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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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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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Chicago Gets First Curb-Protected Lanes; Many Other Bike Projects on Deck

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The curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive in Douglas Park. Photo: CDOT

In a surprise move, the Chicago Department of Transportation recently began building the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Drive through Douglas Park. This morning, assistant director of transportation planning Mike Amsden provided an update on this game-changing facility, plus a slew of other bikeways projects slated for 2015.

Four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to build 100 miles of physically protected bike lanes within his first term. Later the goal was revised to include buffered bike lanes — which don’t offer physical protection from cars — as wells as PBLs. The city currently has 71.5 miles of BBLs and 18.5 miles of protected lanes, for a grand total of 90 miles, according to Amsden.

Since Emanuel was inaugurated for his second term this morning, the 100-mile target has obviously been pushed back a bit, but it’s likely CDOT will exceed that goal by the end of this year. “When we get there, [Streetsblog] will be the first to know,” Amsden promised. “Our focus this year is really going to be on bridging the gaps in the bike network.”

The new curb-separated lanes run on both sides of Sacramento, a curving roadway within the Southwest Side green space, on a quarter-mile stretch between Douglas Boulevard and Ogden Avenue. The curbs are about six inches high and two feet wide, with breaks at drainage basins, and wherever park paths cross the street.

The Sacramento protected bike lanes were originally installed in 2012 on a section that included some truly awful pavement – a counterproductive practice that CDOT has since discontinued. The new curbs are being put in as part of a resurfacing project.

“Over the past four years, we’ve put in a lot of bike lanes in a short time, but it was always our goal to upgrade them over time,” said Amsden. “We’re piloting curb separation here. Experimenting with concrete is something we want to do moving forward whenever we can.”

While CDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced plans for curb-separated bike lanes on Clybourn Avenue in Old Town last summer, there was no public announcement about the Sacramento curbs, Amsden said. However, 24th Ward Alderman Michael Chandler signed off on the plan. In early 2013, Chandler asked CDOT to downgrade an existing PBLs on nearby Independence Boulevard to buffered bike lanes.

While Amsden said he has heard reports of drivers parking in the Sacramento PBLs south of Ogden, near baseball diamonds and soccer fields, he doesn’t anticipate problems with cars blocking the curb-protected lanes, which are about eight feet wide. “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible, but one of the goals of the concrete separation is to encourage drivers not to park in them.”

IDOT had previously prohibited CDOT from installing PBLs on state roads within the city. However, the state transportation department lifted the ban after an allegedly drunk driver struck and killed cyclist Bobby Cann at Clybourn and Larabee Street in 2013, and is actually spearheading and funding the Clybourn curb-protected lane project. CDOT has been helping out with design input and public outreach, Amsden said.

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Not Just Greasy Kid Stuff: Active Trans Hosting Family Biking Series

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Rebecca Resman bikes with her daughter Sloane. Photo: Oren Miller

As dozens of my friends with young kids demonstrate, becoming a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up your car-free or car-lite lifestyle. An upcoming three-part series on family biking presented by the Active Transportation Alliance and Chicago Kidical Mass aims to provide families with the info and encouragement they need to keep pedaling through pregnancy, infancy, and childhood.

“Ultimately, we want to normalize cycling, and one of the best ways to do that is getting more women, children and families on bikes,” explains Active Trans’s Rebecca Resman. “We’re confident that this series is going to lead to more biking families.” Here’s the schedule for the free seminars:

Resman and her husband Zeb regularly transport their two-year-old daughter Sloane and two-month-old son Max via a Dutch-style bakfiets (“box bike”) cargo cycle. “That always yields a lot of looks, a lot of smiles, and a lot of questions,” she said. “I get a ton of questions from people who are interested in taking the plunge and bike with their kids, but don’t know where to start.”

Each of the educational sessions will focus on a different phase of family cycling, with a 30-40 minute presentation, followed by breakout sessions for Q & A. Besides Resman, presenters will include Active Trans’ Jason Jenkins, plus parents Anika Byrley, Jennifer Wilson, Kevin Womac, Emily Ransom, Jane Healy, and Julie Caddick Kaufield.

The seminar on biking while pregnant will help future moms decide whether cycling during pregnancy is right for them, including an examination of different opinions from experts and parents. The session will also cover different styles of bikes (step-through frames can be helpful), riding positions, and saddles. “Like many things when you’re pregnant – sleeping, eating, and walking – it’s all about making you feel comfortable, emotionally and physically,” Resman said.

She kept biking until the 21st week of her pregnancy with Sloane, and cycled until two days before Max was born. “For me, biking was absolutely more comfortable than walking with my stomach bouncing around.” Getting fresh air while cycling can also be helpful for women experiencing morning sickness, she said. “And, unlike on the CTA, it’s nice to know that there’s always going to be a seat available for you on your bike.”

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From Minneapolis, Evidence That the Census Undercounts Walking and Biking

Biking jumped 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

Biking increased 58 percent in the Twin Cities region between 2000 and 2010. Photo: Wikipedia

The U.S. Census is the most widely cited source of data about how Americans get around. It’s updated regularly and it covers the whole country, but it comes up short in a number of ways. The Census only asks about commute trips, and commuting only accounts for about 16 percent of total household travel [PDF]. What happens when you measure the other 84 percent?

Researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to design a better way to track how people move around the Twin Cities region, and one key finding is that walking and biking appear to be growing a lot faster than the Census indicates.

The UMN survey asked about 1 percent of the region’s residents to keep a travel diary, recording every trip. This resembles the National Household Travel Survey, a more detailed but infrequently-conducted cousin to the Census data on commuting, but the sample collected by the UMN team was much bigger. That’s especially important for measuring less prevalent modes of travel like walking and biking. The UMN study also provided more detailed information about people’s origins and destinations than the National Household Travel Survey.

The UMN team found that driving decreased in the region between 2000 and 2010, while biking and walking grew. Cycling rose over that period from 1.4 to 2.2 percent of trips. That’s about 190,000 daily trips, or a 58 percent increase. Meanwhile, walking grew from 4.5 to 6.6 percent of trips, a 44 percent increase, or almost three quarters of a million daily trips. Residents of the Twin Cities region typically make about 12 million total daily trips.

What’s especially interesting is that the share of biking and walking trips in the UMN survey is much bigger than what the Census indicates — about two to three times larger.

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Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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Residents: Car-centric Plan for Vienna Beef Site Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

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The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the Vienna Beef hot dog factory. Photo: Brett Ratner

Last night at a hearing on Mid-America Real Estate Group’s preliminary proposal to redevelop the Vienna Beef hotdog factory site, local residents said they don’t relish the thought of valuable riverfront land being slathered with acres of asphalt. The community meeting, served up by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, took place at the sausage emporium, 2501 North Damen, which will be razed as part of a Chicago Department of Transportation project to reroute Elston Avenue.

The developer wants to convert this eight-acre-plus parcel at the northeast corner of the current Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection to suburban-style big box retail and office space with 437 car parking spaces. CDOT is relocating Elston about a block east of the junction, a strategy they hope will take a bite out of the intersection’s red-hot congestion problems.

The new Elston link will likely feature buffered or protected bike lanes. Plans for the site also call for some new green space, which would provide storm water mitigation, although nowhere near enough to make up for the vast amount of non-permeable surfaces created by the multiple parking lots. As required by a local ordinance, the developer would build a short stretch of river walk just east of Damen, which could potentially include a kayak launch and a water taxi station.

Waguespack said extending the river walk all the way to Fullerton would be contingent on the acquisition of the smaller land parcel to the east of the Vienna Beef property. He said that space would work well for an “REI-type” outdoor recreation gear store. There already is an REI store at 1466 North Halsted, two miles southeast. “We want a plan that will benefit the whole community,” the alderman said. “We want to find ways to capture that space and use it in ways that haven’t been done before.”

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The Divvy Density Dilemma: Are Stations in Low-Income Areas Too Far Apart?

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This station by Kennedy-King College in Englewood is a 3/4-mile walk from neighboring stations. Photo: John Greenfield

Planning a useful, equitable, and financially sustainable bike-sharing system in a big, diverse city like Chicago is no easy task. You have a finite budget, and therefore a limited number of cycles and docking stations to work with. You want to provide access to the system for as many people as possible, and you’re certain to get complaints from residents and politicians whose neighborhoods don’t get bikes. However, if you spread the available stations across too large a service area, there will be poor station density and the system won’t be convenient to use.

I respect the the fact that the Chicago Department of Transportation has had to make some tough decisions in implementing the Divvy bike-share system. However, a new study from the National Association of City Transportation Officials suggests that the city may have made a mistake by placing Divvy stations too far apart from each other in many neighborhoods, especially low-income communities. The report, titled “Walkable Station Spacing Is Key to Successful, Equitable Bike Share,” argues that cities don’t do residents any favors by creating sprawling service areas that cover large numbers of neighborhoods, but don’t provide a useful network.

Low station density discourages use and undermines equity

The NACTO paper notes that, while bike-share can be an inexpensive, time-saving form of transportation, low-income people are underrepresented among American bike-share customers. In the U.S., poor neighborhoods tend to have a relatively low density of people and destinations, and when bike-share planners respond to this by putting a lower density of stations in these communities, it exacerbates the usage issue.

The study argues that, just as people usually aren’t willing to walk more than ten minutes to a rapid transit stop, if bike-share stations are located more than a five minute walk from a person’s starting point or destination, that person will generally choose a different mode. That jibes with my personal experience. I’m fortunate to live a quarter mile away from a Divvy station, but I find the five-minute walk to and from the station a little annoying, and if it was another block away I’d probably use it less often.

NACTO’s analysis of several different North American systems supports the five-minute rule theory. They found that the number of rides per day to or from a given station increases according to its proximity to other stations. For example, bikes in New York’s Citi Bike system, with 23 stations per square mile, got more than three times as much use as those in as the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride network, with only four stations per square mile.

Therefore, NACTO recommends that stations be placed no more than a five-minute walk from each other, which they define as 1,000 feet, for a density of 28 stations per square mile. I’d argue that average walking speed is a 20-minute mile, so placing stations every quarter-mile (two standard Chicago blocks), for a density of 25 per square mile, should be sufficient.

Low-income people tend to have less spare time and disposable income than wealthier folks, so they are even more likely to be deterred from paying to use bike-share if the station locations aren’t convenient. The study argues that, while efforts to increase bike-share use by low-income people have focused on offering discounted memberships and providing access to unbanked individuals, the density issue has largely been overlooked.

NACTO recommends having a consistently high station density across the service area, including poor neighborhoods with relatively low population densities. Rather than reducing the number of stations in these communities, the number of docking points at the stations should be adjusted according to demand.

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The Philadelphia Bike Story

Of U.S. cities with more than a million residents, the one where people bike the most is Philadelphia. In 2012, the U.S. Census estimated Philadelphia’s bicycle commute rate at 2.3 percent [PDF], higher than Chicago (1.6 percent) and New York (1.0 percent).

It’s just about always been that way. That comes as a surprise to many people, since Philadelphia doesn’t have a lot of bike infrastructure. But there are other street design and urban design factors at work, many due to the fact that Philadelphia is an old city.

For one, the city has a lot of narrow streets. That makes it tougher to add bike lanes, but it also means motorists tend to travel at speeds that don’t intimidate people on bikes. On average, people also live closer to their jobs than in most other places, making bike commuting a better option. Stop signs are more prevalent than signals, and where there are traffic lights, the sequencing is short, so people on bikes don’t have to wait long at intersections. In the end, most people bike because it is the fastest, most convenient option.

Thanks to Alex Doty, executive director of the Bike Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and all the other bicyclists I got to speak with. They’ll tell you plenty more reasons why biking is good there, and how it could be better.

Streetsblog USA
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The 10 States With the Best Bike Policy Tend to Have One Thing in Common

How does your state measure up on bike policy? The League of American Bicyclists is out with its 2015 state rankings, highlighting the states that are doing the most — and the least — to make bicycling a safe and convenient way to get around. Washington tops the list for the eighth year in a row, with Alabama bringing up the rear.

Here are the top ten:

  1. Washington
  2. Minnesota
  3. Delaware
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Utah
  6. Oregon
  7. Colorado
  8. California
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Maryland

Now, these states aren’t perfect, and most still have their share of highway expansion projects in the pipeline. But most of them have one key thing in common: They’re finally letting cities and towns implement street designs like protected bike lanes, which the American engineering establishment shunned for decades. Of the top ten states, seven have endorsed the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide. Only one state that has endorsed the NACTO guide is not in the top ten — Tennessee, which the League rated number 20.

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