As Divvy Grows, Station Placement Should Work for Pedestrians

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Dark purple is current Divvy coverage area; light purple is a rough estimate of future coverage area, based on a list of neighborhoods from CDOT. Map: ITDP, Steven Vance, Daniel Ronan

Last month, I won a digital silver medal in the Divvy Winter Olympics, a challenge put on by the bike-share service to encourage cold-weather ridership. I was one of 3,444 Divvy members who won medals during the promotion. Taking five or more trips between December 1 and February 16 got you a bronze medal, 25 or more trips earned you a bronze, and 50 or more garnered you a gold.

The untold Olympic story here is that I had an unfair advantage, and it’s not because I doped. There are roughly 15 Divvy stations within a half-mile of my house. It’s hard for me to walk more than a couple blocks without running across an available bike. A three-minute trip on Divvy is faster and more convenient than a ten-minute walk in the cold, so taking lots of trips was a no-brainer for me.

The planners at Divvy and the Chicago Department of Transportation are well aware of the importance of station placement. The system currently has 300 docking stations, and they’ve been working to site 175 additional stations, slated to come online this summer.

Of these new stations, about 20 percent will be “infill,” reducing the space between stations, and 80 percent will be “expansion,” increasing Divvy’s reach into new areas. As Steven Vance previously reported, total bike-share ridership, as well as rides per capita, increase as the distance between stations decreases. The areas targeted for expansion include parts of Albany Park, Avondale, Bronzeville, Canaryville, Douglas Park, Downtown, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Rogers Park, South Shore, Ukrainian Village, Washington Park, and Woodlawn.

“We are excited to be expanding and serving new areas of the city,” said Assistant CDOT Commissioner Sean Wiedel. He noted that the website for suggesting station locations has received 19,000 clicks and 2,400 comments, suggesting 2,247 locations, which shows Chicagoans are keenly interested in the system’s growth.

When siting a new Divvy station, the planners seek to incorporate this feedback while also taking a more technical approach that factors in ridership and maintenance considerations. For example, it would be inefficient for Divvy crews to maintain new stations installed far from existing ones. On the other hand, stations clustered too closely together wouldn’t do much to increase ridership. Keeping in mind other factors like land use, sun exposure — necessary for recharging the solar-powered batteries — as well as seemingly trivial details like the locations of manholes, the Divvy team wants to site stations that will function well and won’t have to be relocated in the future.

The hundreds of station installations since the system launched last summer included a few sites that were shifted after the initial implementation. After moving stations after locations were deemed unsafe after-the-fact, or in response to objections from property owners, this year the planners are trying to avoid the additional expense of relocations by making sure they get the placements right the first time.

Wiedel said the biggest challenge in placing stations last year was opposition from aldermen, merchants, and residents to replacing on-street car parking spaces with Divvy stations. As a result, over two-thirds of all existing stations were placed on sidewalks, with the remaining third located in parks or on the street. In the future, the planners will avoid replacing parking spots with stations whenever possible.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the stations can generate more foot traffic on business strips than parking spots do. Last year John Greenfield observed a dozen customers using a Wicker Park docking station over a two-hour period, while two adjacent cars parking spaces had zero turnover.

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This station at Division and Ashland creates a bottleneck for pedestrians. Photo: Daniel Ronan

Meanwhile, placing Divvy stations on sidewalks instead of the street can create cramped conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. For example, at the northwest corner of Ashland and Division, a station on the sidewalk on the north side of Division creates a bottleneck for people walking to and from the Blue Line. This station should have been placed in the street, where there’s plenty of space for it.

Even when docking stations are installed in the street, careless placement can create obstacles for pedestrians. Another Wicker Park station, located at Wood and Beach, blocks an unmarked crosswalk. Surely the station could be relocated to keep the pedestrian crossing clear.

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The station placement prevents pedestrians from conveniently crossing the street. Photo: Daniel Ronan

Aldermen have the last word about where Divvy stations are placed in their wards, and Wiedel said aldermanic support is critical to the effective expansion and continuing operation of the system. Therefore, it’s important that aldermen understand the benefits of bike-share and understand the importance of well-placed Divvy stations.

Constituents can help educate their aldermen on these topics, and now is the time to act. In the next two to four weeks, each alderman will receive a list of proposed Divvy station locations in his or her ward. Residents need to reach out to the aldermen and discuss the proposed locations with them to make sure each neighborhood gets well-placed stations.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    Are the lists of proposed Divvy stations the aldermen are getting everything we can see on the suggestion website, or has CDOT narrowed those down? Basically, how do I know what the proposed locations are so I can discuss them with my alderman’s office?

  • The proposed locations won’t necessarily become public until after they’re vetted by the aldermen. So the thing to do is contact your alderman and ask if they’re interested in getting input from residents on the proposed locations. If they’re a responsive alderman, they may be open to sharing the proposed locations with you and listening to your feedback.

  • Alex Vickers

    I think the question should be WILL Divvy expand in the face of PBSC’s bankruptcy.

  • Anton Cermak

    I have an issue with the two photos/scenarios you posted.

    In the first photo, I’d disagree that there is tons of room in the street. There is a short leg of Division that is interrupted by Milwaukee and Ashland, so traffic cannot merge from two lanes to one there, it has to occur west of Ashland – which is also where the bike lane starts. The solution of Divvy on the sidewalk is more acceptable because the sidewalk here is inordinately wide – something like 12+ feet. Given that there is transit, bikes, cars, and pedestrians all using the space successfully, I’d say that CDOT did an okay job here.

    In the second picture, your framing makes it seem that you are supposed to cross over Wood St. in front of the Beachwood Inn. That Divvy station, however, is located on right-of-way that was formerly for diagonal parking and the city removed the uncontrolled crossing years ago – they just didn’t fill in the ramp on the south side of the street. So pedestrians were not intended to cross safely here. So for me, the scenario then becomes: CDOT removes parking to install Divvy rather than placing it on the heavily foot-trafficked sidewalk of Milwaukee Ave. That’s a win for bikes and peds no matter how you slice it.

    Your argument has merit and the good thing about Divvy stations is that they can be moved easily once problems crop up. I’d just pick better case studies to prove your point.

  • Erik Swedlund

    “On the other hand, stations clustered too closely together wouldn’t do much to increase ridership.”

    In the comments on the Steven Vance article you linked to, Colin Hughes (one of the authors of the ITDP Bike Share Planning Guide, which is the focus of Steven’s article) points out that “The most critical thing Chicago needs to do to drive up performance is increase station density so bikes are more convenient to access. ITDP’s analysis of 20+ systems globally shows that no system with less than 8 stations per km2 has high performance . . . . Chicago only has 4 stations/km2.”

    It’s true that stations shouldn’t be too close, but we are not near that situation. Even if all 175 of the next round of stations were infill, Chicago wouldn’t reach 8 stations per km2. While I’m eager to see Divvy expand to more areas of the city so I can get to more places, I also am frustrated by trips in the existing coverage area that aren’t convenient with Divvy.

  • There’s a painted buffer on westbound Division west of Ashland between the curb and the bike lane. This could serve as a wider sidewalk, improving pedestrian accommodations here and the Divvy station could remain on the sidewalk.

    >You can see it here. Normally, delivery drivers park their trucks here, occupying the buffer and blocking the bike lane.

    My ideal situation for this block is that the merge from two lanes to one lane happen east of Ashland and east of Milwaukee. The merge from a wide road to a narrow road should happen before the “narrower neighborhood” begins.

  • For history’s sake…the Wood/Beach station was originally installed on Milwaukee in the roadway in front of Walgreens, but was moved less than two weeks later because of concerns about safety of moving bikes in and out of the dock without enough space between the dock and moving traffic.

  • Daniel Ronan

    I agree, the fact that existing stations are located too far a part is an issue. What I was generally referring to was the number of stations off of the suggestion website which are located too closely together (within the same block).

    While I agree that increasing infill stations is important, also important is increasing broader city-wide reach of the system, increasing pent-up Divvy demand in neighborhoods not currently served.

  • Daniel Ronan

    Please show me better case studies if you have them. My point still stands – with a bunch of underutilized space at Division and Ashland, forcing pedestrians to walk in a constricted space is unnecessary – even if the sidewalk is “inordinately wide.”

    For that matter, I think the Polonia triangle is “inordinately wide” and therefore should be tamed. What if I just want to walk in a wider space? What if I just want to stand there a second? Nothing should stop me. While I see your point, as advocates we seem to have essentially lost the war by proxy because we accept “the average.” Is this world class? No.

    This same logic applies in your second concern about the Wood and Beach station. Let’s forget engineering for a second, shall we? – What do we want? For the least able among us to cross the street safely. Now, engineer to that goal. Your comment assumes that engineers should deem the crossing to be “safe” in order for me to cross. Why is it unsafe? Why can’t I cross? What does it say about our values if I can’t cross my neighborhood street which already has a legal crosswalk? We need to think less about situational engineering questions that have allowed us to arrive at this sorry, underfunded status quo and more about the systematic changes to get us what we want. It’s better for our communities and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t earn some people some votes.

  • Pete

    Most Divvy stations in the neighborhoods are not on sidewalks at all, unless it is a really wide sidewalk. Most of them are in the street, taking up as many street parking spaces as possible. Just the way you guys want it.

  • Anton Cermak

    Again, I don’t disagree with the premise of your argument but the burden of proof is on you to provide good examples because it’s your argument.

    Your Candide-like outlook on facility planning aside, I think that the case against the Beach and Wood station is a poor one because its siting largely prioritized pedestrians and bicycle safety because there is a full crosswalk less than 20 feet away. Is it a world class design? I guess not, but it functions at a level that does not negatively impact pedestrians or cyclists.

  • Erik Swedlund

    Aha, I didn’t understand you were referring to the suggestions. Makes sense!

  • Wiedel said that no metered parking spaces were used (but there were swaps with other locations). He didn’t know how many, if any, non-metered parking spaces were used.

    CDOT typically installs Divvy stations in existing loading and no standing zones (where the applicant stopped paying), and many other areas where no parking was allowed.

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