Has CDOT Largely Abandoned Its Plan to Increase Divvy Density in Underserved Areas?

Divvy stations tend to be farther apart in Englewood, left, than on the Near West Side. Both communities will be getting more stations.
Divvy stations tend to be farther apart in Englewood, left, than on the Near West Side. Both communities will be getting more stations.

In the past, there has been less Divvy ridership in Chicago’s less dense, lower-income communities of color than denser, more affluent, whiter parts of town. That partly because divvy station density is generally lower on the South and West sides, with stations typically spaced a half mile apart, compared to the quarter-mile spacing that’s common downtown and in many nearby and North Side neighborhoods. That means longer walks to and from stations to destinations, which makes the network less convenient to use.

The Chicago Department of Transportation, which oversees the Divvy program, seemed to acknowledge that issue at a June 2017 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. There deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton announced that CDOT would be adding 40 more stations and 400 more bikes to the system by the end of 2017, and would largely be using the new hardware to increase station density in communities with a dearth of Divvy docks. “Some of our newer areas don’t have quite the density that we have in other places,” Hamilton said.

She added that some of the additional hardware would be used to address the issue of bike and dock availability in high-use areas, such as downtown, which is often largely devoid of Divvy cycles after the evening rush.

However, another June has come and gone and the additional docks still haven’t materialized, and CDOT never even announced the new locations. So it was a pleasant surprise this evening when the department sent word that it will be installing the new crop of stations over the next few months, starting with a station opening tomorrow at Malcolm X College, 1900 West Jackson. The new stations will “account for growing ridership, help support riders and build in flexibility in a few of the system’s busiest neighborhoods,” the department stated. According to spokesman Mike Claffey, 36 stations will be added, a few less than announced last year.

But one thing that’s notable about the info from CDOT is that most of the most of the communities that are getting new stations — River North, Englewood, Ukrainian Village, and the Near West Side — already have good station density in some or all parts of the neighborhood. Englewood is the only neighborhood mentioned that has the less-convenient half-mile station placement in all parts of the community that have docks.

Ukrainian Village and River North both already have good or excellent station density.
Ukrainian Village and River North both already have good or excellent station density.

And while Englewood is a low-income and heavily African-American, the other three communities are relatively affluent and have at least a plurality of white residents. For example, in the Near West Side, the most ethnically and economically diverse of the four areas, whites are the largest racial group at about 42 percent, and the median household income is $72,143, well above Chicago’s median household income of $47,408.  

So what explains the apparent change in strategy from focusing on increasing station density in underserved communities to adding more docks in more affluent areas that are already at least decently served by Divvy? Claffey declined to comment before tomorrow’s event at Malcolm X.

It must be noted that this announcement is taking a place at a time where there has been a surge of arrests for possession of stolen Divvies — more than 120 adult arrests since July 1, according to the crime blog CWB Chicago. (Divvy has acknowledged the theft problem and says they’re retrofitting their docks with more secure locking technology.) Most of the arrests have occurred on the south and South and West sides, according to CWB’s map of the arrest sites.

On the other hand, there have also have been plenty of Divvy arrests downtown, including River North. Recently Black bike advocate Eboni Senai Hawkins witnessed police pulling over a young African-American man on a Divvy for riding on the sidewalk at Chicago and Rush. The officers immediately handcuffed and searched him, and then traced the number on the bike, determined it was stolen, and jailed the man.

A man rides a Divvy in River North, where a Black bike advocate claims police have been racial profiling Divvy users. Photo: John Greenfield
A man rides a Divvy in River North, where bike advocate Eboni Senai Hawkins claimed police are racial profiling Divvy users. Photo: John Greenfield

Senai Hawkins argued that the officers’ decision to stop the man in the first place was a case of racial profiling, since many people of all races ride Divvies on downtown sidewalks, but police stops, let alone arrests, seem to be rare. That accusation is made more credible by the fact that earlier this summer a CPD rep acknowledged that the force has been using zero-tolerance bike enforcement in some Black and Latino neighborhoods as a pretext to conduct searches, while most majority-white neighborhoods see few bike tickets. Last Thursday I met another young Black man who was stopped on a Divvy in the same location, and was also cuffed, searched, had his bike number traced, and was jailed for possession of a stolen bike.

There may be no connection between CDOT’s apparent decision to install fewer new stations in underserved communities than previously planned, and the recent Divvy arrests and issues with racially-skewed bike enforcement. But, if not, it’s a noteworthy coincidence.

Update 8/29/18: In the wake of a CWB Chicago post critiquing our coverage of the Divvy enforcement issue, we’ve been getting an influx of trolling comments from fans of the anonymous crime blog. To simplifying comment moderation, I’ve closed the comment sections for our earlier articles on the subject (CWB doesn’t have comment sections.) Feel free to weigh in on our article responding to the CWB post, but please do so in a reasonably civil manner.

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  • planetshwoop

    I really hope that they release the list of available stations. As someone who lives on the border of the current service area, I hope it is expanded slightly too.

  • David Henri

    Riding a bike on the sidewalk on Rush Street? You can barely walk down the sidewalk without banging into someone on Rush. And being in possession of a stolen Divvy bike. That’s two counts against you. From the tone of your article it sounds as if we’re supposed to feel sorry for these thieves.

  • earl hickey

    Looks like profiling works

  • Sixpackmikey

    Why are you sympathizing with bike thieves that ride on the sidewalk?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    See comment below.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    All kinds of people on Divvies ride on downtown sidewalks — it’s an understandable thing to do because many of the streets are scary places to ride. But so far the only people we’ve heard about getting pulled over for this, handcuffed, and searched are young Black men.

    In the second case, it appears that Hakeem Appling wasn’t even violating the sidewalk riding ordinance. He was reportedly standing on the sidewalk with a bike, and after an officer told him to get in the street, he rode to the nearest intersection, which is legal, and was then cuffed by another officer.

    These two men may or may not have been knowingly in possession of stolen Divvies (FWIW, Appling told me he wasn’t aware his bike was stolen.) If the former, obviously they were in the wrong.

    But CPD leadership is apparently OK with up to 80 times more bike tickets being written in some Black neighborhoods compared to some white ones, which a police rep has acknowledged is due to bike stops being used to facilitate searches. In light of that fact it’s reasonable to question whether there’s a racial profiling element to cases of zero-tolerance enforcement of Black men on Divvies, likely as a strategy to try to find stolen bikes.

    The city needs to take the Divvy theft problem seriously, but the solution isn’t zero tolerance enforcement against every person on bike-share whom officers believe matches the profile of a bike thief. It’s speeding up the retrofitting of the docks and making the system more accessible to all Chicagoans, so more people will be able to use the system legally, and there will be less incentive for theft. More discussion of the subject here:
    https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/07/12/in-response-to-recent-series-of-thefts-divvy-is-beefing-up-dock-security/

  • yinkadoubledare

    “I wasn’t aware the bike was stolen” is a risible excuse. If you didn’t undock it from the Divvy station yourself using a code or your member fob, it’s a stolen bike. It’s not like it’s not blindingly obvious that a bike is a Divvy.

    I do wish they’d enforce on more people riding on the sidewalks in general, and not just Divvys. Especially on streets with bike lanes or where the sidewalks are quite crowded and sidewalk riding is particularly hazardous for everyone. Unless you’re a kid, or you’re a parent riding with your kid, get off the sidewalk!

    I don’t think the city would care that much about the stolen Divvys if there hadn’t been a rash of people committing other crimes, often violent, while using the stolen bikes.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “If you didn’t undock it from the Divvy station yourself using a code or your member fob, it’s a stolen bike.” Not true. It’s against the rules, but not criminal, for people to legally check out a bike and then let a friend use the cycle for a test-ride or quick errand — I’ve done that myself.

    “A rash of people committing other crimes, often violent, while using the stolen bikes.” It’s true that recently there have been a few cases in the news of crimes where the victim and/or perpetrator was on a (not necessarily stolen) Divvy, which reflects the fact that the bikes are becoming an increasingly common way to get around. But it’s not like Divvies are facilitating crimes any more than the existence of cars, transit, and shoes are doing so.

  • rohmen

    Well, one interesting thing about the theft issue is that it proved there’s a demand for the bikes on the west side, though obviously not a willingness to pay to use them. People seems to have been stealing them and then actually riding them, though maybe I’m missing something and some headed straight to scrap, etc.

    Not that it would be a total solution, and I know Divvy has programs in place, but if they can do outreach and get people on financial assistance programs to help make the fee part not an issue, seems like the theft issue indicates the programs could do pretty well in traditionally underserved areas if the bikes are easier to access.

  • Sixpackmikey

    After reading the cwb article about the man arrested, I’m not sure you’re giving an accurate portrayal of the event that occurred, along with the troubled history of the man arrested.

    http://www.cwbchicago.com/2018/08/bike-blog-hails-divvy-thief-as-victim.html?m=1

  • Mike K

    Is it possible that more black men steal divvy bikes? If so the CPD would seem to be doing their job.

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