Bike Chicago May Open a New Bike Station in a Transit-Friendly Location

Millennium Park bicycle station by John Greenfield
The bike station in Millennium Park. Photo: John Greenfield

One of Chicago’s nicest bike amenities is one we often taken for granted, the Millennium Park bike station. Built in 2004 by the Chicago Department of Transportation, using $3 million in federal funds, this attractive glass structure offers indoor parking for about 300 bikes, plus showers, lockers, rentals, and repairs.

The main drawback of the facility is its location. Located at the northeast corner of the park, at the top of one of the city’s only hills, it gets good use from office workers commuting to nearby towers like the Aon Center, the Prudential Building, and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois headquarters. However, the station is too far away from the central Loop to be useful for many downtown employees who want to bike, park and shower before heading to work. It’s also not very handy for the majority of people who want to store a bike for “last mile” trips from the Metra and CTA stations to their workplaces.

Bike Chicago, which operates the bike station (and has sponsored Streetsblog Chicago) is considering opening a new station that would better serve those needs. Yesterday the company posted on The Chainlink, a local bike social networking site with over 11,000 members, to ask where Chicago cyclists would like to see another location, and what amenities they’d like to see. So far, four respondents have voted for a bike station near Union Station, and one has requested a cycle center near the Merchandise Mart.

The idea of a West Loop bike station is nothing new. The city’s Bike 2015 Plan, approved in 2006, noted the success of the Millennium Park station and recommended establishing another facility near a popular train station, such as the Ogilivie Transportation Center, to encourage multi-modal trips. In the late 2000s, CDOT looked into the possibility of setting up a cycle center next to Ogilvie’s new French Market, but never sealed the deal.

Ryan Lawber, the general manager of Bike Chicago, said that his company is only putting out feelers at the moment, but launching a second bike station is a definite possibility. “We’ve been running a bike station for ten years now, and it’s very successful,” he said. “We’ve got it down, so we’d like to expand.”

The existing cycle center is managed by MB Real Estate, which supplies janitorial services. In 2006 McDonald’s Corporation bought the naming rights to the stations for $5 million, which has been used to fund maintenance. Bike Chicago pays a percentage of its earnings to MB Realty as rent, and charges bike station members $35 per month or $199 a year. Day passes are also available for $5 for shower and locker use with bike parking, $3 without. “The bike station has definitely been profitable,” Lawber said.

Bike Chicago is very interested in a South or West Loop  location that would attract more multimodal cyclists, he added. “Ideally, it would be similar to Millennium Park. Showers and lockers are a huge perk for long-distance riders — like people commuting from Evanston — who want to clean up before they head to work.”

While I had Lawber on the phone, I asked him what effect Divvy bike-share seems to have had on Bike Chicago’s bike rental business at Millennium Park and several other locations in the city. He said they’ve seen a decrease in rentals. “I’m guessing that some people don’t understand the Divvy price structure, so they’re keeping the bikes all day and racking up big fees, when it would be more affordable to rent a bike for the day from us.”

However, he credits the bike-share system with an increase in cycle center memberships, due to people who ride Divvy downtown and then use the showers and lockers. “Blue Cross Blue Shield is right across the street and they’re the Divvy sponsor, so obviously they’ve got a huge docking station out front.”