Chicago transit dept. shares its bikes with Hyde Park

By Janey Lee

Chicago will join a host of cities around the world that have implemented bike share programs for short-term use in and around the city next year. By the end of 2013, the program will place around 4,000 bikes and 400 solar-powered docking locations throughout the city.

According to the program’s website, the first 30 minutes of bike rental are free, and users will be able to purchase a yearly bike sharing membership for $75 or a daily pass for $7 to use the bikes, which will be owned by the city. After 30 minutes, however, rates rise precipitously and an unreturned bike will cost $1,200, according to Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly.

A credit card will be required to purchase a pass at a dock. The docks will be operational 24 hours a day, and will be placed every quarter mile, according to CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales.

Design of the program was contracted to Oregon-based company Alta Bicycle Share and approved by Chicago’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee last spring. It is expected to cost the city $19.5 million, and will be paid for by the city and federal grants.

While Chicago’s existing bike share program, B-Cycle, only services Chicago Park District properties, the new program will have bike docking stations located near CTA and Metra stations, libraries, and other densely populated areas. The system is slowly being put in place and will eventually extend north toward Devon, south toward 63rd Street, and west to California Avenue.

Designed with South Sider input, this citywide program will also include bike sharing stations on the South Side, Scales said. In fact, the last of five public meetings was held in Bronzeville, where community members suggested locations for bike docks.

Scales is confident that areas like Hyde Park have the interest and capacity for bike docks.

“We’re basing this on density from the outset,” he said. “We want to go where people work, live, interact, play, and shop.”

City officials at the public meetings advocated the new program as a low-cost, environmentally sustainable option that would create jobs and allow citizens to commute to work in a healthy, convenient way. “It fills a big need in the transportation system and complements existing modes of transportation that are out there,” Kubly said. “It’ll really solve that first and last mile of transit.”

Community members who attended the meetings, like Harold Lucas, an active cyclist and CEO of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council, saw the program as a way to boost tourism and thus economic growth in the Bronzeville area in particular.

“I see that having these bicycles available and where they put them at as being a catalyst for attracting people to those destinations,” Lucas said in an interview with the Chicago Defender yesterday.

Kubly is confident the program will also stimulate economic growth within the city by giving Chicagoans more purchasing power. A study done in Washington, DC, where Kubly led the implementation of a bike share program, found that the average user had saved $850 a year in transportation costs. Kubly believes that stations will benefit surrounding businesses by attracting new customers, and projects that the program will lead to the creation of 150 permanent full-time jobs.

Although there has been a considerable amount of support for the program, critics like 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin do not believe the bikes will be accessible to enough of the city.

“It leaves a huge swath of the city without the ability to use this,” Ervin said to the Chicago Sun-Times in April. “Why should people [who] live in outlying wards support putting [in] a system that you feasibly can’t use?” Ervin’s ward includes West Garfield, North Lawndale, Little Village, and Pilsen.

The program is also trying to attract a racially and socioeconomically diverse customer base that adequately mirrors the diversity of the city itself. To this end, Kubly plans to work with community groups and churches to diversify the network of commuters that use the program. Moreover, he plans to implement an internship program, similar to that already in place at Blackstone Bicycle Works in Hyde Park, that would train young people in bike mechanics.

As the program is implemented throughout the year, broadening its scope will be one of Kubly’s major priorities.

“The larger the systems are, the better they are. It’s almost like a cell phone plan, where the bigger the network you have, the more effective it is,” he said. “I think that serving a diverse population is a challenge in many cities, so that’s why it’s a particular focus of mine to serve a broad section of the population.”