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Did the CTA Set up the Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Reboots to Fail?

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Waiting for the #11 Lincoln bus in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Community activists who lobbied for years for the restoration of the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes rejoiced last November after CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. made a surprise announcement that the routes would be coming back on a trial basis in 2016. The CTA board voted earlier this month to relaunch each of the bus routes as a six-month-long test to determine whether there’s enough ridership to bring back the lines permanently. But transit advocates say the way the agency devised the program’s bus schedules ensures the pilots will fail.

While the restored #11 Lincoln line will debut on June 20, the #31 bus won’t return until September. South-side activists say that will undermine the pilot because summer ridership towards 31st Street Beach won’t be counted. Worse, residents say, both bus lines will run only on weekdays between 10 AM and 7 PM, so they’ll be useless for morning rush-hour commutes. And while the Lincoln buses will run every 16 to 22 minutes, 31st Street buses will arrive only every half hour.

“It looks like it’s set up to fail,” Tom Gaulke, pastor of First Lutheran Church of the a and member of the Bridgeport Alliance, a social justice organization, told DNAinfo last week in regards to the #31 bus. “It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.” Commenters on social media were also dismissive of the limited Lincoln bus schedule. “No availability on the weekend or morning hours for commuting doesn’t appear to make this a true ‘test’ of whether there is demand for the #11 bus,” north-side resident Brendan Carter wrote on Facebook.

The CTA says, on the contrary, that the schedules were actually devised to make sure the pilots succeed.

So how did it come to this?

Read more…

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Moreno Announces Chicago’s First Affordable TOD Project in Logan Square

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Rendering of the planned affordable TOD, 2031 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Transit-oriented development is a sensible way to build housing. Creating dense housing within a short walk of transit stations, without a lot of off-street parking makes it easier for more people to live without having to own a car. It leads to fewer newcomers bringing autos into neighborhoods, which reduces congestion and pollution. And, since garage spaces cost tens of thousands of dollars to build, it saves money for developers, which can result in lower condo prices and apartment rents.

Unfortunately, in Chicago TOD has become associated with luxury. Virtually all of the dense, parking-lite towers that have been constructed since the city’s TOD ordinance passed in 2013 have been high-end buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods.

In Logan Square, anti-displacement activists like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square have argued that new upscale TOD towers being built along Milwaukee Avenue near Blue Line stations will accelerate gentrification by encouraging other landlords to jack up rents. On the other hand, pro-TOD advocates such as the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which recently held a workshop on equitable TOD development, say that building more units in gentrifying neighborhoods can take pressure off the existing rental market.

For better or for worse, the poster boy for TOD in Chicago is 1st Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, who sponsored the 2013 ordinance, which halved the city’s usual 1:1 parking ratio requirements for new developments within 600 feet of an ‘L’ or Metra station. City Council passed a beefed-up version of the ordinance last fall, which essentially waived the parking requirements completely for developments within a quarter mile of stations, a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets.

Moreno, unlike most Chicago aldermen, insists that ten percent of the units in new developments in his Ward be on-site affordable housing, instead of allowing developers to take the cheaper route of paying into the city’s affordable housing fund, before he’ll approve zoning changes.

However, he’s come under fire from Somos Logan and other activists, who’ve held protests against upscale TOD developments like the Twin Towers and “L” on the 2200 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. They argue that to mitigate what they say will be the gentrifying effect of these projects, the developers should be forced to make 30 percent of the units affordable. And while the city defines affordable units as being affordable to those making 60 percent of the Chicago region’s area median income, the activists say the threshold should be lowered to 30 percent, to make the units affordable to the community’s Latino families.

To promote these goals, Somos and several other groups are holding a protest and march today called “Our Neighborhood is NOT For Sale / El Barrio NO Se Vende: Rally Against Alderman Joe Moreno and Luxury Development.” It starts at 11:30 at Moreno’s office, 2740 West North, and is ending at the twin towers, 2923 North Milwaukee.

The activists are also calling for a moratorium on rezoning for new luxury developments “until we can establish policy for truly equitable development in our community.” They also want to see the Chicago Housing Authority’s surplus for Project Based Vouchers to get more affordable units in luxury developments.

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Last month members of Somos Logan, Lifted Voices, and other groups barricaded Milwaukee to protest the Two Towers TOD project. Photo: Eric Cynic

So it’s probably not a coincidence that Moreno is holding his own event a couple hours later today to promote the city’s first 100-percent affordable TOD, an 88-unit, LGBT-friendly apartment building planned for the current Congress Pizza parking lot at 2031 North Milwaukee. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. the alderman is hosting an open house at the site to release more details about the plan as the first step in the community review and approval process for the proposal.

Moreno’s office didn’t respond to an interview request I made yesterday, but it’s safe to assume that, as an affordable TOD located a four-minute walk from the Blue Line’s Western stop, it will have far less than a 1:1 parking-to-units ratio.

It’s not yet clear exactly what aspects of the tower will be LGBT-friendly, but it will likely have some similarities to the Town Hall Apartments in Boystown, which provide affordable senior housing geared towards the LGBT community, including onsite social social service providers. Low-income LGBT individuals often face housing discrimination and estrangement from family members who might otherwise provide support.

The Logan development is called the John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments at Robert Castillo Plaza, named after two men who were partners in life and activism, advocating for LGBT rights as well as affordable housing in Logan Square, according to Moreno. The project will be funded by tax-increment financing dollars, plus Chicago Housing Authority money.

It’s great to see that the TOD ordinance is finally being used to create a building dedicated to transit-friendly affordable housing. The Pennycuff apartments will make it easy for residents of modest means to get around without having to rely on driving, which will further reduce their living expenses.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Somos Logan spokeswoman Justine Bayod told me yesterday. “We consider any affordable development in Logan Square a win for our community.” She said Somos will send representatives to the open house.

Read more…

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Green Space for Greenbacks: The Debate Over Private Fests in Public Parks

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Sharaya Tindal, Nance Klehm, and Sara Heymann stand in a bare patch at Douglas Park eight months after Riot Fest. Photo: John Greenfield

[Note: This Chicago Reader article lies a bit outside Streetsblog Chicago’s usual wheelhouse of transportation and livable streets topics, but since it covers an important local public space issue, I thought it might be of interest to Streetsblog readers.]

On a recent Monday afternoon, members of a group called Concerned Citizens of Riot Fest in Douglas Park guided a visitor around the west-side green space they say was disfigured by the three-day music festival last fall. Eight months after the fest, the south end of Douglas Park—bounded by Ogden, Albany, 19th, and California and occupied by soccer and baseball fields—still displays tire ruts and wide, muddy areas where heavy foot traffic from 135,000 festgoers tore up the turf. Although the tour took place days after the last rainstorm, pools of standing water remained on the compacted dirt.

The fest debuted in Douglas Park last September after it was ousted from Humboldt Park, where it had taken place since 2012. Humboldt Park residents complained that the event turned that park’s turf into a mud zone that Riot Fest organizers never properly repaired, prompting 26th Ward alderman Roberto Maldonado to pull his support for the concert.

Members of Concerned Citizens say Douglas Park has experienced the same problems. In the immediate aftermath of the concert, much of the south end of the park was fenced off until November while crews hired by the festival made repairs—but the activists say it’s obvious the green space remains in disrepair.

“This park is not structured to receive that many people and maintain its health,” says nearby resident Nance Klehm, a veteran landscaper and sustainability advocate. “There’s no Band-Aid to that. It needs to be restructured, and the soil needs to be reengineered.”

Concerned Citizens activists say that Riot Fest should never have come to Douglas Park. They claim that Riot Fest, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Park District, and the local aldermen made the decision to move the event to the park with little or no input from the primarily African-American and Latino residents of the neighboring North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods.

They’ve hosted public meetings on the subject, collected signatures on petitions against the fest, held protests, and have lobbied their aldermen and the Park District about the matter. At a 24th Ward community meeting in June 2015, the first to take place after it was announced Riot Fest would be held in Douglas Park, Concerned Citizens members displayed signs reading “A 3-day binge is not an economic development plan” and “Lawndale is a community, not a commodity.”

“It’s disrespectful to tell two communities that something is going to happen in their park instead of asking them to let you have it in their park,” says UIC grad student Sharaya Tindal, who helped form Concerned Citizens in spring 2015 because she was worried about the impact Riot Fest would have on Douglas Park.

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MCZ’s Car-Centric West Loop Project Thumbs Its Nose at the TOD Ordinance

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Two whole floors of the 75-unit development will be dedicated to warehousing up to 140 cars. Image: MCZ / HPA

Talk about a missed opportunity.

It’s good news that a parking lot located at the southeast corner of Lake and Aberdeen in the burgeoning Fulton Market District will soon be replaced by a mix of residences, office space and retail. But it’s a crying shame that the developer MCZ Development is also building a glut of off-street car parking on the site, which is located a mere three-minute walk from the CTA’s Morgan ‘L’ station.

It’s especially regrettable because, thanks to the 2015 update of the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance, MCZ is effectively not required to provide any parking at all. The beefed-up ordinance waives the usual parking requirements for new developments within a quarter mile of a rapid transit stop, and within a half mile on designated Pedestrian Streets. Instead of taking advantage of this perk, the developer is choosing to build an excessive number of car spaces, which will encourage residents, workers, and shoppers to drive.

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When a building is a 3-minute walk from the ‘L’, is it really necessary to provide a car spot for every unit? Image: Google Maps

As recently reported on Curbed Chicago, MCZ was recently issued a foundation and crane permit for the 0.66-acre site, referred to as 165 and 175 North Aberdeen. Before it was a parking lot, the location housed the three-story Best Meats building, which was razed in 2014. The building permit for the new 11-story structure was issued last year.

The development will feature 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 40,000 square feet of office space, and 75 housing units, ten percent of which will be affordable units. So far, so good.

But not only will every one of those units have a car space earmarked for it, but MCZ is building 65 spots for office workers and shoppers. That’s a whopping 140 spaces for the 75-unit structure. Essentially, the developer is flipping the bird at the opportunity provided by the TOD ordinance.

As Mayor Emanuel is fond of pointing out out, one of the big reasons why the Fulton Market District is booming is because of the Morgan stop, which opened in May 2012, attracting major players like Google to the area. Along with amenities like the Randolph restaurant row, the district’s pedestrian- and transit-friendly nature is a key factor in why it’s a such hot area right now.

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City Announces Extended Routes, Service for South Side Bus and Rail Lines

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Bus stop sign for the #26 South Shore Express. Photo: Jeff Zoline

For all his warts, Mayor Emanuel has a strong record on improving public transportation, including initiatives like the South Red Line reconstruction, the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor, the Your New Blue rehab, and several completed and in-progress station construction projects. Today’s announcement that several South Side bus and rail lines will have more frequent service and/or extended routes also appears to be a step in the right direction.

Six bus routes and two branches of the south Green Line are affected:

Having a continuous route down 95th seems logical, since this is one of the city’s major thorughfares, with plenty of retail and other destinations. Extending the Cottage Grove bus will improve access to the Pullman National Monument.

The mayor also announced that the Cottage Grove and Ashland/63rd branches of the Green Line will see increased frequency during the morning and evening rush hours.

“With this expansion, the CTA is continuing the important work of connecting more residents to jobs and economic opportunities,” Emanuel said in a statement. “This announcement builds on the strides we have made to improve connections to and from downtown.”

Announcements of new initiatives on the South and West Sides have become more common this year as the mayor seeks to repair his image in the wake of the Laquan McDonald case. However, Emanuel continues to show more interest in leveling the playing field for residents of underserved communities, including better transit access to jobs and schools, that can only be a good thing for the city.

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CTA: We Can’t Reduces Fees That Social Service Providers Pay on Ventra

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A CTA bus doubles as an info display during the 2013 Ventra rollout. The switch to Ventra created problems for social service providers, but the CTA says it’s working on fixing one of them.

The Chicago Transit Authority said that it’s working to address some of the new burdens that the switch to Ventra has created for social service providers, as described in a study from the Chicago Jobs Council, which I reported about on Monday.

The study was based on a survey of 53 organizations that provide transit fare assistance to their clients, who may be job seekers, homeless individuals, or young people. The problems include the 50-cent surcharge on single-ride Ventra tickets, which has resulted in these organizations collectively paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Another issue is the need to mail in forms and checks in order to buy Ventra cards in bulk. The study also found that a majority of the organizations waited a long time to receive their bulk orders, and unpredictable delivery delays forced them to scramble to find alternative ways to buy tickets.

According to the report, in 2013 the CTA told the Chicago Jobs Council that online ordering would be available in 2014. Last February, the CTA estimated online ordering would be available by the end of this year. The CTA said in a statement yesterday “work is already underway with our vendor to make online credit card purchases and delivery tracking available.”

Pauline Sylvain-Lewis of the North Lawndale Employment Network said she tries to plan ahead for the long wait by ordering two months worth of tickets at a time. That can be an issue, she said, because the nonprofit’s cash flow doesn’t allow for spending large sums of money on a monthly basis, and the purchase price can be so large that it requires approval from the board. If a delivery is late, staff members go to train stations and use the organization’s bank cards, or even their own bank cards, to buy tickets.

The CTA said that they weren’t aware of any bulk card orders taking two months two arrive, adding that “99.7% of all bulk orders CTA receives are delivered within 11-14 business days and more than 88% of all bulk orders are delivered within seven to 10 business days – or faster.”

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Wife of Cyclist Dragged in Bridgeport Provides an Update on His Condition

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The Jacobsons and their three children. Photo: GoFundMe

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Scott Jacobson continues to stoically recover from the horrific injuries he suffered after being struck on his bike and dragged hundreds of feet by a driver, according to Jacobson’s wife Rachel. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Cook County state’s attorney’s office will level more serious charges against the motorist, who so far has only been charged with misdemeanors.

On Monday, May 2, at around 6 p.m., Scott Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue when SUV driver Joshua Thomas, 26, made a U-turn and struck him, according to police.

Jacobson was dragged hundreds of feet until bystanders ran to stop the vehicle. The cyclist’s pelvis was fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Rachel Jacobson, Scott’s wife of some 20 years and a CPS teacher, provided an update on his situation over the phone from Stroger Hospital, where he’s being treated in the burn ward for his abrasions. “He’s doing pretty well,” she said. “He’s in good spirits, but he’s in a lot of pain. His dressings need to be changed twice a day, and that hurts.”

Rachel said she’s grateful for contributions to the GoFundMe page that has raised more than $36,000 within a week to help support the family while Scott recovers. Doctors say it will likely be six months before he is able to return to his job as a superintendent for a construction company. Bridgeport community activist Kimberly Cannatello Lazo, who didn’t know the family before the collision but was moved by the story, contacted the family, and launched the crowdfunding page in order to help out, Rachel said.

Rachel told me more about how the crash occured. As Scott was biking west on 35th towards his home in McKinley Park, he saw Thomas weaving in the SUV towards the line of parked cars. “When Scott came up from behind him to pass, [Thomas] did a crazy U-turn and ran into him,” she said. “Scott looked at him, yelled, and slapped the hood but [the driver] kept going and Scott got sucked under.”

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Study: Ventra Fees Cost Social Service Providers 140,000 Bus Rides Per Year

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A CTA staffer demonstrates how a Ventra machine works. Ventra replaced simpler and cheaper ways for social service organizations to procure transit cards for their clients. Photo: CTA

Ever since the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace switched from magnetic stripe fare cards to the Ventra smart card system in 2013, social service providers across Chicago have been spending more money on paying for their clients’ transit rides, and giving out fewer rides. A new report from the Chicago Jobs Council details the burdens that Ventra fare policies and ticket ordering delays place on social service organization staff members and money dedicated to helping clients. The jobs council works to change laws and policies to increase access to jobs for marginalized workers.

The report says that for the organizations to provide fares to their clients they have to spend more time and money. The money they spend on the new Ventra fee could otherwise be spent on  hundreds of thousands in additional rides for job seekers. It starts with the cost of a new card. Ventra cards cost $5.

While the CTA refunds the $5 as credit for future rides if the account is registered, staff must spend time managing that registration process, and checking often to see how much value each card has left. In addition, it’s possible for clients to run up a negative balance on their card that, to continue using the card, the organization has to pay off.

The report said that the plastic multi-ride cards “do not make sense for programs that serve highly transient populations” because they represent a “financial liability if they are lost or used to accrue a large negative balance.” Ventra also doesn’t offer a way to register or manage many cards. “Overwhelmingly,” the report said, “providers rely on single-use paper tickets to provide transit assistance.”

Anyone can run a negative balance because bus fare readers sometimes let people on even if they have less than $2.00 on their Ventra account. The CTA assumes you’ll eventually put more money on the account to reach a positive balance.

If an organization doesn’t want to wait long for a bulk order, which has to be mailed in, or pay off negative balances, then they’re out there at CTA stations buying single-use tickets for $3.00, and racking up hundreds of dollars in “limited-use media” (disposable) fees, at a cost of 50 cents per ticket. That’s the fee CTA charges to print a one-time use ticket and encourage using the hard plastic Ventra card.

The report surveyed 53 organizations which provide job training, shelter for the homeless, and youth services and found they’re spending $280,000 annually in fees – the equivalent of 140,000 additional bus rides. Read more…

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Why Driver Who Dragged a Cyclist in Bridgeport Should Face Felony Charges

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Scott Jacobson. Photo: GoFundMe

Earlier this week there was a horrific act of traffic violence in Bridgeport. An SUV driver struck Scott Jacobson as he rode his bicycle and dragged him hundreds of feet, causing grievous injuries.

While DNAinfo initially reported that the motorist was only charged with failure to exercise due car for a pedestrian in the roadway, a misdemeanor, police told me the driver was charged with several other misdemeanors, including reckless driving. However, local attorneys who specialize in bike cases argue that the perpetrator should have been charged with aggravated reckless driving, a felony.

On Monday at around 6 p.m., Jacobson, 47, was riding home after biking with his two sons to wrestling practice at De La Salle Institute. He was near the intersection of 35th Street and Lowe Avenue, where a firehouse is located, when a 26-year-old man driving a 2000 Dodge Durango made a U-turn on Lowe and struck him, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

The cyclist was dragged hundreds of feet. “If it wasn’t for the witnesses and the firemen running to his rescue to stop the vehicle, Scott might not have made it,” Kimberly Cannatello Lazo wrote on a GoFundMe page she launched to raise money for the victim and his family.

Jacobson was taken to Stroger hospital with his pelvis fractured in three places, including the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, according to Cannatello Lazo. He has severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in some locations. His recovery is expected to take six months, during which he will be unable to work.

Amezaga said the driver “stayed at the scene” after he was stopped. It’s hard to believe that the motorist had been unaware he was dragging Jacobson for such a long distance, so it seems likely he was fleeing the scene and would had continued dragging his victim, perhaps causing fatal injuries, had bystanders not intervened.

However, the motorists wasn’t charged with leaving the scene of a crash. In addition to failure to exercise due care and reckless driving, he was charged with failure to keep in lane, improper U-turn, driving on a revoked license, and uninsured vehicle, all of which are misdemeanors, according to Amezaga.

Chicago bike lawyers told me that the driver’s egregious actions warrant a felony charge of aggravated reckless driving. “The fact that the driver didn’t stop immediately, dragging Scott for hundreds of feet, warrants more serious charges being brought,” said attorney Brendan Kevenides of FK Law, a firm that specializes in bike and pedestrian cases (and a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor). “This was a crime.  It seems like the driver didn’t care whether Scott lived or died.”

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Popular “Transit” App Now Enables Bypassing the Divvy Kiosk

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If you’ve got a 24-hour pass for Divvy and you don’t want to wait in line behind these folks to retrieve your next ride code, pull out the updated “Transit” app. Photo: John Greenfield

A new partnership between Divvy and Transit app, you can now get 24-hour Divvy passes and ride codes via smartphone. This means that people who have just signed up for an annual membership won’t have to wait for a key to arrive in the mail before they can start using the blue bikes. It also means that folks who want to use bike-share for the day won’t have to wait in line at a kiosk to sign up for a pass and check out a bike.

I’ve been using the Transit app for over a year because it’s handy for figuring out the most convenient car-free travel options from wherever you are. It displays the next bus or train departure times for the three stops or stations closest to you in the iPhone notifications area, and many more in the app itself.

If you’ve just signed up for a Divvy membership and want to start riding now, you can download Transit to Android and iPhone, enter your Divvy account username and password, and request a ride code.

If you're at Rogers Park Social and open Transit, you'll see a result for the nearby Divvy station. If you're signed in to your annual membership account you'll see a button to get a ride code to unlock the bike without a key fob.

Let’s say you’re at the bar Rogers Park Social and want to check out travel options. The Transit App provides bus and Red Line arrival times, and also shows you there’s a Divvy station nearby. If you’re signed in as a Divvy member, the app will offer a ride code to unlock a bike.

You can then enter that three-digit code into the keypad of a Divvy dock to release a bike, just as you would if you’d signed up for a day pass at the kiosk. Even if you’re a longterm member, you can get ride codes via the app, which is handy if you need a bike but don’t have your key with you.

The Transit app allows you to enter payment information within and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code.

Use the Transit App to enter payment information and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code for a free pass.

Transit will also be timesaver for short-term Divvy users. It eliminates the need to ever wait in line to register for a day pass, as well as the need to re-insert your bank card into a kiosk every time you want to check out a bike during that 24-hour period.

The sign-up process at the kiosks is time-consuming due to slowly responding touch screens, and sometimes there are long lines at the kiosks at popular locations and after special events like music festivals.

A newsletter sent to Divvy members this morning said, “We hope this new feature makes it easier when you forget your key at home, when it isn’t convenient to bring your key out, or if you just prefer to do everything by phone.”

When you open the Transit App while you’re in Chicago, a new “Unlock & Pay for Divvy Bikes!” banner appears, which leads you to these instructions. If you’re not signed in as a Divvy member and you’re near a bike-share station, Divvy shows up as a transit option. A button to “Purchase Pass” also appears. If you’re signed in, you’ll be offered the option to get a ride code.

Divvy general manager Elliot Greenberger said that they’ll be upgrading kiosks “later this month and in to June which improves the speed of getting a pass and codes.” He said they’ve redesigned the “kiosk flow” and made improvements to the underlying software.

New software has eliminated a lot of the friction of checking out low-cost public bicycles, but many Chicago streets are still in line for an upgrade.