Last month, it was a bummer when the Illinois Department of Transportation announced $52.7 million in funding for transportation projects, including many bike and pedestrian projects, but the expansion of Divvy into the suburbs wasn’t one of them. However, officials say they’re hopeful money can be found to extend the system past the city limits.
Chicago, Evanston, and Oak Park collaborated on an application for a $3 million Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant to buy 75 more bike-share stations. About 20 of these would have been installed in the two suburbs, and many more would have been placed in Chicago’s Garfield Park, Austin, and Rogers Park communities to connect the suburban stations with the existing network.
While a significant chunk of the federally funded ITEP money went to more than a dozen worthy bikeway, sidewalk and streetscape improvements in the Chicago region, no urban bike projects got funding. In a blog post, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke celebrated the suburban wins, but expressed disappointment that the Divvy grant was turned down, since Evanston and Oak Park are ideal candidates for bike-share. “Both suburbs have high densities and ample transit stations, which are key ingredients for generating bike share trips that occur solely within each suburb,” he wrote.
Last Thursday, Mayor Emanuel announced that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois will be paying $12.5 million to sponsor Divvy, and the money will be used for expanding the system, as well as other cycling improvements. However, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Pete Scales told me that money won’t be used for suburban bike-share stations. “Evanston and Oak Park will be responsible for the costs of their stations and operations, and we will be working with them to find other funds for the expansion,” he said.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell attributed the failure of the Divvy ITEP grant proposal to an extremely competitive application process, estimating that two-thirds of the applications didn’t get approved. “[Bike-share] is a concept we’re enthusiastically behind,” he told me. “Anything that encourages more bike use is something we wholeheartedly endorse. It’s just a matter of finding a funding option that fits.”
Tridgell said IDOT is currently in talks with CDOT, Evanston and Oak Park about funding options. The tab for Divvy’s first 475 stations, 300 of which are already installed, plus various startup costs, is $30.5 million. These expenses have been bankrolled by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grants and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funds, plus a 20-percent local match. The state awards ITEP grants roughly once per year, so that’s another future possibility, Tridgell said.