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Lawyer for Ginny Murray’s Family: Bike Lanes Might Have Made a Difference

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Virginia Murray on her recent trip in Europe.

This morning the parents of fallen cyclist Virginia “Ginny” Murray, fatally struck by a flatbed truck driver on July 1, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and his company, A&B Flooring Supplies. The family’s attorney says safer bike infrastructure could have helped prevent the crash.

Murray, 25, is believed to be the first person to have been fatally struck while using bike-share in the United Stated. At around 9 a.m. she was riding a Divvy bike north on Sacramento Avenue in Avondale when she rode up on the right side of the flatbed truck, which was stopped at a red light at Belmont Avenue, according to police.

After the light changed, the driver, 28-year-old Cosmin Radu, turned east, striking Murray. She was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 9:58 a.m. Radu was charged with failure to yield to a cyclist in the roadway and not having the proper driver’s license classification to drive the truck.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Murray’s parents Jim and Nancy Murray in Cook County Circuit Court by attorney Jeffrey Kroll of the personal injury firm Salvi, Schostock, and Pritchard. The suit argues that Radu failed to keep a proper lookout for cyclists and yield the right of way to a cyclist. Kroll explained that the suit does not yet mention the commercial driver’s license issue because the firm is not yet certain whether the weight of the vehicle at the time of the crash would have required Radu to have a CDL license.

The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000, the minimum amount needed to get a case into the circuit court’s Law Division. “In Cook County, you cannot ask for a specific dollar amount,” Kroll said.

“Potentially, the driver failed to yield the right of way to Ginny Murray,” Kroll said. “She was clearly visible and she clearly had the right of way. Our position is that he made a right turn without signally when he shouldn’t have and this clearly caused her death.”

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Image from security camera footage showing Murray approaching the truck from the right.

Kroll added that, after reviewing security camera footage from a nearby gas station, experts working for the law firm believe Radu didn’t signal his right turn. Therefore Virginia Murray had no warning that the driver planned to head east on Belmont, rather than north on Sacramento.

“The driver told witnesses he didn’t see Ginny either prior to the crash or at the time of impact,” Kroll said. Of the four witnesses the firm has spoken with, two said Murray seemed to be heading north from the light, while the other two said it appeared she was turning east.

“We know that Ginny was going [from her home in Wicker Park] to a babysitting job,” Kroll said. “Where she was going, she could have either been making a right turn or going straight. Regardless, she had the right of way per the municipal code,” said Kroll.

Section 9-16-020 of the Municipal Code of Chicago states:

When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.

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

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

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

Garfield Workforce Center 
10 S. Kedzie Avenue

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

Kennedy King College
 710 W. 65th Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West Garfield and Austin Got Divvy Bikes Last Week. Will Anyone Use Them?

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Rob, an Austin resident and substitute teacher, by the new Divvy station at Austin Park. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last November the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Imagine if the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation system that’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars, were mostly serving wealthy white folks. That would be messed up, right?

Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation admitted to a similarly lopsided situation with the publicly funded Divvy network, which was launched in 2013. Its survey of annual members revealed that, as is the case with most U.S. bike-share systems, membership skewed heavily white, affluent, well educated, young, and male.

That finding was no surprise. Arguably, Divvy got off on the wrong foot from a social justice standpoint in 2013, when the city concentrated most of the first 300 docking stations in dense, well-off areas downtown and on the near-north lakefront in an effort to make the system financially sustainable.

And while stations in these areas were generally installed with tight quarter-mile spacing, making it easy to walk to and from the docks from many destinations, the rest of the city typically got less-convenient half-mile spacing. Moreover, the $75 (now $99) annual membership fee and credit card requirements were financial barriers to low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

To its credit, CDOT has recently taken steps to address Divvy’s equity problem. When the system added 175 more stations last summer, many of them went to low-to-moderate-income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities on the south and west sides.

And last July the department rolled out the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers onetime $5 annual memberships to Chicagoans making $35,310 or less a year and waives the credit card requirement. More than 1,300 residents have signed up so far, well over CDOT’s target of 750 for the year.

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Why a Viral Tweet Blaming Divvy for School Funding Problems Is Misguided

Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.

The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.

First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.

The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.

Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.

OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.

However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.

As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.

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CDOT Will Roll Out “Learn to Ride” Adult Bike Handling Classes This Summer

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An adult bike handling class taught by Dave “Mr Bike” Glowacz for the Active Transportation Alliance. Photo: Active Trans

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

The city’s Divvy for Everyone (D4E) equity program, which offers one-time $5 annual memberships to low-income Chicagoans, is a great opportunity for residents to enjoy the the mobility, health, and economic benefits of bike-share. But the big, blue bikes don’t do you much good if you don’t know how to ride or don’t feel safe navigating city streets on two wheels.

A new initiative from the Chicago Department of Transportation called “Learn to Ride” will address that problem. CDOT’s Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team will teach one-time, one-to-two-hour bike handling classes to adults every weekday for six weeks this summer in two locations on the South and West Sides. The schedule and the locations, which will be parking lots, will be announced in the near future, CDOT bike and pedestrian safety and education manager Charlie Short said yesterday at a meeting of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council.

Divvy bikes, which are one-size-fits-all, slow, and easy to ride, plus helmets will be provided as loaners to class participants. In the future, the department may offer free helmets to class attendees, Short said.

“Something that we’ve heard from the folks that are [issuing the D4E memberships] is that people are curious about Divvy, and it’s certainly an appealing thing,” Short said. Over 1,300 people have signed up for the discounted memberships. “But there are folks who haven’t ridden a bike since they were a little kid, or they have a fear of riding. We want to make sure we are providing every level of service.”

There will space for 250 people to take the classes during the six-week period. “We’re not going to educate a whole lot of people, but there will be a 1:2 teacher-to-student ratio, so if you show up you will really get a hands-on-education for each class,” Short said.

If the initiative is successful, more classes may be added this year, or the program may be expanded next year, Short said. “It’s a pretty cool thing,” he said. “It’s something we’ve never done, but we know there’s a desire for it.”

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Popular “Transit” App Now Enables Bypassing the Divvy Kiosk

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If you’ve got a 24-hour pass for Divvy and you don’t want to wait in line behind these folks to retrieve your next ride code, pull out the updated “Transit” app. Photo: John Greenfield

A new partnership between Divvy and Transit app, you can now get 24-hour Divvy passes and ride codes via smartphone. This means that people who have just signed up for an annual membership won’t have to wait for a key to arrive in the mail before they can start using the blue bikes. It also means that folks who want to use bike-share for the day won’t have to wait in line at a kiosk to sign up for a pass and check out a bike.

I’ve been using the Transit app for over a year because it’s handy for figuring out the most convenient car-free travel options from wherever you are. It displays the next bus or train departure times for the three stops or stations closest to you in the iPhone notifications area, and many more in the app itself.

If you’ve just signed up for a Divvy membership and want to start riding now, you can download Transit to Android and iPhone, enter your Divvy account username and password, and request a ride code.

If you're at Rogers Park Social and open Transit, you'll see a result for the nearby Divvy station. If you're signed in to your annual membership account you'll see a button to get a ride code to unlock the bike without a key fob.

Let’s say you’re at the bar Rogers Park Social and want to check out travel options. The Transit App provides bus and Red Line arrival times, and also shows you there’s a Divvy station nearby. If you’re signed in as a Divvy member, the app will offer a ride code to unlock a bike.

You can then enter that three-digit code into the keypad of a Divvy dock to release a bike, just as you would if you’d signed up for a day pass at the kiosk. Even if you’re a longterm member, you can get ride codes via the app, which is handy if you need a bike but don’t have your key with you.

The Transit app allows you to enter payment information within and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code.

Use the Transit App to enter payment information and purchase a 24-hour pass, or use a promotional code for a free pass.

Transit will also be timesaver for short-term Divvy users. It eliminates the need to ever wait in line to register for a day pass, as well as the need to re-insert your bank card into a kiosk every time you want to check out a bike during that 24-hour period.

The sign-up process at the kiosks is time-consuming due to slowly responding touch screens, and sometimes there are long lines at the kiosks at popular locations and after special events like music festivals.

A newsletter sent to Divvy members this morning said, “We hope this new feature makes it easier when you forget your key at home, when it isn’t convenient to bring your key out, or if you just prefer to do everything by phone.”

When you open the Transit App while you’re in Chicago, a new “Unlock & Pay for Divvy Bikes!” banner appears, which leads you to these instructions. If you’re not signed in as a Divvy member and you’re near a bike-share station, Divvy shows up as a transit option. A button to “Purchase Pass” also appears. If you’re signed in, you’ll be offered the option to get a ride code.

Divvy general manager Elliot Greenberger said that they’ll be upgrading kiosks “later this month and in to June which improves the speed of getting a pass and codes.” He said they’ve redesigned the “kiosk flow” and made improvements to the underlying software.

New software has eliminated a lot of the friction of checking out low-cost public bicycles, but many Chicago streets are still in line for an upgrade.

 

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Bike-Share Equity Study Uses Old Chicago Data, But Divvy Still Needs Work

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A Divvy station outside Comer College Prep high school in Grand Crossing, a mostly African-American neighborhood. Photo: John Greenfield

A new study concludes that most U.S. bike-share cities, including Chicago, have provided much better access to stations for whites than African Americans. The report is based on fall 2014 Divvy station location data, but the coverage area has greatly expanded since then to include many more communities of color, so it’s likely that geographic access has significantly improved. However, it’s clear that more work needs to be done in Chicago before the system can be considered truly accessible to African-American and Latino residents.

Julia Ursaki and Lisa Aultman-Hall from the University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center conducted the study and presented it in January at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting. Ursaki and Aultman-Hall compared bike-share access to population demographics in Chicago, Seattle, Boston, New York City Washington, D.C., and Arlington, VA.

Aultman-Hall told me via email that, for the purposes of this study, the terms “equity” and “equality” had the same meaning. “‘Equity’ is a bike share station in all neighborhoods, in the context of this paper,” she said. “That is also ‘equal.’ We had no measure of need, alternatives or destinations. In a more complex [study], one would also have to consider if the activities or destinations needed were accessible by bicycle from the neighborhood.”

Ursaki and Aultman-Hall also reviewed previous bike-share studies and noted there are at least three main factors cities have taken into consideration when designing bike-share systems: market viability, health indicators, and economics. One such study found that the “primary market” for Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share system existed chiefly in the central business district.

This CityLab graphic using Ursaki and Aultman-Hall’s data shows the percentage of whites and African Americans who lived within 500 meters of a bike-share station as of fall 2014.

However, a second study found that if the Indego operators were interested in improving public health, they should install bike-share stations in mostly African-American West Philly. A third study asked various bike-share operators how they were trying to address equity. The operators responded that, among other initiatives, they were installing stations and other bike infrastructure in low-income areas.

CDOT spokesperson Mike Claffey told me the department looks at “a variety of equity-related criteria” when choosing station locations, including “median household income, non-white population levels, and educational attainment,” but they don’t consider health indicators such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates.

Ursaki and Aultman-Hall found that, in terms of several socioeconomic factors, Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare stations have the most equitable distribution of the seven cities they studied. That system, which debuted in 2010, is also the oldest. Neighboring Arlington is part of the same system, but its station distribution was reviewed separately.

Divvy launched in summer 2013 with 300 stations. While the initial service area extended about the same distance north and south of the Loop, areas with a higher density of people and destinations received a higher density of stations. Stations were generally placed every quarter mile in these areas, versus every half mile in other areas.

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Divvy Adding More Stations in Black Communities, Fewer Bikes Than Planned

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Photo by Wei Sun.

Back in September 2014, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced a $3 million grant to help expand the Divvy system into Oak Park and Evanston, as well new areas on Chicago’s West Side and in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The plan was to install 70 stations and 700 bikes by spring or summer of 2015.

Last summer, Chicago added 175 stations and 1,750 bikes, bankrolled by federal and city money, which expanded the original coverage area in all directions. But the state-funded equipment still hasn’t materialized yet.

Today, after introducing to City Council two intergovernmental agreements with the suburbs regarding Divvy, Mayor Emanuel announced a change to the state-funded expansion plan. Instead of 70 stations and 700 bikes, 96 stations and “more than” 250 bikes will be added to the system, with the roll-out taking place next summer.

Oak Park and Evanston, which are providing a combined $200,000 in matching funds to help fund the expansion, will be getting 13 and eight stations, respectively. Chicago, which is providing $550,000 in matching funds, will get 75 stations within the city.

Adding more stations and fewer bikes means that this year’s expansion will grow the service area faster, to include more Chicago neighborhoods than originally planned. The city had previously announced that the predominantly African-American, low-to-moderate-income Garfield Park and Austin communities on the West Side would be getting stations, as well as new sections of ethnically and economically diverse Rogers Park on the Far North Side.

However, today Emanuel said the expansion will also include several LMI or middle-class neighborhoods on the South and Southwest Sides. These include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, and Englewood. All of these are heavily African-American, except for Brighton Park, which is mostly Latino.

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Divvy Is Hiking Membership Fee to $99, Adding an Installment Option

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While Divvy has previously used CMAQ money to cover operations shortfalls, they probably won’t need to in the future. Photo: John Greenfield

The bad news: Divvy’s announced today that their annual membership fee will be rising from $75 to $99, starting on February 1. The good news: The bike-share system will be offering a new option of paying for a membership in monthly installments.

When Divvy launched back in June 2013, yearly memberships cost $75 and 24-hour passes were $7. In July 2015, the day pass price was raised to $9.95. That change didn’t affect most Chicagoans who use the system, since about two-thirds of the passes are purchased by out-of-towners, while the vast majority of members are local residents, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Also in July 2015, the city rolled out the Divvy for Everyone equity program, an attempt to address the system’s lopsided membership demographics. An earlier survey of members had found that, as is the case with most American bike-share networks, Divvy membership skews white, male, young, affluent, and well educated.

The D4E program offers one-time, $5 memberships to low-income Chicagoans, and waves the usual credit card requirement. The program, which is funded by a grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, plus matching funds from Blue Cross Blue Shield, has been wildly popular, with more than 1,100 residents signing up within five months.

The upcoming price hike for regular Divvy memberships is necessary “in order to maintain the high level of customer service that our users have become accustomed to and to continue to grow the program,” according to CDOT spokeswoman Susan Hofer. She noted that over the last two-and-a-half years, the system has expanded to have the largest coverage area of any North American bike-share network.

Hopefully, the extra revenue will be used to address the system’s growing pains. At a recent Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, South Side community representative Anne Alt noted that there have been more problems with bike availability this year, as well as maintenance issues like non-functional headlights.

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