Tagbike parking

#protip: Businesses must tell their customers that a Divvy station is out front

I bet you want a Divvy station in front of your business. 

Gabe Klein, commissioner of transportation in Chicago, said on WBEZ on Monday that (paraphrased) “business owners are calling us to say ‘we’d like to buy a Divvy station to put in front of our restaurant’“.

Excellent.

Regarding my headline, I’m talking about telling customers on websites that, in addition to “where to park” and “which highway to take to access our location”, the website needs to give more diverse transportation directions. It should say how to get here by bike, and where the nearest Divvy station is.

When I worked at CDOT – I left before Klein arrived – I had the responsibility of increasing the number of visitors to the Chicago Bicycle Program’s website. I developed a set of strategies including making the content more searchable, adding more content, diversifying content types (like uploading photos staff took to Flickr), but also by increasing the number of inbound links. To satisfy that strategy I listed organizations where biking should be encouraged, like train stations and museums. I contacted many museums individually and asked them to include “bike here!” text on the webpage that otherwise told people to drive on I-290 and exit some place. I gave them sample text and even mentioned where the nearest city-installed bike racks were.

Several museum websites were updated as a result of this effort, but now I cannot find the evidence on Shedd, Field, or Adler websites.

Heck, forget the web. When your customers call, forget the assumption that most people drive and just start giving them directions as if they’re going to arrive in this order of transportation modes:

  1. Walking
  2. Biking
  3. Transit
  4. Scooting
  5. Running
  6. Taxi
  7. Ride sharing
  8. Pedicab
  9. Driving

Every mode requires different directions because people move about the city differently. Here’s an example: I’m giving directions to someone who’s going to drive from my house in Avondale to our friend’s house in the same neighborhood about five blocks away. I tell them, well turn here and there, and then drive through the alley to cross over this one-way street in the “wrong” direction… and “wait, those are directions on how to bike there. With all the one-way streets in my neighborhood, I honestly don’t know a good way to drive there, so ask Siri.”

“My” new bike racks have appeared at CTA and Metra stations

I received some exciting news last week in the form of a photo a friend posted to Twitter. He took it at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Loyola Red Line station and it features a double deck bike rack from Dero.

Photo by Erik Swedlund.

Erik didn’t know this, but that bike rack was installed there because of a project I worked on at the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) in 2009. The working title was something like “bike parking RTA ICE grant”. That means an Innovation, Coordination, and Enhancement grant from the Regional Transportation Authority. It was also known as round 2 of transit bike parking. You might know round 1 as the project that put hard-to-use double deck bike racks at four CTA stations: Midway Orange (well used), Sox-35th Red (mostly well used), Damen Blue (not used), and Jefferson Park Blue (mostly well used) – all opened in 2008. Round 1 was paid for by CMAQ funding CDOT received in 2003.

The scope of my involvement was limited to finding stations “at which sheltered, high-capacity bike parking will be used most effectively”. Looking back, that should probably have said, “will be most used”. What does “used most effectively” even mean? The scope did not include deciding what the bike parking area would look like, or how many spaces there would be. That was up to an engineer who was managing the overall grant and project – I just recommended stations.

Summary of my methodology

I developed my own method (after researching the method for round 1 selections, and other methods) to select several train stations geographically distributed around the city where bike parking would be most used. I developed a spreadsheet and inputted the station attributes my method required. The formula then ranked the stations. The outcome I wanted was essentially a number that represented the likelihood of people cycling to that station. I tweaked the formula many times based on what rankings it came up with and whether or not the top ranked stations fit expectations I came up with for a station that would have a lot of people cycling there (access mode data didn’t exist at all for CTA stations, and was old for most Metra stations).

For example, if my formula ranked Pulaski Orange very high, did that station fit the expectations of a station that attracted a lot of CTA passengers to arrive by bicycle?

After coming up with a “top 30” of geographically diverse CTA and Metra stations, my boss and I rented an I-GO car to visit 15 of them to record measurements of physically available space, take photographs, and discuss things like how people might access the station with their bicycles (it wasn’t always clear, and many stations turned out to have sufficient bike parking for the amount of people who cycled there).

To make this project respect geography, and to do it as simply as possible, I divided the stations into north and south categories, separated by Madison Street. Stations in the south category were compared only with fellow south stations. I don’t know if this was an appropriate to consider geographic equity, but I had limited time and resources to develop a method and complete this project. In other words, I did the best I could and I think I did a pretty good job. Hopefully time will tell and I can learn from successes and mistakes with this project. That it’s actually being constructed makes me very happy.

Considering the stations

Lots of u-racks at the 55th-56th-57th Metra station in Hyde Park. Photo by Eric Rogers. 

I recommended that bike racks for the 55th-56th-57th Street station be installed at 57th Street because it has more space than the other entrances. Here’s what else I said about the space:

North side of 57th St, east of station house

This space is very large like Space C, but it’s extremely grungy and dank. The restaurant in the station house is currently storing its garbage bins here. The space receives natural light all day because of a gap in the viaduct. There’s an attendant at this station house on weekdays from 6 AM to 2:30 PM, but this person has NO view of the space. 57th St is one-way east of Lake Park Ave, and two-way west of Lake Park Ave.

Sheltered, except for gap in the viaduct roof.

I’m happy to report that the situation has been improved over the description in my “station profile”: the sidewalk concrete was replaced, and the walls and pylons were cleaned and painted white. The restaurant’s garbage bins were moved east in the open air (not under the viaduct). Another change was at Loyola Red Line station: I recommended they be installed in one of two outdoor locations but the bike racks were installed inside the station house.

The other tier 1 locations in my recommendation were Western Orange Line and 95th Red Line (both CTA). Howard Red Line was a tier 2 station (and is built), along with Ravenswood Metra and Logan Square Blue Line. I found out later that the Howard Red Line station also received some double deck racks. Ravenswood station is being completely replaced soon so I understand why that didn’t get any new bike parking as part of this project. I don’t know why Logan Square Blue Line didn’t receive any, if Howard did. It might be that there wasn’t enough money in the $375,000 grant, or that someone has other plans for the CTA station.

A sixth station was part of the project, but not part of my recommendations. The Clybourn Metra station (2001 N Ashland, serving both the UP-North and UP-Northwest lines) was already in planning and design phases and was included in the RTA ICE grant round 2 project to complete the funding arrangement. The bike parking area at Clybourn was to be paid for by Chicago TIF funds; combining the TIF funds with the RTA ICE grant would provide the local match the RTA ICE grant needed (requiring a local match is typical).

See more photos and information on Grid Chicago.

BikeLock app based on dataset I opened up

Bike parking at Daley Plaza, downtown Chicago. 

It’s really cool to see work you did “go places”. A friend of mine who works at Groupon just linked me to an iOS app called BikeLock that finds bike racks near you on iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. It’s based on bike rack location data in the City of Chicago’s Data Portal. (The data on there is old, while the data in the public API I built is real time.)

Download it from the iTunes Store for 99 cents. The developer is Mike Jahn, another Groupon staffer. You can get the same information for free, though, on my mostly mobile-friendly Can I bring my bike on Metra? web app, and a website I made for the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

A screenshot of the Can I bring my bike on Metra? bike rack finder website. 

That data comes straight from the Bike Parking Web Application I started developing in 2008 soon after I started working in the Chicago Bicycle Program. It was good that my supervisor had the same perspectives I did about open and transparent data and work. But it didn’t start like that; here’s the full story:

My first job at the Bicycle Parking Program was to deal with abandoned bikes, get them off the street. I was taught the existing method of keeping track of my work, but I used my programming skills (in PHP, MySQL, and with the Google Maps API) to develop a web application that tracked it faster and mapped out the abandoned bikes I had to visit and tag with a notice. I was using this for a few days or few weeks and then show my boss. His reaction was something like, “Great! Now make one for bike racks!”

Why? Well, let’s take this quote from Judy Baar Topinka, Illinois comptroller, speaking Tuesday about her office’s new website, The Ledger, which lists the state’s unpaid bills among other financial data.

“The object of the exercise is to make everything that we know of in the comptroller’s office public. If we know it, you’ll know it.” WBEZ

I made one for bike racks. I created two environments, one for private administration at the office (“Bike Parking Web Application”) and one for the public (“public interface”). A later feature I added to the public interface was the Advanced Search. This allows you to filter by Ward, Community Area, and Status. You can then choose your sorting method. A map will appear above the results. You can download the results as either an XLS file, and XLS file that’s designed to be imported in GIS programs (like QGIS), or a KML file.

I’m aware of just one other app that uses this data set: MassUp.us. I don’t know if MassUp uses the real-time API that my Metra bike rack finder uses.

Bike racks, so contentious

A new bike rack installation in Richmond, Indiana. Congratulations!

Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation says, “I once hosted a forum about a new bike rack that lasted 7 hours. Now when I need these people to complain, they’re done in 45 minutes”.

Picking on Home Depot again

Thanks a lot.

Bike parking is simple

I created a website a couple months ago where my intention is to create a single place where people can get good advice on installing bike parking wherever it’s needed. The advice includes what kind of bike rack to choose and where to put it.

Visit Simple Bike Parking – Helping make bike parking a simple affair.

Distance is the key to effective and usable bike parking. Notice the bike racks in the foreground – no one’s using them after the one’s next to the train station entrance were installed (by me, actually).

The website’s not even closer to being finished. Steven Can Plan, now GRID, and my part-time work doing bike parking consulting with Active Transportation Alliance for Cook County schools has taken priority. It’s also meant as a “calling card” for people to hire me to consult them on their bike parking needs.

My first iPhone app – Request a bike rack

Here’s a video preview of my first iOS app that will hopefully, in the end, allow you to request a bike rack in Chicago based on where you and your device are currently standing.

I don’t know if it will ever hit the Apple App Store because Apple requires developers to pay a $99 fee each year. I’m surely not going to pay this. It will be able to run on jailbroken iOS devices and it will work on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

The code is based on my Bike Crash Portal website that asks permission to use your location (given automatically through HTML5 and the computer’s own location software). A fork of this project may include a mobile-optimized website that allows you to request a bike rack; again, based on your current location.

The purpose of this is to eliminate the need to know the address of where you want to request a bike rack. Oftentimes a person will arrive at their destination and not find any bike racks. Open the app, hit “Share my location” when the app loads and then tap submit. The Chicago Bicycle Parking Program (hopefully) will receive your request.

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.

That was easy: Wicker Park-Bucktown SSA approves on-street bike parking installation money

Read the discussion about this on The Chainlink.

I went to the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area (SSA) #33 commission meeting on Wednesday night. Jason Tinkey joined me. I had a lot of questions before going in about the on-street bike parking I wrote about yesterday and many were answered in the proceedings. At the end I asked my final questions. Today’s meeting was about passing a motion, which passed unanimously, to approve funding $4,000 to pay CDOT for the installation.

Here’s the story:

A Dero Downtown rack will be installed in front of the Flat Iron Arts Building in a parallel parking space that is not currently metered. The bike rack is designed to store 12 bicycles. The Dero Downtown rack looks identical to Chicago’s Plaza racks but has slightly different geometry. It has square tubing and is of high quality; it can stand alone or be anchored easily, even to asphalt – I definitely approve this rack choice.

It will be purchased by the SSA* and donated to the Chicago Department of Transportation which has agreed to assume liability. I don’t know what the installation includes, but the cost, $4,000, seems quite high! The SSA has a target installation month of June 2011. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, may have its second by the end of May.

Orange lines indicate approximate location – could be north or south of the fire hydrant. These are the non-metered parking spaces.

The Dero Downtown rack looks just like this Plaza rack, so named because of its first appearance at Daley Plaza.

Expect to see a scene like this in Wicker Park by the end of summer 2011.

*The standard price for this bike rack, in 2011, is $1,584 for powder coat or galvanized, or $1,836 for thermoplastic or black rubber dip. Delivery will cost over $500. The SSA passed a motion in March 2011 (PDF) to approve $4,000 to procure the bike rack.

Some lessons learned in bike parking placement at train stations

Flickr user Jeramey posted the photo below showing empty bike racks inside the Damen Blue Line station in Wicker Park, Chicago. He took it on Wednesday, April 14, 2010, when the high temperature was 82°F – good riding weather.

He linked to a photo taken in July 2009 showing the full bike racks inside the Sox-35th Red Line station in Bridgeport/Bronzeville. It’s hot in July as well.

Both bike racks were installed in the same project in 2009. Two other stations received high-capacity bike racks: Jefferson Park Blue Line, and Midway Orange Line.

Jeramey’s implied question is, “Why are people using Sox-35th bike racks, but not Damen bike racks?” I have some hypotheses.

Damen Blue Line station bike racks

1.  The number of physical barriers someone with a bicycle must cross to access this space is too high. First there’re the narrow doors to the station house; second is the gate that must be unlocked by the station attendant (but is often found unlocked);third is the stairs; fourth is the high frequency of passengers in the staircase and first landing that the passenger with a bicycle must navigate through.

2. The lack of knowledge about this parking space’s existence. While there are small signs pointing towards these bike racks, they are easily ignored. Additionally, people riding bikes in Chicago tend not to look for signs as bike parking is almost always in view of the final destination (this is one of the rules of successful bike parking).

3. There is often available bike parking outside the station house. If the racks outside are available, those are more convenient. See hypothesis 1.

4. The station is too close to downtown, the destination of a majority of people bicycling to work. Instead of biking to the train station, they ride directly to work without riding the CTA. This map shows where people who bike to work call home and where they work. To test this hypothesis, I think some usage counts should be taken on multiple days per season. Expected results: In colder weather, people would combine modes and ride to the station and then to work. In warmer weather, they would only ride their bicycle.

Sox-35th Red Line station

Now let’s look at the Sox-35th Red Line station bike racks in the same categories.

1. No barriers. The station is newer, has wide doors, no stairs, and a wheelchair turnstile that people with bikes can use.

2. No need for signage or direction. As soon as one enters the station, the bike racks are visible.

3. They’re the only bike racks available. You can’t park securely outside the station house.

4. The route between Sox-35th and the center of Chicago is not as bike friendly as that between Damen and downtown. Milwaukee Avenue offers a direct connection between Damen and downtown, a critical mass of other people bicycling, and bike lanes for a majority of the length. State Street is the most direct to downtown from Sox-35th, but lacks bike facilities (not even a wide outer lane; King Drive has a bike lane but only goes so far as Cermak Road), or other people bicycling.

In future installations of bike parking like these two, we should look at the difficulty of accessing the bike rack as well as considering who will use them and what trips they may take (will people bike past the station to their destination?). Additionally, planners should count the number of bicycles parked at the stations before and after new parking fixtures are installed to better understand how and when it’s used.

Disclaimer: I was involved in 2009 and 2010 in selecting four CTA and Metra stations for the second round of Bike To Transit. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) awarded CDOT a $375,000 grant as part of its Innovation Coordination Enhancement program.

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