Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bike Share Coming Soon to a Corner Near You

This week, Chicago put out its request for proposals for vendors to create Chicago’s first large-scale bike-share system. The city is going big: They’re planning to install 3,000 bikes at 300 stations by next summer, with another 2,000 bikes and 200 stations possible by 2014. Read the Tribune's coverage of the announcement here.
B-Cycle rack at the Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The first thing you should know about bike share systems is that they are NOT geared toward tourists, but to people who live and work in Chicago. The system is designed to encourage people to use them for short trips of half an hour or less, for commutes to work, school, shopping, or for short recreational rides. The RFP states as its very first point that the purpose of the system is to enhance the city’s public transit system by providing bikes to complete the first or last leg of a trip. 

So it’s meant to be another mode of transportation, instead of or in addition to walking, riding the bus, or taking the El. Although visitors to Chicago are welcome to use the system, it’s envisioned that they’ll only be a small portion of users.

Users in bike-share systems can typically become members for periods of one day, a month, or a year. The pricing structure in Chicago is yet to be determined, but in other cities, the prices run about $5 for daily membership, $25 for a month, or $75 for annual.
Bike share terminals typically have information for users about bike routes and bicycling safety.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The stations will have terminals that will accept credit cards, so you can join on the spot, and be on your shared bike within a few minutes. Once you have your membership, you can undock a bike and take it for half an hour for no additional charge. As long as you continue to redock the bike at other stations within half an hour, you can take unlimited rides during your chosen membership period for free. 

If you do keep a bike out more than half an hour, additional fees are added on, typically at increasing rates like $1.50 for the next half an hour, $3.00 for the half an hour after that, and $6.00 for every subsequent half an hour. This pricing structure encourages hub to hub riding, with users returning the bikes to the system at their destination, so another member can make use of it.

Other American cities like Washington DC (Capital Bikeshare), Minneapolis (Nice Ride) and Boston (Hubway) have had bike shares in place with good success. (If you’re familiar with any of those cities, it’s fun to check out their maps to get an idea where their stations are located, and at what level of density.) Boston’s program just launched in late July 2011 with 60 stations and 600 bikes, and by August had already sold 2,300 annual memberships, when the original goal of the planners was to hit 2,000 members by Thanksgiving. 

Where will Chicago’s bike share stations be located? Good news for Lincoln Parkers: We’re predicting they’ll be everywhere in our neighborhood, kind of like Starbucks. The RFP says that the stations will be placed in areas that are already popular for bicycling, with high transit use, and dense commercial and residential development. Check, check, check and check. We’ve got two much-used El lines, high density living, Lincoln Park Zoo, DePaul University, commercial centers, restaurants, shopping and theater galore. 
Plenty of room for bike share users on streets in the Loop, on the Madison bike lane.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Other points to note:
  • The bikes themselves are typically on the heavy side, have height-adjustable seats, upright riding position, headlights, basket, and fenders. 
  • Chicago is requiring that the bikes have three speeds and are encouraging five speeds. 
  • The city is open to a 12-month system or seasonal (usually halting operations in winter).
  • They are also open to a 24/7 system or one that shuts down at night. (Really? Please no shut down at night. We’re not in Des Moines here.)

The RFP also mentions the tantalizing fact that the stations should be configurable to add on other vehicle share systems, like motor scooter sharing! Now THAT would be fun, too. Very Roman Holiday.

You may be thinking, this is all good for others, but I already own a bike and therefore don’t have any use for bike-share. But think of the level of flexibility this could bring: Maybe you typically commute downtown by bike, but bus it when there’s any threat of rain. If you’re a bike share member, you could grab a bike, ride it to work while it’s nice out, and then at 5:00 pm decide which way to get home. 

We’re very excited by this plan. It will be a game-changer for the streets of our city, in a positive way. Seeing thousands of ordinary Chicagoans using bicycles for transportation will make cycling be perceived as mainstream and, well, ordinary, and not as something only done by children, or sweaty athletes on the lakefront trail. 
Seeing ordinary people in the Loop riding for transportation will become a common sight.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
People will use these bikes to get from Union Station to their jobs in Streeterville, to go from Old Town to Wrigley Field for a game, or to go to dinner with friends. Motorists will be much more accustomed to seeing bikes on the streets, and will become more comfortable sharing the road. Riding bikes to get somewhere will seem as normal as taking the El. 

We’ll be signing up for bike sharing as soon as it launches. How about you?

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