With bike share schemes being implemented in the past year in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco it seems like this new form of public transportation is taking hold in the United States. Often billed as a solution to the “last mile” problem, bike share allows an inexpensive and low-impact way of dispersing public transportation options, enhancing accessibility to transit hubs and other destinations.
One critique we hear about bike share relates to the location of the kiosks–particularly when they are placed on the street where car parking was previously allowed. People see “scarce” parking being sacrificed for the bike scheme and businesses often are concerned about how a kiosk might impact accessibility.
Positioning biking and bike share as necessarily anti-automobile is misguided. In fact, one could argue that it could help disperse parking, alleviating congestion and wasteful efforts circling blocks looking for a place to park.
I’ll give my own commute as an example. My office is situated in transit-friendly, mixed-use neighborhood of Lincoln Park in Chicago. Probably about 80% of the time I either commute by bike or train from my home 8.5 miles away. Sometimes, however, I need to drive. The university charges $7 to park, which can be avoided by finding a place to park on the street. The commercial streets are geared towards short-term metered parking, but one can sometimes find street-parking in the neighborhood. In general I feel good if I can park within a five minute walk of the office, after that point “distance decay” sets in and the attractiveness of driving declines the further I get from my destination.
With the introduction of Divvy bike share in the neighborhood, however, the “five minute” rule of accessibility gets expanded. I no longer really care about parking within a five minute walk of my destination; if I can get within a five minute bike ride I am satisfied. With a bike kiosk in front of my office, my parking universe grows.
Just for fun, I did a network analysis of the quarter mile buffer around my office, which is about how far the average person can walk in five minutes. Because the campus is in the way, my parking options are more limited than normal and I really need to park within 2-3 blocks in order to make my walk to the office clock in at under five minutes.
The second map shows the same analysis with a three-quarter mile buffer, which is about how far the average person could bike in five minutes. As you can see, there are more than a dozen Divvy kiosks within my five-minute bike ride area. The further one is removed from the university and the major thoroughfares of Lincoln Ave. and Fullerton Ave., the more parking becomes available. As long as I am able to park relatively close to a Divvy kiosk, I can get to work within the 5 minute threshold.
I would imagine that as the network grows, there will be more opportunities for dispersed parking strategies in Chicago’s neighborhoods. If you drive in Chicago and want to spend less money on parking, get a bike share membership.
After tough questioning by City Council members over the proposed placement of bike share stations to deployed as part of a pilot project to extend Divvy to Evanston, the Council gave the go-ahead to pursue the grant but significantly changed the station locations.
The original plan to have just seven stations has been increased to eight. The proposed station at city hall will be moved to a largely residential neighborhood six blocks adjacent to a community center while one of the downtown stations (Sherman & Grove) will be moved .5 mile south to Chicago Ave. and Greenleaf where Jewel Foods and Whole Foods are situated. This station will also be a block away from a new Trader Joe’s food market. The eighth station will be situated on the Chicago border at Howard St. and Chicago Avenue, one block from the Howard CTA stop.
The new map and the additions are an improvement on the initial effort. However, the number of stations is still inadequate and the western part of the city is still excluded. One thing that is not clear following the council meeting is just how the pilot is going to be evaluated. If this is an initial foray to work out the kinks and get residents and visitors familiar with the system and that the ultimate goal is for the city to properly implement bike share, it is probably a workable map. It’s another matter if they are going to gauge interest based on usage numbers, because the saturation is not adequate to properly assess citizen interest.
It’s been about six weeks since Chicago’s Divvy Bike Share scheme went online. With 144 stations, over 100,000 trips taken and 4,000 annual memberships sold, Divvy bikes are quickly becoming ubiquitous on the streets of downtown Chicago and its inner-ring neighborhoods.
Bike share’s ability to be a cheap, convenient, and environmentally-friendly element of a city’s transportation system is not being lost on a couple of Chicago’s contiguous suburbs: Oak Park and Evanston. According to a staff memo released on Friday, Evanston and Oak Park are teaming up with Chicago to apply for federal money under the Transportation Alternatives Program to fund new Divvy stations.
Expanding the Divvy system to the suburbs is a positive idea, but there are many questions raised by the implementation plan proposed by Evanston. I have not been able to find any information from Oak Park about their plans, so I will focus on Evanston.
Here are the key points:
– The plan calls for 7 stations and 70 bikes to be placed in the city.
– The TAP grant calls for a 20% share of the total capital project costs from the city which would be $94,000
– While the memo doesn’t explicitly endorse sources of funding, it does mention the Parking Fund as a possibility. The Parking Fund raises revenues through managing the city’s parking infrastructure and currently has a cash balance of around $16,000,000 and has earned about $1.7 million in profit this year. They also plan on shaking down Northwestern University and the “city’s other large employers” for assistance on both the capital and operations side.
– They project annual revenues of $44,000 from casual users and $75,000 from annual members. This comes $49,000 short of their projected costs. It is important to note that it is not uncommon for subsidies to be needed to meet operating costs of bike share schemes (just like subsidies are needed for road infrastructure and public transit).
From the standpoint of applying for a capital grant that will fund 80% of project costs and using the Parking Fund to make up the difference, the plan is laudable. Using funds generated from managing cars–which extract a disproportionate social cost than other forms of mobility–to subsidize a cheaper, lower impact form of mobility is smart.
However, the plan has some serious problems which could negatively impact the program’s effectiveness in Evanston.
First, the location and number of stations is a bit problematic. The memo states that this proposal would “expand bike share north” from Chicago. Read literally, this is true. However, the siting of the closest proposed station to the Chicago border is about 2 miles and four miles to the northernmost proposed Divvy station in Chicago. The distance between the proposed Evanston network and Chicago is too great to really think of it as a network–which is essential for making bike sharing attractive to consumers.
Without being integrated within the larger Divvy network, you will essentially have a stand-alone system of 7 stations. A system this small is very hard to sustain. A feasibility study done by Divvy’s operator for Cincinnati mentioned 10 stations as a minimum. With seven stations, the system loses its attractiveness for potential users. The map at the right shows the proposed locations (click here for the kiosks pinned on a google map).
Three are directly adjacent to transit stations–which is good (Central St. Metra, Central St. CTA, and Davis St. CTA). It is essential to be intermodal. But once you get off the train you have to go somewhere! The four non-transit stop kiosks are 1) on Northwestern University’s campus, 2) near the beach at Lake Michigan (also close to a couple of Northwestern dorms), 3) City Hall, and 4) Downtown Evanston (about 500 feet from the Davis CTA stop and another proposed kiosk).
The idea behind bike share is that it is designed to help cities solve the “last mile” problem. Once a person’s destination–like a transit stop or a grocery store–is more than 1/4-1/2 mile away, the likelihood that they will walk diminishes significantly. You can’t build trains to get within a 1/4 mile of where everyone lives or needs to go. But scattering bikes around most cities is quite feasible.
With only 7 stations, however, you are really limiting the possibilities and attractiveness of the system. Is it likely that someone will choose a bike share to go from the Central St. Metra Station to the Central St. CTA station? The linkages from Northwestern to Downtown Evanston should be popular–especially to the transit hub at Davis. However, key Downtown student destinations like Whole Foods are overlooked in favor of Rotary International. Rotary is a major employer and generates many trips (and singled out as a possible source of funding in the memo). But people who work there are not likely to live close to a bike share kiosk.
We have to be mindful of budgets which is why such a modest system is being proposed and that brings us to the annual revenue generation assumptions: $44,000 from casual users and $75,000 from annual member fees. It is a bit unclear how these numbers were generated. In the feasibility studies done by Divvy’s operator, Alta, I’ve seen for other cities, they normally estimate numbers of users per category rather than revenue generated per type of user.
These assumptions are important as they can help determine the financial sustainability of operations. In tourist-heavy cities like Washington DC large numbers of casual users can help pay for system costs. The data is still premature, but in Chicago I would think that a significant percentage of casual users are tourists. We would not expect the same percentages in Evanston.
It is hard to know how to assess this proposal. I recognize the municipality is working within budget constraints (although that didn’t stop the city council from giving a German company $2 million of Parking Fund revenues last year to build a parking lot for their store). But if there are only 7 kiosks, will there be enough Northwestern student support to make the scheme financially feasible? The fear is that if the roll-out is too modest, it could stain public perception and set bike sharing back in the city.
update 15 Aug. 2013: City Council approved the measure unanimously to apply for the grant. During council deliberations aldermen representing districts that were not included in the pilot expressed concern that their constituents were being left out of the pilot. The City Manager seemed to agree that staff would include at least one additional station on Howard Street and Custer (I believe).
It is a logical place for TOD given that the intersection is served both by a CTA EL line and Metra’s regional commuter rail. The neighborhood is walkable, mixed use, and has a nice variety of small businesses. One problem that the new plan will likely attempt to alleviate is the poor pedestrian connections between the two stations. As it stands now, folks making transfers have to go around the block and walk under a dark viaduct. There are no wayfinding signs at either station, so those unfamiliar with the area often have trouble navigating transfers. A more transit-friendly plan could open up the space between the stations for transfers.
More intriguing to me in the memo was a desire to explore a “highline” concept for bikes and pedestrians in the railroads’ right-of-way. The staff memo cites the very popular Highline project in New York which converted an unused elevated rail line into an elevated park. Chicago is currently planning its own elevated park with its 3-mile Bloomingdale Trail project that will link Logan Square with Goose Island using an abandoned elevated rail corridor.
Evanston would be a great site for a similar project as there is ample space between the Metra and CTA tracks that is currently underutilized. The photo on the right shows the current state of the space between the two rail lines which offers a few long-term parking spaces but otherwise is a “dead zone” of activity. Furthermore, the two rail lines run parallel on a berm roughly from the city’s southern border two miles north to the center of downtown.
It would be an easy and relatively inexpensive project to have a Highline the entire stretch of rail corridor. This would improve bike mobility immensely as a safe and convenient North-South connection could entice cyclists who are uncomfortable with riding on Chicago Avenue.
It is not inconceivable to see this project as the opening section of an eventual “bike superhighway” alongside the Metra berm connecting Evanston with downtown Chicago 12 miles away.
What are the reasons for this stagnation–particularly when governments overseeing advanced and growing economies in Europe and Asia have less problems generating political consensus around this public investment?
My sense is that much of the problem can be attributed to two factors: 1) the lack of a real coherent national transportation policy and 2) the peculiar decision-making structure of our federalist system.
The second point is quite apparent given the outlandish power that single states have to negatively impact regional plans. This stems from the fact that the federal government largely defers to states to determine their transportation plans. In terms of capital improvements like high-speed rail, states determine plans and federal money is allocated to the extent that projects conform to state plans.
This, of course, is reflective of the first point: the federal government does not have a proper “national plan” nor does it engage in the crucial decision making necessary to implement a serious national rail vision.
Sure, the USDOT develops national plans, but they are secondary to the states when it comes to rail. In the words of the 2009 National Rail Plan [pdf], the legislative mandate for USDOT planning is “to develop the plan consistent with approved State plans” (23)–not vice versa.
This distinction is crucial. How can you have a national infrastructure system which is the product of 50 bottom-up decisions. We can see the impact this might have in a region like the Midwest, where states like Illinois and Minnesota will be negatively impacted by unilateral decisions made in Ohio and Wisconsin.
The feds could deal with this barrier, but it won’t be easy. Congress would have to pass legislation restricting state autonomy–something that wouldn’t have much support in the current political climate in Washington.
Until this happens, however, high speed rail is likely to be stuck on a slow track.
The Chicago Transit Authority announced details last week regarding a modernization project for two of its major north side elevated train lines. The lines at issue are the Red and Purple which serve the Loop, Lakeview, Uptown, Rogers Park and the suburban communities of Evanston and Wilmette.
Like most of Chicago’s elevated rail system, the Red and Purple lines are in dire need of modernization, upkeep, and expansion. Determining exactly what should be done in the context of limited funds is going to be a challenge.
This month the CTA is presenting various modernization options for public comment. Here is a thumbnail sketch of what is contained in the Notice of Intent document released last week.
Currently the Purple Line runs local from Wilmette through Evanston and then express to Belmont in Lakeview where it follows the Brown line stops to downtown. The Purple Line only runs on the weekdays during the rush hours.
The Red Line is a local train that runs at all hours, seven days a week between Howard St. at the city’s northernmost boundary down to 95th Street on the city’s south side.
Taken together, the lines generate 128,000 trips on an average weekday and are responsible for about 20% of all CTA rail trips.
In addition to doing nothing, one option being considered is the “Basic Rehabilitation Alternative.” This alternative keeps existing stations and service, but brings the system “into a minimal state of good repair.” This option entails making a handful of stations ADA-compliant and doing minimal upgrades.
The second option is a “Basic Rehabilitation with Transfer Stations.” option. This would follow the above model, but would add Wilson and Loyola as transfer stations for the Purple Line. This would slow down the Purple line for Evanston commuters, but allow two more stops for riders in Uptown and Rogers Park.
The third option is the “Modernization 4-Track Alternative.” This option decreases the number of stations north of Belmont from 21 to 17. You would still have the two new transfer stations, but the South Boulevard Purple Line station in Evanston would be eliminated as well as the Lawrence, Thorndale, and Jarvis stations on the Red Line.
To compensate for the loss of stations, platforms would be extended and new entrances would be built in key stations and there could be “potential expanded hours of express service.”
The next option is the “Modernization 3-Track Alternative.” This follows the station closures of the previous option, but instead of having the expanded express service you actually have a decrease in express service. Currently the Purple Line operates both north and south during weekday rush hours between Belmont and Howard on two of the tracks while the Red Line operates local service on the other two tracks. The rationale for switching to a three-track option is to improve stations and make them ADA compliant. This requires widening platforms–something that can be done within the existing right-of-way if you remove one of the tracks. The catch is that the express train will only run inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon.
People who commute from the city to Evanston would be negatively impacted by this change.
The final alternative is called the “Modernization 2-Track Alternative.” Under this scenario, the existing above-ground Red Line would be transformed into a subway. The train would go underground north of Belmont and emerge above ground at Loyola. The elevated stops between Morse and Belmont would be eliminated and essentially be replaced by seven subway stations on the same streets as the “Modernization” options listed above.
It is unclear what would happen to the elevated section, but this option would eliminate ALL express trains. Apparently this would be compensated somewhat by better track alignment in the new subway section.
Assessment: First, these lines are in dire need of upgrades. The CTA is still running a nineteenth-century transit system. Dilapidated viaducts result in slow zones and many stations are not ADA-compliant and in dire need of makeovers. This is largely due to decades of minimal investment.
That said, I’m generally unenthusiastic about removing transit stops. In each of the areas where there are proposed stop eliminations many small businesses are located. And the more stops you have, there is a higher propensity for people to use transit instead of driving.
It is true that the more stops you have on a train line can result in longer trips since the train stops more frequently.
One curious omission from the proposals is to revert back to the old Red Line configuration which used an A/B “skip stop” system. This speeds up the Red Line by reducing the number of trains that stop at smaller stations.
Given the shaky economic environment, some of the options presented–like the subway –seem overly ambitious.
Bike-sharing is one of the smartest trends sweeping urban transportation planning these days. The idea is that you set up kiosks around a city where a number of bikes are parked securely. Riders use a credit card or subscription card to “check out” a bike. They then ride it to another kiosk and drop it off.
It works great for trips less than a mile. It is convenient (no waiting for a bus or train) and carbon neutral.
The concept has been around for several decades, but it really took off in 2007 when Paris initiated its Vélib’ system which features 20,000 bicycles and over 1500 kiosks. Since then cities as disparate as Mexico City, Montreal, and Washington, DC have established programs (for more info on the global bike share movement, I highly recommend the Bike-Sharing Blog).
Beginning Friday, Chicago will be the latest entry into the bike sharing game. The system has been a long-time coming. Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley is well known as being a biking enthusiast and advocate of “green” public policy. After a visit to Paris and testing out their system in 2007, he expressed interest in bringing the concept to Chicago.
Last year, I had a group of students look into what makes a bike sharing program successful as part of an effort to give the Chicago suburb of Evanston information on the subject. Evanston was involved in transportation master-planning and its consultants had recommended bike sharing as a program to possibly reduce congestion.
It should be convenient. Kiosks need to be placed near activity centers and bikes should be plentiful. No one will use the service if it doesn’t allow them to go where they need to be and the reliable supply of bikes is essential to get people in the habit of using the service. The activity centers need to be varied–cultural spots, residences, workplaces, shopping districts. This allows many potential destinations as well as helps bikes circulate through the system so you don’t have all the bikes at one station during particular times of the day.
It should be cheap. Bikes are one of the cheapest and most efficient forms of transportation; however, there are still costs involved (maintenance, purchase of bikes & kiosks, IT infrastructure to keep track of bikes, etc…). The trick is to figure out a way to keep the price point at a level where it costs less for the average consumer than other forms of transportation (driving, cabs, etc…). In order to meet these costs, many cities privatize the system. The operators will put advertising on the bikes or–as in the case with Paris–the bike service will be part of the general outdoor advertising franchise that cities sell to billboard companies.
It should be integrated with other modes of transport. Kiosks should be set up next to train & bus stations, car sharing spots, parking lots. This allows for flexibility in movement for the user and translates into more successful system. The picture above, for instance, was taken in Frankfurt at a place called Schweizer Platz. The bike sharing kiosk is located at the top of the steps of a U-Bahn station and at the corner of a tram line. At this spot you can transfer from bike-to-tram, bike-to-U-Bahn, etc…
So how does Chicago measure up on this metric? The main problem–at this point–is that the system is extremely small and is not integrated with a wide variety of activity centers. There are only 6 full-service kiosks where you can drop off and pick up a bike. Three of them are (more or less) strictly tourist destinations (Buckingham Fountain, the Field Museum, McCormick Place). For those readers unfamiliar with Chicago, basically these spots are destinations with a single use. The number of residencies and work places near these kiosks is small. You are not likely to see the bike share displace many higher-carbon trips since the kiosks are essentially inconvenient.
The cost is another factor. A temporary pass costs $10 for the first hour and $5 for each subsequent 30 minutes. You can also get a monthly membership that costs $35 which gives you the first hour free and charges $2.50 for each subsequent 30 minutes.
This is way too expensive and is further evidence that the scheme is designed primarily for tourists who may be willing to pay more for a pleasant bike ride on the city’s lakefront. Most schemes that are designed to be integral parts of a city’s transport system have a very small up-front cost. London’s new bike share program (which also starts on Friday) is not only much bigger, but only charges 1 pound for a single day pass with free usage for the first half hour.
As a point of comparison, in Chicago, lets say I work at the Daley Center and want to eat lunch at the Field Museum (no one would ever want to do this by the way, but that’s where the kiosks are). I would check out a bike for $10, ride the mile or so to the museum in about 15 minutes. I would check the bike in at the Museum. After my hour lunch, I would have to check out a new bike for another $10 at the Museum for the return trip to Daley Plaza. Twenty bucks to go out to the museum for lunch! Of course, if I had a monthly pass, the $35 that I pay each month would cover both rides. But because there are only 6 kiosks, I would not be likely to buy a monthly pass.
In London, lets say I get off a train at St. Pancras. I pay £1 access fee and check out a bike, ride it the 1.5 miles to the British Museum in about 15 minutes. I hang out in the museum for an hour, check out another bike and take another 15 minute ride to Hyde Park. Later on, I can check out another bike and ride up to Kensington, etc… For that initial £1, riders get unlimited short rides.
Finally, Chicago’s scheme comes up short as a practical transport alternative because of the lack of integration with the city’s public transit system. There are a couple of kiosks that are within a block or two from the city’s subway system, but the major Metra commuter rail stations are about a mile away from the nearest kiosk! The system will be useless for the thousands of commuters who travel into the city center from the city’s western and northern suburbs.
I understand that this is essentially a demonstration project. However, because it doesn’t even make an attempt to link with the destinations that everyday residents use, it is hard to get too excited about it. A better model for the city to follow would have been Washington DC, where a small program began in 2008 that linked a couple of select neighborhoods with the city center. The program was so successful that the District of Columbia is expanding the system to include all of the wards in the city as well as neighboring Arlington, Virginia, creating the first regional scheme in the United States.
Chicago could also learn from Mexico City, which recently started a small neighborhood system in Condesa. The first stage of the scheme in Condesa began with 85 stations with plans for expansion.
At this stage, it is a bit premature to call Chicago’s experiment a proper bike-sharing scheme in the sense that it will enhance mobility options for the city’s residents. Rather, it is a nice tourist amenity to help our visitors enjoy the lakefront and our cultural assets.
Update [28 Jul. 2010 1:23pm]
After my initial post, I came across this article by the Active Transportation Alliance explaining the origins of the scheme. It is not a municipal project. Rather it is an outgrowth of Bike Chicago–a private firm that rents bikes at various locales along the lakefront. [They also run the dreaded Segway tours that clog downtown sidewalks & bikepaths–please, no Segway sharing schemes!]
An article in last Friday’s New York Times asks the question: why doesn’t New York City have more ferries? The Staten Island Ferry is probably the most well known; and, of course, there is the popular water taxi from Wall Street to the Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn. But in a high-density urban area surrounded by water, the author argues that the water transportation potential is underutilized.
The New York City Economic Development Corporation is currently putting together a “Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study,” which should provide some guidance on expanding water transportation in the city.
I’ve always thought that here in Chicago water transportation options could be a fruitful area for reducing congestion and for expanding mobility options. In particular, the Chicago River and its tributaries could be used in this regard. Currently there are a couple of water taxi services that connect the main commuter rail stations on the west Loop with Michigan Avenue and Chinatown. But aside from the water taxis, passenger travel on the river is limited to private boats and tours.
I am sure there are engineering, navigational, and health and safety issues that would need to be squared away before expanding passenger travel on the river, but below I’ve put together a “back of the napkin” map of an ideal route.
Docks are situated at 1.5-2 mile intervals. In some areas the docks would serve neighborhoods with limited access to the rapid transit system while in others docks would be integrated with rail and bus to enhance mulitmodality.
I’m not sure about the timing or what sort of craft would be viable, but theoretically you could travel from the northern suburb of Evanston to downtown Chicago in a little more than an hour–making it competitive with local trains. The greatest potential would be for the north side Chicago neighborhoods where boat transit could be integrated with neighborhood commercial districts in areas like Logan Square/Lincoln Square, North/Clybourn, or Lincoln/Peterson.
The New York Times has an interesting article on the planned high-speed rail project in central Florida. Earlier this year Florida was given one of the largest chunks of the $8 billion stimulus money to improve passenger rail travel in the US.
Today’s article points out that the route that will benefit from the money–Orlando to Tampa–has some shortcomings. One issue is that the route will only cover a distance of 84 miles. The concern is that the route is too short to take mode share away from planes and rail. It is not a hard and fast science, but generally distances in excess of 200 miles make high-speed rail attractive to travelers. The line between Madrid and Sevilla in Spain (293 miles) contributed to a 50% reduction in auto share and around a 6% reduction in air travel between the two cities.
The other problem is the route itself. The Orlando terminus is the airport–an isolated complex on the southern edge of the city–and the Tampa terminus is downtown. The route will include a stop at the Walt Disney World resort, but will bypass the Tampa airport.
Both Tampa and Orlando have inadequate local public transport systems, which means riders arriving in each city will be faced with significant mobility challenges when they disembark the train. In Orlando the downtown financial and government districts are more than an hour away from the airport station by local (and infrequent) buses.
What this shows is that walkability and land use issues need to be given greater consideration in transportation planning. You will be able to get from Orlando to Tampa quickly, but once you get to your destination you will likely be faced with another mobility challenge.
The idea is to configure a Chicago Transit Authority rail car into a mobile garden, which would visualize the possibilities for enhancing green space in the city. Additionally, Baldwin promises to plant native plants in the mobile garden, educating Chicagoans about varieties that have historically flourished in the region.
Baldwin’s project seems to be a kindred spirit to Park(ing) Day where citizens commandeer metered parking spaces, lay down sod, bring out lawn chairs, and literally remake the parking space into a park.
These are great examples of creative efforts to get city dwellers to reflect on the human-environment connection and explore the possibilities of using a city’s infrastructure to get us to think critically about nature and the urban landscape.