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Dates Announced for CDOT’s Bike Classes, Suitable for Absolute Beginners

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Bike ambassadors (in red) in the parking lot of the Garfield Workforce Center, where the West Side classes will be taught. Photo: CDOT

Today the Chicago Department of Transportation announced the dates and locations for its free adult bike-handling classes on the South and West sides, part of the department’s strategy to encourage more use of the Divvy bike-share system in low-to-moderate-income communities of color. Here’s the info:

Garfield Workforce Center 
10 S. Kedzie Avenue

  • July 25-29, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • August 8-12, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Kennedy King College
 710 W. 65th Street

  • August 15-19 , 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • August 22-29, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
  • August 29 – September 2, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

These one-time classes, suitable for people who never learned to ride a bike, as well as those who wish to brush up rusty cycling skills, will be taught by CDOT’s Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team. Divvy bikes will be provided as loaners, so participants won’t need to bring their own cycles. Attendees will also get free helmets, funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor. Slow Roll Chicago and other community organizations are helping to promote the classes.

An RSVP is required to attend a class to make sure there are enough instructors available. To RSVP any time before the class, call 312-744-8147.

The seminars are geared towards adults, but they’re also open to children if space is available. However, kids under 16 need to bring their own bikes, since the Divvy system is only available to riders 16 and older.

Participants will start out by riding on a Divvy bike with the pedals removed to get the hang of coasting, steering, and braking, until they can coast for at least 20 seconds without putting a foot down. Next the instructor will add one pedal so that the students can try starting the bike with the pedal. Once they’ve mastered that, the second pedal will be installed.

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Naomi Doerner on How Street Safety Advocates Can Support Racial Justice

When a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, shot and killed Philando Castile earlier this month, the encounter began with a traffic stop. The stop fit a pattern: Castile had been pulled over many times before — 46 times in 13 years — but few of those citations were for dangerous driving. More prevalent were stops for minor issues like vehicle defects or misplaced license plates — the type of justifications that police are more likely to use when stopping black and Latino drivers throughout the country.

Naomi Doerner is a consultant who helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Naomi Doerner helps biking and walking organizations development social equity and racial justice plans. Photo: Bike Easy

Street safety advocates often call on police to reform traffic enforcement practices in order to reduce dangerous driving that jeopardizes people walking and biking. Given the pervasiveness of racially discriminatory police work and the prevalence of police brutality in many communities, how should biking and walking advocates shape their strategies and messages?

Naomi Doerner, the former executive director of New Orleans’ advocacy organization Bike Easy, is a consultant who specializes in helping biking and walking advocates develop racial justice and social equity plans. She says advocates should be grappling with structural racism and considering how their own choices can entrench or dismantle it.

Here is a lightly edited transcript of our interview.

What’s a mistake some biking or walking organizations are making with regards to diversity?

I think that one of the things I see is hiring of people of color and then making them sort of the voice for diversity and equity, which are not the same thing.

It is great to hire the folks, to have the folks who do potentially have better understanding. Even if you had a staff that was diverse, if there’s not a co-created understanding of equity within your organization and how you’re contributing to it, it won’t succeed.

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What’s Up With Evanston’s Unusual Divvy Station Location Pattern?

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A Divvy station at Church and Dodge in Evanston, at the intersection of two protected bikeways. Photo: Steven Vance

As I pointed out back in early June when the new Divvy expansion map was released, which included the system’s first suburban docking stations in Evanston and Oak Park, the locations of the ten Evanston stations seemed a little odd.

When Chicago originally launched the bike-share system in 2013, a high number of stations were concentrated downtown and in dense, relatively affluent Near-North Lakefront areas, with roughly quarter-mile spacing between stations, in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. The rest of the coverage area generally got less convenient half-mile spacing, using a fairly consistent grid pattern. This half-mile grid pattern was also used for Chicago’s 2015 and 2016 expansions.

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The 2016 Divvy expansion areas are show in red on this service area map. Click for a larger image.

One notable exception in Chicago this year is Rogers Park, where there’s a dense cluster of new stations near Howard Street, the Evanston border. “There are a number of logistical and practical factors which have to be balanced when siting stations and it’s really more of an art than a science,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey stated when I asked for an explanation of the Rogers Park layout. “These include availability of off-street right of way, parking restrictions and aldermanic support, among other issues.”

Oak Park has distributed its 13 stations using a fairly consistent half-mile grid pattern, similar to what’s been done in much of Chicago.

However, the Evanston locations seem scattershot by comparison. There’s no grid pattern, most of the stations are located in the northeast portion of the suburb, and there are almost none in the southwest quadrant, which is relatively close to Chicago.

Divvy’s Evanston webpage notes that eight of the ten Evanston stations were purchased via a state grant, with matching funds from the suburb. These station locations were chosen based on data from a survey conducted during Evanston’s bike plan update, a Northwestern University industrial engineering research project, a community meeting, an online survey with over a thousand participants, and paper surveys distributed at a senior center and the suburb’s main libraries. This data was used to identify trip generators and destination points.

The other two stations were paid for by Northwestern, so their locations were chosen to provide access between the other eight stations and the campus, according to the Divvy website.

Evanston’s transportation and mobility coordinator Katherine Knapp provided some additional info on the thought processes behind the location choices. “It’s important to note that we not only have to take into account the street grid, which [isn’t as consistent] in Evanston, but also land use, the distribution of employment centers, and where community resources are located.”

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The Evanston Divvy locations, plus trip generators like transit stations, schools, and workplaces. Click for a larger image. Map: City of Evanston

Knapp noted that Oak Park had 13 stations to spread over a suburb with an area of 4.7 square miles and a population of about 52,000. Meanwhile, Evanston’s ten stations had to serve a city of 7.8 square miles and about 75,000 people, which made it especially important to be strategic about locations. Why did Evanston buy fewer stations? “We were trying to strike a balance of community needs with the size of the grant,” she said.

There’s a strong correlation between the Evanston station locations and transit, Knapp said. She also noted that stations were placed along Dodge Avenue (the same longitude as Chicago’s California Avenue), where a protected bike lane was recently installed.

Weight was also given to the parts of town with the lowest rates of car ownership, based on U.S. Census data. This includes northeast Evanston, which features plenty of high-rise housing and “a surprising mix of students and young professionals,” according to Knapp. She noted that the area around the Davis CTA and Metra stops is especially dense with residents and retail.

“When you step back and look at the [Evanston Divvy location] map, it’s been called ‘zany,’” Knapp said. “But when you drill down and look at the demand and what the travel patterns tell us, it makes sense.” The city of Evanston’s Divvy webpage includes detailed information about the destinations served by each of the ten stations.

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U. of C. Doctor Gary Toback Fatally Struck While Jogging by Jackson Park

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Gary Toback.

University of Chicago doctor and professor Gary Toback, 74, was struck and killed by an SUV driver while running in the South Shore neighborhood this morning, authorities said.

At around 6:40 a.m., Toback, a kidney specialist, was jogging near the intersection of 67th Street and South Bennett Avenue on the south side of Jackson Park, according to authorities. Toback lived nearby on the 6800 block of South Bennett, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Neighbors described him as a running enthusiast, ABC reported.

According to police, a 40-year-old woman lost control of the Jeep SUV she was driving and rolled the vehicle, striking Toback. The vehicle landed near 67th and South Jeffery Avenue, several hundred feet east of the location where Toback was struck, police said.

Toback was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police. The driver and a two-year-old girl who was riding in the vehicle were taken to Comer Hospital in unkown condition, according to Officer Laura Amezaga from Police News Affairs.

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The intersection of 67th and Bennett from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

Charges have not yet been filed against the driver, Amezaga said. Major Accidents is investigating the case.

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 14 (seven were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 2

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Has the South Chicago Velodrome Finally Come to the End of the Road?

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Velodrome association vice president John Cline took what might be his last spin on the track last weekend. Photo: Keven Leitner

The South Chicago Velodrome Association recently announced that the city’s only bike racing track is probably going to lose its lease and cease operations. According to bike shop owner Marcus Moore, who has spearheaded recent efforts to keep the facility in the city, there’s still a glimmer of hope that the track can be saved. But this could only happen if landlord U.S. Steel agrees to relax terms of the lease, or else if opportunities arise to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars still owed to the velodrome’s manufacturer and/or find a new location for the portable facility.

Built in 2011 at 8615 South Burley on U.S. Steel’s former South Works site, the track supposed to be the first step in a grand plan for the South Chicago Velo Campus, brainstormed by luxury pet accessory mogul Emanuele Bianchi. After hosting races for adults, plus education programs for youth from the surrounding low-to-middle-income communities for a few years, Bianchi and his partners gave up on the project in September 2014, citing a lack of support from the Chicago bike community.

But Marcus Moore, owner of Yojimbo’s Garage bike store, and other cycling enthusiasts stepped in to stop the track from being repossessed by its manufacturer, V-Worldwide, based near Detroit. The advocates were able to raise about $30,000 out of the $110,000 owed to the company through crowdfunding and persuaded the owner to let them hold onto the track while they continued to fundraise.

The real estate company McCaffery Interests, which was managing the South Works site for the steel company and working with them on a plan to redevelop the land as “Lakeside,” agreed to let the new track boosters use the land rent-free. However U.S. Steele requires a whopping $15 million in aggregate coverage, while a typical track only needs $2-3 million in coverage, according to Moore.

As a result the velodrome association has had to pay about $2,500 a month in insurance premiums and they’ve struggled to keep up with this expense. While they have paid V-Worldwide a total of $39,000 for the facility, they’re now many months behind in payment and have periodically had to put of calls for donations to cover the insurance bill.

Moore, who says he’s needed to scale back his own involvement with the velodrome in order to focus on running his shop, says it looks like the boosters’ track racing dreams may have come a dead end. “It’s not totally conclusive yet, but technically our land lease and insurance expired Sunday night,” he explained.

U.S. Steel’s partnership with McCaffery collapsed last February, and the steel company is now looking to sell the land rather than redevelop it. As such, they’re only willing to renew the track’s lease until October 31, and they’re still not willing to lower the insurance requirements, Moore says.

Continuing the existing insurance would require a $6,091 payment up front plus monthly payments of about $2,500, but that’s a moot point because the current insurer isn’t interested in renewing the policy for only a few months, according to Moore. He added that it would be difficult to find new $15 million short-term coverage. Moore says he’s been negotiating with the steel company over the insurance issue recently, but so far they haven’t budged.

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What’s Causing Chicago’s Latest Wave of Cycling Deaths and Serious Crashes?

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The memorial ceremony for Viriginia Murray at the crash site. Photo: Donte Tatum, Chicago Reader

[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.]

In early June, I noted that there had been no fatal bike crashes so far this year in Chicago. “I’m crossing my fingers that this year’s good luck streak continues,” I wrote.

Tragically, it didn’t. Since then, two people have lost their lives while biking in Chicago.

I’ve also heard of at least 11 collisions that occurred since June 12 that resulted in injuries, many more than usually cross my desk in a month. At least three of those incidents resulted in serious injuries.

Anecdotally, this seems to be an unusually high number of bike crashes for a 30-day period. But it’s a difficult thing to prove, since collisions that don’t result in serious injuries or fatalities often go unreported. And while the Illinois Department of Transportation is responsible for documenting local crashes, the agency doesn’t release its findings until about two years after the fact.

So going by the anecdotal evidence, if there has indeed been an uptick in bike crashes, what factors are to blame? And what we should be doing differently to bring these numbers down?

The first crash of the recent wave to draw widespread attention was the June 15 death of 29-year-old courier Blaine Klingenberg, who was fatally struck by tour bus driver Charla A. Henry during the evening rush at Michigan and Oak.

The second fatality occurred July 1 around 9 AM, when a 28-year-old male flatbed truck driver struck 25-year-old Virginia Murray while she was riding a Divvy in Avondale. Video from a nearby gas station’s security camera shows the truck was facing north on Sacramento, stopped at the light at Belmont. As Murray rode up to the right of the truck, the light changed and the driver turned east, striking her. The driver, who works for nearby AB Hardwood Flooring and Supplies, has so far been issued only a citation for not having the proper driver’s license classification to drive the truck.

Until a few weeks ago Murray worked in marketing for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, a Divvy sponsor. She had been preparing to apply for graduate school in library sciences. A spokeswoman for Blue Cross described Murray as “an avid Divvy supporter, a wonderful employee, and a special person.”

The first of the three crashes that resulted in serious injuries took place on June 21 at the intersection of Wilson and the Lakefront Trail. At around 7:20 PM, a 61-year-old man who has not been named by police was bicycling north on the path and was critically injured by an eastbound SUV driver as he crossed Wilson. The driver, Liliana Flores, 32, received three traffic citations.

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Eyes on the Street: Vigil at the Avondale Corner Where Virginia Murray Died

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Parents of fallen cyclist Virginia Murray’s childhood friends recite two prayers at a vigil to install a ghost bike in her memory.

Motorists drove carefully around the large crowd of supporters that had gathered and spilled into the roadway last night at the corner of Belmont and Sacramento, where Virginia Murray was fatally struck while riding a bicycle on July 1.

Over 40 people had come for a vigil for Murray, and to watch the installation of a ghost bike in her honor. Ghost bikes are a worldwide tradition memorializing the life of someone who died riding a bicycle. Anthony Arce, a nearby resident who witnessed the crash, and Kristen Green, a former neighbor of Murray, organized the event.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Anthony Arce, a witness to Murray’s fatal crash, helped organize the vigil with Kristen Green.

Around 9 a.m. on Friday, July 1, Murray was riding northbound on Sacramento when the nortbound driver of an AB Hardwood Flooring flatbed truck turned east onto Belmont, running over Murray. Security camera video from the gas station across the street proves that this was a “right hook” crash. Attorney Mike Keating (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor) wrote about the crash on his blog, stating that “Ms. Murray’s path was exactly the one that a Chicago bicyclist should follow.”

The crowd was silent for nearly 15 minutes, while friends and family placed candles, balloons, flyers, and other mementos. Pamela Lowe, the parent of one of Murray’s friends, broke the silence and said, “In times when there’s a lot of upheaval in our world, Ginny stood for everything that was good,” according to DNAinfo. Then Lowe and other parents of Virginia’s childhood friends recited the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers.

Alder Deb Mell (33rd Ward) joined the vigil and spoke with the parents, Lowe, and Green. Mell’s office organizes a Transportation Action Committee, of which I’m a founding member, to advise her on active transportation issues in the ward, which includes parts of Avondale, Albany Park, and Ravenswood Manor.

Mell told DNAinfo that plans to install bike lanes on Belmont from Kedzie to Halsted had “been put on hold.” Staff from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program told the Transportation Action Committee two times in 2014 that CDOT was planning to install the bike lanes that year or in 2015.

I’ve asked CDOT to comment on the status of this project and will update this post if they provide one. Bike lanes on Belmont would help remind drivers to check for bicyclists before turning onto the street, which could help prevent crashes like Murray’s in the future.CDOT and Divvy staff also attended the vigil. The TAC meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at Horner Park Fieldhouse.

Ghost bike vigil for Virginia Murray

Mourners and supporters mingle after the prayer. 33rd ward Alder Deb Mell speaks to vigil organizer Kristen green in the background.

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Chicago Needs More Street Redesigns to Reduce Pedestrian and Bike Deaths

This is one of my favorite things people in Chicago do

Because of the size and design of the Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection, people tend to cross – on foot and on bike – in all directions.

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Last week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing that all traffic fatalities increased significantly on U.S. roads from 2014 to 2015, by 7.7 percent to reach 35,200, the worst death toll since the 2008 economic crash. Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt pointed out that, while Americans drove 3.5 percent more during this period, that’s “not enough to explain the rising death toll.” U.S. pedestrian and bike fatalities rose even more during that period, by 10 and 15 percent, respectively.

Illinois saw a similar 7.5 percent increase in traffic deaths last year, with 923 fatalities in 2014 and 998 deaths in 2015, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In 2015 there were 46 Chicago pedestrian fatalities and 7 biking deaths, according to preliminary numbers from the Chicago Police Department, which may differ from IDOT’s final numbers for our city, which won’t be released until this fall. That represented a 43.8 percent increase in pedestrian deaths over 32 in 2014, and a 16.7 percent rise in bike fatalities from six in 2014, according to IDOT figures.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last February, Chicago transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld acknowledged the spike in pedestrian deaths between 2014 and 2015. However, she said the city’s pedestrian fatality numbers for recent years was “still a decrease if you look at a 10-year trend.” Despite that long-term decline, I’d argue that the nearly 44 percent year-to-year rise isn’t an acceptable number for a city with a stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is behind in many of its stated goals to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by changing infrastructure, as outlined in the its Chicago Pedestrian Plan and Complete Streets Design Guidelines. For example, in the Pedestrian Plan, published in 2012, CDOT set a target of eliminating all channelized right-turn lanes, aka slip lanes, by 2015 because these enable drivers to make fast turns around corners, endangering pedestrians.

So far I’ve only heard about slip lanes being eliminated at two Lakeview intersections, Lincoln/Wellington/Southport and Halsted/Grace/Broadway. In both cases the changes resulted in a backlash from motorists, because the improvements to pedestrian safety made it a bit less convenient to drive.

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Dragging Survivor Scott Jacobson Is Making an Amazing Recovery

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Scott Jacobson with his family on last Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Jacobsons.

There’s been a lot of bad news lately about bike crashes and fatalities in Chicago. Fortunately we’ve also got the inspiring story of Scott Jacobson, a man who was struck and dragged hundreds of feet on his bike, suffering horrific injuries. Jacobson has been making a remarkable recovery and has kept a positive attitude in spite of his ordeal.

On Monday, May 2, 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 in Bridgeport 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. His pelvis was fractured in three places, and the ball of the upper femur, which fits in the hip socket, was broken. He had five fractured vertebrae in his lower back and two broken ribs. He sustained severe road rash over much of his body, with muscle and bone visible in places.

Two months later, Jacobson is back at his McKinley Park home, and he’s beginning to try walking once again. “Last week I attempted getting up on a walker and putting my weight on one leg,” he says. “It’s a very strange feeling, learning how to walk again. It’s a long recovery process, but I’m doing everything I can.” Jacobsen says he’s been doing four hours of rehab exercises a day in an effort to regain his physical abilities.

He recounted the events of the crash. He had been heading west on 35th, behind Thomas’ SUV. “He pulled to the right like he was going to park or stop,” Jacobson recalls. “When I passed him, he pulled right out and started hitting me. He may have been attempting a U-turn.”

“When he first started hitting me, I had my hand on the hood of his car,” Jacobson says. He then fell under the SUV and he was stuck under the front of the car, face down, with only his head protruding from under the front of the vehicle. “I was yelling ‘Please stop!’ I told him I had a family.” Still, Thomas kept driving, in an apparent attempt to flee the scene.

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Public Invited to Sunday’s “Ghost Bike” Ceremony Honoring Virginia Murray

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A ghost bike memorial to Jacqueline Michon was temporarily placed at Wacker and Wabash. Photo: John Greenfield.

Safe streets advocates are inviting the public to the installation of a white-painted “ghost bike” memorial as a tribute to Virginia Murray, who was fatally struck by a truck driver while cycling last Friday. The installation will take place this Sunday, July 10, at 7 p.m. at the crash site at Belmont venue and Sacramento Avenue.

Murray, 25, was riding a Divvy bike northbound on Sacramento on Friday, July 1, at about 9 a.m., according to police. At Belmont, the northbound driver, employed by nearby business AB Hardwood Flooring, made a right turn, striking Murray in what appears to have been a “right-hook” crash.

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Virginia Murray

Murray was pronounced dead at Illinois Masonic Hospital about an hour later. Her case appears to be the first bike-share–related fatality in the U.S. So far the driver has received no traffic citations or criminal charges, police said.

According to Murray’s LinkedIn profile, until a few weeks ago she had been working at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, since 2013, most recently as a lead marketing communications consultant. A spokeswoman for the company described Murray as “an avid Divvy supporter, a wonderful employee, and a special person.”

A statement released by the North American Bikeshare Association in the wake of the crash offered condolences to Murray’s loved ones and the Chicago bike community for this great loss. The association also noted that this was the first fatality in over 70,000,000 bike-share trips taken in the U.S. It added that a recent study by the Mineta Transportation Institute found that crash and injury rates for bike-sharing are lower than previously computed rates for personal bicycling.

Sunday’s installation is being organized by local resident Anthony Arce, who says he witnessed the crash, and Kristen Green, who serves on the board of the South Chicago Velodrome Association. “Anthony Arce has been deeply moved by this and reached out to our community to get a ghost bike in [Murray’s] honor as he was so deeply saddened by what he witnessed that day,” Green wrote in the event invitation. “So we have come together with other members of the community and will be placing a memorial “ghost bike”… to honor her. If you would like to drop a flower or a candle or note there please do.”

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