Things Chicago has money for:
•Dyeing the river green
•A Ferris wheel
Things Chicago doesn’t have money for:
— richie (@ohyoumeandaniel) June 2, 2016
Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.
The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.
First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.
The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).
$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.
Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.
OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.
However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.
As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.