My first Divvy ride

I was riding to a party at a friends house when I heard a clattering below me. I looked down and realized that three spokes had broken, likely casualties of a winter of moisture and corrosive salts and a springtime of crater-like potholes.

I needed to get around the West Side to run a few errands and get a new wheel, so I decided to try Chicago’s Divvy bike share service as there were a number of stations that popped up around my neighborhood.

I was originally skeptical about the service because the price tag ($7/24 hours, $75/year) seemed a bit steep compared with the price of the service that I had used in Milan over the summer. But, for the utility it gave me, $7 felt pretty fair. I think the price is still steep for avid cyclists who might be visiting the city for more than a few days and wish there was a weekly option available. Similarly, the yearly pass is a good deal, but you have to wait for the service to mail you a fob. It would be nice to be able to buy a yearly membership and use it right away.

The bike felt heavy and slow compared to my usual ride, but the thick tires and upright riding position felt good and easy to navigate the craggy streets. Even though I’m short, the seat heights were set extremely low on many of the bikes at the station (if not stuck, they’re adjustable with a quick-release skewer) and I wonder how many Divvy users are losing a lot of efficiency by not adjusting the seatpost. The tires were pretty well inflated and the disk brakes worked well. It struck me that for many riders, the Divvy bikes likely offer a more comfortable, fun and safe riding experience than the poorly constructed or badly maintained bike in their garage. In some ways, the yearly membership is a good option for someone who doesn’t want to worry about purchasing, maintaining and securing a decent bike. Hopefully, the service will do a good job of maintaining the bikes.

I took a quick look at the system map and found that there were stations really close to where I needed to go. The stations are pretty visible, so I had some sense of where they were from my usual routes around the city. My favorite thing about using the Divvy bike was the way it changed my usual patterns. Since I couldn’t go directly to my destination, I was forced to walk down blocks I wouldn’t usually visit. While the primary goal of a transit system should be to get people where they need to go efficiently, I like public transportation because it’s another way to experience the city. I appreciated the interruption to my routine that having to find and dock the bikes at the stations offered.

While I enjoyed my experience with the service, I am concerned about how the service and its expansion exists within broader development dynamics in Chicago. It’s a highly visible asset that makes the city more livable to some, while big, tough problems like public education, access to affordable mental health care and residential segregation continue to persist. Meshing transportation is a need for many city residents, and Divvy could be a platform, just like other transit systems, that brings together Chicagoans from different parts of the city and different cultural and economic backgrounds on relatively equal terms. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that mediate Divvy as a node in a social mesh for Chicago. Having nearby stations, having a credit card, having Internet access to find information or sign up, having $75 to spend all at once, having the physical ability or experience and comfort to ride in city traffic. If there are efforts to address some of these things, I’d love to know more. While these shortcomings aren’t a reason to completely hate on the service, I can’t think of the service without thinking about city priorities and who they privilege.

About Hoops

A homemade basketball hoop in a Humboldt Park alley.
A homemade basketball hoop in a Humboldt Park alley.

Hoops is a project that I’m undertaking to find and document, homemade basketball hoops in Chicago. I became interested in these structures when I saw a couple of guys playing in an alley near my house in Humboldt Park. Around the same time, a schoolyard basketball court in the neighborhood had been inexplicably removed and I was feeling frustrated about its loss.  Space for childhood never feels easy in this city and the ad-hoc hoops felt like an interesting facet of the way youth in the city navigate changing resources and geographies.

You can help me with the project by finding and submitting DIY hoops in your neighborhood. I’ve created a mobile web app at that you can use from your mobile phone, or you can share photos using the #diyhoop tag on Instagram.

Is the web suburban?

I’ve been reading Suburban Nation (thanks Sherri) and it made me look at new media ecologies with a city planning eye.  I wonder, is the web suburban?  Do we have memorable, open commons or digital cul-de-sacs?  Certainly, many government sites like the Illinois Tollway site quickly feel like I’m getting lost or running into dead ends.  Are online retailers generally becoming more like mom and pop stores or big boxes?  While the architecture of the web certainly allows for multiple routes through and across sites (akin to traditional city streets), typical navigation structures tend be tree-like which seem more like the disorienting and disconnected street patterns of subdivisions.  Are big infrastructure centers like Google or Amazon like suburban collector roads?  Is this city planning model even a capable metaphor for thinking about information ecologies?

Subdivision photo by via Flickr.