InTrans / Aug 07, 2014

Bike share in Chicago

Go! Magazine

Bike on a sunny dayposted on August 7, 2014

This past weekend, my family met in Chicago to see my sister’s new home. On Saturday, we decided to go to Wrigleyville for a Cubs game. If you have ever been to Chicago during a sports event, then you know there is always a ton of traffic.

Our trip to the stadium consisted of a short car ride to a bus stop followed by a bus trip. While on the bus, I couldn’t help but notice these pretty blue bicycles, as shown in Figure 1, passing our bus at leisurely speeds. I was so jealous since it took us a total of 70 minutes just to travel 3.2 miles! Welcome to Chicago traffic! I later found out that those pretty blue bikes were a part of Chicago’s successful bike share program called Divvy. After the Cubs game, we walked from the field to the lakefront. While we were walking, more blue Divvy bikes passed, only to stop in our proximity. Cyclists were returning the bikes into special Divvy bike racks after a commute. How cool is it that people can bike to work in downtown Chicago!

What is a bike share?

Bike share is a way for bicycles to be rented and used for short periods of time. Chicago’s program uses the latest web-based applications, like Ride the City, to give users a map of pathways and hubs for returning the bikes. Users may rent bikes and return it to any of the 300 stations. Divvy has experienced great success since it began in June 2013. The first reported bike share program was in 1965, which took place in Amsterdam. However, it was not until 2005 that bike share programs really started to gain popularity worldwide.

Who’s riding the bikes?

At first, I thought that bike share programs like Divvy were only for visitors and sightseers. But a lot of times the bike share program is also used by commuters. After arriving in the city by train, either the Elle or Metra, commuters can locate the closest bike station and bike the last few miles to their destination. It seems so great that you can rent a bike and return it somewhere else! This makes a commute much quicker, cheaper, greener, and more fun.

Bike share programs are in many major cities across the United States. Chicago is a great location for this program since prior to implementing the bike share program, it had ranked third in the number of bicycle commuters among the 12 largest U.S. cities. Even so, cyclists make up only 1.3 percent of the total commuting population in Chicago. This leaves a lot of potential demand for the Divvy program.

The top three reasons people have participated in the bike share in Chicago include:

  1. Commute to and from work
  2. Social entertainment
  3. Shopping/errands Surprisingly, 62 percent of bike share members in Chicago own personal bikes as well.

Studies show that most bike share users are substituting bicycling for other sustainable, public transit options. One goal of the bike share program is to increase ridership among vehicle drivers going short distances. How expensive is it? Let’s say you live in northwest Chicago. To get to work, you typically take the Metra into Union Station, followed by a 3 mile cab ride. The cost of taking a cab from Union Station to your job at Navy Pier would cost around $12 one way. In comparison, the cost of the bike share program would be $75 for an annual pass. That means that if you took a cab for three days roundtrip to work, you would surpass the cost of the bike share for the whole year! For just a 24 hour rental, the bike share program costs $7 in Chicago.

Safety of cyclists

If Divvy continues to become more popular and the amount of cyclist commuters increase, Chicago may face increasing pressures to enhance cyclist safety measures on the road. From 2005-2010 alone, Chicago witnessed a 150 percent increase in their cyclist population! Since Divvy was created in 2013, there has been an average of 4,062 bike rides per day. Divvy can help increase the percentage of bicycle commuters per day in Chicago.

The bike share program offers a unique opportunity to introduce more bikes onto the road safely. One safety feature missing from the current bike share program is providing a helmet with a bike rental. Bike share programs all over the United States are working to eventually include a helmet with each rental. Divvy bike share is a program of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). As such, one major concern of the program is to ensure rider safety. Like similar programs in other major U.S. cities, Divvy offers just one more eco-friendly option for getting around Chicago.

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By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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