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Rogers Parkers Discuss Plans for Divvy Stations, Greenway

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Proposed 49th Ward Divvy locations — none go north of Touhy.

The city is gearing up to add 175 more Divvy bike-share stations this year, bringing the total to 475. On Thursday, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore hosted a community meeting at Eugene Field elementary to discuss potential Divvy station locations within Rogers Park. The meeting also covered the proposed north-south neighborhood greenway that’s a ballot item in the ward’s upcoming participatory budgeting election. Joining Moore to discuss these projects were Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel and bikeways planner David Smith.

Wiedel began by discussing the nuts and bolts of the bike-share system: how to join, pricing, station locations and the expansion plans. There are currently about 15,000 annual members, 2,675 bikes and 5,152 docks in the system. Assuming that the January bankruptcy of Bixi, which supplies the bikes and stations for Divvy, doesn’t throw a wrench in the works, there should be a total of 4,750 bikes available in Chicago by late 2014. When an attendee asked about crashes involving Divvy users, Wiedel replied that over the system’s nine month history, there have only been a handful of reported crashes, which have resulted in no serious injuries.

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How Do We Divvy? Data Challenge Winners Find Out

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Rodney Louie found that 25 percent of Divvy trips are taken in groups.

Divvy announced the Divvy Data Challenge‘s six winners this morning on its website. I talked to three winners to learn how they created their submissions, and what they learned about Divvy users in the process. The Data Challenge began February 11, when Divvy released data about 759,788 trips taken in 2013 and asked the public to create visualizations of numbers and patterns about bike-share in Chicago.

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Divvy data challenge: winner of Most Creative

Serendivvity reveals where and when men and women use Divvy bike-share.

This category had two winners since, as Divvy says, “Serendivvity and Sound of Divvy were both so creative, we couldn’t pick just one winner!” Serendivvity is a “parody of a dating website based on the gender and age data aggregated” from Divvy members. It was created by designers Alex Killough, Craig Clark, Sabella Flagg, Stephen Menton, and Theresa Stewart of gravitytank.

Serendivvity visitors are asked if they’re looking for “dames” or “dudes,” and in which neighborhood. In other words, Serendivvity is a map that can tell someone when to show up at which Divvy dock to “meet a rider of their preference.”

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Divvy Supplier Sale May Delay Expansion But Station Locations Nearly Ready

First Divvy bike share station opens in Daley Plaza

CDOT assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel, left, talks to people about Divvy at Daley Plaza. Photo: WBEZ/Robin Amer

The Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy will be installing 175 bike-share stations this year with a new method that avoids last year’s haphazard and seemingly random distribution. Instead, they will be placing all stations in each of 10 selected areas at once. This way, CDOT assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel told Streetsblog, “that area will have an instant network” of stations.

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Dark purple is current Divvy coverage area; light purple is a rough estimate of the future coverage area. Map: ITDP, Steven Vance, Daniel Ronan

CDOT has divided the system expansion – which will place about 20 percent of stations in the existing service area – into 10 sections. They are, in no particular order, Hyde Park/Woodlawn, South Shore, Edgewater/Rogers Park, Washington Park, Albany Park, Avondale/Logan Square, Garfield Park, Ukrainian Village, Pilsen/Douglas Park, and Canaryville/Bronzeville.

Last year, a neighborhood may have gotten a station here and there, and then a neighborhood on the opposite side of town would get a couple of stations. They would be turned on at different times, and become useful for only a handful of scattered residents. This year, all stations for each section – Hyde Park/Woodlawn, for example – will be installed in the same week.

Wiedel said this helps to better coordinate outreach. “We’ll have staff in that neighborhood that same week,” Wiedel explained.

Station selection for all 10 areas was completed, Wiedel noted, saying “we’ll survey in the field in the next day or so.” After that CDOT will send station information packets to aldermen for their approval. Daniel Ronan wrote earlier this month that “biggest challenge in placing stations last year was opposition from aldermen, merchants, and residents to replacing on-street car parking spaces with Divvy stations.”

Wiedel also gave an update Wednesday at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council about Divvy supplier Public Bike System Co., which filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada. Read more…

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Ice Ice Divvy: How Has the System Performed During This Brutal Winter?

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Riding on Milwaukee northwest of Desplaines. Photo: Steven Vance

[This piece ran last week in Checkerboard City, my column in Newcity magazine, which hits the street on Wednesday evenings. After yesterday's gorgeous weather, with temperatures in the 50s, I was concerned the piece might seem a bit dated today if I syndicated it on Streetsblog. Fortunately, six-to-eight inches of snow are predicted for this evening, so we can look forward to more Divvy slush fun.]

From its June 28 launch to New Year’s Eve, Chicago’s Divvy bike-share system racked up an impressive 759,788 rides. But the acid test for the new system has been the remainder of this kidney stone of a winter, Chicago’s fifth snowiest on record, featuring more than twenty days with subzero lows. I checked in with general manager Elliot Greenberger to see how Divvy has been faring during the Chiberia deep-freeze. “Weather has been a challenge this winter, not only for us but for all kinds of transportation systems that have been around for decades,” he says.

The biggest difficulty of keeping Divvy running has been making sure the docking stations are free of snow and ice when people return their bikes, which has been tricky since we’ve had so many days of precipitation followed by frigid temperatures. Crew members have been using shovels, ice picks and road salt to keep the docks clear.

However, maintaining the bikes themselves hasn’t been a big problem during the cold season. “There have been no major issues with mechanical problems or tires losing their pressure faster,” Greenberger says. “But with all the dirty snow, keeping the bikes clean is a challenge. They don’t look great, but it’s nothing we can’t solve with a rag and some cleaner.”

Since ridership drops during the winter, the docks are stocked with fewer rides. There were 2,400-2,500 bikes out on the street at a time during the peak season, but nowadays there are only about 1,800.

Despite the nasty weather, Greenberger said “ridership is about where Divvy management expected it to be.” The highest bike use last year took place in September, with 203,487 rides. Divvy projected that winter ridership would be fifteen-to-twenty percent of that, but December was relatively strong, with 44,457 trips taken, about twenty-three percent of peak ridership. However, In January there were only 25,031 rides.

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As Divvy Grows, Station Placement Should Work for Pedestrians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eyes on the Street: What Kind of Person Rides Divvy in the Winter?

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Adam Loedint at the Daley Center. Photo: John Greenfield

This winter, Chicago’s fifth snowiest on record, with over 20 subzero days, has been a test for whether bike-share can be viable year-round in U.S. cities with harsh northern climates. The multitude of baby-blue bikes I observed whizzing by the Daley Center during this evening’s rush hour (and, no, Critical Mass hadn’t started yet) suggests Divvy is still going strong. I buttonholed bike-share user Adam Loedint, an engineer, to ask how the system has been working out for him during this unforgiving season.

John Greenfield: Are you commuting home from work?

Adam Loedint: Yeah, I work at Monroe and Wabash and live around Ohio and Franklin, so it’s about an eight-minute ride.

JG: Do you ride Divvy regularly during the winter?

AL: Every day.

JG: How’s it been working out?

AL: I’ve been very happy. I think it’s the best thing to happen to Chicago since I’ve been here.

JG: Any issues with mechanical difficulties?

AL: When it got real cold, I noticed some tires were flat. So that just turned into one thing I would look for before rolling it, but there’s always more bikes in the winter too, so it’s not a problem.

JG: Was there ever a time when you went riding on a Divvy and you found it was just painfully cold?

AL: You know, the only time I got a bike and brought it back was not ‘cause of cold. It was just raining so hard. That was actually before the winter. In the winter, one day I forgot my gloves, so I took the ‘L’ that day, but otherwise, no, no problems.

JG: Anything else you want to tell me about your Divvy winter experience?

AL: I tell you, all the old guys at my office don’t get it at all. They can’t understand the 30-minute trips aspect, how that could be useful, and they worry about getting stuck somewhere. I don’t know how to explain it to them. There seems to be an age gap there.

JG: I’m sure they’ll wrap their heads around it some day.

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Divvy Surveying Members About Different Pricing Options

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What’s the ideal pricing structure for Divvy?

Divvy started sending out surveys yesterday asking how members use the system, whether their patterns have changed over time, how often they drive and take public transit, and what would get them to ride a bike more. The survey also asked members for their opinion of hypothetical changes to the system’s current price and fee structure.

The survey I received laid out these potential scenarios for memberships: $25 per month or $90 per year for the same package that’s currently offered for $75, and a $125 annual membership called “Gear” that includes includes five one-day guest passes. (This offer is currently available on Groupon for $65.)

Rest assured, Divvy isn’t on the verge of hiking the annual fee. “We’re trying to get more information from riders so we can offer them the best membership options,” said spokesman Elliot Greenberger, adding that customers have asked for a monthly membership option and a longer period to take trips without incurring late fees. “The goal of the survey is to find out what riders actually want.”

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s bike-share planning guide says that while many cities have done their own “market studies to understand the effect of various price structures on usage and revenue generation,” there has been little academic research.

The surveys Divvy is sending vary, with different versions of the pricing questions randomly distributed, Greenberger said. The survey I completed also asked how much I would be willing to pay for a 45- or 60-minute use period without fees.

In addition to monthly memberships, one option Divvy should consider adding is a seven-day pass, which New York’s Citi Bike offers. At $25, it’s cheaper than a one-week MTA pass. Citi Bike sells annual memberships for $95, with a 45-minute period before fees kick in.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Metra Gets Funding for Positive Train Control in Bill on Obama’s Desk (Crain’s)
  • 32nd Ward Anti-BRT Alderman Waguespack to Participate in “Ask Me Anything” From 1-3 P.M. (Reddit)
  • Canaryville Residents Ask for Divvy at Eight Locations (DNA)
  • Law Firm Tries Scare Press Release Painting Divvy as Dangerous (Digital Journal)
  • Driver Denies Causing Bicyclist Crash Caught on Dashcam Video (My Bike Advocate)
  • Reginald Green, 29, Gets DUI in Yesterday’s Ashland/Chicago Crash That Hurt Seven (CBS)
  • Outside Prosecutor Brought In to Try CBS 2 Reporter With DUI (Beacon)
  • Columnist Quizzes Motorists on Lawful Way to Turn Left at Intersections (Tribune)
  • City Publishes Interactive Map Showing Recently Fixed Potholes (DNA)
  • Play Reenacating CTA Riders’ Experience to Have 100th Saturday Showing (RedEye)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

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Why Divvy Needs to Densify as It Expands

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Divvy is shown as a “low performance” (red) bike-share system in this chart from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. While it is a young system and still growing, Divvy needs to increase its station density.

For a very new American bike-share system, Divvy is doing well, but it has a lot of room to improve, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s new Bike Share Planning Guide [PDF]. The guide includes best practices for designing, distributing, and marketing this new form of transit. While Divvy is still growing and hasn’t gone through a full peak season yet, the guide illustrates one area where Chicago should focus on improving its bike-share system: station density.

ITDP evaluated Divvy and more than two dozen other bike-share systems according to two basic metrics: daily trips per bike (a.k.a. “system efficiency”) and trips per capita (or “market penetration”). The guide says between four and eight trips per bike is a good range. Fewer than four daily trips per bike, and there’s too much slack in the system. More than eight, and the availability of bikes and docks will suffer. (This is a problem New York City has seen, even outside rush hour.)

In Divvy’s peak 30-day period, the system saw just over three daily trips per bike, below ITDP’s recommended range. Sean Wiedel, assistant commissioner at the Chicago Department of Transportation, pointed out that Divvy continued to expand through the summer and fall. Because ITDP’s guide was written while Divvy was still rolling out stations, he said, it gives an incomplete picture of system performance. Looking at American cities that launched bike-share networks a year or more before Chicago, he said, Divvy “is on par with systems that have been in operation considerably longer.”

Divvy will probably gain steam in the year ahead. To reach the level of use of the most successful systems, though, planners will have to increase station density as the system expands.

Colin Hughes, one of the guide’s authors and ITDP’s policy director in D.C., clarified that the 30-day period they analyzed in Chicago occurred before all current Divvy stations were online. He then recommended that to improve Divvy’s “mobility performance” planners should focus first on “increasing station density significantly within the coverage zone.” He added that Divvy could improve performance by also increasing the number of bikes or by having more stations with fewer docks.

The ITDP guide recommends that stations should be spaced about 300 meters, or 984 feet, apart from each other. This is the same station density that Chicago’s bike-share RFP sought for “most of the implementation zone.” But most Divvy stations — especially ones outside downtown — don’t meet this standard. Using data from Alex Soble’s Divvy Brags application, I found that only 34 out of 300 Divvy stations have at least one station within a 300 meter bike trip.

The RFP said stations in outlying areas “or areas of lower demand” should have other stations located between 300 and 500 meters apart. Of all the current Divvy stations, 183 — or 61 percent — are within 500 meters of another station.

Divvy stations are densest in downtown, West Town/River West, West Loop, and Cabrini Green. There are especially high concentrations of Divvys near Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center, reflecting the importance of using bike-share extend the reach of transit.

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The 2013 Chicago Streetsie Awards

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Season’s Greetings Streetsblog Chicago readers. I hope you’ve had a joyful December and are gearing up for a fabulous New Year’s Eve.

2013 has been a banner year for walking, biking and transit in the Windy City, but there were so many landmarks and firsts, as well as a few discouraging developments, that it’s a bit hard to wrap your head around all the events that took place during our first year of publication. For a recap of some of the key happenings, here are this year’s awards, which also ran in Newcity magazine’s Best of Chicago issue. Without further ado, here are the Streetsies…

Best way to squander $2.75 billion and defund public transportation: The Illiana Tollway. On October 17, reps from Metra and Pace shot their own agencies in the foot, casting the deciding yes votes in a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning policy committee decision on whether to move forward with this 47-mile boondoggle. The Illiana would run south of the urbanized Chicago area, serving relatively few motorists and creating only an estimated 940 jobs over the next 40 years, but it would compete with transit for scarce transportation funding. However, Governor Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation, which controls the flow of federal dollars to these agencies, pushed hard for the tollway. Metra and Pace caved in to the pressure, which means a darker future for regional transportation.

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BRT supporters march to the South Side hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

Best new idea for public transportation: Bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue. Urban planners from across the country are watching Chicago to see if we can build the nation’s first “gold-standard” BRT corridor. The CTA wants to convert two of the four travel lanes on Ashland to bus-only lanes, with center-running buses stopping every half mile at median stations, creating an ‘L’ train-like experience. Rush hour bus speeds would be nearly doubled to 15.9 mph, which is what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative. However, the plan faces stiff opposition from residents who are freaked out about the street reconfiguration and the prohibition of most left turns. Who will win the battle of Ashland?

Best CTA success story: The Red Line South reconstruction. When the CTA announced it was shutting down the Red Line from Cermak to 95th for five months to replace 10.2 miles of track, many predicted the $425 million project would cause major headaches for South Siders. However, if the work were only done on weekends it would have cost $75 million more and taken four years. The agency minimized the hassles for riders by providing solid alternative service, including frequent shuttle buses, so that many commutes were actually shorter during the rehab. When the line reopened on October 20, customers were rewarded with a ten-minute-shorter trip from 95th to Roosevelt on silky-smooth rails.

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Forrest Claypool speaks at the South Red Line ribbon cutting. Photo: John Greenfield

Best thing about the new Divvy bike-sharing system: Watching the Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch change his tune. When Divvy debuted, the Trib ran a series of articles painting the system as a rip-off, dysfunctional and racist. “Nobody is going to pay $75 — plus daily overtime fees — to ride a bike a few times,” said William Choslovsky, a random “bicycle-riding lawyer” quoted in a Hilkevitch piece. Less than two months after the launch, Divvy riders had racked up more than 150,000 rides and 458,000 miles, and Hilkevitch ran a column that all but admitted his earlier hatchet pieces were off base, noting that Choslovsky is now a bike-share convert. As Bob Dylan sang, “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”

Best guess about why the CTA decided to implement the glitchy new Ventra system: They had to. The transit agency says it had no choice because Cubic Transportation Systems, the company that made the Chicago Card, stopped manufacturing magnetic strip cards. The CTA was glad to get out of the banking business by having Cubic take over managing the new Ventra machines. The agency says it stands to save $50 million in operations costs over the next decade. That’s great in theory, but the launch has been rife with snafus, including dozens, or even hundreds, of cards showing up in the mail for a single person. Hopefully, a few months from now these growing pains will be just a memory.

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The Berteau Greenway. Photo: Renee Patten, Huffington Post

Best new bikeway: The Berteau Greenway. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar is one of the city’s most progressive politicians on transportation issues, and the only one to endorse the CTA’s bus rapid transit plan. Adding to his street cred is the Berteau Greenway, running a mile between Lincoln and Clark. This bike-priority street allows two-way pedaling on otherwise one-way sections. Car traffic is calmed by bumpouts with landscaping to absorb storm water, a traffic circle and a 20 mph speed limit. The project was watered down somewhat by neighbors who objected to plans to prohibit automobile through traffic, but the greenway is still a shiny new jewel in Chicago’s cycling crown.

Best argument for automated speed enforcement cameras: More than 200 people clocked doing over 60 mph on city streets. Chicago’s speed cam program has been trashed as Big Brother stomping on citizens’ automotive freedom, but numbers don’t lie. On October 11, CDOT announced that nine cameras had issued warnings to more than 200,000 speeders within 40 days. More than 200 involved drivers going over sixty, ten were traveling over 80 mph, and one was driving a terrifying 90 mph. The cams recently started issuing real tickets, with the revenue going towards pedestrian safety and anti-violence programs. Call it a money grab if you like, but if we can discourage speeding, punish lead-foot drivers and fund safety initiatives at the same time, that’s a win-win-win.

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The logo for the 606, AKA the Bloomingdale.

Best name for The 606, other than The 606 or the Bloomingdale Trail: The 666. What’s not to like about the Bloomingdale Trail, the 2.75-mile elevated greenway and linear park that promises to put NYC’s High Line to shame? The new name. To avoid confusion with Bloomingdales department store, the city has re-christened the trail plus its access parks as The 606, although the path itself will go by its old appellation. The reboot is a necessary evil for attracting corporate sponsorship, but the planners were asking for trouble by choosing a name that’s so similar to the Number of the Beast. They’re one step ahead of us though – the logo features an extra-large zero, making it difficult to transform into a legible six with the stroke of a Sharpie.

Best feature of the planned Wrigley Field renovations: A proposed 500-car parking garage north of the stadium got kyboshed. The Cubs are lucky to be headquartered in a walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly neighborhood that’s dense with bars and restaurants, and everyone agrees that car traffic is already a nightmare on game days. So why did the team, Alderman Tom Tunney, and some of the neighbors think it might be a good idea to build a massive garage on top of the vast parking lot that sits north of the stadium, a move that would only encourage more people to drive to games, further clogging the streets? Luckily, Eric Hanss launched a petition against the structure that garnered 238 signatures, which helped convince the powers that be to deep-six the proposal. Unfortunately, the city did approve a 493-car parking garage as part of a new mixed-use development just south of the ballfield at the southeast corner of Clark and Addison, despite the fact that this location is a two-minute walk from the Addison Red Line stop.

Most dearly departed Chicago department head: Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. You’d expect something different from a CDOT chief who went to middle school on an ashram with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. After coming here from D.C. with an emphasis on “complete streets” that serve all road users, not just drivers, in just a few years he racked up an impressive list of groundbreaking projects. We now have dozens of miles of protected and buffered bicycle lanes and thousands of Divvy bikes; Bloomingdale Trail construction and the Make Way for People public space program are in progress; and bus rapid transit and the riverwalk extension are on the horizon. While it was a bummer to see him leave town last month to re-enter the private sector, with plans to launch new transportation technology startups, we’ve got our fingers crossed Klein’s successor will be someone just as progressive.