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The Divvy Perimeter Ride: Checking Out Bike-Share in Outlying Communities

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

This year’s Divvy bike-share expansion, beefing up the system from 300 docking stations to 476, has moved at warp speed. As of yesterday, 168 of the new stations have been installed since mid-April; The remaining seven are pending concrete pouring or other factors, and should be in by next month.

As Divvy grows, the city is also trying to make it more equitable. After the expansion, the portion of the population that lives in the service area will grow from about 53 percent to 56 percent, and several low-income communities are getting stations for the first time. Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working on a strategy to provide Divvy access for residents who don’t have credit cards, and they promise they’ll have a major announcement about this by early summer.

To get a sense of how the stations are working out on the terra nova, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, I set out to pedal the perimeter of the completed service area on a sunny afternoon earlier this month. I began my quest at the southeastern-most outpost of the system at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, a mostly African-American community. There was an eerie fog on the shoreline, and the sound of the waves mingled with birdsongs as I undocked my Divvy.

As I made my way clockwise, stopping at every station along the perimeter to snap a photo, plenty of residents approached me to ask about the system. From small children to seniors, the first question was almost always a variation on “How much does it cost to rent those bikes?” I explained that a day pass is $7, and an annual membership is $75, but you have to be careful to check in your bike within a half hour, or else you start racking up late fees.

Outside Comer College Prep, a nice-looking public school at 71st and South Chicago in Grand Crossing, little kids are using a Divvy station as a coat rack, playing with the bungees and bells, and using the cycles like exercise bikes. Diane Griffin, an adult who’s waiting for the bus, is curious about the giant blue cycles.

Like most people I’ve spoken with, she’s unclear on how the system works, such as the fact that you don’t have to return your bike to the same station you got it from. But after I explain, she warms up to the idea. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s good exercise, and it beats riding a crowded bus.”

Pedaling along the system’s perimeter turns out to be pretty comfortable, since the docks tend to be located along designated bike routes, many of which have well-marked bike lanes. I make my way west to Englewood, and north to a station at 56th and Halsted.

Bobbie Flowers, a healthcare worker who’s going to the adjacent hardware store, asks me about the system and is pleased to learn that you can use it 24/7. Although it’s been a while since she’s ridden a bike, she’s curious to try a Divvy. “It seems like a nice alternative to sitting in the car and burning gas,” she says.

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Atlanta Can’t Fix Its Traffic Problem Without Getting a Handle on Sprawl

Complaining about traffic is practically a sport in Atlanta. Which makes sense, since traffic in the region is absolutely miserable.

What’s interesting, says Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist, is how infrequently the people complaining about traffic mention the primary cause of that traffic — the region’s notorious sprawl. He says:

You can’t expect good alternatives to car travel to happen unless the built environment is accommodating to safe pedestrian and bicycle mobility. Atlantans often seem to have trouble understanding that relationship between city form and traffic flow, complaining that “MARTA doesn’t go anywhere” and not realizing that it only feels that way because the city sprawls everywhere.

Another way of stating this point comes from Fred Kent: “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

A recent article in the AJC explores the way that the automobile congestion on Atlanta roads is affecting decisions companies make about who they hire and where they locate: “Traffic becomes a factor for Atlanta businesses.” The piece includes this statement about public transit and how it is perceived as not being robust enough for convenient use. “Atlanta motorists and employers alike have long complained that the area’s traffic problems are exacerbated by a largely anemic public transportation system.”

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Meet a Police Chief Who Actually Says Reckless Driving Won’t Be Tolerated

Hinesburg, Vermont Police Chief Frank Koss speaking to a group of local schoolchildren. Photo: Twarogsclass

Hinesburg Police Chief Frank Koss. Photo: Twarogsclass

If only more police officials took dangerous driving as seriously as Frank Koss, chief of police in Hinesburg, Vermont. An outraged Koss took to the pages of his local paper this week after a 17-year-old driver killed a local cyclist, saying “this was not an accident.”

Joseph Marshall, a teenager who already had a record of reckless driving, was hurtling at 83 mph when he struck and killed bicyclist Richard Tom, 47, before crashing into a tree, killing himself.

Koss didn’t mince words:

If Joseph Marshall had not lost his life, he would have been charged with second degree murder. This was not going a little fast or even distracted driving, it was gross careless and negligent driving… Although bicyclists are always aware of the inherent danger from speeding or distracted drivers, this event crossed an unimaginable line.

Koss said he has been haunted throughout his career by driving deaths that were the result of senseless risk taking. He said his department has “zero tolerance” for that kind of behavior and felt guilty the police department hadn’t done more to prevent Marshall from driving.

If you drive in Hinesburg with no regard to others on the road, we will make sure that you are targeted until driving habits are either changed or you are taking a bus. Bicyclists and pedestrians are seriously vulnerable to mistakes by motorists and we will have zero tolerance to unsafe driving that puts lives at risk.

Contrast that with the police department in Bellevue, Washington, which this week pursued no charges or even a citation against a driver who plowed through a local apartment building and demolished a crib — the sleeping baby inside miraculously was unharmed.

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Today’s Headlines for Friday, May 22

  • New Petition From Active Trans Urges Lawmakers Not to Pass “Roads-Only” Capital Bill
  • Bike Police Try to Pull Over Stop Sign-Running Driver Who Then Hit a Bike and Kept Driving (DNA)
  • Active Trans Launches Petition Asking NICTD to Allow Bike Trail to Cross South Shore Tracks
  • State-to-Clark Portion of Riverwalk Opening Today With Bike, Kayak Rental, Tiki Bar (Sun-Times)
  • Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski Will Co-Chair Transportation Caucus (Tribune)
  • Mother of Teen Who Was Killed in DUI Crash Wears His Cap & Gown to Graduation (NBC)
  • “Low Spot” on a Curved Stretch of Track Caused Wednesday’s Metra Derailment (Tribune)
  • Repairs to the Yellow Line Will Take Several Weeks (CBS)
  • Chicago’s Population Growth Stagnant, Grew By 82 People (Chicagoist)
  • Archer Heights Man Charged With Trying to Drive Over Brother (Sun-Times)
  • Bike the Drive Takes Place This Sunday (DNA)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Talking Headways Podcast: A Positive Vibe For Chicago TOD

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On this week’s podcast, Yonah Freemark of the Metropolitan Planning Council (you may know him from The Transport Politic) shares the scoop on transit-oriented development in Chicago.

In a recent post, Yonah writes that in order to break the pattern of slow growth but ever-increasing demand, more development should happen near Chicago’s extensive transit system. We talk about why growth isn’t happening in transit-rich neighborhoods and what needs to happen for development near transit to make a difference.

Which strategy is better, expanding transit or developing near transit? And will state efforts to finance transit expansion with special taxes on real estate pay off?

Find out what Yonah has to say and let us know what you think.

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Automated Bike Rental is Coming to the Forest Preserves This Summer

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Bike and Roll will use equipment by the French company Smoove.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County recently announced that they will be offering bike rental at six locations this summer. The forest preserve district’s board approved a contract with Bike and Roll, Chicago’s largest bike rental company, which will be setting up automated rental stations, plus a staffed facility at the Dan Ryan woods. “We’re really excited to have another way to encourage people to visit the forest preserves and engage in physical activity when they get there,” said district spokeswoman Lambrini Lukeidis.

Next month, Bike and Roll (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) will open the Dan Ryan Woods concession, which will provide access to the Major Taylor Trail. Later this summer they will install bike-share-style docking stations at Tower Road, Blue Star Memorial, Bunker Hill, Caldwell Woods, and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The manned facility will offer various types of bikes and quadcycles, as well as baby seats, child trailers, and trail-a-bike attachments. For the automated stations, Bike and Roll will be using cycles and docks supplied by the French company Smoove. Each station will hold up to ten bikes, which can be rented via credit, debit, and prepaid cards, with rates beginning at $7 per hour or $28 per day. Customers can check bike availability online from mobile devices. Unlike bike-share vehicles, the forest preserve cycles must be returned to the original rental location.

“It’s a natural fit for the forest preserves to offer bike rental, because we have 300 miles of trails throughout the county,” Lukeidis. “People who know our trail system are really avid users, but a lot of people haven’t experienced them yet.” She added that the rental stations will make it easier for county residents to try cycling in the preserves if they don’t own a bike, live too far away to ride there, and/or don’t have the ability to transport their bike with a car.

Of course, CTA, Pace, and Metra accept bicycles, so that’s another option for accessing the forest preserve trails without driving. And Cook County municipalities should be developing safe, family-friendly bikeways that allow residents to pedal comfortably from their homes to their local nature area. However, the opportunity to rent a bike at a forest preserve and ride on car-free trails could serve as a gateway to cycling for many people who don’t currently ride at all. That could help build support for creating low-stress, on-street bike routes as well.

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CTA: Belmont Bypass Necessary to Accommodate Current and Future Riders

The Chicago Transit Authority published on Tuesday its federally mandated environmental assessment for the Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont flyover. The bypass is part of the Red-Purple Modernization project, which will rebuild all of the tracks from Belmont to Linden station in Wilmette, and reconstruct several stations to add elevators and other amenities.

This bypass would eliminate the intersection of northbound Brown Line trains with Red and Purple Line tracks north of the Belmont station in Lakeview, increasing capacity on the system’s busiest lines and reducing delays. The structure would allow the CTA to boost the number of trains they run each day – especially during rush hour – in response to the current growing ‘L’ ridership. It would also allow the system to accommodate new residents as more people move into North Side neighborhoods in the future.

The flyover is controversial because 21 buildings on 16 parcels of land would need to be relocated, demolished, or partially demolished. The buildings, an array of commercial, residential, and mixed-use structures, contain 47 homes and 18 active businesses. Per federal law, the CTA would pay “just compensation” based on fair market value for the properties, and pay for relocation assistance for all homeowners and tenants. While the EA mentions the number of residences, it doesn’t include the number of residents who would be affected.

Residents have also argued that the new concrete overpass would be an eyesore. Of course, this is a matter of opinion: One person’s blight is another person’s ride to work. The anonymous website Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover recently compared the structure to neighborhood-devaluing elevated freeways. However, while highways often take people past neighborhoods without stopping, transit always adds value to communities because it brings people to them.

The bypass structure is shown without any redeveloped buildings. The CTA said it would work with Alderman Tunney and the city's planning department to create a redevelopment plan. Image: CTA

A CTA rendering of the flyover with no redevelopment. The CTA said it would work with Alderman Tunney and the city’s planning department to create a redevelopment plan.

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Driver Smashes Through House, Hits Baby in Crib. Police: No Biggie!

Via Seattle Bike Blog

Whoopsie! Via Seattle Bike Blog

If you’re behind the wheel of a car, law enforcement will let you get away with just about anything — even smashing into a house and pulverizing a crib where an infant was sleeping.

Guess what the police had to say after a driver in the Seattle suburbs did just that? Here’s the story from Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog:

Someone learning to drive “mistook” the gas pedal for the brake and smashed through the wall of the Hampton Greens Apartments near the Bellevue/Redmond border Tuesday morning.

The person driving continued into a baby’s room and crushed the crib where the nine-month-old boy was sleeping.

His parents rushed into the room and dug him out of the rubble that used to be his bedroom. By some miracle, the baby was not hurt.

But after only a couple hours of investigation, Bellevue Police decided that nothing illegal had transpired.

“It was purely accidental,” BPD spokesperson Seth Tyler told the Seattle Times. “Our past practice is that we don’t cite the driver in that kind of instance.”

No harm, no foul. Cars will be cars.

No charges of endangering a child. No charges of property damage. Not even a token $42 ticket for “unsafe lane change.”

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Today’s Headlines for Thursday, May 21

  • Ed Burke-Backed Ethanol Bill Survived Yesterday’s City Council Meeting (Tribune)
  • Active Trans Asks Members to Lobby County Commissioners to Support Transit Future
  • Teen Charged With Reckless Homicide After Post-Prom DUI Crash That Killed 2 (CBS)
  • Driver Crashes Into a Pole, Downing Power Lines & Shutting Down Peterson (Tribune)
  • Motorist Strikes Man in Wheelchair in Round Lake Beach, Flees the Scene (Tribune)
  • Bartlett Will Attempt to Improve Safety at Dangerous Intersection by Widening It (Herald)
  • Gurnee Police Chief: Red Light Cams Have Helped Reduce Injuries by Nearly 50 Percent (Herald)
  • River Forest TOD Plan Raises Concerns About — You Guessed It — Traffic & Parking (Curbed)
  • Ride-Share Drivers Talk About Why They Sometimes Give Passengers Low Ratings (ABC)
  • Bike Lawyer Offers Tips on How to Avoid Trail Conflicts on the Bloomingdale (RedEye)
  • Douglas Park, the New Home of Riot Fest, Has Good Transit Access (RedEye)
  • Old Town School Is Curating Musical Performances at CTA Stations This Summer (Tribune)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Eyes on the Street: Seeing Spots at the Lincoln Hub

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Looking southeast from the north side of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s first painted curb extensions are starting to take shape. Workers recently spray-painted the outlines of green and blue polka dots at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming and placemaking projects. The street remix is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont.

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St. Alphonsus Church is on the left side of this rendering.

Flexible plastic bollards that extend the intersection’s six corners, planters, round seating units, and café tables and chairs have been in place for a few weeks now. These treatments have already improved pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, eliminating several slip lanes, and discouraging speeding. Residents have also been enjoying the additional seating on nice days.

However, now that the outlines of the dots are in place, it’s more obvious that the asphalt outlined by the posts is intended as space for walking and sitting, and it’s easier for motorists to understand the new configuration. The painting project had been delayed by recent rainy weather, according to SSA program director Lee Crandell. Pending warmer, sunny weather, crews will fill in the dots, creating an Oriental carpet-inspired design that will unify the intersection. After the paint is dry, additional seating will be added, completing the project.

DNAinfo reported that, at a recent South Lakeview Neighbors meeting, there were complaints that the new layout requires drivers to queue up behind left-turning motorists, since there is no longer space to pass on the right. I’ve hung out at the intersection a few times during rush hours and haven’t seen any major issues. “One of the goals of this project is to slow down cars to improve safety for pedestrians,” Crandell told me. “We think there are some significant improvements here for pedestrians.”

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Crandell has talked to the Chicago Department of Transportation about the possibility of tweaking the design, including relocating bollards and adjusting signal timing for Southport to allow more drivers to move through the intersection. “But I’ve emphasized to the community that we need to see how this works when it’s completed,” he said. “After we let it settle in for a few weeks, we can make decisions based on what impact it’s having.”