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Eyes on the Street: Albany Park Divvy Replaces Cars Parked on Sidewalk

Cars on the sidewalk in Albany Park

Before the Divvy station went in, it was too easy for people to park their cars on the sidewalk. Photo: CDOT

A new Divvy station next to the CTA’s Francisco Brown Line stop in Ravenswood Manor, one of several installed yesterday in the Albany Park community area, replaces parkway car parking spots – which often resulted in cars blocking the sidewalk – with 11 public bike-share docks. Streetsblog Chicago reader Jim Peters gave us a heads-up about the swap.

After: A Divvy station will keep the sidewalk for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Now the sidewalk will remain clear for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel, who manages the Divvy Program, said motorists would often drive so far up on the pad that their vehicles would completely block the sidewalk. This forced pedestrians to walk in the roadway. Peters, who lives a block away, said he’s even watched parents pushing strollers in the street. “Seeing open sidewalk and bikes, instead of parked cars, is truly a beauteous sight,” he said.

Wiedel added that removing the car parking here also prevents a potentially hazardous situation. Previously, drivers backing out of the parkway obstructed through traffic, which meant it was possible for waiting motorists to get stuck on the ‘L’ tracks.

Thanks to this smart repurposing of the parkway, instead of warehousing private cars which inconvenienced and endangered residents, the space now houses a handy and affordable public transportation amenity. As of this morning, the Divvy system featured 406 stations, the largest number of stations in any U.S. city. By June, Chicago should have 476 stations, the most in North America.

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CDOT’s Sean Wiedel Provides an Update on Divvy Installation, Equity Efforts

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Divvy docking station parts are loaded onto flatbed trucks to prepare for installation. Photo: Divvy

“With all the challenges we’ve had with the equipment supplier, it’s gratifying to finally see the new Divvy stations on the ground,” said Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel regarding the city’s current bike-share expansion. “People are obviously clamoring for Divvy, so it’s exciting to be able to meet that demand.”

CDOT began installing new docking stations last week in Bronzeville and Hyde Park. They’re planning on expanding the system from its 2013 rollout of 300 docking stations and 3,000 bikes to 476 stations and 4,760 bikes by early June, in time for the annual Bike to Work Rally. The service area will nearly double, from 44.1 square miles, or 19 percent of the city’s geographic area, to 86.7 square miles, or 40 percent.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been quick to point out, this means Chicago will have more stations and a larger service area than any other North American city, although New York and Montreal will still have far more bikes. The number of Chicago wards served will grow from 13 to 33 out of 50. The portion of the population that lives in bike-share coverage areas will expand from about 33 percent to 56 percent, so most Chicagoans will live close to a station.

Crews are currently installing five-to-ten stations a day and working six days a week, Wiedel said. About 60 stations have been installed so far. Almost all South Side installations should be complete today, and then work will begin on the West Side, and finally the North Side. Downtown installations are being done on weekends.

The system was supposed to expand last year. However, the January 2014 bankruptcy of the equipment supplier, Montreal-based Public Bike Share System Company, put a wrench in that plan. PBSC has new ownership now, and Wiedel says the expansion is going much smoother than the original roll-out. “The previous round was stressful due to supply chain issues, but this time the process has been low-key. All equipment has arrived on time.” PBSC will also provide upgrade software for Divvy within the next six-to-twelve months, Wiedel said.

He added that the October 2014 sale of the former Divvy concessionaire, Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, to NYC-based Motivate, also greased the wheels. “There has been much more corporate support for the Divvy employees like [general manager] Elliot Greenberger and [operations manager] Jon Mayer.”

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The 2014 Chicago Streetsies

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[Most of these entries also appeared in Newcity magazine’s Best of Chicago issue.]

Best local universities to visit for that pedestrian-friendly, old-world feel

Loyola University and The University of Chicago

Nearly all Medieval-era cities in Europe, and countless other old cities around the world, are known for their pedestrian streets – markets and residential areas where driving is banned or limited. Two Chicago universities have recently turned streets into car-free spaces, and third has proposed a Dutch-style “woonerf” — a pedestrian-priority street. Loyola University transformed the 6300 block of North Kenmore  from a typical road into a sustainably-landscaped pedestrian and bike-only street, complete with permeable pavers that allow stormwater to drain into the ground. The University of Chicago similarly converted a block of 58th Street in front of the Oriental Institute, as well as a stretch of 58th west of Ellis. This extended the tranquil walkways of the main quadrangle into the greater Hyde Park neighborhood. Meanwhile, DePaul University has proposed building the woonerf on the block of Kenmore south of Fullerton in Lincoln Park.

Best place to see grown Chicagoans acting like little kids

The Chicago Riverwalk construction site

The less-than-incendiary Great Chicago Fire Festival made riverfront headlines, but if you wanted to check out a spectacle of different kind this summer, you could join the crowds oohing and aahing this as workers build the $100 million Chicago Riverwalk extension, slated for 2016 completion. This new segment will extend from State to Lake, incorporating six themed sections delineated by the bridges, ranging from “The Jetty” fishing area to “The Cove” kayak dock to “The Swimming Hole” water play zone. It was mesmerizing to watch towering cranes on barges driving long pilings and dropping huge loads of gravel to widen the shoreline. Sure, a barge sunk now and then, but that was part of the excitement.

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Dumping infill to build out the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

Best places to use protection

New protected bike lanes on Harrison and Broadway

It’s awesome that Mayor Emanuel is trying to build 100 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes within his first term, but a few of the locations are questionable. How many people really want to pedal on Lake Street, in the gloomy, cacophonous space below the ‘L’? However, new bikeways on Harrison in the South Loop, and Broadway in Uptown, are truly useful. The PBLs on Harrison, between Desplaines and Wabash, feature S-curves of green paint that help cyclists navigate the skewed Harrison/State intersection. PBLs and BBLs on Broadway, from Montrose to Foster, involved a “road diet,” which transformed this former four-lane speedway into a safer, more civilized place for pedestrians and drivers as well.

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Divvy Bike-Share Hopes Expanded Area, Outreach Also Expands Appeal

Damen/Pierce Divvy station being installed

Divvy installation crews will be visiting many more neighborhoods next year as the system grows by 75 percent. Photo: Steven Vance.

The December meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee included lots of news about the future of the Divvy program. Ever since the bike-share program launched on June 28, 2013, 3.1 million users, including 23,177 annual members and many daily users, have biked over 6.6 million miles starting at 300 stations.

A previously planned expansion will bring the system to 475 stations, 4750 bikes and 31 wards. That will broaden the service area’s edges to Touhy Avenue (7200 North) to 75th Street (7500 South), from the lake to as far west as Pulaski (4000 West). State grant money has been allocated for an additional 50 stations, further extending Divvy north through Rogers Park into Evanston, and west through Garfield Park and Austin into Oak Park.

A new member survey will be going out soon. Last winter’s survey showed a disappointing lack of diversity among annual members, who were 65 percent male, 79 percent white, 93 percent college educated, and averaged 34 years old. Divvy hopes that a larger coverage area, continued outreach, and efforts to increase access for the unbanked will improve diversity among both annual members and daily users.

Divvy has launched an equity initiative that applies to station siting, public outreach, hiring, and youth training. In the first two years, station siting prioritized locations with perceived high demand. The priority now is being shifted to create a higher density network of stations throughout the Divvy service area, so that lower density neighborhoods of color (where current stations are sometimes a mile apart) will be better served. The goal for both infill and expansion of the service area is for stations to be no more than half a mile apart, putting Divvy within a five minute walk of everyone within the service area.

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Despite Saturday’s Tragic Crash, Divvy Has a Strong Safety Record

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Travis Persaud.

Last weekend, medical student Travis Persaud was struck by two different drivers while riding a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive, a limited-access highway where cycling is prohibited. Persaud, 25, is the only person ever to have been critically injured while riding bike-share in Chicago since the system launched in June 2013.

Around 2:50 a.m. Saturday, Persaud was biking north on the highway near the Belmont exit, according to Officer Ana Pacheco of News Affairs. The 27-year-old male driver of a Mitsubishi told police the cyclist “was swerving between the two rightmost lanes” of the drive, Pacheco said. Persaud then “collided with and was thrown under” the car, according to Pacheco.

Another driver in a Nissan stopped in the second-rightmost lane to try to help Persaud, Pacheco said. However, a third motorist in a Honda was unable to stop, striking first the Nissan, the cyclist, and then the Mitsubishi, she said.

Persaud was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition, according to Pacheco, and was the only person injured during the chain-reaction crash. The Honda driver, a 22-year-old male, was cited for driving without insurance. “Alcohol is believed to have played a factor in this accident, as the investigation revealed that the bicyclist had a high level of alcohol in his system,” Pacheco said.

A passenger in the Mitsubishi, which was in service as an Uber vehicle at the time, told DNAinfo on Saturday that Persaud’s left foot was severed and that there was a large cut on his head. However, an update DNA posted this morning stated that the cyclist did not lose his foot, but instead suffered a broken leg and a dislocated shoulder.

Persaud is currently in a medically induced coma, his father Frank told DNA. “His prognosis is critical, but he is stable… It will be a long road to recovery, but it’s looking upward.”

Travis Persaud is a third-year medical student who had recently moved to Chicago to do a ten-month rotation at Mount Sinai Hospital, his father said. The family told DNA that Travis lives in an apartment near the crash site, and they think he was trying to cross Lake Shore Drive in order to go home when he was struck.

This is the third media-reported case of a Divvy rider on a limited-access highway in Chicago, including a woman who was spotted on Lake Shore Drive in the summer of 2013, and a woman who was seen on the Dan Ryan in October. Several commenters on the DNA articles about Persaud ridiculed the cyclist for his poor judgment in biking on the drive while intoxicated, and argued that this case is evidence that Divvy is inherently dangerous.

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Why Did Divvy Stations Dance Around River West, Lincoln Square?

A station was moved from Lincoln and Eastwood to a Leavitt and Lawrence as part of the new streetscape and road diet on Lawrence.

A station was moved from Lincoln and Eastwood to Leavitt and Lawrence, as part of the new streetscape and road diet on Lawrence.

Divvy bike-share stations were designed to be easy to move around, with their modular construction and off-grid solar power. Sure enough, plenty of Divvy members have had their routines disrupted by station moves lately: 8,000 Divvy members received word this year that stations they’d recently used were on the move. One Divvy member forwarded two such emails to Streetsblog and asked why the stations had to be moved, since the new locations didn’t seem any more convenient than the prior locations.

Over in the heart of Lincoln Square, Divvy moved a station from Lincoln and Eastwood avenues, in the midst of a thriving retail district of small shops clustered around the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Davis cinema, one-third of a mile away to Leavitt Avenue and Lawrence Avenue. Even though the move will make Divvy trips to Lincoln Square businesses a bit less convenient, there’s another dock one block up Lincoln at the Western Brown Line ‘L.’ Plus, the move expanded Divvy’s reach into the neighborhood north of Lawrence, and gives a boost to a revitalizing shopping area on Lawrence Avenue.

Sean Wiedel, who manages Divvy for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said “we worked with the 47th ward office to better serve the new Lawrence Avenue streetscape and businesses that are opening in the corridor.” Winnemac Park residents were brought into the Divvy service area, he said, whereas before they would have to cross Lawrence – a mean feat before the diet – to access existing locations in Lincoln Square or at the Ravenswood Metra station to the east. Additional Divvy docks were added at the ‘L’ stop to accommodate potential new demand within the Square.

The second relocation moved a Divvy station from Milwaukee Avenue and Green Street in River West two blocks away, to Union Street and Grand Avenue. The previous location wasn’t perfect, since it was hidden behind a block of dilapidated buildings and all but invisible from the Blue Line station entrances half a block away – but the new location is even further from the Blue Line, and also across a busy six-way intersection.

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CDOT Announces Proposed Divvy Locations for 33rd Ward

Proposed Divvy stations in 2015

Proposed 33rd Ward Divvy locations.

At the 33rd Ward transportation committee meeting last Thursday, deputy transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel presented the locations for nine proposed Divvy stations in the Northwest Side district. Alderman Deb Mell has approved all of the spots.

The locations include the three westernmost Brown Line stations and two sites near Horner Park, plus locations near Montrose/Kedzie, Irving Park/Kedzie, Elston/Addison/Kedzie, and Elston/Belmont/California. These would be installed in March, at the earliest. Installation of one of the proposed Horner Park stations, at the northeast corner of Irving Park/California, may conflict with riverbank restoration work at the park, so CDOT and the ward are looking for an alternative location.

Wiedel showed a map of the locations, as well as renderings of how each station would be oriented. In a few cases, the stations will replace metered parking spots. These metered spaces will be moved elsewhere in the ward, in keeping with the city’s parking contract.

One constituent suggested relocating the proposed Divvy station that would serve the Brown Line’s Kimball stop. The bike-share station would be installed in the street on the south side of Lawrence, just east of Christiana.

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CDOT plans to install a Divvy station to the left of this bus stop at Lawrence/Christiana. Image: Google Streetview

Currently, the north-south crosswalk for this T-shaped intersection runs right into an eastbound bus stop for the #81 Lawrence bus, so buses often block the crosswalk. To address this problem, the resident suggested moving the bus stop east of Christiana, to where the Divvy station is proposed. The bike-share station could then be placed where the bus stop is now.

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Sources: Alta Buyout a Done Deal; Citi Bike Fleet to Double

The REQX Alta purchase bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, and Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike, have agreed to terms on the purchase, according to published accounts and sources familiar with the negotiations.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. In July, the expansion was rumored to reach up to 145th Street in Manhattan, western Queens, and another ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods adjacent to the current service area. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

The city is expected to make an official announcement soon. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg refused to discuss the Alta deal at a press conference earlier today about NYC’s new 25 mph speed limit.

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Motorists Respond to Stranded Divvy Rider With Concern, Not Abuse

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The Divvy rider on the Dan Ryan. Photo: Stephanie Kemen

Remember the unfortunate young woman who found herself pedaling a Divvy bike on Lake Shore Drive last November? Instead of offering to help the endangered rider, a couple of people driving by thought it was funny to shoot a cell phone video of her, while repeatedly calling her a “dumb b—-.” After the clip went viral on YouTube, many more people joined the chorus of ridicule, including a Chicagoist writer and downtown Alderman Brendan Reilly.

A similar incident happened last Saturday morning on the Dan Ryan, but this time the motorists had a more compassionate response. Stephanie Kemen was driving south on the Ryan with her boyfriend when they spotted a woman pedaling on the expressway near 18th Street, RedEye reported. “I felt so bad for her,” Kemen said. “I think at first we were laughing … but her legs looked tired.”

The boyfriend rolled down the window to let the woman know that biking on the Ryan is illegal and dangerous. “She was like, ‘I know, I know,’ and you could hear in her voice that she was scared s—less,” Kemen said. Afterwards, they called 311 and 911 to report the incident to the authorities. State police who responded said they received several calls about an “elderly woman” biking on the expressway, but when they arrived, she was gone. “I hope she’s OK,” Kemen said.

“We don’t know who rode the bike nor what the circumstances were, so we don’t know enough about the situation to comment on it,” Divvy manager Elliot Greenberger told me. “We’ve served nearly 2.9 million trips in the past 16 months and there have only been a couple of incidents like this that we’ve become aware of, usually through social media.”

Former Active Transportation Alliance staffer Lee Crandell summed up the situation nicely in a comment on the RedEye site:

Divvy users are just regular people, and incidents like this are a good indication of how unintuitive and confusing our streets are for regular people. I can see how if you’re not an “avid cyclist” and you’re riding on streets you’re not familiar with, you could easily end up making a wrong turn onto a highway ramp. And many Chicago streets already feel like expressways, so you might just keep riding before you realize your mistake.

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Are Lawbreaking Divvy Riders Really Causing Major Safety Issues?

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Detroit Native Junior Bashi rides on a Michigan Avenue sidewalk near the Art Institute. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Chicago’s master bike-baiter, Tribune columnist John Kass, was one of the first local pundits to warn the public about the dangers of Divvy. “I can’t stand those Divvy bike people,” he griped in an online video in August 2013, a couple months after the system launched. “Go outside on Michigan Avenue… Reporters going in and out of this building almost get killed. ‘Cause you’ve got some little old lady from Denmark… and she’s on the sidewalk, and she’s almost smashing into the Polish pedi-bike guys.”

However, more than one year and 2.6 million trips later, the bike-share system has a solid safety record. To date, there have been zero reports of Divvy riders being involved in crashes resulting in serious injuries. What’s more, last August Reuters reported that there have been no bike-share-related deaths in the U.S. since modern bike-share debuted in this country seven years ago.

Probably the biggest reason bike-share is so safe is the cycles themselves. They’re heavy vehicles with low gearing, which discourages fast speeds. They have a low center of gravity and fat tires that help take the shock out of potholes. Their fully enclosed brakes work well in wet conditions, and generator lights ensure that riders are easy to spot at night.

Still, ethnic stereotyping aside, there does seem to be a kernel of truth to Kass’ complaint of lawbreaking by Divvy riders. I myself have noticed a number of people pedaling the bikes on the sidewalk or against traffic, usually in the Loop or River North. I could see how this behavior could annoy or freak out pedestrians and drivers.

There was the time I encountered a line of six adults riding Divvies on the sidewalk for several blocks of Jackson Boulevard in the Loop. It turned out they were visiting from São Paulo, Brazil. When I explained that sidewalk riding by adults is illegal in Chicago, their leader replied, “What? It says right here [in text between the handlebars] ‘Walk bikes on sidewalk.’” It turns out that the Portuguese for “to ride a bike” is “andar de bicicleta” or “to walk by bicycle.” No wonder they were confused.

At a recent meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, a rep from a local bike-rental company said that she’s heard complaints that Divvy users don’t seem to be as aware of the rules of the road as other cyclists. She asked what’s being done to educate these customers about safety before they’re allowed to hit the streets.

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