TagDivvy

The 5 Divvy stations REALLY close to residences

Scene of the crime: Pine Grove/Addison in Lakeview. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen.

The residents who sued the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alderman James Cappleman to have the Divvy bike sharing station removed from “6 steps” from their condos alleged that they were the only residence to be in such situation. At the hearing for the request for emergency injunction, which was denied, they said, “[we’ve] not seen any Divvy stations near residences”.

There are three other Divvy stations I’ve noticed that are equally close to residences but from which no lawsuits came. I suspect many others may exist but perhaps not as close as “6 steps”. The lawsuit provided no barrier, though, in the expansion and installation of Divvy stations across Chicago.

The very close stations include:

Emerald/28th in Bridgeport. Photo: Justin Haugens.

Halsted/Willow in Lincoln Park. Photo: Justin Haugens.

Damen/Pierce in Wicker Park

18th/Halsted. Photo by Timmmmmmmm.

New iOS app offers most advanced Divvy route directions

Chicago Bike Route for iOS

Walking directions from my house to the Divvy station at the CTA California Blue Line station, and then from there to the Divvy station at LaSalle/Illinois Streets. Lastly, there’s walking directions to some arbitrary N LaSalle Street address.

Adam Gluck and Andrew Beinstein showed up at OpenGov Hack Night on July 16, 2013, to show off the technical concept of their forthcoming app for iOS devices. I looped them into the Divvy app-making progress I and others were undertaking (documented on a shared Google Doc).

They said they would make their app was going quite different from all of the eight apps for using Divvy that have since launched before theirs: it would offer directions for walking to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, directions to the Divvy station nearest their destination with open docks, and then walking directions from that end station to their destination.

Chicago Bike Route launched Friday last week. Currently only three of the eight iOS apps released before Chicago Bike Route have routing. CBR takes directions to a new level by giving you directions from where you are to where you want to go, and not necessarily from a specific Divvy station (like my Chicago Bike Guide does). Instead, CBR gives you complete directions between origin and destination and smartly picks the nearest Divvy station with available bikes. Now, I believe most often this will just be the nearest Divvy station, period, as it’s relatively rare for a station to lack bicycles.

The app uses Google Directions and for every trip makes a maximum of three calls to their API; counts against the app’s free quota from Google. The first call gets walking directions from the origin to the nearest Divvy station with available bikes, and the second call gets bicycling directions to the Divvy station with available docks nearest the destination, and the third call (assuming the destination isn’t that Divvy station) gets walking directions from the end Divvy station to your destination. The next step, I believe, is to have the app use a prediction model to accurately choose the end Divvy station. A lot can happen at that Divvy station in the 30 minutes (or whatever) it takes to get there. It may not have open docks when you arrive.

Two other suggestions I have: an improvement to the autocomplete destination function because it didn’t recognize “Chicago city hall” or its address, “121 N LaSalle Street”; and adding a “locate me” button. Additionally I’d like them to add some basic resources to advise users on where they can get more information about Divvy or bicycling in Chicago.

Adam and Andrew are going to publish a “dock surfing” function in the app that will incorporate multiple segments on Divvy to make a trip longer than the free 30 minute period. This would probably mean a fourth call to the Google Directions API. I emailed Adam and Andrew to learn more about the app development.

Video of Beinstein and Gluck presenting their app to Hack Night. Created by Christopher Whitaker for Smart Chicago Collaborative.

Why did you make Chicago Bike Route?

We made the app because we wanted to make something civic related. We thought that Divvy was an exciting new civic program coming into existence, and we kept seeing it all over the place. It also solves a real problem in public transportation that we notice and hear about a lot living in Hyde Park called the “last mile problem.” We also had the data in our hands from having attended civic hack night at 1871 when Divvy came and we thought “let’s make a native Divvy app!” And that’s what we did. We also released a framework for interacting with the Divvy API natively for developers who don’t want to get their hands dirty playing around with the iOS frameworks.

What makes your app stand out from the pack?

I think the routing but also the simplicity of design of the app.  We wanted it to be something you could just open up and use and was like all the other mapping utilities that one has on their phone (Google Maps, Apple Maps). And that’s what we did. You open it, enter an address, and you get routed to that address. Something that people could use to get up and running with Divvy with basically no familiarity with the system.

What features are you planning for the future?

Bike surfing! Seriously though. We think that it would be a really useful feature for some people, and also help reduce the cost of using the bikes. It would be useful for the regular riders where the $2 additional charge could really add up but also if you are someone who is not part of the program and are just taking the bike out for a joy ride. It can actually get kind of expensive, since every half hour after the first hour in a half is an additional $8, rather than $4.50 for members. You would also be less familiar with the bike stations under that situation. We also need to integrate with Chicago public transportation. But, we also want to keep with the simplicity, and create a user experience with basically no learning curve, and we are a little cautious to throw something in that could complicate things.

Divvy overtime fees and most frequent trip distances

Two people check out a Divvy bike in front of 3565 N Pine Grove Avenue, home to residents who sued the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alderman James Cappleman to have its installation prevented. That failed. Photo by John Greenfield. 

Kaitlyn Jakola interviewed me last week for the Chicago Magazine blog, The 312, about how newcomers should deal with Divvy bike sharing. I think I gave some good answers. Stick to the bike lanes by using an app (although that’s hard because so many of them don’t link up) and think about the rules you would follow if you were driving a car (which assumes you know how to do that). Two of the commenters called this a scam. The first stopped there but the second commenter showed some understanding of transportation and economics so I thought that I could reply and it would be taken seriously. They said:

It seems to me like the system is designed to create extra or ‘overage’ fees. Having to stop every 30 minutes and ‘redock’ your bike is prelude to a ripoff. By the time you get comfortable riding and determine where you’re going to go, it’s time to ‘redock’ then…

It doesn’t seem like the commenter knows how bike sharing works: think of a taxi that you drive yourself. The bike taxis are available at predetermined stands around the city. It’s there when you need it and you don’t need to own the vehicle.

Regarding overtime fees… The average trip taken on Divvy bikes is only 18 minutes long, which the Chicago Tribune – part of the same parent company as Chicago Magazine – reported on. That coincides with the average trip distances Americans and Cook County residents take. The Southern California Association of Governments, the federally-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the nation’s largest regional planning area, found that 80% of trips residents in that region were less than 2 miles long (.pdf). This matches what the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the local MPO, found for Cook County that the average trip distance was 3.0 miles and the median trip distance was 2.3 miles (.pdf). Both studies’ figures aggregate trip mode, so this includes all trips people make by bus, personal automobile, walking, or bicycling. All of the distances are bikeable in 18 minutes.

Pervasive Divvy station maps offer big opportunity to show people around Chicago, but need major changes

A man looks at one of the first five stations installed, at State and Randolph (but the board says State and Lake). 

Navigation maps on Divvy bike sharing stations will be placed at 400 locations around the city. A map this pervasive, to be read and interpreted by hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors to Chicago (including people who will never use Divvy), should have a design that communicates good routes to ride, and important places like train stations, nearby Divvy stations, points of interest, and where to find places to eat or be entertained.

The design of the maps on the station boards needs to be improved. The first issue I noticed in June is that streets and alleys are given equal significance in their symbology, possibly confusing people on which route to take. The map should strip alleys, offering room for more info on the map, like useful destinations. It may be easier for some to locate the Art Institute of Chicago as a labeled, light-gray block instead of trying to locate its address on the map (nigh impossible). When one locates the destination, one can more easily locate the nearest Divvy station.

The map at North/Clybourn’s station (actually on Dayton Street) covers a large portion of the map with the “you are here” label and lacks the connection between North Avenue and Goose Island. 

I’ve noticed that the “you are here” labels cover up train station markers/labels, and the loop elevated tracks are missing (a common reference point for Chicago). It takes a moment to realize that the white text is labeling the CTA stations and not the nearby Divvy stations. It’s unclear where “you are here” points to, until you realize that it’s at the center of the blue 5-minute walking circle. Dearborn Street is symbolized as a bike lane, but not labeled as a street. Clark Street and State Street are doubly wide, but the meaning of that is unknown. The legend is useful to distinguish bike lane types but is placed far from the map, at the bottom of the board.

Here are other areas where the boards and maps should be redesigned:

  1. The “service area” map has low utility in its current form as it’s not labeled with streets, points of interest, or a time or distance scale. It appears as a reduced-boundary blob of Chicago. It could be improved if it communicated “this is where you can go if you take Divvy” and label streets, train stations, and points of interest at the edge of the service area. 
  2. The 5-minute bike ride map is nearly identical to the 5-minute walk map, but smaller. The 5-minute walk map should be made larger and integrate the now-eliminated 5-minute bike ride map.
  3. Much of the text is unnecessarily large. The CTA station labels are so large in comparison to the streets that it’s not clear where on the block the stations are located. CTA stations are labeled but the train routes aren’t always shown (Loop stops are just gray); it’s not even clear that they’re CTA stops.
  4. The purpose of the blue circle isn’t labeled or clear: the larger map, titled “5 minute walk”, shows a large map but there’s a blue circle – is the blue circle or the square map the 5-minute edge? The connection between the title and the blue circle could be tightened by using the same color for the text and the circle or by wrapping the text around the circle path.
  5. The map, which is likely to serve as a neighborhood “get around” and discovery map for tourists, and even locals, lacks basic info: there are absolutely no destinations marked, no museums, parks, etc.
  6. The bike lane symbology doesn’t match the Chicago Bike Map, which uses blue, purple, orange, and red to denote different bike lane types, and hasn’t used green for at least seven years. The use of green makes them look like narrow parks.
  7. The map designers should consider placing the city’s cardinal grid numbering system to enable readers to find an address.
  8. North/Clybourn’s Divvy station map lacks a bikeable connection from North Avenue to Goose Island via the Cherry Avenue multi-modal bridge. The maps should be reviewed for street network accuracy by people who live and ride nearby.

Photo shows the original board and map at the Milwaukee/Wood/Wolcott station, which has since moved. The station on this map marked at Marshfield/North was moved to Wood/North this week. 

There are many opportunities for the map to change because they will have to be updated when stations are moved, for both the moved station and the handful of station boards that include the moved station. At least four boards needed to be updated when the station at Milwaukee/Wood/Wolcott moved from Milwaukee Avenue (next to Walgreens) to Wood Street (across from the Beachwood). The maps for Citibike in New York City don’t share these design flaws.

The Citibike station boards and maps were designed by Pentagram, a well-known design firm, with whom the city has a longstanding relationship, designing the new wayfinding signs for neighborhoods, the “LOOK” anti-dooring decal for taxi windows, and the bus station maps. One of the key differences between the Citibike and Divvy maps is the text label size, the symbol label size, and the presence of building outlines (that other huge group of things that defines a city, contrasting the roads-only view on the Divvy map).

A close-up view of a Citibike map. Photo by Oran Viriyincy. 

N.B. More trips are currently taken by tourists and people with 24-hour memberships than people with annual memberships. I question the bikeway symbology and suggest that the streets have three symbols: one representing a bike lane (of any kind), one representing sharrows (because they are legally different from bike lanes) and one representing a street with no marked bikeways. The current bikeway symbology may not be understandable by many visitors (or even understood by locals because of differing definitions) and show a jumble of green hues whose meanings are not clear or even useful. It’s not currently possible to take a route on a bicycle that uses only protected bike lanes, or uses protected bike lanes and buffered bike lanes, so the utility of this map as a route building tool is weak. One wastes their time looking at this map in the attempt to construct a route which uses the darkest green-hued streets.

I also recommend that the board and map designers give Divvy CycleFinder app messaging greater prominence. I believe that a majority of users will be searching app stores for appropriate apps. When you search for Divvy, you’ll find eight apps, including my own Chicago Bike Guide.

Updated 22:43 to clarify my critique and make more specific suggestions for changes. 

#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.”

Talking about Divvy data with WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift

Audio from 3-4 PM segment. Skip to ~30 minutes in to hear the data portion of the show. 

WBEZ Afternoon Shift host Charlie Meyerson had me on the show Monday to talk with him, Gabe Klein, and some fellows at Data Science for Social Good (DSSG, a University of Chicago-based program) about the trends that Divvy bike sharing data is showing. Here are trends I mentioned or was prepared to mention:

* 31 stations installed since Friday, July 19 (10 days since Monday, July 29), 28 stations installed since I wrote my post on Streetsblog Chicago about 67 memberships per day, so I predict that the daily rate of new annual members has increased.

* Membership enrollment is still concerning to me: From July 22 (when I wrote my post about enrollment rate) to yesterday (Sunday, July 28), membership enrollment rate dropped to 61 memberships per day, even as all these new neighborhood stations emerged. This brings the post-launch average to 66 from 67.

* If you look at Top 10 starting and ending stations, there’s about 90% crossover, meaning the Top 10 starting stations for trips are basically the same as the Top 10 ending stations. There’re slight changes on the weekend, with Lincoln Park (the park) and the Lincoln Park Zoo getting into the Top 10. (See table below.)

* During the week, Union and Ogilvie Metra stations get into the Top 10, and disappear from the Top 10 on the weekend. This may suggest that commuters, not tourists, are making these trips. But people make tourism trips from the suburbs on weekdays as well.

* Trips by member type: 71% are taken by 24 hour pass holders. This is down from 75 to 73, so this means that the share of trips taken by annual member holders is increasing. This is because of two things happening: some people who bought a 24-hour pass to test the system have converted to being an annual member, and others who waited for a station to come to their neighborhood have bought a membership. I’m just hoping that membership enrollment picks up to reach the high rate of installations.

I’m personally interested in the route data. I’m interested in who’s biking where and when. This is information we’ve not collected well in the past. My Streetsblog Chicago partner John Greenfield wrote about other data trends Scott Kubly discussed at last week’s Complete Streets Symposium.

Dock surfing during a Divvy social ride last Thursday. Photo by Jane Healy.

[table id=9 /]

Download this data

Divvy data from May 29 to July 28 (.xls): includes member enrollment, number of trips taken by annual and 24-hour pass holders, and top 10 starting and ending stations.

If you’re looking to contribute your expertise to the “Divvy data project” (okay, such a thing doesn’t really exist), then check out the Divvy Data Document I started after discussing Divvy data at a July OpenGov Hack Night.

Divvy memberships growing at very slow rate

Chart showing the progression of annual member sign-ups. 

The day after Divvy – a bike sharing system in Chicago operated by Alta Bicycle Share – started signing up members, enrollment dropped by 80.2%. The next day it dropped by 57.9% and then 55.7% after that. The progression was 732 in the first day, 145 in the second, 61 in the third, and 27 in the fourth day. Since day two, daily enrollment has never exceeded 121 sign-ups in a day.

The Bike to Work Day Rally on Friday, June 14, had almost no impact: there were 6 sign-ups that day, with 6 sign-ups the day before. This was the first time that a station was visible to the public and Divvy staff were out there talking to people and allowing some test rides. The next day, however, there were 12 sign-ups. Even launch day, June 28, was weak, especially given that the new system was given a lot of attention that day and weekend in the press. The Monday after Friday’s launch saw more than launch day.

In a system that has so far focused on a few stations in neighborhoods (like West Town/Wicker Park, South Loop and Lincoln Park), this might not be surprising. Nor is it surprising that memberships were low from the period enrollment opened to the first station being installed – because there was nothing out on the street to catch people’s attention and you had to know about it by being told, online or from a friend.

“What is this?”

I expected, then, that memberships would jump once the system went live, to at least a rate higher than the period when membership was open but there were 0 stations installed. But that hasn’t happened. If the rate of new annual members doesn’t start increasing as stations start increasing, I will be very concerned. Currently, most trips are taken by 24-hour pass holders, and the most popular stations are near the lakefront, telling me that the system is used mostly by (confused) tourists.

Riding a Divvy bike on Dearborn Street.

I could, of course, try to compare us to New York City’s rapid explosion in annual member sign-ups for Citibike, also run by Alta Bicycle Share. I’m sure readers would poke holes in that comparison, rendering any argumentation here useless. Now that there are 75 stations are in place, the rate of post-launch annual membership enrollment should be vastly higher than the rate of pre-launch annual membership enrollment. The period when there were 0 stations had a higher rate of enrollment than the period that followed it during which stations were being installed.

Recap

Pre-launch, days 1-16 of enrollment (with 0 stations)
1,152 memberships, 36.5%, average of 72 members per day

Pre-launch, days 17-30 of enrollment (with 1-68 stations)
320 memberships, 10.1%, average of 22.9 members per day

Subtotal: Pre-launch, 30 days of enrollment (with 0-68 stations)
1,472 memberships, 44.7%, average of 49.1 members per day

Post-launch, days 31-55 of enrollment (with 68-75 stations)
1,685 memberships, 53.4%, average of 67.4 members per day

Total: days 1-55 of enrollment (with 0-75 stations)
3,157 memberships, 100.0%, average of 57.4 members per day

Appendix

View the membership data for yourself (XLS).

P.I was told two weeks ago that marketing for Divvy would soon begin on Chicago Transit Authority bus shelters and “City Information” signs, both advertising infrastructure operated by JCDecaux under its contract with the City of Chicago. I think this will have minimal impact, but it’s definitely worth putting out there.

My experience with Divvy today: smooth and slow

Trading one bike for another.

In short, the functionality was everything I expected it to be.

Read more about the Divvy launch on Streetsblog Chicago here, here, here, and here (all posted today). 

I biked to the station at Damen Ave & Pierce St (Damen Blue Line station), locked my WorkCycles Fr8 to a potential sucker pole (it still had its bolt), grabbed my tote bag from its basket and stuffed that into the oddly shaped carrier on the Divvy bicycle. I inserted my key into the slot and waited for the green light. I only saw yellow. It was either never going to turn green on this bike, or I didn’t wait long enough. I tried the next bike and it unlocked.

To undock, lift the bicycle by its saddle and pull backwards. I adjusted the seat to its maximum. I also adjusted the quick release because someone had loosened it so it wouldn’t tighten the seat post. Off I went, through the congested streets of Wicker Park.

I wanted to hit up every dock on my way to my destination: Eckhart Park. My friend told me this station wasn’t there although the map said a couple of days ago it was there. Divvy’s spokesperson, Elliot Greenberger, told me it was moved from the corner of Chicago Ave & Noble St to inside the park (east of the field house) for traffic safety reasons that he didn’t specify in the quick email. The station was offline.

On the way I stopped at the station outside the Walgreens at Wood St & Milwaukee Ave. I returned my bike and checked it out less than 5 seconds later – this is called docksurfing (thanks Doug). I biked over to the next station on the way to the park: Noble St & Milwaukee Ave.

Rebalancing by removing bikes from this station to take them to another. 

There was a guy here with one of the blue Sprinter vans loading bikes into the van. I asked if he was rebalancing. Yep. I asked how many could fit inside: “22 if I’m lazy, or 24 if I play Tetris right”. He asked me what I was doing and I said I was trying Divvy for the first time. He said “Have a great ride!” Aw, how nice.

I found the station at Eckhart Park just as it started raining. But like most storms this week, it stopped raining after 5-10 minutes. I got nervous because I didn’t know when I checked out this bike and I didn’t want to run over my free 30 minute period. I’ll have to pay better attention next time and perhaps get this kitchen timer on a rope (it has a magnet, too; thanks for the idea, Robert).

I biked the Divvy steed over Noble Street’s potholes, cracks, and bumps, with extreme comfort and agility. My WorkCycles Fr8 isn’t this comfortable (except it better matches my height). The aluminum frame and wide Schwalbe tires wonderfully absorb bumps. I docked the bike, then sat on it and texted a few more people about how cool Divvy is. After a couple minutes, I checked out the same bike and rode it back over to Damen Ave & Pierce St. I traded back to my Fr8 and came home.

The awkward carrier, but it held my tote bag.

Whining about the bike as being heavy is uncalled for: many of the bikes people ride in Chicago are within 25% of the weight of a Divvy (which is around 45 pounds). Think about all those vintage Schwinns people are riding: they weigh the same yet Divvy rolls so much smoother and more comfortably and it won’t flat as often. Then there’re the mountain bikes from department stores like Walmart and Target. Those have no consideration of longevity, efficiency, or “weight savings”: they’re just as heavy and wear out within a year. The Divvy bike, I believe, is the first universally-designed setup I’ve seen. Bicycle shops will be doing themselves a service to stock the closest-feeling bike as some Divvy members are going to migrate to owning their bicycle and will seek the Divvy equivalent.

What I dislike about the Divvy bicycles is its low gearing. My average speed was less than 10 MPH while on my Fr8 it’s just over 12 MPH. Whatever. In most places in Chicago, you shouldn’t be going fast because you won’t be able to spot and anticipate all the drivers who have inattentional blindness and won’t see you before dooring you or swerving into your path.

(Whet thinks he hit 15 MPH, which I told him I doubted, but I would love to have a Divvy race with him!)

I saw one other person riding a Divvy on my short (less than 45 minutes) journey on Divvy in Wicker Park and around Eckhart Park. 

An app that shows real-time availability is available in Cyclefinder, but the Divvy staff didn’t promote this until people inquired on Twitter and Facebook. The app was updated by the Divvy hardware vendor on June 21 to include the Chicago system in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store, but you had to search for “divvy” to find it and since it wasn’t branded as “Divvy” I bet a lot of people avoided installing it.

You can also buy and download my app, the Chicago Bike Guide, which has Divvy station location integrated (read how). However, I must warn you that it’s already slightly out of date and I’m working on fixing this. I’m also working on real-time availability as I’ve just discovered the API. This is going to take me at least a week.

Don’t forget there’s a hidden bell by your left thumb. 

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