The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Glow-in-the-dark bike path from the UK

This rocks:

The so-called "Starpath" is a type of solar-enhanced liquid and aggregate made by Pro-Teq Surfacing, a company headquartered southwest of London near the awesomely titled town of Staines-upon-Thames. It's in the prototype phase, with a test path running 460 feet in a Cambridge park called Christ's Pieces. (The British and their delightful names!) The material works by absorbing UV rays during the day and later releasing them as topaz light. In a weird feature, it can somehow adjust its brightness levels similar to the screen of an iPhone; the path gets dimmer on pitch-black nights "almost like it has a mind of its own," says Pro-Teq's owner, Hamish Scott.

Pro-Teq is hoping that governments will embrace its self-aware, supernatural-looking pathway for its energy-saving elements and the ease in which it goes down. The installation is fairly quick (the Cambridge job took about 4 hours), and because it's a resurfacing technique doesn't involve the burdensome disassembly and disposal of existing pathways. "The main bulk of the U.K. path network is tarmac, where perhaps it's coming toward the end of its useful life," says Pro-Teq pitchman Neil Blackmore in the below video. "We can rejuvenate it with our system, creating not only a practical but a decorative finish that's certainly with the Starpath also very, very unique."

From the company's press release:

This product has recently been sprayed onto the existing pathway that runs through Christ’s Pieces open space, Cambridge between the city centre and the Grafton Centre, and is used by pedestrians and cyclists during the day and night.

The Cambridge pathway measures 150 square metres, took only 30 minutes to spray the material on, and the surface was ready for use less than four hours after the job commenced. This short installation time allowed minimal disruption to the public.

Bike hike to Cambridge, anyone?

How many Divvies?

If you wondered how often people actually ride Divvy bikes, everyone's Divvy online trip summary page has the answer. They put the trip ID right on the page. My first Divvy trip, on September 18th, was #522105; this morning's was #732089. Assuming they use an ID field that auto-increments by 1 for each ride, that means Divvy users rode about 210,000 times in the past 22 days, or about 9,500 times a day (on average). That rate gives them nearly 3.5 million rides over the next 12 months.

Compare that with the CTA's 314 million bus rides and 231 million train rides, though. The 79th Street bus had 10 million rides last year; the #36 bus (one of five that stop near my house) had 5.8 million; most of the 150-odd routes had over a million. So will Divvy actually eat into CTA ridership? Not for a while.

I'll look for more official sources of Divvy participation, especially on revenue.

Are Divvy's days already numbered?

Probably not. But Bixi, who manufacture the bikes and stations used here in Chicago, has cash-flow problems:

Montréal’s own Bixi bike-share, the inaugural PBSC venture launched in 2009, was the largest system in North America until Citi Bike launched in New York this summer. (Technically, PBSC is the parent entity and Bixi refers to the bike-systems in Montréal and other cities where PBSC runs operations, although in practice the two names are often used interchangeably.) But according to a letter filed last month by Montréal’s auditor general, the company’s finances are in disarray – the latest chapter in a series of money woes that have plagued PBSC and Bixi, which was founded in 2007 by the City of Montréal's parking authority for the purpose of creating a bike-share system for Montréal and is still under the city's administration.

According to numbers released late last month by the City of Montréal, the company is $42 million in debt, with a $6.5 million deficit and $5 million in outstanding payments.

Will PBSC’s ongoing cash-flow problems affect system users in the multiple U.S. cities that use its bikes and docking stations? Mia Birk, vice president of Alta Bicycle Share, insists that the answer is no. Alta is the exclusive operator of Bixi systems in the United States, managing in a total of eight U.S. programs as well as the one in Melbourne, Australia, and acting as the contractor between municipal departments of transportation and PBSC.

Divvy is getting a huge amount of use. I'm interested what will happen in the winter, but regardless, I think the bike-sharing service is popular enough that the Chicago Transportation Dept. would step in if something happened to Bixi.

I hope so, anyway.

House of Turds and ghost trains? Nah

Sullivan has a scathing piece about the Republicans shutting down the government again. And closer to home, apparently Chicago has phantom El trains that drive themselves right into other trains.

But yesterday's Atlantic Cities piece on bike-share etiquette is much more enjoyable to think about than either of those:

The central ethos is built into the name. "The whole point of it is it’s bike share, it’s not bike rental," says Kim Reynolds, the office and administrative manager in Washington for Alta Bicycle Share, which operates Capital Bikeshare. In Chicago, the network is called Divvy, which literally means "to divide and share." In Minneapolis and St. Paul, their system is called Nice Ride, a play on the notion that bike-share requires a certain quality that Minnesotans in particular possess.

Bad behavior is technically harder to achieve on a bike. You can’t leave trash in it. The bikes themselves are relatively difficult to damage. And penalties for hogging them are built into the price structure: So you want to take that bike and lock it up outside your office all day? That’s fine. You’ll pay $75 or so in most cities for the right. (Here’s how nice they are in Minnesota: If you do this without understanding the system with Nice Ride, customer service will call you up, gently explain they want their bike back, forgive you, and refund the charge the first time.)

See? Much more pleasant than the rest of the day's news. Or giant, deadly hornets. Better than those, too.

The Divvy dividend

Now 10 days into the Divvy experiment, I have some data. Since receiving my Divvy key on the 17th, I've taken 17 Divvy trips of between 6 and 46 minutes. (The 46 minutes included waiting 15 minutes at a station for a space to open up.)

A Divvy subscription costs $75 per year. The 17 trips I've taken just the past two weeks would have cost $38.25 on public transit. Or, since my average trip is around 14 minutes, it could be the equivalent of about $73-80 in cab fares.

Obviously, I've taken Divvy instead of walking a couple of times. And just as obviously, I wouldn't have taken cabs on most of those occasions as one can reasonably say that any weather appropriate for biking is also fine for waiting for a bus or train.

The biggest value, however, comes from my morning commute. On Divvy, it's 25 minutes door to door. On the LaSalle bus (the second-fastest way) it takes 45 minutes. That gives me 20 extra minutes in my day, which at my billing rate more than makes up for the annual fee.

Divvy is absolutely brilliant. I'm absolutely going to try the local equivalents next time I visit London or New York. Or other cities with similar systems: Montreal Bixi (the first in North America), Paris Velib' (the largest public bike share outside China), or someday Melbourne (helmet vending machines available as well).

Divvy supply management

My experiment with Divvy—the ugliest form of transportation in Chicago—continues. Yesterday I took, I think, five Divvy rides of varying length, and ran into a problem that will always exist in their model.

It wasn't weather. In fact, on reflection I believe that being able to park and forget the bikes means not caring at all about whether it's going to rain later. If it does, all one needs to do is take another way home.

No, yesterday I encountered a supply problem at the remotest Divvy station on the north side. After a 7 km ride, I got to Logan Square, only to find the Divvy rack was full. I had nowhere to put the bike.

First thing to do in this situation is ask for more time. The kiosks have a "station full" button that gives you 15 extra minutes to find another station. Only, in this case, I felt a little put out, because the station map said the full rack I was staring at actually had two free spots. It continued to say this for an hour, until, like a stuck clock right twice a day, there were finally two open spots.

Fine, the map at Logan Square showed a station only 800 m away. Only, my phone didn't. I went to investigate anyway and discovered, nope, no station, but a spot where they intend to put the station "soon."

I wound up parking the bike at California and Milwaukee, about 1500 m from my original destination, and the weather was gorgeous so walking didn't really bother me that much. But it put me on notice: when a remote station shows nearly-full, don't believe it.

I'm also going to download the developer's tools to find out how often the data get updated. I'll post when I find out.

Divvy up my commute

Well, I've signed up for Divvy, Chicago's bike-sharing program. Now that the weather is getting cooler, I think I'll be able to commute by Divvy without arriving at the office a sweaty mess.

Long-time readers know I used to bike a lot, until my knees decided it was time to stop. Divvy bikes should be a lot easier on my knees than my Felt.

If I use it just a few times rather than taking cabs—for example, tonight, from pub trivia—the sign-up fee will be worth it.

More as events warrant.

Why Johnny Can't Ride

Via reader AS, a frustrating story of suburban kids not allowed to bike to school:

[Saratoga, N.Y.,] Maple Avenue {Middle School]'s student body of 1,650 is delivered via 39 school buses—and as at thousands of other communities around the country, many parents elect to drive their children. Thus, every weekday morning, scores of idling cars line up behind dozens of buses disgorging waves of kids. Amidst this, Janette and Adam—each of whom was about 5 feet tall—seemed like a pair of diminutive daredevils wading into a tsunami.

As Adam locked his bike to a fence, a radio call came in to the administrative office. "Security told me that two bikes were getting involved with the buses," remembers the school principal, Stuart Byrne. "We hadn't heard from anyone beforehand. My assistant responded and said, 'Where are they?'"

An assistant principal, Robert Loggins, found Janette in front of the school, waiting for a lull in the traffic so she could depart. Adam had already gone inside.

"What are you doing here?" Loggins asked Janette.

Janette thought this an odd question. "It's Bike to Work Day," she said. "Did you ride your bike to school?"

"Bicycling isn't allowed at Maple Avenue School," said Loggins.

I imagine that when they grow up, the portly children of Maple Avenue School will drive to the gym twice a week.

Fortunately, the story has a (relatively) happy ending. But it highlights a number of symptoms that have created a generation of mentally-helpless children: helicopter parents, fear of lawsuits, car worship, middle-school assistant principals—evils which never seem to go away, despite clear evidence of the harm they cause.

Great day for a bike ride

I had some time yesterday afternoon, and the weather in Chicago was gorgeous, so I hopped on my bike. But where to go? How about on a route that was largely clear of traffic and had recently been swept clean by the city, like, say, this one. Good choice: I don't think I've ever ridden on cleaner roads in my life.

Only, I left home too early, so near 18th and Ashland I caught up with the street sweepers:

A dozen blocks farther on I had to wind my way through the garbage trucks, and then near 31st St I actually found the last runners on the marathon course. So I said goodbye to the marathon route and hit the lake front path, which, because of the weather, I'm lucky to have survived without hitting anyone.

The marathon route takes runners through parts of the city that people might not otherwise see, like a one-block enclave of leafy town houses on West Jackson between Ashland and Laflin I never knew was there. It's also a good distance for biking, though I did cut off about 5 km.

About this blog (v. 4.1.6)

I'm David Braverman, this is my blog, and Parker is my 5-year-old mutt. I last updated this About... page in February, but some things have changed. In the interest of enlightened laziness I'm starting with the most powerful keystroke combination in the universe: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.

Twice. Thus, the "point one" in the title.

The Daily Parker is about:

  • Parker, my dog, whom I adopted on 1 September 2006.
  • Politics. I'm a moderate-lefty by international standards, which makes me a radical left-winger in today's United States.
  • Photography. I took tens of thousands of photos as a kid, then drifted away from making art until a few months ago when I got the first digital camera I've ever had that rivals a film camera. That got me reading more, practicing more, and throwing more photos on the blog. In my initial burst of enthusiasm I posted a photo every day. I've pulled back from that a bit—it takes about 30 minutes to prep and post one of those puppies—but I'm still shooting and still learning.
  • The weather. I've operated a weather website for more than ten years. That site deals with raw data and objective observations. Many weather posts also touch politics, given the political implications of addressing climate change, though happily we no longer have to do so under a president beholden to the oil industry.
  • Chicago, the greatest city in North America, and the other ones I visit whenever I can.

I've deprecated the Software category, but only because I don't post much about it here. That said, I write a lot of software. I work for 10th Magnitude, a startup software consultancy in Chicago, I've got about 20 years experience writing the stuff, and I continue to own a micro-sized software company. (I have an online resume, if you're curious.) I see a lot of code, and since I often get called in to projects in crisis, I see a lot of bad code, some of which may appear here.

I strive to write about these and other things with fluency and concision. "Fast, good, cheap: pick two" applies to writing as much as to any other creative process (cf: software). I hope to find an appropriate balance between the three, as streams of consciousness and literacy have always struggled against each other since the first blog twenty years ago.

If you like what you see here, you'll probably also like Andrew Sullivan, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, and Bruce Schneier. Even if you don't like my politics, you probably agree that everyone ought to read Strunk and White, and you probably have an opinion about the Oxford comma—punctuation de rigeur in my opinion.

Another, non-trivial point. Facebook reads the blog's RSS feed, so many people reading this may think I'm just posting notes on Facebook. Facebook's lawyers would like you to believe this, too. Now, I've reconnected with tons of old friends and classmates through Facebook, I play Scrabble on Facebook, and I eagerly read every advertisement that appears next to its relevant content. But Facebook's terms of use assert ownership of everything that appears on their site, regardless of prior claims, which contravenes four centuries of law.

Everything that shows up on my Facebook profile gets published on The Daily Paker first, and I own the copyrights to all of it (unless otherwise disclosed). I publish the blog's text under a Creative Commons attribution-nonderivative-noncommercial license; republication is usually OK for non-commercial purposes, as long as you don't change what I write and you attribute it to me. My photos, however, are published under strict copyright, with no republication license, even if I upload them to other public websites. If you want to republish one of my photos, just let me know and we'll work something out.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you continue to enjoy The Daily Parker.