Category Archives: Convenience

Don’t put it here!

Switching lanes: More commuters biking it

Photo Credits: Flickr user Tripp

Julie Hochstadter, a 35 year-old realtor and bike activist, bought her first car when she was in college. “I was driving around Chicago all the time. I was always inside my car,” she said. Seven years ago, a trip to Israel made her rethink her everyday commuting. She participated in a five-day bike ride that promoted healthier and more sustainable communities.She loved the experience so much that as soon as she got back home, she bought a road bike and decided it would be her main form of transportation. She got so enthusiastic about cycling that she is now the director of The Chainlink, an online community that promotes bicycling in Chicago.

Julie is not alone in her journey. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Chicagoans biking to work increased by 164 percent from 5,960 to 15,780 , according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This number tends to increase as the city expands its biking infrastructure. Today, Chicago offers 200 miles of on-street bikeways, 12 miles of which are protected. The Chicago Cycling Plan 2020 aims to have 100 miles of protected lanes by 2015 and an additional 50 by 2020.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge. Graphic by Raquel Salgado.

“I believe the changing demographic of the city has influenced this trend,” said Steve Schlickman, Executive Director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois Chicago. “Young people from the Millennium generation would rather bike than drive a car. Some of them are also postponing getting a driver’s license.”

Mitch Salm, a 27-year-old actor who has never owned a car, exemplifies this bike-friendly generation. “Biking makes me see the city from another perspective,” he said. Salm estimates he rides about 70 to 100 miles every week.

Swapping cars for bikes is a trend that is not unique to Chicago. U.S. Census Bureau data shows biking has experienced the most growth among modes of commuting nationwide. The number of American workers who ride their bikes everyday to work has risen from 488,000 in 2000 to 786,000 in 2012 — a 61 percent increase.

A combination of personal motivation and government initiatives have contributed to the rise of cycling in the U.S. and in Chicago.

Traffic congestion has played a role in some people converting. In 2000, for instance, a Chicagoan lost, on average, 39 hours in a year due to traffic congestion according to the 2012 Urban Mobility Report by INRIX Traffic Data. In 2011, this figure increased to 51 hours.

“After getting rid of my car, I realized how much faster and convenient it is to bike,” said Julie Hochstadter, a Chicago bike activist. To many people, her statement might sound surprising. Drivers tend to believe that cars are the most convenient way of getting around a city. After all, you can drive a car anytime you want without having to think ahead about the bus schedule or what outfit you should wear.

“Of course you need to plan your trip before you ride your bike,” Hochstadter said. “However, I save a lot of time because I don’t need to look for parking and I don’t stay stuck in traffic.” She said she is always the first one to arrive at meetings, while her friends who drive cars are often running late.

Divvy stations might be empty from time to time, like this one on Adams Street, but with stations every few blocks there's usually one available close by.
Divvy stations might be empty from time to time, like this one on Adams Street, but with stations every few blocks there’s usually one available close by. Photo Credit Raquel Salgado

In recent years, the number of cities with bicycle sharing programs has increased considerably, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Biking and Walking report. “These efforts reflect ongoing changes in infrastructure and travel options across the nation’s dynamic transportation systems,” the report said. Such changes influence decisions people make about their trip to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. People for Bike, a bicycling organization, said that 30 cities in the U.S. have bike sharing systems, involving 17,000 bicycles and 1,700 stations.

Chicago is an example of a city investing in cycling infrastructure. “Mayor [Richard M.] Daley and now Rahm Emanuel have given high priority to accommodating bike usage throughout the city,” said Schlickman. Last year, the city launched Divvy, its first bike-sharing system. The initiative has already attracted 23,000 annual subscribers.

Protected bike lanes provide more safety for Chicago bikers, like the one on Dearborn Street, but most streets do not offer them.
Protected bike lanes provide more safety for Chicago bikers, like the one on Dearborn Street, but most streets do not offer them. Photo Credit Raquel Salgado

For Hochstadter, the city has been doing a good job at promoting biking, but there is still much to be done. One important thing would be allowing more bikes on public transportation. “It’s possible to put your bike in any bus, but the same does not happen on the trains and the Metra,” she said. Bikes are not permitted during rush hours.

In Schlickman’s opinion, Chicago could be even more bike friendly if the city administration continues to expand the Divvy system, spreading bike stations in areas further downtown, and improves traffic enforcement for drivers, bicyclists and even pedestrians.

“People must be more aware of the fact that they share roads not only with cars, but with all kinds of transportation,” Schlickman said.

Thinking about riding your bike to work? Here are some tips:

Ride with a friend
Find people who are already commuting to work and ride together. You’ll feel safer and more excited about cycling.

Plan ahead
Don’t want to be sweaty? Think about taking a shower after you ride. Maybe you can register at a gym near your office or ask your company to install a shower. Pack what you need the day before so you won’t be late.

Keep clear of car doors
You must ride four feet away from parked cars. If you need to avoid an object, you may temporarily take a whole lane of traffic.

Be careful at intersections
This is where the most crashes occur. Try to stay out of drivers’ blind spots and always make eye contact. Use your bell and lights to make yourself noticeable.

Use hand signals
Left turn: arm extended horizontally beyond the side of the bike
Right turn: arm extended upward beyond the side of the bike
Stopping or slowing down: arm extended downward beyond the side of the bike

Sources: Chicago Department of Transportation and Active Transportation Alliance

The costly convenience of the Internet

Photo Credits: Eman Shurbaji

No matter how you try to protect your privacy online, the fact you are online makes it impossible.

Whether you use email, social media, maps, or make purchases online, information about you — your likes, your habits, your aspirations — is being captured by companies for their profit.

“Free” services like Google and Facebook, collect user data in order to sell targeted advertising to you and your contacts.

Despite the Internet’s convenient appeal, privacy has become an increasingly relevant issue. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project Ominibus Survey conducted July 11-14, 2013, 74 percent of people ages 18 to 29 tried to control the leak of personal information by clearing cookies (small messages between the server and the website, often storing information about Internet usage) and browser history regularly.

Young people like Chioma Nwachuku, 24, are among those who are driving this trend. A Northwestern University student studying communications, Nwachuku finds it natural to use Whatsapp “every five minutes.” Whatsapp is a mobile application that allows users to send text, video and photo messages to other users, including those overseas, for free.

“I’m always checking my phone,” Nwachuku said.

Checking your phone may be convenient, but it comes at a cost. The cost is cached searches, wireless providers notifying third parties of your whereabouts, and your overall interests being in public spheres.

Google and YouTube are invariably a part of our lives, but just because they’re free doesn’t mean you’re not contributing to employee salaries.

Click to enlarge. Graphic Credits: Eman Shurbaji
Click to enlarge. Graphic Credits: Eman Shurbaji

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a privacy expert and founder of Red Branch Consulting PLLC, a homeland security consulting company.

“People of your generation are increasingly sensitive to privacy, so they’re growing more sensitive,” Rosenzweig said. “So, I think there’s more advocacy for privacy laws.”

Rosenzweig adds that although it’s convenient to shop online at stores like Amazon and Walmart, searches are saved, allowing marketers to track user interests. It’s a catch-22 because the best prices are often found online, but sharing information is inevitable.

“I think that lots of businesses want us to think this way, that privacy is something that must be sacrificed here and there for convenience,” said Rebecca Jeschke, a digital rights analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We can and should demand more from products and services, and it’s possible to give us the cool tools we want while still protecting privacy.”

There are ways to limit the trail of cookies you leave on the Internet, such as special browser plug-ins or using disposable email addresses. But ultimately, the effort to remain anonymous convenience of using the Internet in the first place.

Plus, data trackers are now following us outside.

In Chicago, a new project called “Array of Things”, launched this month, included data-tracking poles on Michigan Avenue. The poles will track weather, traffic and people by using their cell phone’s signals.
Unlike the GPS feature on your phone, the city says the system won’t collect identifiable data. However, the ability to do so exists.

“There’s a proliferation of data sensors, and increasing ways of collecting data about people … you leave digital crumbs everywhere you go,” Rosenzweig said.

The trouble with online dating

“25, likes dogs – oh and he’s in medical school! I wonder what the catch is.”
“27, an accountant – but he has sucky taste in music. Nope.”

“Oh. This one is married. And he says it.”

Laughing as they’re huddled in a living room, Raven, 22, and Bianca, 23, are scrolling through the dating profiles on a popular phone application, Tinder. (Both she and Raven asked to have their names changed for the article to avoid outing themselves as online daters.) Tonight, the two Northwestern University students are mainly using the app for fun, with no particular purpose. Despite the casual nature of their browsing, however, Tinder’s rate-and-match system is quite sophisticated, allowing the girls to search a defined geographical area for a pre-selected age range. If the girls indicated approval of anyone who also approves of them, the app will put the two “matches” in touch to see if there’s any offline romantic potential.

Tinder is not a unique service. The attempt to fit the notoriously ambiguous and uncertain world of romantic attachment into the parameters of the digital world – known for ease, speed and convenience – has led to the bizarre world of online dating. Websites that sort potential partners in searchable, clickable catalogues have exploded in popularity –, eHarmony, OKCupid and Grindr are now common references in modern day vernacular. Big cities in particular, with their faster pace of life and crowded, impersonal public spaces, encourage online dating.’s ranking of the cities that most utilize online dating puts Chicago high on the list, at No. 4.

Raven and Bianca joined Tinder after starting graduate school, when their hectic schedules took a toll on their ability to socialize and mix with anyone outside of their program. The two agreed that while they like the idea of meeting someone in real life, it has become more and more difficult as the demands of adulthood grow and culture changes. “Even when you do get to go out, like at a bar, everyone’s on their phones. Nobody’s looking to talk to a stranger anymore,” Raven said.

While previously considered with great skepticism, digital courtship is morphing into another convenience in a world with plenty of technology but little time. Lifestyle columnist Cristen Conger, single and considering starting her own profile, mused about online datingon The Huffington Post: “When you really think about it, it isn’t that different from real world dating. Either way, you meet somebody, hang out and hope for the best.”

Bianca agreed to an extent, saying that by joining Tinder, “the ideal situation would be, I’d find someone cool, who likes the same music as I do, to hang out with and spend time with and really enjoy myself.”

It is a sentiment shared by many Americans. alone boasts nearly 2 million members, and thousands of others are spread among the other dating sites. The Pew Research Center’s report on online dating showed an undeniable increase in online dating in terms of numbers and acceptability – people were more likely to join a site, use a site or know someone who had met a partner online. As Pew said, “everyone (knows someone who) is doing it” in 2013, 40 percent of Americans reported knowing someone who had used an online dating service, compared to just 31 percent in 2005. Twenty-nine percent know someone who met a long-term partner online, compared to 15 percent in 2005.

Online Dating (3)Graphic Credit: Farahnaz Mohammed

“It’s become a cultural thing, almost,” Bianca said of the increasing prevalence of the practice. “As a joke, sometimes when we’re walking down the street and we see a guy we find attractive, we’ll say ‘swipe right’ or ‘swipe left’!” (The terms refer to the Tinder method of choosing matches – swiping right on a profile to signal interest, swiping left to signal no match).

Despite the ubiquity of the sites and increase in usage, there is still a lingering stigma. “It isn’t how you want to say you met your boyfriend,” Bianca said. It’s an attitude reflected on the sites themselves – it isn’t uncommon to see users state a get-out clause on their profile, such as: “We can tell your friends we met at a bar.” While the practice is becoming increasingly accepted as a method of meeting partners, research shows there is a negative connotation to online dating. In 2013, 21 percent of internet users agreed with the statement, “people who use online dating sites are desperate,” and about one in 10 online dating users were of the same opinion.

In a phenomenon that bucks the trend of newer being better, the traditional method of meeting partners still offers cues that online dating cannot by its very nature.

Dr. Eli Finkel, an expert on online dating at Northwestern University, has discovered through research that whileonline dating offers users the opportunity to meet others outside of normal geographic and social spheres), it denies the users the ability to assess romantic potential based on key factors, such as chemistry and interpersonal interaction. In the study “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis from the Perspective of Psychological Science,” Finkel said: “Context and interaction have much more influence on romantic outcomes than personality and attitudes do.”

Bianca and Raven’s experiences reflect Finkel’s findings. While encouraged enough by one or two matches to meet in person, the girls have yet to find someone they click with. They describe dates as “awkward,” or “just kind of okay,” despite chatting online with matches beforehand. “It just doesn’t translate sometimes,” Bianca said.

Finkel anticipates an increase in the usage of online dating services. It is undeniably more efficient and offers more choice in a world that prefers both. Perhaps as more people begin to use the services, they will adapt and become more adept at predicting romantic compatibility. For now, however, despite its convenience, the speed and choice of digital dating isn’t quite on par with real life.

For: Relationship charges a fee for use (with an optional extra fee for an expert to improve your profile), but many members report satisfaction with the platform’s services. It boasts a huge community (often cited as the No. 1 dating site) and uses an extensive test to suggest potentially compatible partners, taking out a lot of the guesswork of dating. It is mainly geared towards users looking for long-term relationships rather than one night stands.OKCupid

For: Casual daters and relationships seekers

OKCupid is a large, free site used mainly by people in their twenties and thirties. It doesn’t filter users by interest, and any one user can message any other. OKCupid’s lack of barriers makes it full of potential for both good and bad experiences. You might find someone you really click with, or you might receive inappropriate requests.


For: Casual relationships, limited potential for more

Purely based on mobiles, Tinder is commonly referred to as a “hookup app.” Its rating system is based purely on appearance and brief (if any) bio descriptions, with only a small indication of shared interests and users connected through geographic proximity. Tinder is best when you’re young, bored and actively looking – but not for much.


For: Relationship seekers

eHarmony is a serious dating website for serious daters. With an aggressive advertising campaign and a patented system for testing compatibility, eHarmony is another pay-for site that claims it has designed a unique matching system guaranteed to deliver ultimate compatibility.


For: Notorious for hookups, potential for more.

Vanity Fair humorously described Grindr as “the biggest, scariest gay bar on earth.” As one of the most prominent apps in the LGBTQ dating community, Grindr boasts a huge number of users per day. The app is geosocial, so users are linked by geographic proximity rather than compatibility. Also like Tinder, Grindr allows matches to chat, creating the potential for a relationship beyond convenience.