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Not Lovin’ It: Chainlinkers Panic About End of Free Parking at Bike Station

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Members of The Chainlink, a local bike social networking website with over 8,500 members, were alarmed by a report that Millennium Park’s bike station will no longer offer free, indoor parking to the general public. Upon closer inspection, though, the news isn’t so bad.

“I found out yesterday that the cycle center will no longer allow non-members to park their bikes,” Chainlinker Sarah Lewert posted Tuesday. “The explanation was that with all the construction going on, they were having issues and the city was making it worse.” Work to convert Daley Bicentennial Plaza into Maggie Daley Park is currently taking place just east of the bike station. Lewert added that the new policy starts on May 1, and that single-day passes to use the facility’s indoor parking, showers, and lockers will no longer be available. “I, for one, am totally bummed.”

The Chicago Department of Transportation built the bike station in 2004 using roughly $3 million in federal and local Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds. In 2006 McDonald’s Corporation bought the naming rights to the stations for $5 million, which is used to fund ongoing maintenance. MB Real Estate manages the property, and membership, rental, and repair operations are run by Bike & Park (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor).

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Other Chainlinkers replied to Lewert to share her disappointment. One was so incensed that he fired off a message to McDonald’s social responsibility webpage, which he reposted on the bike site. “It is my understanding that the city of Chicago has decided no longer to allow free parking in the McDonald’s-sponsored Chicago Bicycle Center,” he wrote. “It will now be perceived as an ‘elite’ facility intended to support a limited few… I would think that McDonalds would not want their name on such a ‘special interest’ facility.”

The Chainlink is a great source of information on local bicycle issues – I'm a member myself and I often get story leads from it – but in this case the facts got a little scrambled. While it’s true the bike station will stop offering free indoor parking next month, daily passes will still be available to the public, and it was Bike & Park, not the city, that opted to change the policy.

“We decided to discontinue the free indoor parking in order to allow more members to sign up, and to make more space for current members,” said Walter Rochet, the bike station’s general manager. He added that the park construction was also a factor in the decision because it has eliminated a popular route to the station from the Lakefront Trail via Monroe Street and a path next to Cancer Survivor’s Garden, adjacent to the work site, for the next few years.

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There are a few other options for accessing the facility from the lakeshore. However, Rochet said a few members have discontinued their memberships because they don’t want to take a detour to Michigan Avenue, walk their bikes through Millennium Park, or haul their cycles up a flight of stairs from Lower Randolph. To create easier access from Lower Randolph, Bike & Park will outfit a delivery door at the northwest corner of Lower Randolph and Columbus so that members can open it with an access card.

Since the Chicago Police Department’s lakefront bike patrol unit is headquartered at the bike station, regulations require that special doors, locks, lighting and security cameras be installed as part of the delivery door conversion, Rochet said. A few bike parking spaces will be lost as part of the change, and an extra staffer will be added to the payroll to monitor the new door, which is part of the motivation for raising more revenue through additional memberships.

The bike station has about 300 indoor parking spaces. Rochet estimates that about a third of those are currently available for free parking. Monthly memberships cost $30 and annual memberships are $169. To make it easier for more people to sign up for a year, Bike & Park will soon be introducing a payment plan. “We’re also thinking about reducing the cost of a daily pass from $5 to $4 to alleviate some of the stress over our decision to eliminate free indoor parking,” he said.

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Actually, free parking won’t be completely discontinued. Since many members take their bikes home after work and the additional memberships aren’t expected to sell out this year, the station will allow non-members to park indoors during evening concerts this summer, Rochet said.

Also, there are currently nine large “wave” racks in a plaza on the south side of the building, with a total of 54 bike spaces. To provide more free, outdoor parking, Bike & Park is considering replacing these racks with high-capacity fixtures with spaces staggered by height, similar to those used inside the station. The waves could potentially be reinstalled in various locations around the perimeter of Millennium Park, where additional bike parking is sorely needed.

“Our main goal is to promote and advocate cycling, so I hope our actions don’t reflect anything but that,” Rochet said. “We don’t want anybody to think we’re just eliminating the free parking and not doing anything to replace it.”

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