Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Friday April 26th, 2013, 4:25pm

Massive Bike-Sharing Program Ready To Roll Out In Chicago

Users of Chicago’s public transportation system will have an additional option for their commute come June, as the city prepares to debut a massive bicycle-rental sharing program.

Three-speed bikes painted “Chicago blue” will soon be available at docking stations across the city for a $7 daily pass or yearly membership of $75.

“This is really a big deal,” said Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation Alliance. “It’s going to give tens of thousands of Chicagoans every day more transportation options.”

Operating under the name Divvy, the bikes will be available at about 75 docking stations in downtown and River North by June.

By the end of the year the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) hopes to expand to 400 stations and about 4,000 bicycles covering the city roughly from 63rd Street to Devon Avenue, and from Lake Michigan to California Avenue.

The first kiosks are slated for installation near Union Station, Ogilvie Transportation Center and various downtown CTA stations, as city officials said yesterday the bikes are meant to aide commuters on the last leg of their journey to downtown offices and lessen reliance on taxis.

After renting a bike from a self-service docking station, users can return it to a station close to their destination.

“This will make it really easy to try out cycling in Chicago,” Burke said, who noted Chicago’s bike-share program will be one of the largest in the nation.

With a price tag of about $22 million, initial funding is being provided through federal grants for projects intended to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce air pollution.

Renters, who are restricted to 30 minutes before an hourly rate is applied, will be provided with heavy-duty, one-size-fits-all bikes equipped with adjustable seats, hand brakes, a chain guard, a basket with an elastic cord, and headlights and taillights that illuminate when the bike is in use.

Helmets will not be provided. Pete Scales, spokesman for CDOT, told the Chicago Tribune renters are encouraged to use their own helmets “if they think they’ll need them.”

Locks will also not be provided, as customers are expected to only park the bikes at designated docking stations. Replacing a lost or stolen bike will cost $1,200.

“If we can give folks another low-cost way to move around the city, they can experience more of the city,” said Michael Edwards, executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

Edwards said Chicago’s ability to embrace collaborative consumption, such as bike-sharing or car-sharing (Zipcar), puts the city on the cutting edge of an increasingly popular trend.

“Anything that gives people an opportunity for low-cost travel reduces the friction for them to spend money and do other things ... This will help the circulation of both people and dollars in Chicago,” he said.

Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share will operate the program, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel anticipates “will open up the neighborhoods to tourists."

"We used to only think cars and mass transit," Emanuel told the newspaper. "Today, Milwaukee Avenue is one of the most-biked streets in America. The first protected bike lane in the city, on Kinzie Street, has had a positive impact on the economy."

Emanuel plans to build 645 miles of bike lines across the city by 2020.

Jordan Snow, research transportation planner with the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said building Chicago’s bike infrastructure is “one of many” positive economic developments in the city. 

“This will only help people get out and about,” he said, agreeing with Emanuel.

“This could have a serious impact on the mode share of travelers coming to Chicago and wanting to go out and see sights.”

Other cities with bike-sharing programs include Denver, Minneapolis, Miami, San Diego, New York City and Portland. Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare set records this month with more than 11,000 rides in one day.

In addition to increasing the accessibility tourists have to Chicago neighborhoods, experts also predict that the bike share program will have a positive impact on the city’s “overwhelming” traffic congestion and air pollution.

“The program holds tremendous promise to not only make Chicago a healthier and more livable city, but also to reduce air pollution,” said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter.

Calling the bike program a “great idea”, Darin said it will cut down on vehicle exhausts as more and more people get used to hopping on a bike for short trips.

“Those people will be getting more exercise and contributing to better air quality every time they ride,” he said.

Image: City of Chicago


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