[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]
This year’s Divvy bike-share expansion, beefing up the system from 300 docking stations to 476, has moved at warp speed. As of yesterday, 168 of the new stations have been installed since mid-April; The remaining seven are pending concrete pouring or other factors, and should be in by next month.
As Divvy grows, the city is also trying to make it more equitable. After the expansion, the portion of the population that lives in the service area will grow from about 53 percent to 56 percent, and several low-income communities are getting stations for the first time. Meanwhile, the Chicago Department of Transportation is working on a strategy to provide Divvy access for residents who don’t have credit cards, and they promise they’ll have a major announcement about this by early summer.
To get a sense of how the stations are working out on the terra nova, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, I set out to pedal the perimeter of the completed service area on a sunny afternoon earlier this month. I began my quest at the southeastern-most outpost of the system at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, a mostly African-American community. There was an eerie fog on the shoreline, and the sound of the waves mingled with birdsongs as I undocked my Divvy.
As I made my way clockwise, stopping at every station along the perimeter to snap a photo, plenty of residents approached me to ask about the system. From small children to seniors, the first question was almost always a variation on “How much does it cost to rent those bikes?” I explained that a day pass is $7, and an annual membership is $75, but you have to be careful to check in your bike within a half hour, or else you start racking up late fees.
Outside Comer College Prep, a nice-looking public school at 71st and South Chicago in Grand Crossing, little kids are using a Divvy station as a coat rack, playing with the bungees and bells, and using the cycles like exercise bikes. Diane Griffin, an adult who’s waiting for the bus, is curious about the giant blue cycles.
Like most people I’ve spoken with, she’s unclear on how the system works, such as the fact that you don’t have to return your bike to the same station you got it from. But after I explain, she warms up to the idea. “I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s good exercise, and it beats riding a crowded bus.”
Pedaling along the system’s perimeter turns out to be pretty comfortable, since the docks tend to be located along designated bike routes, many of which have well-marked bike lanes. I make my way west to Englewood, and north to a station at 56th and Halsted.
Bobbie Flowers, a healthcare worker who’s going to the adjacent hardware store, asks me about the system and is pleased to learn that you can use it 24/7. Although it’s been a while since she’s ridden a bike, she’s curious to try a Divvy. “It seems like a nice alternative to sitting in the car and burning gas,” she says.