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

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.

2016 ExpansionMap_EvOP_160526_v3
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.”

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.

Asked about the lack of stations on the southwest side of Evanston, Knapp noted that this quadrant is less dense than other parts of the suburb. This is partly due to the presence of James Park, a large green space, plus big-box development between Main Street and Howard along the North Shore Channel. She added that some residents of the southwest quadrant will also be able to access stations along Howard in Rogers Park.

Still, it’s worth noting that much of Evanston’s African-American and Latino population is concentrated on the southwest side of the suburb. Even taking into account the Rogers Park stations, when you superimpose the station locations over a “racial dot map” showing the distribution of residents by race, it appears that Black and Latino Evanston residents may have somewhat worse-than-average access to the system compared to the general Evanston population. Knapp declined to comment on the subject.

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Evanston (purple) and Chicago (black) Divvy station locations superimposed over a racial dot map. Map prepared by Steven Vance based on a racial dot map created by the New York Times using 2010 Census data.

A couple of caveats about the above map. It is based on 2010 data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey, so the information is somewhat dated, but it’s unlikely that there have been major changes to Evanston’s racial distribution during the last six years. Also note that that the map shows population dots in unpopulated areas such as as parks and cemeteries because dots are randomly placed within each Census tract. While the above map certainly isn’t the last word on this subject, it suggests that the city of Evanston should take a closer look at whether the station distribution is equitable.

According to survey results released last year by , the demographics of Divvy’s annual members had skewed heavily white and affluent, as has been the case with most major U.S. bike-share systems. This was partly due to the fact that stations were initially concentrated in downtown Chicago and on the Near-North Lakefront.

In recent years Chicago has addressed this issue by adding more stations in low-to-moderate-income communities of color and implementing the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 annual memberships to lower-income residents. This summer CDOT is offering free adult bike-handling classes on the South and West Sides to further encourage Divvy use in diverse neighborhoods.

It will be interesting to see how Divvy membership demographics compare in Evanston and Oak Park, which have similar racial demographics, based on the suburbs’ different approaches to station siting. But a lesson from Chicago’s experience seems to be that equitable access to bike-share should be prioritized from day one, rather than addressed after the fact.

Knapp emphasized that these first ten Evanston stations are just the beginning. “Using data from the Divvy system and community we can get information about user demand and where trips are coming from and going to in order to inform future expansion,” she said. “This is a starting point.”

  • Pet P

    What a waste of perfectly good sidewalk space! That Divvy station belongs in the street, where it can serve dual duty obstructing a car parking or travel lane just like in Chicago.

  • eric299

    Great. Bike sharing stations in Evanston to go with the bike lanes that nobody uses.

    On the other hand there are a lot of old hippies in that town. They love this stuff. That might be enough to keep the program going. If they get their jollies off it, like it, support it, I suppose it is fair enough.

    And in response to Pet P those stations belong on the sidewalk. Unless you and 100 of your buddies are going to start towing around deliveries to local businesses gas-powered vehicles are going to remain the priority. All the eco-dreams in the world can’t change that.

  • Anne A

    In terms of expected demand, the locations they picked were logical ones (train stations, high school, shopping/entertainment areas). It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t start with twice as many stations, which would give Evanston a more effective network.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    You’re right, making deliveries to local businesses by bicycle would be totally impractical.

  • Kyle Dempster

    As an Evanston resident and Divvy user since 2013 I really appreciate this story (not to mention being a regular Streetsblog reader and contributor). Some things to note: yes, there is absolutely room for expansion in the Divvy system in Evanston. As community members see the Divvy system as an asset for daily commerce and recreation, I believe that Evanston can add a station or two per year in order to build up a well-used system in the 51st Ward.

    In the community meetings on the Divvy planning in Evanston one recurring theme from commenters was the need for regular review and re-siting of Divvy stations. As ridership data comes in over the next year, a city staff who hits above their weight can certainly adjust the system for community needs.

    Regarding race & ethnicity, compared to the less-dense southwest quadrant of Evanston (south of Dempster, west of Dodge), the further north 5th Ward area of Evanston (centered on Dodge & Chruch/Emerson) is a more politically unified and established minority community. This historically (100+ years) African American community has monthly ward meetings, strong church leaders, and a well-used community center at Fleetwood-Jardain. As such, the pull of equity in Divvy in this community is not avoidable. I expect that another Divvy station serving the Fleetwood-Jardain center could be easily added.

    However, the biggest change that is needed in the Evanston Divvy system is the placement of the station at Washington & Chicago. This station has been placed in grass off of the sidewalk. The grass is already dying, and with the rain this week I wonder when the spot will turn to mud and muck. Once snow falls, this area will be difficult to keep clear, and we could have bikes frozen to the ground. Less than 50 feet away, adjacent to the Main Street L station there is an underused taxi waiting area along Chicago Avenue. This location has good visibility, easy access from the L, and a hard surface in the street. I plan to write my alderman today to inform her of the poor siting.

  • skyrefuge

    Congratulations to Evanston for prioritizing system-sustainability over calls for equity. Didn’t you just report an article that basically concluded that, without the Divvy for Everyone subsidy (not available to Evanston residents) there was essentially ZERO on-the-ground interest in the new 2016 stations that were installed mainly for equity/political reasons? But then here again you call for more non-productive equity-based station-siting? Wasting all these non-productive assets takes away resources that could be applied to areas in higher demand, and puts the sustainability and usefulness of the whole system in jeopardy.

    I live in Norwood Park. I would love to have Divvy near here. It’s not. I understand why: resources are not unlimited, and there probably wouldn’t be much demand for it here anyhow. Even though the area is filled with rich white people, Divvy’s supposed core demographic. I’m fine with that, even though my Chicago taxes are subsidizing others who do benefit from the system. Put stations and bikes where they’re going to be most-used first.

    It sucks that “bad areas for bike share” seem to correlate with areas where lots of blacks and Latinos live. But Knapp gave excellent, logical reasons that fully explain why the stations are sited where they are, and race is not a causative factor. So implying racism seems counterproductive to a system that is successfully furthering sustainable transportation. A quick check of http://bikes.oobrien.com shows that almost every Evanston station is getting much more activity than Chicago’s 2016 stations, the majority of which haven’t had a single bike docked or undocked in the last 24 hours. Literally, 33 of ~55 south and west side stations have had zero activity in 24 hours! Probably only less than 10 stations had more than one bike moved.

    It seems pretty hard to argue that putting stations in Evanston where they’d be unlikely to be used would further the sustainable-transportation mission of this blog more than filling in more station density in the areas where they *are* likely to be used.

  • Johnny Bench Called

    It’s funny to see how people artificially limit their perspective and treat those limits as universal.

  • Moving stations around in Chicago really hasn’t happened, because it’s expensive. Divvy has moved stations because of construction projects and that’s about it. And the construction project has paid for the move. I think we have stats on how much it costs to move a station and I think it was greater than $5,000, or nearly 10% of a new station!

  • Where in Chicago have you seen a Divvy station obstruct a travel lane?

  • skelter weeks

    I’m waiting for the residents of North Oak Park and South Oak Park to complain they don’t have any Divvy bike stations. It couldn’t be because they don’t have any transit stations or hospitals or museums, could it? NO, that can’t be it. They must hate those people. Yeah, that’s it!

  • eric299

    Those guys are trying really, really hard John and you know it.

    I don’t know what is in those boxes. But are you and your friends going to deliver several tons of raw materials to a manufacturing facility? Let’s forget about the fact that it would take a large group of guys. If we did things this way it would slow the pace of business down to a crawl, like Egyptians dragging blocks to build pyramids.

    The only way I can see most people doing stuff like this is if there was some sort of apocalypse. Since that is not likely to happen this is going to remain the territory of zealots.

  • eric299

    If you ask me, believing we should all be riding around on bikes is a pretty big limit on perspective. If you’d like to talk about something that’s fine. Who knows, maybe I might come around to your point of view. Taking cheap shots, however, will accomplish little.

  • eric299

    I was talking to someone who lives on the South Side the other day. She didn’t know they were going to build a bike park down there until I told her. She flat out said that everyone’s stuff is going to get stolen. That comes from someone who lives down there so it’s pretty tough to cry racism. She also said that if the government wants to spend millions on the South Side basically what people want is better schools and housing.

    From there she talked about how Divvy bikes get targeted for theft and how absurd it would’ve been for them to build expensive housing on the South Works site. I think you probably have to be rich, white and on a mission to have such bad ideas about other communities.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Those are magazines, the weekly Time Out Chicago route, so that’s hundreds of pounds of cargo that was delivered every week. Believe it or not, one can pull surprisingly heavily loads by bicycle without that much effort. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

    It’s true everything can’t be delivered by bicycle and we still do need non-human-powered delivery vehicles. But if everything that *can* be transported by bike was being delivered that way, it would have a significant positive impact on traffic safety, congestion, and pollution. See Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

  • Divvy has quite good stats on thefts of their equipment, and consider it negligible.

    There’s very little on a Divvy that’s worth stealing (by design).

  • Johnny Bench Called

    Except no one is suggesting we ALL ride around on bikes, just that biking is an safe option for those who choose it.

    Also, dismissively snarking about how the “old hippies” will love this accomplishes even less.

  • Johnny Bench Called

    You keep constructing that strawman that pro-bike people are about replacing ALL cars with bikes. No one is suggesting that.

  • Anne A

    Sounds like she’s making pragmatic observations based on real life experience.

  • eric299

    It’s not going to happen John. If you organized a campaign to lobby businesses on delivering by bike most of them would laugh you out of their offices.

  • eric299

    She doesn’t have any reason to blow it out of proportion. She was only telling me what she sees happening.

    On the first day of statistics class in college the professor got up and said, “there are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.” Life since then has only reinforced his statement.

    It certainly wouldn’t be in Divvy’s best interest to accurately state the theft rate associated with bikes that cost, what, $2,000 each? People with something to lose don’t generally look fondly on the truth.

  • eric299

    Anyone who uses the word snark is just trying to make the other guy mad.

    “Old Hippies” are the source of many of our problems. Spoiled brats who grew up in a prolonged postwar boom. Every time I see one sailing down Lake Shore Drive on a Harley I have to laugh. You know that guy got robbed four times: by the salesman, the dealer, the finance company and the manufacturer. The fact that at age 65 they believe the image of an outlaw bandit to be an image of success speaks volumes. And he won’t be a happy camper if he wipes out on that thing and hits the cement.

    What I’ve seen in this city is tons of investment in bicycle-related projects that make it harder for the rest of us. And say what you want, I’ve read articles about how biking should be encouraged for the masses. It’s not going to fly in a million years.

    I’m not sure who you are defining as the Bicycle Lobby. But I’ll tell you this: watching what you are doing when you ride goes a long way to being safe. Insisting the world change and watch out for you does not. It doesn’t matter how many signs and protected lanes and whatever else people put up. In the end you can’t stop human beings from screwing up. When they do in the car vs. bicycle scenario the biker is likely to be killed or maimed.

  • eric299

    I’m going to have to call BS on that one. I saw a rendering a while back, I think from London, of a bicycle super highway. It was a four lane elevated highway only for bikes. Building it would have cost sick amounts of money. Of course the rendering showed it full to capacity with users. That is pure fantasy.

  • Johnny Bench Called

    Most of your post is nonsense rambling, but one part is worth replying to:

    “It doesn’t matter how many signs and protected lanes and whatever else people put up. In the end you can’t stop human beings from screwing up. When they do in the car vs. bicycle scenario the biker is likely to be killed or maimed.”

    I like how you make this comment, seemingly without irony, as if cyclists are human beings and drivers are not. If cyclists can screw up, so can drivers and by your own admission when either the cyclist OR the driver screws up in a bike vs car situation the cyclist pays the price.

    Yet after typing writing that you somehow insist the person with less power (the cyclist) change while the person with much more power (the driver) not change. (It’s also ironic that you oppose ideas to separate the groups and reduce screw ups, but that’s another thing entirely.)

    Ultimate the complaints of people like you (drivers) comes down to one thing: you’re used to driving while half paying attention, speeding, and only loosely paying attention to traffic laws. Now that there are cyclists you can’t do that without potentially hurting someone. Now you have to pay attention, slow down, and basically do all the things you were supposed to do in the first place. “It’s inconvenient,” the folks like you say even if you can still drive from point-to-point as you always have in an amount of time that’s only marginally different.

    You might have a point that biking won’t fly, but it will only be because of entitled, callous, short-sighted self-centered people who won’t pay a mere pittance to do something that will actually improve everyone’s lives (lower pollution, moving more people, etc.) in the long term.

  • Johnny Bench Called

    So did that rendering show every single highway for cars in London being eliminated? I’m going to have to call BS on that one.

    You appear to be going out of your way to not understand what biking advocates even want. It’s impressive, but not really worth engaging anymore.

  • eric299

    It’s a good thing you took the time to respond then.

  • eric299

    It is not nonsense rambling.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • They report theft rates, and are audited. It’s miniscule. There is literally almost no part on a Divvy that’s worth taking off it for resale, and the bikes as a whole are intentionally heavy enough that most people who are into bikes find them undesirable for all-day riding.

    I don’t know what your friend thinks she’s seeing that she describes as Divvies being targeted for theft, but I think she’s mistaken.

  • eric299

    No she’s not. You’d like to believe that to keep the party going. And an audit is often not good for much. “Don’t find anything that would jeopardize the client relationship. Do you know how much they pay in fees?”


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