Monthly Archive: April 2015

Jaw-Dropping Modern Homes in Rio de Janeiro

Modern apartment in Rio de Janeiro

When he’s not poring over the blueprints for residential and commercial projects, architect Felippe Crescenti works in the theater and on film sets—and he brings his savoir-faire to this cozy two-bedroom apartment. The apartment’s open-plan living area—and its picture windows facing a patch of tropical foliage—makes the space feel larger than it is. An Arco lamp complements a sofa by Micasa.

Uber Is Suing the City of Houston

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

From New York to Seattle, Uber recently celebrated Earth Day with city-specific promotions such as discounts and competitions in which winners will receive free transit passes and free Uber rides. Meanwhile, from a less fuzzy, more battlefront angle, Uber’s suing the city of Houston. The on-demand-ride app company hopes to prevent the release of records revealing how many Uber drivers are licensed there and how the company operates in the state.

The Huffington Post reports that the records — journalists requested them, prompting the suit — would reveal how Uber “skirt regulations” that apply to typical taxi services, as the company revs up to move deeper into the Texas market and reach 27 million potential customers. Uber reps say releasing the records would give an advantage to competitors such as Lyft.

“Uber is a private company and as such, information about driver partners is considered confidential and proprietary,” Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock told HuffPost.

One of the journalists asking for the info counters: “Nobody is asking for profit margins or anything like that. It’s very basic information. There’s a public safety concern, in that the whole rationale for a city being able to regulate vehicles for hire is so the public can know who’s on the road.”

A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the “sharing economy” noted that client trust in such services — or lack of it — is a major factor for companies who are chasing after business in what PwC predicts will be a $335 billion industry by 2025.

Uber’s legal team never rests. Both it and Lyft are facing separate trials in California over whether drivers should be considered contractors or employees.

D.C. Metro Funding Could Get Sliced in Half

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Federal funding for the Metro in Washington, D.C., could get cut in half thanks to a new bill spearheaded by some Congressional Republicans via the House Appropriations Committee. Even though $150 million has been designated for Metro maintenance and development in the District since 2008, this latest move would allocate only $75 million, according to the Washington Post.

The proposed cut comes after a report showing a decline in ridership for the first time in 15 years was released last year by WMATA. The decline was attributed to an increase in telecommuting and fewer federal jobs. (New York’s MTA recently touted that its subway ridership numbers were at a 65-year high.)

The proposed bill would be in direct conflict with the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA), which promised $1.5 billion for the Metro over 10 years beginning in 2008. Until now, Republicans had not controlled both houses since PRIIA was initiated.

Some House members believe the cuts would be a disservice to the region’s transit riders.

“Providing anything less than the federal commitment of $150 million would jeopardize rider safety and the successful partnership with Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to fund the purchase of new rail cars and vital safety improvements throughout the system,” eight House members said in a statement.

Numerous Metro accidents over the years have raised safety concerns among riders.

“It really feels like a betrayal of trust,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told the Post. “It also is a failure to recognize that Metro is the nation’s transit system. How does Washington, D.C., the capital of the free world, run without a significant, sustained investment in Metro?”

10 Modern Design Favorites That Are Made in America

Classic midcentury lounge chair with elegant wood grain

Designed by Benjamin Cherner, the Cherner Lounge Arm Chair is defined by its welcoming, curved shape that recalls the original 1958 Cherner chair design by Benjamin’s father, Norman Cherner. The molded plywood shell, solid bentwood arm, and laminated wood base flow fluidly into one another, which gives the lounge chair an organic, calming sensibility. With a pronounced woodgrain and unobtrusive shape, the chair is an excellent accompaniment to modern interiors. Each chair is made in the Cherner studio in Connecticut.

Shop Houzz: Make Your Own Terrarium Centerpiece (58 photos)

Terrariums — enclosures with their own decorative plant ecosystems, scaled to tabletop size — have been having a moment for more than a few seasons. Miniature forests, jungles and canyons, placed most often in glass bowls, vases and cages, are perfect for dining room tables, consoles and coffee tables….

To-Dos: Your May Home Checklist (8 photos)

May is a month for getting outdoors, firing up the grill and celebrating. Take advantage of milder spring days and schedule some much-needed home improvements this month, so you’ll be ready to savor those barbecues and evenings on the porch. From having your house painted to cleaning out the shed, here…

Why Chicago Is Claiming Bike-Share Bragging Rights

Divvy bike-share station in Chicago (Photo by Steven Vance)

Chicago is the bike-share capital of America. Divvy, the city’s bike-sharing system, is adding 1,750 bikes to its fleet this spring, and expanding from 300 to 476 stations. By June, Montreal and New York City will still have more bikes on the ground, but Chicago can boast of being the home of the most bike-share stations and the largest service area of any single system in North America.

It’s an impressive mantle, especially since Divvy has navigated serious setbacks since its 2013 launch. Its Montreal-based equipment provider went bankrupt last year, delaying station expansion. But now, with good design, an inclusive ethic and sheer nerve, Divvy is on its way to serving 86.7 square miles of Chicago, or 38 percent of the city’s total area.

New stations are opening every day. A full 1.3 million people — 56 percent of Chicagoans — will live in neighborhoods with accessible bike-sharing by summer. The program will also add to the density of current stations for a total of 4,760 bikes across the city. Divvy’s success has even inspired the suburban communities of Oak Park and Evanston to join in. Plans are in the making to leverage state funding and university partners to link these outlying communities to the city by next spring: twelve in Oak Park, eight in Evanston and more stations in far city neighborhoods.

The Chicago experiment reveals how quality bike-share programs aren’t just about plunking wheels around town. It requires creative and strategic force. For Divvy, that comes with tech-savvy flair. Divvy announced in April that it will place bikes at the O’Hare and Midway airports that include cell phone charging outlets and video screens that guide users through tours of Chicago. In one elegant move, this will boost the practical appeal of Divvy bikes, plug the system into the city’s most significant transit hubs and encourage riders to interact with local neighborhoods.

Guests could try out a prototype of the new tech-oriented bike model during the recent awards night for the Divvy Data Challenge — itself an innovative program in which the bike-share system invites designers to create visualizations of its usage data. In the most recent contest, nearly 40 contenders submitted illustrations of usage patterns from 2013 and 2014 (3.2 million total rides). Winners in each category (Most Creative, Most Comprehensive, and so on) received a package that included Xbox One, Xbox Kinect, Windows Phone and other offerings. Matthew Shaxted and Shaun Jacobsen shared the prize for Best Overall Visualization. Shaxted created a 3D visualization that beautifully displays the flow between stations (see below). Jacobson’s project explored which was faster — bike-share or public transportation? He concluded that Divvy trips were in most cases faster than transit. That revelation — that Divvy could actually be more convenient than the train or bus — made headlines.

DIVVY.VISION from Matthew Shaxted on Vimeo.

Technology and design isn’t by itself the secret to a quality bike-share. It must come with a commitment to equity. In December, a group of African-American cyclists in Chicago sent a letter to the city, urging it and the state to commit to improving bicycling conditions in predominantly black neighborhoods, especially on the South Side and West Side. Divvy’s current expansion is a gain for equity. More Chicagoans will have more access when the bike-share stretches north to Touhy Avenue in Rogers Park, 85th Street on the South Side, and west to Pulaski Road in Little Village and Avondale. Decisions on where the 176 new stations will go came not from top-down decision-makers, but from the public. Among the neighborhoods that will see their first stations are Woodlawn, Washington Park, Canaryville and East Garfield Park, all on the South and West sides. Oboi Reed of Slow Roll Chicago, which signed on to the letter about bike equity, endorsed the expansion with a statement: “We are especially happy to see Divvy expand to more communities of color and low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. We look forward to helping grow the system even more in underserved communities.”

To encourage people in the expansion neighborhoods to make safe and effective use of them, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is sending bicycling ambassadors to do outreach with residents and business owners. In the same vein, Divvy is reaching out to young people by hosting “Design-a-Divvy,” a contest where public high school students in the expansion neighborhoods submit art that reflects their community for bike baskets and fenders. Ten winners will be announced in June, right around the completion of the new stations, and winning designs will be printed on select Divvy bikes throughout Chicago.

Divvy and the city reportedly are planning to ensure that all Chicago neighborhoods will eventually be linked to the bike-share system — though they have no timeline for that. Meanwhile, neighborhoods that will still not have a station after the latest expansion are feeling “like a fifth wheel,” as the Chicago Sun-Times put it. Out of 50 wards, 17 will remain without a station. Frustrated aldermen in those communities proclaim that their residents deserve the health and pleasure benefits of cycling as much as anyone else in the city — and they are right. (At least one of those neighborhoods, Austin, is due to receive a station as part of the expansion next year into the Chicago suburbs.)

Also, while the numbers are ticking upward, female bike-share users are far outnumbered by men. In 2014, only about 24.5 percent of Divvy trips were taken by females. More women sign up for a membership than actually rode the bikes. So, this isn’t just a promotions issue. It may have to do with safety concerns, as well as clothing practicalities. The gender gap isn’t unique to Chicago, but Divvy’s leaders would be smart to face the unique challenges of female riders head-on.

Equity takes a number of other forms. Significantly, Divvy makes its trip data open to the public and explicitly encourages people to “download it, map it, animate it, or bring it to life!” The next step will be for CDOT and Divvy to release comprehensive demographic data on bike-share membership, beyond the current age and gender numbers that it offers, as well as details on how infrastructure and education resources are distributed among different communities. This is crucial to developing an inclusive and transparent program.

On a more brass-tacks level, an annual membership in Divvy — which gives you unlimited rides for a year — costs $75. A 24-hour pass costs $7. Compare that to a pass on the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), where $100 will get you unlimited rides for only 30 days. That’s a persuasive model of improving resident mobility around the city, and also a powerful return on investment for local taxpayers. (The $9.25 million expansion is being paid for through federal and local TIF funds, as well as system sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. The original system had a capital cost of $19 million in public funds.) However, as Streetsblog Chicago points out, Divvy requires that users pay with credit or debit card, potentially making it inaccessible to unbanked residents. A “major announcement” on concrete steps addressing this issue is expected in early summer.

So, about two years after bike-share was introduced to the city, it’s still a work in progress. But the momentum is heartening. Divvy describes itself as “Chicago’s newest transit system.” That standard calls for serious scrutiny on how completely the light-blue bikes serve the full diversity of the city’s population. But Chicago should be applauded for committing itself to the highest possible ambitions. The city deserves nothing less.