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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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Did Chicago Bike Commuting Really Dip in 2013?

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The Census Bureau released American Community Survey estimates for 2013 last week, which report that the number of people biking to work in Chicago has decreased from 1.6 percent in 2012 to 1.4 percent in 2013. This could well prove to be a one-year blip against a broader, multi-year trend that has seen bike commuting nearly triple since 2000.

Other cities have also seen temporary declines in this key statistic, then went on to see strong gains. In New York City, the Census reported that the proportion of workers commuting by bike dropped in 2008 and 2009, but then doubled in subsequent years. Streetsblog Network’s earlier story on the data release included a chart from Bike Portland showing the growth of bike commutes in various cities, with substantial year-to-year fluctuation across all of them. For instance, Portland’s commute rate dipped in 2007, then rocketed by 50 percent in 2008 — and that gain has stuck ever since.

It’s easy to overstate the importance of the Census’ bike-to-work statistic. This number is widely reported mostly because the reliable Census Bureau updates it annually, and makes it easy to find and compare. Ultimately, though, national advocates acknowledge that it’s a woefully incomplete measure of bicycling, and not just because it only measures commute trips.

The particular dataset released last week, the American Community Survey one-year estimate for 2013, is particularly unreliable because it draws from a very small sample: The total number of Chicagoans who told the Census they biked to work last year numbers around 400. A shift of just a few dozen people, for reasons like poor weather or pure chance, can impact the final tally. Due to the small sample size, the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.2 percentage points. So, the true mode share in 2013 could have gone up relative to 2012, decreased even more, or stayed the same.

The American Community Survey also reports estimates based on several years of surveys, which are more reliable but which would be even slower to pick up on rapidly changing phenomena. Bicycling in Chicago is improving quickly, and even the 2013 survey (which is administered monthly) wouldn’t have captured the full impact of many miles of new protected or buffered bike lanes and a huge bike-sharing system – both of which should meaningfully increase the number of Chicagoans biking to work.

The more reliable multi-year estimates from the American Community Survey are due later this year, and in 2015 a new National Household Travel Survey will give us a better look at bicycling for non-work trips. Chicago doesn’t have to wait for the feds to tell us about what’s happening on our own streets, though. The area can always do its own measures of bicycling, for instance through in-depth travel surveys (perhaps piggybacking on the NHTS, as other areas do) or through on-street counts.

Updated with a clarification about the survey’s margin of error.

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Pullman Pouter: Konkol Gripes That His Neighborhood Is a Transit Desert

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Mark Konkol

It’s always a chuckle to read DNAinfo.com columnist Mark Konkol’s misguided musings on transportation issues.

When the city installed protected bike lanes on Kinzie, in front of the Sun-Times office where Konkol worked at the time, he wrote a series of articles blasting the PBLs as “bunk” that caused gridlock for drivers. “They’re a giant waste of money that probably don’t protect anybody,” he fumed. “Not bicyclists. Not drivers. Not pedestrians.”

Actually, a city traffic study found that, because the bike lanes helped to better organize car traffic, rush-hour travel times for drivers generally improved after the PBLs went in. Meanwhile, morning rush-hour bike ridership increased by 55 percent. And, while we don’t have safety stats for Chicago’s protected lanes yet, a study found that New York’s 9th Avenue PBL led to a 56 percent reduction in crashes for all road users.

More recently, Konkol blamed protected lanes, as well as a bike-share station, for the temporary closure of his favorite eatery, River West’s Silver Palm. “The addition of protected bike lanes and a Divvy bike station coupled with Milwaukee Avenue construction gobbled customer parking spots and had shooed diners away,” he wrote in a DNA piece. In fact, the Divvy station was installed on the sidewalk, so it eliminated zero car parking, while adding 12 bike parking spaces that the restaurant’s customers can use.

Since Konkol had previously claimed that Divvy stations can drive merchants out of business, it was amusing to read yesterday that he’s bummed that bike-share hasn’t come to his neighborhood yet. That complaint was included in a column arguing that many affluent Chicagoans don’t understand the challenges faced by people in low-income, high-crime areas.

That’s a worthwhile topic, but Konkol approached it in a dubious manner. First of all, he conflates the Pullman Historic District, the picturesque, safe, middle-class-and-gentrifying enclave where he lives, with the besieged communities that surround it. “If I’m honest, living there… has always been something of a struggle,” he writes.

This summer, instead of spending his vacation money on a long beachfront getaway, he subleased a $2,440 a month condo in Streeterville. Ironically, he used that experience to write a “Tale of Two Cities”-style narrative, preaching about how privileged his North Side neighbors were.

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CDOT Previews Chicago’s Next Round of New Bikeways

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New protected bike lanes on Lake Street. Photo: John Greenfield

The quarterly meetings of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council are a good place to get up to speed on Chicago’s latest bike developments. Wednesday’s meeting was no exception, with updates on bike lane construction, off-street trails, Divvy bike-share, and more. The sessions take place during business hours, but if your schedule allows you to attend, you can get on the mailing list by contacting Carlin Thomas, a consultant with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bike program, at carlin.thomas[at]activetrans.org.

CDOT Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton kicked things off by introducing MBAC’s four new community representatives. All four are seasoned bike advocates, so they’ll likely be an asset to the meetings, bringing on-the-ground knowledge of their respective districts.

Anne Alt, who works at the bike law firm FK Law (a Streetsblog sponsor) and volunteers with Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, will represent the South and Southwest Sides. Kathy Schubert, the founder of the Chicago Cycling Club who successfully lobbied CDOT to start installing non-slip “Kathy plates” on bridge decks, will cover the North Side.

Miguel Morales, a former networker for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children and current West Town Bikes board member, will represent the West Side. And Bob Kastigar, a longtime activist who launched petition drives in support of fallen cyclist Bobby Cann and the proposal for a safety overhaul on Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park, will cover the Northwest Side.

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Kastigar, Morales, Schubert, and Alt. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld somberly noted that Chicago has seen seven bike fatalities this year, up from three by this time last year. The crashes generally took place on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. All but one involved a driver, and the victims ranged in age from 20-year-old Jacob Bass to 59-year-old Suai Xie.

CDOT Assistant Director of Transportation Planning Mike Amsden provided an update on the department’s efforts to put in 100 miles of buffered and protected lanes by 2015. So far, 67.75 miles have been installed, with 19.5 miles built this year, Amsden said. An additional 23.5 miles of federally funded lanes are slated for construction in spring 2015. These include Lawrence (Central to Central Park) and Milwaukee (Lawrence to Elston).

Currently, 14 miles of bikeways are going through the approval process and could be built this fall or next spring. These include Elston (Webster to the northernmost intersection of Elston and Milwaukee, near Peterson), Kedzie (Milwaukee to Addison), and Pershing (King to Oakwood). Another 7.5 miles are tied to street repaving projects, and are slated for construction this fall or in spring 2015. These include Armitage (Western to Damen) and Augusta (Central Park to Grand). Presumably, the lion’s share of all of these upcoming bikeways will be buffered bike lanes, rather than protected lanes.

Amsden reported that recently built buffered and protected lanes on Broadway in Uptown have been getting positive reviews from business owners, pedestrians, and cyclists. A brand-new stretch of PBLs and BBLs on Lake Street from Central Park to Austin means you can now ride five miles from Damen to the city limits on next-generation lanes, albeit it under the shadow and noise of ‘L’ tracks. Buffered lanes were recently striped on Marquette, from Cottage Grove to Stony Island, and from California to Damen.

“Next we’re going to start focusing on closing the gaps in our network,” Amsden said. “We’re really trying to create a cohesive system by looking at areas of concern, like difficult intersections.”

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Ridership Profile Shifts Slightly After Divvy’s First Full Summer

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Trips on Divvy bike-share peaked during July of this year.

The monthly count of bike-share trips in Chicago peaked this July at 410,392 trips, according to a new data release from Divvy. Trips then declined by five percent from July to August, which is traditionally a slow month due to vacations. While there’s now a full year of trip data on Divvy, the staged rollout last fall (through October) kept ridership relatively low during the first few months.

Nearly two-thirds of Divvy trips in the first half of 2014 were made by subscribers, up from 53 percent in the second half of 2013. This could be an indication that local residents, now familiar with the system, have switched from occasional day passes to annual passes, or it could be tied to the shift in seasons.

The number of annual-subscriber trips taken by women remains low — below the level of women who commute by bike in Chicago (as counted by the Census) and the number of women who use bike-share in other cities. In 2013, women subscribers made just 21 percent of trips, which increased to 23 percent of trips in 2014 through June.

Women who subscribe continue to take longer trips than men who subscribe. This year, up to June, female subscribers on average cycled 14 minutes and 23 seconds, while male subscribers cycled 11 minutes and 33 seconds.

Trip duration for both genders increased slightly from 2013 to 2014, which could be due to the growing reach of the station network (making longer trips possible) and the growing subscriber base.

The top ten stations where riders – both subscribers and 24-hour pass holders – began their trips pretty much stayed the same, with several changing ranking, and only two dropping off from 2013 to 2014. Of these top ten stations, the number of trips starting at Navy Pier increased by 32 percent and trips from Theater on the Lake, at Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, increased by 69 percent. The other stations increased by less than six percent, while the Museum Campus and Millennium Park stations saw declines in trips begun of 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

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