CategoryNew York City

Citibike in New York City differs slightly from Chicago’s Divvy

I visited New York City two weekends ago for a Streetsblog writers conference. I was there for three nights and four days. To get around I put a bunch of cash on a Metrocard to use the subway and JFK Airtrain and I bought a 7-day pass for the Citibike bike-share system.

Citibike and Divvy in Chicago use nearly identical equipment from the same manufacturer, and Alta Bicycle Sharing operates both systems. Citibike sells the 7-day pass for $25, a relative steal for personal transportation costs in New York City – probably any city. Divvy only offers 24-hour and annual passes.

Citibike stations have maps of a better design that matches the walking wayfinding stanchions that New York City’s Department of Transportation has installed. The stations integrate the ad+map board onto the kiosk while Divvy has separated them. I don’t see an operational advantage to either design, but there does seem to be less material used in Citibike’s integrated design which uses one fewer solar panel.

I’ve never used Divvy’s touch-screen kiosk to obtain a single ride code as part of using a day pass so I can’t compare it to interacting with the Citibike kiosk to obtain the ten or so ride codes I needed on my trip. This was the most infuriating part of the experience, which annual members don’t experience because they have a key: the kiosk is very slow in responding to a tap and sometimes the docking bay wouldn’t accept my brand new ride code. You can’t get a replacement ride code for two minutes, preventing quick dock surfing.

The bicycles seem exactly the same: too small of a gear ratio which means a slow top speed and an easy-to-reach “over pedaling” threshold. This may be more important for New York City to have because you must climb 140 feet up the bridges to cross between Manhattan and Brooklyn or Queens while Chicago has no significant slopes. I eventually stopped using Citibike in favor of the subway and walking. I like riding trains almost as much as I like riding a bicycle and cycling in downtown Manhattan is difficult if you’re unsure of a good route to get to your destination. I prefer to not use an app for directions because of how frequently the turns appear meaning I have to inspect the app just as often to ensure I made the right one.

I’d like to see my Divvy key work in other cities where Alta operates bike-sharing. Just charge my bank card on file, applying the lowest-cost pass and letting me bypass the user agreements before purchasing a pass in another city.

Data collection issues in police database design

Please don’t park on sucker (er, sign) poles. And use a good lock. When your bike is stolen, no one but you will care. And the police won’t even know. 

When I asked the Chicago Police Department for statistics on how many bicycles are reported stolen each year, the response was that statistics couldn’t be provided because the database can’t be filtered on “bicycle theft”. I called the police officer responding to my FOIA request to learn more. He said that bike thefts are only categorized as “property thefts under $300” or “property thefts over $300”.

It would be possible to search through the database using keywords, but that would have been an unreasonable use of the officer’s and department’s time in accordance with FOIA laws (FOIA meaning Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIL in other states).

What a poorly designed database.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has Uniform Crime Reporting standards that police departments nationwide voluntarily adopt. It’s mainly a way for the FBI to collect statistics across the country and I assume this program is necessary because of a state’s right to impose its own standards. That sounds fine by me, but it shouldn’t impede collecting data to assist the Department of Transportation, and the Police Department itself, to combat bike theft. The Bike 2015 Plan, released in 2005 and adopted by the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC), includes several strategies to reduce bike theft in Chicago.

The FBI has a standard reporting code for bike thefts: 6Xf. Its definition is “the unlawful taking of any bicycle, tandem bicycle, unicycle, etc.”

The Chicago Police Department should upgrade its database to code property theft of bicycles as a “bike theft”. For now, though, advocates and activists will have to rely on the homegrown Chicago Stolen Bike Registry*. If you don’t know the extent of the problem, it’ll be hard to develop any solution.

The Bike 2015 Plan called for a report, by 2006, to be written that determined the “amount and types of bike theft”. We’re in 2012 – where’s that report?

Thinking about New York City

New York City’s Police Department (NYPD) has similar, but more grievous, database problems. Right now the New York City Council is holding a hearing to figure out why the NYPD isn’t investigating reckless drivers who’ve killed people walking and cycling. And I read this about it:

 Vacca’s first question to Deputy Chief John Cassidy, the NYPD Chief of Transportation, was about speeding, and how often drivers caught speeding are charged with reckless endangerment. The answer came not from Cassidy, but from Susan Petito, an NYPD attorney, who politely explained that they simply don’t know, because reckless endangerment charges “are not segregated in the database” and can’t be easily found. Via Gothamist.

Hmm, seems like the same issue the Chicago Police Department has.

* The Stolen Bike Registry has its own issues, which is often because of “user error”, wherein people who submit reports to it don’t provide much detail, especially as from where the bike was stolen.

Bike to work week now, but what about next week?

Groupon mentioned on its blog that 126 employees rode to their Chicago office Monday.

Since the city has a goal of having 5% of trips under 5 miles by bicycle*, how do we ensure those same 126 employees ride their bike next week? Or tomorrow even!

With more of this:

A protected bike lane on Kinzie Street. These have been shown to reduce the number of crashes as well as slow down car traffic.

And some of this:

A family riding their bikes on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, New York City. This bikeway is unique because it has both directions and is protected from traffic by parked cars. Photo by Elizabeth Press.

We’ll also need some left turn bays for bicyclists:

This will help cyclists make safer left turns across intersections. As seen in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Then we’ll see this:

Happy people riding together in our neighborhoods. With lights at night, for sure.

Oh, we’ll probably need additional bike parking, like this station at Amsterdam Zuid station (think Chicago’s Union Station or New York City’s Penn Station):

Free, underground, double-decker bike parking.

*We’re probably somewhere between 0.5% and 1.5% (of trips under 5 miles by bike). No data’s actually available on this; not for the baseline year of 2006 and most likely will not be available for the goal year, 2015.

The 3-way street

Update June 12, 2011: Added a link to and excerpt from commentary by David Hembrow, a British blogger in the Netherlands.

How does a 3-way street work? Easy, just watch the video.

I like the term “aggressive yield” to describe the situation when a motorist does yield to pedestrians crossing the street, but in a way where they inch forward continually, slowly pushing, with a buffer or air, the people out of the way.

I really like the comment from Tuesday by Anthony Ball:

those red markers are just showing the limits of tolerable risk as established by years of system development. If the collision speeds were higher, those red circles would be far few – it’s simply a system finding its own point of stability.

If you really want to wreak havoc – try to control that system without corrective feedback (eg more rules, lights, controls, etc) and you’ll see the system kill people while it tries to find new stable relationships.

don’t forget that rules, signs, lights, etc have no direct impact on the system – they only work through the interpretation of the users.

What did David Hembrow have to say? David lives in the Netherlands and disagrees with the common sentiment that these conflicts are caused by selfish users.

I don’t see the behaviour at this junction as being about “bad habits”. What I see is simply a very badly designed junction which almost invites people to behave in the way that they do.

Dutch road junctions don’t look like and work like this – they are different for a reason: it removes the conflicts and improves safety. A long-standing theme of Dutch road design is the concept of Sustainable Safety. The concept is to remove conflict so that collisions are rare and the consequences of those which remain are relatively small. Roads are made self-explanatory so that bad behaviour is reduced and the way people behave is changed.

Reading this reminds me of the work of the students in George Aye’s class at SAIC, “Living in a Smart City.” The students attempted, through an intersection redesign, to reduce the stresses that lead to crashes.

Where are the 3-way streets in your city? Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee in Chicago comes to my mind easily. Also a lot of streets in the Loop. Oh yeah, and The Crotch, at Milwaukee/North/Damen.

Put the first cycle track somewhere else

Updated 06-03-11: Grew the list below from 11 locations to 15 to match the full list on wiki.stevevance.net.

I propose 15 locations for Chicago (see link for ideal segments):

  • Archer Avenue (whole length)
  • Blue Island Avenue (between UIC and Pilsen, but then connecting Pilsen to Little Village via 26th Street)
  • Chicago Avenue
  • Clybourn Avenue (entire stretch, from Belmont to Division)
  • Damen Avenue (really easy south of Congress; difficult between Chicago and Congress, and north of Chicago)
  • Fullerton Avenue
  • Grand Avenue (at least California or Kedzie to Navy Pier)
  • Halsted Street (in some discrete locations)
  • King Drive (connecting downtown/South Loop to Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Washington Park)
  • Kinzie Street (connecting one major bike laned street, Milwaukee, to another, Wells)
  • Ogden Avenue (the entire street, from the city boundary on the southwest side to its dead end at the Chicago River near Chicago Avenue)
  • Vincennes Avenue (I haven’t figured out the extents for this one)
  • Wabash Street (connecting downtown and IIT)
  • Washington Boulevard/Street
  • Wells Street – this may be one of the easiest locations to pull off, politically at least, especially if Alderman Reilly pays for all or part of it with his annual appropriation of $1.32 million (“menu funds”).
  • Western Avenue

Notice how I didn’t propose Stony Island between 69th and 77th.

I selected streets where there’s already much cycling happening – whether it’s directly on that street and for long distances or neighborhoods the street passes through. I also selected streets where there’s some cycling happening but make the all-important bikeway network connections on streets with high automobile or high speed traffic (like Western Avenue) or lead to places that attract trips by bike (like train stations). And I selected streets that lead towards downtown, to transit stations, to schools, and to jobs. The segment of Stony Island from 69th to 77th leads to a small shopping district on 71st Street and a Metra Electric train station with 197 weekday boardings (from 2006 survey).

A cycle track location will be most effective where it can:

  • attract the most new riders (goal #1 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • make the biggest increases in safety by reducing injuries (goal #2 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • (and for the city’s first cycle track, be used by the most existing riders)

It is in these locations where these facilities will be quickly adopted by people bicycling to and from that neighborhood for their shopping, school, and social and work trips. It will also help lead the City and its residents to attaining the quite ambitious goals of the Bike 2015 Plan (have 5% of all trips under 5 miles by bike and cut frequency of injuries by half).

NACTO’s new Urban Bikeway Design Guide recommends cycle tracks for “streets on which bike lanes would cause many bicyclists to feel stress because of factors such as multiple lanes, high traffic volumes, high speed traffic, high demand for double parking, and high parking turnover.”

Stony Island between 69th and 77th has many lanes, high speed and high volume traffic, but low parking turnover (there’s a low density of businesses and many have their own parking lots). This area has low cycling levels and a grand bike facility here would do little to help Chicago reach the plan’s goals. We won’t see any benefit in terms of mode shift here.

Without further information on the intentions (see paragraph “On intentions” below) of those who selected this location and their goals for Chicago’s first cycle track, my surmise is that it was selected because of the roadway width (four lanes in each direction with a wide parallel parking lane, see map), where taking away a lane from car driving may be more politically and technically feasible – I believe this is the wrong way to begin a protected bike lane program.

On intentions: A former CDOT employee left a comment on my blog in December 2010 addressing the site selection: “Stony Island was recommended as a part of a Streetscape Master Plan [I can find no information about this plan]. It wasn’t like people were sitting around saying ‘Where can we put a buffered bike lane?’ It was really just a plan of opportunity since Stony Island is crazy-wide. Nevertheless, it will connect with a new bike path along the side of Marquette Dr in Jackson Park, which connects to the Lakefront Trail.”

While Stony Island could be a good demo location to prove that this type of facility won’t be harmful to drivers, as a demonstration of the power of protected bicycling infrastructure, it won’t do a good job.

A two-way protected bike lane (just like Prospect Park West in Brooklyn) in downtown Vancouver. Photo by Paul Krueger.

A one-way protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, New York City’s first cycle track. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Why I’m keeping track of Brooklyn’s bike lane drama

A protected bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn installed by the New York City Department of Transportation in summer 2010 is under attack. Two groups have sued the city in March 2011 over the lane’s installation. The city published a report that indicated that the new bike lane contributed to fewer drivers speeding, a decrease in injuries, and an increase in compliance of the law banning bicycling on the sidewalk.

I have written several articles about the drama, including New Yorkers really want to keep their bike lanes.

Why am I paying attention?

I believe this fight may come to Chicago when the Chicago Department of Transportation starts planning the cycle track to be installed on Stony Island Avenue between 69th and 77th Streets, which may be installed as soon as 2014.

And when the fight does come, I want to know as much as possible about how to defend Chicago’s first cycle track.

Will we be successful and install a similar facility in Chicago? Photo features New York City’s first cycle track, from 2007, on 9th Avenue.

Weighting people’s experiences in route choice

An iPhone app is not a substitute for a paper map*, good signage on your bikeway network, or someone just telling you, “Turn right on Church, right on Chambers, left on Reade” to get to the bike shop where you left your water bottle.

At the bike shop I asked about how to get to the Williamsburg bridge so I could go “home” to Brooklyn. After looking at the map, he said, “Oh, take Grand.” -He then told me how to get to Grand.

The Williamsburg bridge. I took this one even though the Manhattan bridge was probably closer to my “home” because I hadn’t yet ridden on it!

I did. It worked. It was excellent. I even passed by the Doughnut Plant (which I had forgotten about visiting).

Doughnut Plant makes really tasty donuts. I wouldn’t get them too often, though, because each one costs $3.

Not only did I receive a “tried and true” route suggestion, I got it faster than any automated route devising device would have generated one.

Each month I’m asked by people how to get somewhere in Chicago. We have so many resources these days but we often still rely on the spoken interaction to get us to our destination.

*I’ve read or heard people suggest that “someone should make” an app that puts the bike map on their smartphone. I don’t think this app would be very useful or easy to use. But a paper map is both – and almost always free.

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work? And other stories about data

Why did women in Chicago stop bicycling to work?
Or is our data unreliable?

Showing relative cycling-to-work rates between 2005 and 2009 in Chicago. Data from table S0801 in American Community Survey, 1-year estimates. Read the comments on this post for why this is not the best data source – 3-year estimate shows same decline in women cycling to work.

Note: The sample size is puny – data was collected from 80,613 housing units in Illinois. I don’t know how many of those were in Chicago (and we have 1,063,047 housing units). The American Community Survey only collects data on transportation modes to work for ages 16 and up.

But we simply have no other data! Maybe the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning can release the Chicago data they collected for the 2008 household travel survey to show us bicycling rates for all trip purposes (they divided the report into counties). The sample size would still be small, but we could compare the work rates to find some support between the datasets.

We should look into how New York City counts bicycling as an additional way to gauge trends in Chicago (it has limitations of geography and area).

They conduct two types of counts. The first is the screenline count for bridges, Staten Island Ferry, the Hudson River Greenway, and all Avenues at 50th Street. They do this three times per year. Then, seven more times a year, they count at the same places (except the Avenues) from April to October.

While this data does not give them information on who cycles in the boroughs, it does give them a good indicator of cycling levels in Manhattan. It also disregards trip purpose, counting everyone going to work, school, or for social activities.

Sidenote: The New York Police Department will begin making monthly statistical reports on bicycle crashes in the city.

Bike lane news around the country

In other bike lane news around the country:

  • Kansas City, Missouri, now has two bridges with separated and protected bike lanes. A concrete barrier separates a combined walking and biking path from traffic.
  • Chicago’s door lane network grows a little more with new door lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street. Downtown is in the most need of bike lanes so these should be useful (although I advocate for ones going through the Loop).
  • Separated bike lanes again under attack in New York City, this time on Columbus Avenue. It was only installed in August.
  • Washington, D.C., installed bike boxes and contraflow bike lanes (in August 2010) on a diagonal street at a six-way intersection (we have tons of six-way intersections in Chicago). John Allen, notable for his stance on bikeways and how they conflict with traffic engineering principles, approves of the design. In theory, contraflow bike lanes next to parallel parking lanes are good (and better than door lanes) because (1) the door to open is the passenger’s door, which opens less often than the driver’s door; (2) the person opening the door and the person riding the bike are staring at each other; and (3) if a person riding a bike collides with the door from the oncoming direction, the collision should be less damaging  to the person riding the bike. (You can thank former Mayor Adrian Fenty and former transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, and their staff, for these improvements to the bikeway network.)

The new door lanes in Chicago on Grand Avenue (as well as Illinois Street) involved a road diet, the narrowing or removal of main traffic lanes. You can see how a lane was removed – the stripes demarcating the two lanes have been ground out. This may reduce traffic speed and reduce confusion and collisions, a welcomed change. Watch a video of the bike lane striping being applied.

In Washington, D.C., a unique and adapted bike lane design for a diagonal street where it crosses two other streets at a six-way intersection. Another way to demonstrate what a bicycle lane could do.

Buffered bike lanes make bicycling easy

UPDATE: With the post you’re reading and this post, I want to show you what a bicycle lane can do! Also clarified definition of buffered and protected bike lanes in second paragraph.

All of this talk about protected bike lanes made me want to watch some videos! Here’s a clip of my friend and I riding on our first ever buffered bike lanes. As seen on Stark Street in downtown Portland, Oregon.

The next video is about Sands Street (over 1 year old now) in New York City that I’ve been raving about for a couple weeks and months now, since riding on it in late August 2010. One half is protected by a concrete wall, and the other half is semi-protected by having raised pavement and a buffer. A bike lane with only a spatial buffer is not considered protected (like in the first video, above).

People riding their bikes westbound (right side of bike lane) on Sands Street toward either the Manhattan Bridge (turn left, south), or Dumbo Brooklyn and the waterfront (turn right, north).

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