Dude, share my car? A look at peer-to-peer car sharing

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[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

Last year Zipcar, the world’s largest car-sharing company, really got my goat with its “Sometimes you just need a car” ad campaign, featuring images of people looking miserable while pedaling to a meeting or riding the bus to a music gig. Fact is, my friends and I do these things all the time, and cyclists and transit users make up a big chunk of the company’s customer base. Why insult your clientele?

But Zipcar did have a point. Even sustainable-transportation blackbelts can use an automobile now and then for road trips, hauling cargo or giving rides to friends and family. Zipcar and I-GO, operated by the local nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, provide a great service to car-free Chicagoans by allowing us to include driving in our toolbox of travel options.

The new breed of peer-to-peer car-sharing companies takes a different approach by helping individuals rent directly from private car owners. This model may actually be a bit more eco-friendly, since it eliminates the need for the company to purchase a fleet of new vehicles and lease off-street parking spaces for them.

The peer-to-peer service Relay Rides, founded by Northwestern University grad Shelby Clark and based in San Francisco, opened in Chicago earlier this year and now operates in nineteen U.S. cities. Its competitor Getaround, also headquartered in San Francisco, launched here in September and currently serves Austin, San Diego and Portland, Oregon, as well. I recently called cofounder Jessica Scorpio to learn how the wheels of fortune spin.

Continue reading Dude, share my car? A look at peer-to-peer car sharing

Danish History: How Copenhagen became bike-friendly again

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Jens Loft Rasmussen and Mai-Britt Kristensen.

When I visited Copenhagen last July, I was wowed by the seamless bicycle infrastructure and the many car-free streets and plazas. But the Danish capital wasn’t always a pedaler’s paradise. In the postwar era the city pursued American-style, auto-centric urban planning, but the 1973 oil crisis caused Copenhagen residents to rethink their transportation priorities. Over the course of several decades they rebuilt their city into the sustainable transportation Mecca it is today. As efforts to reallocate public space from cars to greener modes gain momentum in Chicago, Copenhagen’s story is an encouraging one.

While I was in town I stopped by the headquarters of the Danish Cyclists’ Federation and met with director Jens Loft Rasmussen and project manager Mai-Britt Kristensen. Over coffee and Danish pastry in their office’s lovely courtyard, they told me about how Copenhagen succeeded in changing course and what lies on the horizon. Jens also offered a bit of advice to Mayor Emanuel for creating a bike-friendly Chicago.

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A sustainable transportation critique of the song “Red Barchetta” by Rush

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As a progressive person in the United States, I look to our neighbor to the north as a model for what the U.S. might be like with more sensible laws, including transportation policy. So it’s always disappointing and/or reassuring when I read about backwards-thinking Canadian conservatives.

The most colorful recent example is Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who has consistently put himself on the wrong side of history when it comes to transportation issues. Soon after taking office in December 2010 Ford declared Toronto’s Transit City transit plan “dead” and immediately began fighting the construction of the Crosstown LRT light rail line. Fortunately the project is moving forward now and is slated for completion by 2020.

Ford also established himself as an outspoken opponent of urban cycling. “What I compare bike lanes to is swimming with the sharks,” he said as a councilor in 2010. “Sooner or later you’re going to get bitten… Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes. My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.” A few months earlier he had said, “It’s no secret, okay. The cyclists are a pain in the a– to the motorists.”

Continue reading A sustainable transportation critique of the song “Red Barchetta” by Rush

Eyes on the street: Roads become a little sweeter each day for people who want to bicycle

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Photo by Adam Herstein. 

The City of Chicago is running full steam ahead in this wacky period of warm weather to meet its goal of installing 30 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes before the end of the year.

The photo above shows a little more sanity has been added to the Desplaines/Milwaukee/Kinzie intersection: a green-painted left-turn lane for bicyclists has been added for the left turn from northbound Desplaines Street to northwest-bound Milwaukee Avenue.

However, and this is very important: CTA buses have a different path than most people who are making a left turn. They are aiming for the bus stop in front of the restaurant The Point and cyclists on the outside (right side) of this left turn could cross paths with the bus on the inside (left side) of the turn. See the map below.

Read more about the bikeway additions to Desplaines Street. We hear on #bikeCHI that the flexible posts have been installed, but we’ve also heard of problems in front of Old St. Patrick’s church and school, between Monroe and Adams Streets.

View CTA and bike left-turn path from Desplaines to Milwaukee in a larger map

A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route

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7:58am After waking up at an ungodly hour, cycling to the CTA’s Fullerton stop, riding the Red Line south to 95th Street and pedaling a few more miles to the 103rd Street & Stony Island garage terminal, I board a shiny blue J14 Jeffery Jump express bus. As I load my cruiser onto the front bike rack, the driver calls out the open door, “Could you hurry up please? I gotta go.”

Launched on November 5, the Jump is a new service that’s the transit agency’s first venture into bus rapid transit (BRT), systems that create subway-like speeds for buses via car-free lanes and other timesavers. The Jump, funded with an $11 million Federal Transportation Administration grant, isn’t full-blown BRT. But it does include several pioneering features that will hopefully pave the way for bolder bus corridors downtown and on Ashland and Western avenues later this decade. I’m here to ride the entire sixteen-mile route from the Far South Side to the Loop, to see how these elements are working out.

Continue reading A great leap forward? Riding the entire Jeffery Jump express bus route

Oh Dearborn! The 2-way protected bike lane is almost completely striped

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Looking north at Dearborn and Monroe streets.

These are definitely exciting times for Chicago cyclists. I pedaled downtown this afternoon to see how the “game-changing” Dearborn two-way protected bike lane is progressing. I was expecting to see a few blocks of striping work completed. I’m pleased to report that by 4 pm this afternoon striping work seemed to be largely complete on almost the entire corridor from Polk Street to the Chicago River, less than 24 hours after work started.

One reason the work is going so fast is that it’s being done by Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) crews using paint, rather than contractors using molten thermoplastic, which might be worth considering for all bike lanes. Thermoplastic lasts much longer, but paint is a whole lot cheaper. My friend Dave Schlabowske, former Milwaukee bike coordinator, tells me that city crunched the numbers and found that it was cheaper to repaint their bike lanes every year than to stripe them with thermoplastic once every few years. This also might help with the “disappearing bike lane” problem.

But that’s a debate for another day. For now, let’s celebrate the lightning-fast progress of this pioneering facility, which CDOT says will be completed, including striping, signage, bollards and traffic signal timing, by mid-December, if the warm weather holds up. The bike-specific traffic signals will be crucial for guiding southbound bike traffic and preventing conflicts between northbound bike traffic and left-turning cars.

Since there are no bollards or signs up yet, many drivers were, understandably, parking in the bike lane, but the lane really won’t be completely safe to ride until the signals are activated anyway. One benefit that has already resulted is that, with the removal of one of the three travel lanes, Dearborn already feels calmer and more civilized, like a bustling neighborhood retail street rather than a typical downtown speedway. The following images provide a virtual tour of the new lanes heading northbound; more photos can be viewed here.

Continue reading Oh Dearborn! The 2-way protected bike lane is almost completely striped