Chicago Gets Ready to “Divvy” Up the Rewards of Large-Scale Bike-Share

Divvy Bike Image
A "Chicago-blue" Divvy bicycle.

When I interviewed Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein at the June 2012 Bike to Work Rally, shortly after it was announced that bike-share would probably not launch that year, he promised, “We’ll be launching bike-share in the next six to twelve months.” It now appears that the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alta Bike Share, the contractor in charge of running the system, are making good on Klein’s promise.

This morning the Chicago Department of Transportation announced it will launch the system, called “Divvy,” later this spring, likely in time for this year’s rally on Friday, June 14. Assuming New York succeeds in its plans for a 6,000-bike network, Chicago’s will be the second-largest bike-share program in the nation. Divvy will start out with about 75 automated docking stations, mostly located in the Loop and River North. Within a year, CDOT hopes to  install all 400 stations for 4,000 bikes across an area roughly bounded by Lake Michigan, Devon, California and 63rd.

“Bike sharing is another large step we’re taking to make Chicago the best big city in America for cycling,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “We are improving our bicycling infrastructure to create the quality of life that will attract businesses and families to Chicago.  Divvy bikes will provide Chicagoans and visitors with more options for getting around our neighborhoods.”

Local active transportation advocates are applauding the news. “Divvy is a big deal for Chicago, it will literally change how people get around by offering a low commitment way to try bicycling,” said Ron Burke, director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “It’s perfect for trips under a few miles that are too short to wait for a bus, and a bit too far to walk, and it will be much cheaper than a taxi. Tens of thousands of Chicagoans will be able to use it to get from transit stations to their jobs, to get to their next meeting, grab lunch or run errands.”

“Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and cycling is an effective way to stay active,” said Adam Becker, Executive Director of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. “But not all Chicagoans have access to bicycles. Establishing a bike-share that gives greater access to more people can help Chicagoans integrate more physical activity into their lives. We’re excited to see the city taking his important step in making physical activity and health easier for Chicagoans.”

The clunky-but-comfy, step-through bikes, with generator lights, fenders, chainguards and front racks, will be painted the same shade of blue as the stripes the Chicago flag. This color scheme is attractive, but hopefully the light shade won’t also appeal to vandals with Sharpies. The name “Divvy,” which means “to divide or share” is an uncommon word which will probably be a head-scratcher for many locals, but the logo cleverly places the two Vs in the same configuration as a “sharrow” shared-lane marking.

CDOT is currently in the process of siting the stations. Lists of potential locations have been vetted by the appropriate aldermen, and the department is currently finalizing where the stations will go. Most of the wireless, solar-powered stations will have 15-19 docks, with several spaces left open for returning bikes.

2011 BikeSummit DC Bike Rentals
Capitol Bike Share in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Missouri Bicycle Federation.

Annual memberships will cost $75 and daily passes will be $7, allowing users to take an unlimited number of 30-minute trips. To encourage use of the bikes for short trips, rather than long-term rentals, additional charges will apply for the second half hour and rise steeply after that. Renting the bikes requires a credit card, and the user is liable for the replacement cost, about $1,200, if the bike is lost or stolen. CDOT is currently looking into options for providing memberships for low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

Starting in late 2012 the department began taking suggestions for station locations via its bike program website. It received recommendations for 1,300 different sites, with 11,000 votes in support of these locations. Updates about the system will be available on Twitter at @divvybikes and on Facebook.

Predictably, the announcement has already received some backlash from Chicagoans who are unclear on the concept. Multiple readers have commented in response to this morning’s Tribune article on the subject, complaining that the estimated $22 million cost of the system, bankrolled by federal grants and money from Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing program, is a waste of funds. Instead of spending $5,500 per bicycle, they argued, why not just buy thousands of cheap cycles and sprinkle them throughout the city? Failed “free bike” programs in dozens of cities over the years have shown this approach doesn’t work.

Fortunately, other readers who had experienced bike-share elsewhere wrote in to rave about the system, and to explain that the cost also includes the price of the stations, as well as expenses associated with running the program, including redistributing, maintaining and repairing the bikes. Once Divvy launches and more Chicago residents understand how the system works, I’m confident we’ll hear a little less grumbling and a lot more praise.

  • Really exciting. It’s great to see people stepping in support of it online on forums like the Trib. For a long time, those things were nothing but pits of negativity. Last I checked, comments on that article were evenly divided in support and opposition of bike share.

    As for Divvy itself, I doubt I’ll use it personally, other than maybe as a novelty. But it’ll be great when friends and family visit town.

  • I’m definitely signing up. This will be great for those days when I feel like taking the Blue Line downtown instead of biking, but don’t want to be able to quickly make a few stops around the Loop once I get there.

  • I’ll be signing up. I’ve used bike share elsewhere and found it very useful for short trips. I expect to be using it regularly.

  • Adam Herstein

    Basically, every article on the Tribune gets multiple comments along the lines of “Why are we spending X amount of dollars on Y when the state/city/country is broke?!”

  • Jacob Peters

    I have been noting all the time savings this program would have saved me over the past 6 months, whether turning a 40 minute bus trip into a 15 minute bike trip, walking back to my locked up bike after meeting up with friends took me a half mile in the opposite direction over the course of two hours, having a bike close by whenever I might need it will be a huge boon.

  • It just occurred to me: since the Vs are white, the black DIY is the most prominent text. Does that subliminally suggest this is Do It Yourself transportation? If so, that’s very punk rock.

  • Scott K

    Yes John, it is DIY transportation. And you know that we are okay with a little punk rock

  • John W

    Can’t wait for a faster way to get around the Loop.

  • Interested but Concerned

    My confidence in this company is limited since their online Terms of Use and Privacy Agreement have references to Chattanooga, NYC, and multiple incorrect rates and fees. I would hope that $22 million would pay for a decent proof-reader.

  • Anonymous

    I think we have the “Word on the Street” for today…sure, it can be from a moderator. :)

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of DIY transportation and punk rock . . . Riot Fest last year

  • Excellent. I guess that’s what happens when you have a bunch of transplants from Washington, D.C., the birthplace of hardcore punk, running your transportation department. What’s next, the Go-Go bus rapid transit line?

    For those who missed it, here’s CDOT’s punk rock-friendly “Potholepalooza” press release:

  • Don’t worry Interested but Concerned. Once you take your first spin on a Divvy, I’m sure you’ll be Enthused and Confident!

  • Wow! Where was it held, Amsterdam? Just kidding, that impressive mass of bikes is in Humboldt Park!

  • Scott K

    Go Go! love it. Next year it will be all hip hop press release

  • I work downtown and look forward to using this system mainly to go get lunch at places that are a little too far to walk on an (acceptable) lunch break.

  • That was a fun time. I walked, but it was great to see so many bikes. And Iggy Pop!

  • Do we know when we’ll know where stations will be located? Are they going to make bike availability and trip data available online?

  • Bike availability will definitely be online, and via multiple smartphone apps as well (search for “Bixi”). Not sure what you mean by “trip data,” but Capital Bikeshare has a very open approach to sharing data.

  • I think I’ll use it to get to work instead of my own bike. Love the idea of not having to worry about it getting stolen and sitting out in the rain. Plus, I’ve already started embracing the idea of slow riding!

  • Anonymous

    My favorite was Dropkick, though Reverend Horton Heat killed it, too. I walked, as well.

  • Sarita Upadhyay

    This looks really great! I just moved to Chicago and have wondered how visiting friends/family will get around with me if they don’t have access to a bike. This seems like the answer! I’ve ridden bike share bikes when visiting Washington, DC, Ithaca, NY, and Boulder, CO and they were all fantastic. I hope this one is equally as great!

  • I could have used it yesterday when I met a friend for lunch in River North. Soon…

  • Oh, yeah, Dropkick was a lot of fun. I enjoyed Gaslight Anthem’s set just before that too.

  • The locations aren’t set in stone, but Steven will have an update about this later today.

  • Anonymous

    One of my shots for ya…

  • The rental period really needs to be an hour. My husband is a confident ride-in-the-road cyclist, and his commute from Albany Park to UIC takes about 50 minutes. To do this on bike share he’d have to return the bike halfway to work at some other station and check out a second one — weird PITA.

  • The system is geared more towards shorter trips and errands, but switching bikes shouldn’t be too much of a hassle for your husband. There should be a station right along his route, and the swap takes less than a minute.

  • Awesome, Microsoft Silverlight-powered dashboard! Didja read that Netflix is looking for a replacement?

  • You certainly would prefer the CSV tables of anonymized trip data. Plenty of great data visualizations have been made already.

  • The first data I’ll need is the station location, so I can add it to my app.

  • Erik Swedlund

    I just read that in NYC, annual members receive a $10 coupon towards a helmet. I hope we get something similar!

  • Joanne james

    The Launch is almost here!! I can not wait to get off the train and ride to wherever I care to and not have to walk or worry about locking a bike. Just get a new one when I want to explore the Greatest City in the world with the speed of my own feet and petals.

  • All right! Always good to read a nice, positive comment.

  • Im with the complainers. It should not be paid for with taxes, sorry. Average income of hipsters renting bikes is much higher than the people denied tax funded training due to lack of funds. Also, just plain no. You are not to spend tax money on this. Food for the hungry, yes. Educational assistance for the poor, yes. Street repair, yes. Vocational training, yes. Bikes, no.

  • Yes, that’s my kind of people complaining. I am sure there are better ways to spend that money,

  • Sorry Biff, you’re unclear on the concept here. First of all, the $22 million in start-up costs is largely funded by federal grants that can only be used for transportation, so it’s not taking away from social programs. Second, Divvy is for everybody. It’s essentially a new public transportation system that compliments the CTA. Third, bike-share has the potential to pay for itself, which is next-to-impossible for transit systems, let alone highways.

    I know the Divvy system seems confusing now, but it will become a lot more obvious how it works once it’s up and running, and then I think you’ll feel more comfortable with it. Who knows, you might even become a member!


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