Sunday, May 26, 2013

Are you ready for bike share, Chicago?

by Michelle Stenzel

After a few delays, bike share is finally coming to Chicago in the next month!

As you know, bike share systems are transportation systems that give ordinary citizens one more way to get around their neighborhoods in their city. You can read some basics about what a bike share system is and is not on this prior post. The most important thing to know is that this is not for tourists, but for people who live, work and study in the area serviced by the bike share stations. These bikes are meant to be taken to reach destinations that are perhaps one, two or three miles away. 

So we've finally begun to hear details about what bike share will look like in Chicago. First, the system will be called "Divvy"and the bikes will be light blue, with black and white details.
Screen shot from the Divvy Bikes website.
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I like the design a lot, including the use of the blue from our city flag, but I wonder why the four tiny white stars on the chain guard couldn't have been larger and red in color, to really tie in the Chicago flag theme. Maybe the extra color would cost a hundred grand extra or something, but anyway, that's a small quibble. The bikes will have upright seating, adjustable seat height, skirt guards over the rear wheel (love that!), basket with bungee cord in front to carry belongings, and lights that are always lit up whenever the bike is in use. I also like the fact that there is no corporate sponsor's logo plastered on it, which helps reinforce that these bikes are not a commercial venture, but the newest part of Chicago's transportation system. 

The annual membership will be $75, or a daily membership is $7. These are very reasonable rates, considering that an unlimited number of 30-minute rides are included for an entire year, or for a 24-hour period. Compare that to $10 for a 24-hour CTA pass, or , um, wow, $1,200 for a yearly CTA pass (12 x $100 monthly pass). Plus with bike share, you never have to wait for a bus or train to arrive; you just grab a bike and you're on your way! Yes, I know that you're providing your own "driver" and fuel on the bikes, but still, $75 for a year v. $1,200? No comparison.

Annual memberships will go on sale this coming week, and if you want to be notified via e-mail, go to the Divvy Bikes website and enter your info under "Stay in Touch" so you don't miss out. I'm signing up the minute registration opens and am hoping for a double-digit key fob number, just for the bragging rights.

There will be 3,000 Divvy bikes placed in 300 stations in 2013, in an area initially bounded by Montrose to the north, 41st Street to the south, and Damen to the west. (Within one year, it is expected to expand to Devon, 63rd Street and California Avenue.) Bike Walk Lincoln Park supporters met in December 2012 to map out suggested station locations in our ward, and many of them made it onto the map of 23 locations announced this past week by Alderman Michele Smith.

Map of the 23 bike share station locations in the 43rd ward, provided by Ald. Michele Smith.
There are a few areas that look a little bit "bare," like for example the busy Clark and Wrightwood area. However, keep in mind that there may be a station planned at Clark and Diversey not too far from there, but not on the 43rd ward side of the intersection, so it's not reflected on this map. Divvy Bikes spokesman Elliot Greenberger has said that the full map of the city's locations will be published this week, when memberships go on sale, so I'm really looking forward to seeing that. (* See edit below.)

So when will we be able to use the system? As I understand it, the first 75 or so stations will be installed and operational by the Bike to Work Week rally on Friday, June 14. Those will be in the Loop and surrounding areas, reaching all the way up to North Avenue, so I'm thinking the stations at the Sedgwick and North/Clybourn El stops will have bikes by then. Then, in the days and weeks thereafter, more and more stations and bikes will be added, and the system will grow and become more robust as more destinations are reachable via Divvy Bikes.

I've been talking up bike share to anyone who cares to listen to me lately, and when I describe how bike share systems work, people really get excited about the potential convenience: A membership provides access to bicycles for people who don't want to deal with the expense or hassle of buying, cleaning, lubing, pumping, locking, storing and generally keeping track of a bike themselves. The only thing they have to do is swipe their electronic key, ride the bike, and return it to another dock. 

Here's a 4.5-minute video from StreetFilms about the very popular Capital Bikeshare program in Washington DC. That system was launched by Chicago's current Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, so I think we're guaranteed similar results here with Divvy Bikes.

Bike share systems have been successful around the world, with approximately 500 cities in 50 countries already operational (New York City's is launching tomorrow!). Here's a good article from Grist that provides an overview of how bike share has gone global. Anyone who has been to Paris, Barcelona or London in the last three years has certainly witnessed the popularity of those large-scale bike share systems. 

And now it's Chicago's turn! Are you excited about bike share coming to Chicago? Is there a station near your home? Will you be signing up for an annual membership, or just trying it first for a day?

Follow us on Twitter @BikeWalkLP or e-mail us any time at bikewalklincolnpark at gmail dot com
May 27, 2013 -- The Chicago Tribune has published a basic citywide map of the station placement. (Note that Addison is actually three streets further south than is indicated on the map.) Divvy Bikes said on its Facebook page that a better resolution map will be available later this week.  -- MS


  1. Bike share is very exciting. I, too, will be signing up immediately. Even though I ride my bike to work almost every day, it is inconvenient to take it on errands during the day. Looking forward to Divvy to let me do those quick runs that are just that little bit too far to walk and too expensive to take a bus.

    1. Hi Lisa, you must lock your bike up inside your building, then? Yes, these will be easy to find and use. Thanks for reading and commenting! -- MS

    2. I am one of the blessed ones--I am able to actually take my bike up to my office. Soon, Michelle, we will have no excuse for not going to lunch!