map of public transit in Melbourne, Australia. This particular application displays a lot of the features and capabilities offered by story maps:

Melbourne Australia Transit Story Map

Finally, if your office doesn’t offer ArcGIS Pro for your own use or your free trial runs out, ESRI offers a fairly low-cost subscription option for people who just want access to the software for personal, non-commercial use. You can find out more about ArcGIS Pro for personal use here:



National Institute of Building Sciences Updates Mitigation Savings Ratio

Elevated House

On January 11, 2018, the National Institute of Building Sciences released their Natural Hazard Mitigation Strategies: 2017 Interim Report. This document reports an update to their 2005 determination of a mitigation benefit cost ratio of 4:1 where “for every $1 spent by FEMA on hazard mitigation, it is $4 in future benefits.” The new study has found this ratio has increased to 6:1 meaning “on average, mitigation grants funded through select federal government agencies can save the nation $6 in future disaster costs, for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation.”

The new study also broke out benefits of exceeding specific requirements of the 2015 model building code. It reports that, “on average, investments in hazard mitigation measures that exceed provisions of the 2015 model building code can save the Nation $4 for every $1 spent.”

While having additional data explains some of the finding of increased savings, there are other reasons this ratio is reported to be higher than the 2005 ratio. The newer study took a more in-depth look at costs and benefits and leveraged better analytical technologies.  This approach allowed for the inclusion of additional factors not considered in the 2005 study such as the following benefits and costs:

  • Benefits associated with avoided cases of PTSD.
  • Cost of lost wages
  • Losses in household productivity
  • Cost of pain and suffering

Another difference is the new study uses a discount rate of 2.2%. But even though this rate is below the higher discount rate used by the Office of Management and Budget, the study reports the measures remain cost-effective at the higher rate. This study also took into account information from 23 years of grants from EDA and HUD while the original analysis only looked at grants from FEMA.

You can read more about the entire study and findings at the National Institute of Building Sciences Website.  At this link you will be asked to provide your name and some brief contact information to download a summary, the full report, and fact sheets.


The Day the FCC Took Broadband out of the Right of Way

Communications infrastructure in right of way

The use of public right of way is regulated by local or state government subject to local and state laws. Typically if a utility wants to install infrastructure in the public right of way, it must apply for and obtain a permit from the  government agency which has jurisdiction over the right of way. The installation and use of that infrastructure is then subject to the terms of that permit. Sometimes the issuance of the permit and the use is also subject to a franchise agreement negotiated between the local government and the utility. Utilities are also installed in utility easements which are designated on recorded plats of subdivisions. Private property owners typically own the underlying land which is subject to this easement. And the installation of the utillity in these easements is regulated by the local government through a permit and sometimes a franchise agreement. There have been additional regulations imposed through telecommunications acts. Often local government is restricted by these state or federal laws on the level of regulation that can be imposed on a public utility. Due to the telecommunications laws I have never heard of a use that was denied and instead have heard of court cases forcing cities to allow broadband companies to install their equipment in the right of way even when that installation was opposed by the city and the public.

Because the right of way and public utility easements are limited in area and because they are designated for public use, private parties are usually not granted permanent use of the right of way. Occasionally, limited uses are allowed such as street seating for restaurants or dog fences or sprinkler systems. In the case of use by a private entity, a legal agreement between the private entity and the local government is executed to permit the use. The local and state government has much more ability to charge fees and establish parameters for the use of public right of way when the applicant is not a utility or telecommunications company.

Keeping all that in mind, I can't help but wonder what will be the consequences of the FCC's net neutrality decision. From what I understand the premise of this action is the FCC is no longer going to define broadband companies as utilities and telecommunications. It appears instead the FCC's official position will be broadband companies are providing information services. Currently all of the major broadband companies have significant infrastructure in the right of way. Does this removal of a designation as a utility/telecommunication company mean local and state government can now regulate them as a private company? How about charge annual fees for use of the public right of way? And what about the infrastructure in public easements on private property? Is it legal for the company to keep its infrastructure in that utility easement? Can private property owners demand removal or payment? The next time a broadband company tries to install its Internet related equipment in my community, will the court again force the city to allow its installation as it did last time? Or since it's no longer a utility or telecommunication company, will the city prevail at denying the company access to the right of way?

With all the discussion online about the upcoming FCC decision, I've been surprised to see only one article touching on these issues and questions. The author of that article, "Ajit Pai's Net Neutraility Shell Game," suggested this reclassification will not take place and that this action by the FCC is only a ploy to force lawmakers into a position to concede even more power to broadband companies through additional telecommunication legislation. But if the FCC does end up moving forward with what they propose, I would expect eventually some local agency will test the legality of a broadband company's right to occupy the right of way. And if that litigation is found to have merit, permitting of right of way becomes a whole new playing field. 


Bike Repair Stations

Bike Repair StationFortunately for bicyclists, public agencies are not only installing more bike trails, lanes, and shared use paths. Over the last few years many are also recognizing the need for support facilities and adding bike repair stations along these routes. The Fixit station shown in the photo above has an air pump to the left and a bike mounting/repair station on the right. This specific type of station includes the following tools which hang inside the station to assist in repairing your bike – a close up of these tools is shown below: Bike Repair StationTools

  • Philips and flat head screwdrivers
  • 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm Allen wrenches
  • 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 32mm box wrenches
  • Tire levers (2)

This specific model, made and sold by Dero, is available in three styles and in many different colors and finishes including galvanized, thermoplastic, and powder coated. Their website offers CAD drawings, specifications, and other information. The company also publishes a map showing where their stations have been installed which might be helpful to bicyclists who are planning their routes. According to the map, bike repair stations have been placed in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The company also offers other useful bicycle support structures such as shelters, lockers, racks, and signage.

Some agencies such as the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) have adopted an innovative idea of installing these stations at their own facilities. VCFD is taking advantage of National Bike Month to launch the installation of 16 repair stations at fire stations across the county. And they are hosting a Bike 'n' Ride event to celebrate. You can read more about the department's innovative support of their cycling community in this article in the Camarillo Acorn: "Fire stations across county to add bike repair services."


Real Time Weather Mapping with mPING

mPING weather display

mPING, a real-time weather application, offers interactive insight into what is really going on with the weather in any location around the world. Users can access the app to either anonymously submit reports of current weather at their own location or view reports from others by downloading the app from iTunes or Google Play. All reports are shown through a repeating display over a specific time frame with an icon designating the specific type of weather such as rain, drizzle, snow, flooding, wind, and hail. The same map of the reports can also be accessed online at the mPING website. The image above is a screenshot from the mPING website of recent weather in the midwest. 

The app was launched in 2012 by developers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and University of Oklahoma and the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies to assist in fine-tuning weather forecasts. According the the NOAA website, NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters can access the reports on their office workstations. This allows them to "overlay mPING reports with other data such as radar and satellite observations to aid them in their decision-making." Also the site reports that "television stations and private weather companies have the opportunity to build the ability to submit and display mPING submissions in their own branded applications, making the information available to the public in new ways."

Some tips to keep in mind while viewing the map:

  • The time frame displayed is over a three-hour period, and the time clock in the upper right corner is set to Greenwich time. (As an aside, per the NWS website: "All aspects of meteorology are based upon a world-wide 24-hour clock called Zulu time (Z), more commonly called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). You will notice all weather maps, radar, and satellite images all have their time expressed in "Z". The Zulu term stems from military usage while Coordinated Universal Time is the civilian term for this 24-hour clock.")
  • You can start and stop the play of the weather reports by clicking the play/pause button in the upper right. This is the top button in the vertical line of three buttons located under a layer button.mPING menu buttons
  • A legend for the icons can be found by clicking the middle button in the vertical line of three buttons located in the upper right of the screen. Below is a screenshot of the legend which will slide out after clicking this button. This legend also shows the type of reports which can be submitted. (Click the image for a higher resolution view.)mPING Icon Legend
  •  The bottom button in the vertical line of three buttons can be used to turn on and off the history of weather. Turning it on means that over the three-hour display all weather events will remain showing in the display. Turning it off means that as the weather plays out over the three-hour time period shown, you will only see weather reports at the time they were reported.
  • The layer button at the very top of the upper right of the screen allows the user to change to a topographic background instead of the black default background shown here.