City will consider scooter program extension, concerns over accessibility and mass transit

UIC student rides a privately owned electric scooter throughout campus. Photo by Nicholas Vranas

Whether you hope to see more of the nimble, two-wheeled electric scooters or not, consumer trends are shifting in Chicago.

And for some, electric vehicles are not just a new way of traveling but they are a way of blowing off steam.

“It’s a single, personal vehicle compared to having to wait for the bus station or wait another five minutes and to wait for every stop before you get off,” said Josh Villacastin, a sophomore computer science major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. You’re just cramped up with everyone. But with your own vehicle, you’re free to do anything. You can ride wherever you want.” 

Villacastin is a member of multiple electric vehicle riding groups, such as the Chicago Onewheel group and Boosted Board Riders Chicago. Membership for the groups are near 1,000 people each and the group meets have drawn up to 40 or 50 riders at a time in warmer weather, he said.

Onewheel refers to a single wheel that a rider balances upon, with a small space for each foot around the wheel. A boosted board is an electric skateboard.

This video below shows a member of Chicago OneWheel group, Matthew Caston, riding and demonstrating the e-vehicle.

Villacastin holds mixed feelings about the possibility of a more permanent program coming to the city, since the four-month pilot program for rental scooters was implemented in the city in June and halted in October.

City officials now are trying to determine whether a permanent program is practical on a number of fronts, as mass transit options show low ridership and concerns loom for affordable and accessible transit.

“It’s a good thing that we’re making transportation more accessible, so it helps college students and anyone who’s looking to get a cheaper alternative to Uber, where it’s like 20, 30 bucks to get a ride that’s pretty short,” he said. “A lot of us enjoy it when it’s used properly, but we hate it when we see these scooters in the middle of the sidewalk. People aren’t taking care of where they’re actually supposed to be kept.”

Certain areas of the city have a great need for such convenient transportation, although the scooter and other e-vehicles require physical balance and also maturity to ride it, in addition to the fact that it is designed for and mandated for one person to ride it at a time, according to the renting companies.  

Villacastin can relate to a need for accessible transportation when he commutes to his western suburb. He rides eight miles to his home from the metra station, and he would have to walk if he didn’t own the e-vehicle, due to a lack of available parking spaces, he said.

“In terms of accessibility, there’s a lot to come… I never thought this would be a thing. A scooter without handlebars?… Who in their right mind would make something like that?,” he said while speaking about new technologies including options like treaded and spiked tires that make it possible to ride during the winter. 

Matthew Caston is a member of the One Wheel Chicago ride group, shown near UIC campus. Photo by Thomas Ackerman

While e-vehicles are becoming increasingly popular, though, there have been instances of injury and even deaths nationwide.

Ben Polony, a junior public policy major at UIC, fractured a finger in August after hitting a curb while riding a rentable e-scooter.

“I definitely want to see the program continue,” he said. “My accident and injury was my own fault because I wasn’t paying attention to the street and the road in front of me.” Polony had been riding e-scooters before the program came to Chicago and said he became too comfortable on the vehicle that requires full attentiveness.

c1a4854f-cbed-4039-8581-64780752af81 Polony lives a short distance from UIC in a part of the Little Italy neighborhood but he appreciated the program because public transit options like buses do not always operate when he needs to travel to school or elsewhere.

“[Scooters] tend to be very useful in getting between my apartment and campus when there’s no bus that’s coming anytime soon or during the weekends; when the 157 — which is the bus that goes down Taylor street — doesn’t operate,” he said.

Villacastin added that “these aren’t toys. There should be a way to implement helmets, but I’m not sure how.” He said that as a new technology, pedestrians and drivers are simply not yet accustomed to maneuvering around scooters. Rentable scooters may have governors that restrict speeds while private scooters may have greater ability to speed.  

Ten companies had introduced 2,500 scooters within a 50-square mile that was roughly bordered by Irving Park Road on the north, the South Branch of the Chicago River on the south, the city’s western border and Halsted Street, according to a Chicago Tribune report. The companies included Bird, Bolt, gruv, Jump, Lime, Lyft, Sherpa, Spin, VeoRide and Wheels.

Google Maps graphic showing the pilot area and its priority zones.

The city will determine whether to implement another pilot program or a more permanent installment, with advocates and reports helping to weigh-in on sides of the debate; citing safety, traffic congestion, and accessibility, and environmental concerns among other factors.

“There is this perception that Chicago is a city that’s on the move, and incredibly successful by world standards,” said Joseph Schwieterman, a professor in the School of Public Service, Department of Public Policy and Sustainable Urban Development programs at DePaul University.

“But there’s also a sense that Chicago has an aging transportation system and neighborhoods that need a shot in the arm, and trying these pilots can bring a sense that new conveniences are coming.”

While the city hasn’t released data obtained from the pilot program, Schweiterman and other authors at DePaul’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development tracked scooters throughout the day with dynamic images to observe where the devices concentrated at varying times. 

More than college students are taking advantage of the scooter program, which came as a surprise to Schwieterman. 

“At first thought it’s common novelty, people are going to use it for recreation, visually experiencing the city. But we look at the data and it shows a lot of commuting use. You got a big peak around 7 [am] to 9 am and then one later around 5 [pm] to 7 pm. It appears a lot of people are dropping off scooters right at Halsted where the pilot ends and then maybe walking the rest of the way to the loop.”

In addition to areas close to downtown, the pilot program offered “priority zones” that encompassed some lower-income areas and those that lack efficient transit.

“The scooter companies did a pretty good job spreading these things out into poorer neighborhoods, and that’s a good sign,” said Schwieterman. “It might give the city ammunition to have a second pilot.”

Consumers also willingly engaged with often several apps to aid in the convenience of a scooter that was found, which interested Schwieterman. 

“Consumers had no problem downloading four to five apps for different scooter companies. Secondly, we saw that they would use the scooters a little bit longer than we expected. Our sense was after about a mile, mile and a quarter, that thing gets expensive and it gets hard to balance your weight for that long. But people were hopping on these for long periods,” he said.

Top 10 Museums in the Chicago Area

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(Image via Mr T. in DC)

One of the many spectacular attractions found throughout the city of Chicago are undoubtedly its wide array of museums. Whether you are in search of art, technology, history, or culture, these 10 museums should be on your visit list whenever in Chicago.

Take a look at the map below and begin planning your museum adventures today.

Google Trends: A Look at The Top Democratic Candidates and Policies Ahead of 2020 Election

The 2020 Presidential Election has the potential to be one of the most participated in elections of all time coming off President Trump’s stay in office. With this in mind, and the recent events of the Democratic debate, I constructed a Google Trends visual, which compares the total number of Google searches among selected topics. For this visual I compared the top 5 Democratic candidates.

Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 8.22.19 PM From this graphic it is evident that each candidate is getting their own spotlight among the public, but most notably is their individual rise over the last year.

There are huge individual stories over the last year, such as Kamala Harris’ campaign starter in her hometown of Oakland, which can be seen as the giant green spike on January 27th.

Another spike worth mentioning would be the red one from mid February representing Bernie Sander’s powerful campaign video that announced his comeback for a claim at the Presidential seat.

As of right now all poll’s are pointing to Joe Biden as a clear #1, however this Google Trends visual tends to show interests are fluctuating among Google searches.

One last mention would have to be Andrew Yang, who has gained more and more popularity for his economically driven Democratic policies. Yang is going into 2020 as a top 5 dark horse, but his popularity amongst younger generations can cause issues amongst the other top Democratic powerhouse candidates.

Democratic Policies and Priorities 

Following up on the analysis of Democratic President Candidates, I decided that a search of Democratic policies could more appropriately help interpret candidate popularity based upon how supported a policy is. For this a Google Trends visual was constructed, containing the terms Tuition Payments, Climate Change, Gun Control, Immigration, and Universal Health Care. These terms are undoubtedly some of the most talked about subjects in Democratic politics and media.

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Evidently, Immigration proves itself to be the main priority of democrats over the last year. This is on the back of President Trump’s extremist immigration laws which have allowed 24 people to die in ICE custody since his inauguration. Every Democratic candidate is in agreement that President Trump’s immigration system is a failure. It will be interesting to see which plans the top candidates intend to propose as the window to 2020 dwindles.

Also worth mentioning is the interest in Tuition Payments, which have proven to be a popular topic among top candidates. Most notable being Bernie Sanders and his efforts to have universal free college. While this is a debated topic among candidates, they all understand the struggles that student loans put on people post school.

Lastly I’d like to touch on gun control, which was a topic that Texas native Beto O’Rourke had no problem going after in the recent Democratic debate, claiming that “Hell yes, we are taking your AR-15”.

These Democratic policies, specifically Immigration, will play an immense role in the 2020 Election and the reshaping of the United States post Donald Trump.

Keep the Red Line Peace

Picture taken by David Wilson via Flickr

After a long day at work, lots of people ride the CTA for their commute back home from the city, or near the city. This is a time people use to reflect on the day they just experienced and relax. Nobody should have to worry if they’ll still have their belongings with them when they get home, or worry about if they’ll get home in general.

But unfortunately not everyone gets to experience a relaxing commute home. According to The Chicago Sun Times, Red Line crime has gone up 16 percent since last year. These crimes range from seriousness to petty theft, all the way to murder even. You would think if crime is escalating, then so would police involvement, but that’s not the case. A little over 90 percent of these crimes unfortunately go unsolved.

“Majority of the Red Line calls that we get are batteries or people fighting on the train” Jessica LaRocha, a Chicago Police Officer ,said. “The CTA attendant is typically good about what’s been going on throughout the day. We try and check the CTA platforms a few times throughout the day.”

The CTA provides the public with numerous ways of transport, but the very popular way is take the L trains. The L trains provide multiple different lines that are named by color. The Red Line is notorious for the range of crimes, more than the others. Here is a map to show all the Red Line stops.
Looking into these crimes is becoming very important when peoples safety is at risk. According to an article Michael Petro, a Chicago Criminal Defense attorney had published, the most dangerous L stop is on the Red Line. This stop is called “Belmont”. This stop happens to have the most assaults, burglaries, and sex crimes as well.

In addition to the dangerous background of the Red Line, it also presents an issue of skepticism. According to the Chicago Tribune, the El trains ridership is decreasing by a little over 3 percent a year. If people do not feel safe taking the Red Line home, then naturally they will find other means of transportation.
Jackson Red Line Stop from Nicholas Vranas on Vimeo.
Paige Calace, a woman who lived in the city for two years states “I lived in the Lakeview neighborhood and I took the CTA train everyday.” There are many people like Paige living in the city area who depend on this train so they can live their everyday lives. Paige also states “While living in the city, I did feel that the CTA was dangerous depending on what line I was taking, the neighborhood, and the time of day.

Calace also explained how numerous times she was taking the L train and there would be homeless people who ride all the time because it is a warmer and more comfortable place to sleep. This is something that can be taken advantage of when no security is around or aboard each car.

“I feel that this would ultimately lead to passengers getting harassed for change or even getting pick pocketed. I know there are a lot of issues with women riding alone and getting sexually assaulted. I think this can happen easily at times of the day when trains are less crowded or carts that have few passengers on board.”

Crimes like these are very hard to stop, especially when there is only one CTA personnel riding on the cart most times, and he/she is always all the way in front or in back. Increasing personnel on the trains could help stop frequent crime.

The potentially obvious solution to crime on the Red Line problem is to up the security on these trains, and increase the involvement of The Chicago Police Department. As Officer LaRocha told said CPD tries to patrol CTA trains and platforms a few times a day, which leaves a lot of time when officers are not present.

For the most part, the thing that has been done the best is warn people about some of the hotspots that a lot of these crimes take place. For example, CBS Chicago has released multiple articles on frequent stops with high rates of robbery. On some occasions, these situation happen in the tunnels that are used to exit the Lines station.

The CTA spent 33 million dollars on new cameras and security, if its cameras at the trans platforms, or if its cameras that are inside these train carts. The cameras usually do the job they are intended to do, and get photo and video evidence of these crimes. Unfortunately, most of these crimes do not lead to an arrest, or lead to people getting their belongings back. Below is a graphic showing some of the improvements that are being rolled out to CTA stations throughout the city.
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The CTA is a huge resource to people who live in Chicago, or even people visiting who are trying to get around. Most of the time this resource is someone’s main means of transportation for work and pleasure. With the high volume of ridership, a high volume of security precautions should established and enforced. People shouldn’t have to worry about being assaulted or harassed on their way home.

Picture taken by David Wilson via Flickr

The City of Chicago is making massive strides in terms of improving CTA L-Train safety throughout the city. Most evident is their Safe & Secure project, a $33 million project to modernize and further expand our already extensive surveillance camera network, while also making other security improvements over the next few years. These improvements will continue to make the Red Line feel like a much safer option for transportation in the coming years.

Story by Nicholas Vranas and Matt Byrdak.

Houston Timelapse

houstonSince the 1980’s Houston as a city has been growing rapidly to reach it’s current position of fourth largest U.S city by population. Houston has become a popular choice for young entrepreneurs, as it has a stable job market, diverse cultures, and affordable housing. In years past, the city was ranked number one by Forbes for paycheck worth, and was included in Forbes list of “Best Places for Business and Careers.”

As shown in this timelapse graphic created using Google Timelapse, Houston has undergone some massive infrastructure growth. This growth is not only obvious in the heart of the city of Houston, but also the surrounding metropolitan areas, such as Sugar Land and Baytown. In 1984 you can notice that Houston already had decent infrastructure, but was heavily expanded on to accommodate for the rapid population growth, as is evident in 2016. Houston is continuously proving itself to be one of the most attractive places to live in the United States.

Red Sox Attendance at Fenway Park

The Boston Red Sox are on of the most historic teams in the MLB, and most of that history resides in the legendary Fenway Park. With the Red Sox recently advancing to 2018 The World Series, it’s worth analyzing their attendance at this legendary park going back a hundred plus years.

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This graph gives great insight into the growth that occurred not only within the Boston Red Sox organization over a huge time period, but also for the sport itself as popularity rocketed. Huge spikes in popularity can be seen to have occurred all throughout the mid 1900’s to even modern day. Within the past decade however the Red Sox have been thriving in terms of yearly home attendance at Fenway. This is due to not only to star studded talent such as Mookie Betts and Chris Sale, but also a deeply rooted passion within Red Sox fans that keep them connected to Fenway and it’s history. A history of legendary caliber players, the likes of David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Pedro Martinez.

The 2018 World Series will be a classic that I am sure, and according to ESPN, the Red Sox are already off to a slight lead going into game one tomorrow night.

View the full figure here

Google Trends: Khalil Mack

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Above is a graph constructed from Google Trends data for Khalil Mack google searches compared to Chicago Bears google searches. A main reason for choosing this was to cross compare the data on the day Khalil Mack was acquired by the Bears via trade. On September 1st, 2018 you can see that Mack not only hit’s his yearly high for searches, but as well do the Bears. In the following weeks you can see that Mack still remains searched, but no where near as much as on the trade date. For the Bears however you can see that they were being searched heavily after the first few weeks of the season, and have only recently dipped but are on the rise once again. This graphic is a good sign to Bears fans everywhere, as it shows a clear increase in popularity.

Interactive Graph

Google Trends: Powerball vs. Mega Millions

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Above is a Google Trends graphic showing the google searches for the key-words “Powerball” and “Mega Millions” over the last year. Just this past Friday, there was a $620 million Powerball, as well as a ridiculous $1.6 billion for the Mega Millions. When comparing the two, you can see that the Powerball had Mega Millions beat for searches when the Powerball was drawn for $460 million on January 3rd, 2018. The Powerball hasn’t been too popular for the rest of 2018 until this weekend, where it still only reached 45 on the interest over time. When comparing the Mega Millions, it’s clear that this is one of the biggest drawings of all time. This past weekend netted a 100 on the interest over time, showing that this is the peak for Mega Millions on the year.

Interactive Graph

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