Divvy bike lawsuit rejected

Chicago bike shareThis afternoon a Cook County judge rejected a request for a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit filed this week by a condo association seeking to remove a Divvy bike station from outside the condo complex. Streetsblog dug up the complaint. The association says that its procedural rights have been violated because it wasn’t notified of the exact location of the station until construction cones were set up.

But to have a right to be notified of this sort of thing, you need to have some sort of property interest that is being violated. The association says that it has a protected interest for two reasons: (1) “children who come and go from the building, which has no doorman, will be at risk,” and (2) “property values will be diminished as thousands of dollars in recent parkway improvements financed by plaintiff are destroyed by the construction and as units will be less desirable because of public invasion, noise, trash and vulnerability, as well as more congestion and less available parking in an already too congested neighborhood.”

I think that these arguments are frivolous and an attempt to harass the city into moving the station—a technique that apparently worked for a co-op in New York. Emily Badger at Atlantic Cities deemed the lawsuit “insidious.” As far as I know, however, the lawsuit is still ongoing because it doesn’t appear that the complaint has been dismissed. It probably will be in the future, if the city keeps fighting the case (and I hope that it does!).

Steven Vance at Streetsblog has concisely pointed out the absurdity of some of the association’s arguments. For example, it argues that the bikes should be moved to a high-traffic area, away from residential buildings, failing to acknowledge that the condo is in a busy area, and that bikes need to be near people’s home for the bike share to work. Also, the association complains about the loss of parking, even though, as Vance points out, “the station replaced only two parking spaces.”

Illinois close to passing cell-phone ban for drivers

Texting while at the wheel (4351110509)Within the next few days, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign a bill banning cell-phone use while driving. The penalty will be $75, at first, and if you rack up three offenses in a year’s time, your driver’s license gets revoked. Although texting while driving has been banned in Illinois for four years, enforcement is difficult because drivers can claim when caught that they were just picking up their phone to talk. According to TechHive.com, texting “has now surpassed drinking while driving as the top cause of teen driving deaths, resulting in some 3,000 deaths a year and 300,000 injuries.” If you need any convincing about the danger of texting while driving, watch this chilling new film, From One Second To The Next, created by acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog for AT&T.

NYC and Chicago have same bike-share problem

Divvy bike programYesterday’s New York Times ran a story about New York City’s difficulties maintaining a balance at the docking stations for its three-month-old bike-share program.  The problem is two-fold: not enough bikes outside near people’s homes in the morning, and not enough spaces to park the bikes near workplaces.

I read this story this morning and, coincidentally, saw the problem first hand in Chicago: A rider pulled up to the Divvy bike station outside my office, but the station was completely full. He just rode off, probably in search of an empty spot.

Currently, both New York and Chicago rely on trucks or vans to pick up bikes from full stations and move them to empty stations. The Times article explains that New York is planning to step up its efforts to provide better balance. The city has leased more spaces to store bikes near popular stations, and the program also is increasing its number of larger trucks, hiring more bike-moving employees, and introducing bike trailers (“bikes that can haul a small number of other bikes attached to them, to negotiate congested areas in which trucks can become snarled in traffic”). This issue of balancing is so crucial to these types of shared mobility programs that academic research is being conducted on how best to manage costs.

A few commentators on the Times article had interesting ideas, suggesting an incentive program where riders could get credit to their account, or even just points on the program’s app, for finding and docking at empty stations. This suggestion is backed by the earlier-mentioned research, which concluded that “it is possible to trade off reward payouts to customers against the cost of hiring staff to reposition bicycles, in order to minimize operating costs for a given desired service level.” But it might not be necessary, according to commentator David Martin from Paris, who explained the situation there: “Here in Paris, it was an issue during the first year or two, but not now. They figured it out. I really think New York will too. I imagine that the system in NY is computerized, so they have usage data. They can study the problem by looking at the usage data, then figure out solutions. It takes time, but it can be done.” What do you think?

Increased federal oversight of Metra

0802130709This week brought news that the Federal Railroad Administration is going to increase its oversight of Metra. This change is in response to a request earlier this month by Senator Dick Durbin. Durbin explained that increased oversight is needed because “the lack of permanent leadership at the (Metra) board and management levels creates a situation where accountability is hard to find and priorities like safety could become neglected.”

The leadership problems Durbin is talking about are no joke. Metra’s CEO Alex Clifford was recently ousted; he says in retaliation for resisting improper political pressure by Illinois politicians. And Clifford was brought in after former Metra executive director, Phil Pagano, defrauded the agency of $475,000. To make matters worse, Clifford walked away with a $718,000 severance package (though he might lose that because it contained a nondisclosure agreement related to the political scandal), and four Metra board members, including the chairman, were so upset with the severance deal that they resigned.

Thus, although on the surface, the federal government in stepping in to review safety procedures, it doesn’t take much digging to figure out the real reason: The feds don’t want to keep funneling federal money into Metra when it has this messy leadership problem. As noted in the Chicago Tribune, the “U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to invest $135 million in Metra’s infrastructure this year alone.”

Maybe federal oversight can help Metra transition to the new Ventra program too.

Elon Musk’s plan for high-speed “Hyperloop”

Image courtesy of Tesla Motors
Image courtesy of Tesla Motors

Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal and now heads up Tesla Motors, has been talking about creating a high-speed transportation system from Los Angeles to San Francisco. This talk is in response to California’s plan to install high-speed rail, at an estimated cost of $70 billion. This Monday his team published a nearly 60-page document explaining their plans for what they call the “Hyperloop,” a project they intend to be “open source,” meaning someone could take the idea and run with it. CNN Money summarizes the technical side of it, which involves travel pods (holding up to 12 people and possibly even cars) in an elevated tube:

The cars would be pushed or pulled through the tube by a series of electric motors, possibly similar to the ones used by the Tesla Model S. Each car would be mounted with a fan in front to move the air out of the way. The air itself would then be directed underneath the car, forming a cushion on which it would ride. The entire thing would be powered by solar panels mounted on top of the tube.

Wired’s Autopia blog describes what it might be like to ride the Hyperloop:

The initial acceleration, according to Musk, would be similar to what you experience in a plane: a big thrust. “Then once you’re there,” Musk says, “there’s no sense of speed.” G forces would be quite low as well, with a maximum of a half-G, likely negating the need for the gastrointestinal emergency bags on airplanes.

Musk estimates that his proposed system “could cost less than one-tenth of the planed high speed rail system in California” and “be six times faster.” What that means practically is a 35-minute trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, for the price of $20. But there’s a long way to go: Musk would have to create a prototype to prove his design, a step he says could take three to four years.  According to Wired, even if someone else started work on the idea today, “Musk says it would still be 7 to 10 years away.”

It’s not like Musk is busy leading the way on electric cars and commercial space flight

Chicago announces locations of new speed cameras

traffic cameraThis weekend Chicago announced that 12 new speed cameras would be installed near city parks after a successful test program. Huffington Post reports that “had tickets been issued for all of the test-period violations, the city would have raked in roughly $4.7 million in ticket revenue in just one month.” The city wants to install 50 cameras by year end. The plan is clear: stop speeders, collect revenue. The fine for drivers going 10 mph over the speed limit is $100, and drivers going 6 mph over get a warning, and then a $35 fine. The new locations are as follows:

  • Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, 3857 W. 111th St.
  • Curie High School, 4959 S. Archer Ave.
  • Douglas Park, 1401 S. Sacramento Ave.
  • Garfield Park, 100 N. Central Park Ave.
  • Gompers Park, 4222 W. Foster Ave.
  • Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Humboldt Dr.
  • Jones High School, 606 S. State St.
  • Legion Park, 3100 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
  • Marquette Park, 6743 S. Kedzie Ave.
  • Washington Park, 5531 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
  • McKinley Park, 2210 W. Pershing Road

The Chicago Tribune has a map of the new locations here.

Chicago Mayor Praises Bike Share System

Photo credit: my cellphone

Chicago is celebrating its bike-share program as a big success. The press release stats are impressive: “In just one month Chicagoans have taken 80,000 trips and ridden over 250,000 miles on Divvy Bikes. That’s further than the distance to the moon! The new bike share system now has over 100 stations and is starting to expand into neighborhoods around the city.”

There is one of these racks right outside where I work. I hadn’t heard about it until I saw the bikes there; it reminds me of similar programs in Europe. I was surprised to see that, on most days, a majority of the bikes are checked out. I did see a well-dressed man very frustrated one day, trying furiously to get the bike back into the station by ramming it over and over again. And I heard that it has increased the amount of kamikaze bikers on the sidewalks. Also, of course, not everyone is happy with the bikes as a policy decision: on the mayor’s Facebook page, people were downright upset, with comments ranging from “stop wasting money” to “start focusing on issue X, Y, or Z.” But overall, this is a win for Chicago, in my opinion.

Here’s the link to the press release:

City of Chicago :: Mayor Emanuel Lauds Divvy Bike Share System Early Success.