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Squire Drops Bike-Share Beef, Divvy NIMBYs Grumble

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Yesterday’s article about Divvy bike-share in Crain’s touched on a couple of interesting aspects of Chicago’s road to launching the Divvy bike-share system, which should lead to a huge spike in ridership and safer conditions for cycling.

I was pleased to read that Josh Squire, owner of the rental company Bike Chicago (a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), which runs the Millennium Park bike station, seems to be backing down from his challenge to the bike-share contract. Squire, a rival bidder, had protested that the process was unfair because Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein had previously done consulting work for Alta Bicycle Share, the contract awardee, although Klein said he recused himself from the process.

Squire contested the award, which likely delayed the Divvy launch and made him come across as a sore loser, but now he’s doing the right thing and giving up his battle. “Do I want to waste my time fighting the city of Chicago when we've been a partner of the city?” he told Crain’s. “It is what it is. No matter who ends up operating the program, it's great for Chicago.”

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That’s a wise attitude because, in the long run, Divvy is going to help Squire’s bike rental and tour business. Since bike-share rates rise steeply after the first half-hour, the bike-share system isn’t really going to compete with his company’s hourly and daily rentals. And by adding thousands of new cyclists to the city streets, Divvy is going make drivers more aware of bikes, boosting safety for Squire’s customers. It will also raise Chicago’s profile as a bike-friendly city, which means more visitors will be interested in signing up for Squire’s guided tours.

Unfortunately, not all bicycle entrepreneurs are taking the long view on Divvy. Manuel Tenorio, owner of the two Johnny Sprockets bicycles stores, convinced 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney not to approve a docking station near his Lakeview shop, arguing that the station would take up space he could use for bike parking racks. “I opposed it because no one talked to us about it,” he told Crain’s. “I'm not going to say yes to anything without any information. There's none of that. I potentially wouldn't oppose it if they talked to us.”

It’s possible the Chicago Department of Transportation and Alta could be doing a better job of communicating with business owners. But Tenorio and other bicycle shop owners should understand that bike-share will help their bottom line by boosting sales of helmets and other cycling gear, and by improving safety and encouraging urban cycling, which will make more folks want to buy their own bikes. Hopefully the Divvy folks will reach out to Tenorio and he'll come around to supporting bike-share, but his initial resistance has probably cost him a few customers.

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Tunney’s response to Tenorio’s NIMBY-ism shows that even some of Chicago’s most bike-friendly alderman aren't being as supportive of Divvy as they should be. The 44th Ward is a Near North district crisscrossed with bicycle lanes, and I once witnessed the alderman pedal up to the ribbon cutting for the Halsted lanes in Boystown, so he’s obviously no bike hater. But his assistant Sougata Deb is sympathetic to merchants who are balking at car parking spots being replaced by docking stations. “Businesses aren't crazy about losing parking spaces in front of their businesses,” Deb told Crain’s.

Merchants and aldermen need to wrap their heads around the fact that the number of people coming to local businesses is far more important than the number of cars. Since two automobiles take up about the same amount of street space as a 19-bike docking station, business owners will soon realize that they’re much better off accommodating dozens of people on bikes than a handful of folks in cars. Once they figure that out, they’ll start lobbying hard for docking stations in front of their storefronts.

Alderman Reilly speaks

42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly is another bike-friendly politico whose response to Divvy has been a little disappointing. Reilly was one of the first local reps to spend his discretionary “menu” funds to stripe bike lanes in his downtown district, and it’s clear he understands bike-share’s potential to improve the city. “This really cool and rather large program is coming to Chicago where we'll have thousands of people using this biking apparatus,” he told Crain’s.

But Reilly has only approved about 35 of the roughly 50 Divvy locations proposed his ward. Crain’s mentioned that he vetoed docking stations for the plazas by the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building, arguing that Michigan Avenue isn’t safe to bike on, and he doesn’t want people pedaling on the Mag Mile’s crowded sidewalks.

True, Michigan isn’t bike-friendly yet but, as the city’s most famous retail street, it should be. Thousands of people take buses, cabs and water taxis from Union Station to the Trib and Wrigley towers every day, and it’s likely many of those folks would be interested in replacing that commute with a bike ride. And why shouldn’t office workers in those buildings be able to use Divvy to grab lunch or run errands like other downtown employees?

Bottom line: Aldermen aren’t experts on which locations are most useful for bike-share, so they shouldn’t be putting the kibosh on them.

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