Like Chicago Bicyclists, Divvy Will Soldier on Through the Winter


At last Wednesday’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, assistant transportation commissioner Sean Wiedel shared Divvy’s cold-weather operating strategy.

To keep maintenance costs down and scale the bike-share fleet to anticipated demand, Divvy is aiming to reduce the number of available bikes during the winter by 65 percent, to about 1,200 bikes, Weidel said. All 300 Divvy stations will remain available for day-pass holders and annual members like Isaac Wilson and Abby Crisostomo, above.

The exception will be big winter storms. “If there’s a small storm,” Wiedel said, “we’ll leave all the bikes in place.” Depending on a storm’s severity, Divvy may either remove bikes from on-street stations, or, if the National Weather Service predicts six or more inches of snow, remove bikes from on-street stations and shut down the system. Members will find out through email, news media, and social media.

“Otherwise,” Weidel said, “we will be up and running because this is a transit system and we want it to be a reliable part of your commute.”

Alta Planning staffer Gin Kilgore asked if the 30-minute deadline to return a bike (to avoid the overtime fee) would be “softened.” Wiedel said that it would, adding that members should call customer service if it’s a bad situation – say, you’re stranded. “We’re reasonable about it,” he said.

Wiedel mentioned a few other notable facts about Divvy:

  • Some of Divvy’s now-12,000 members took about 1,200 rides – one per bike – on Tuesday, December 10, despite the several inches of snow that fell the prior Sunday evening.
  • CDOT is hiring a Divvy program manager to replace Ben Gomberg, who retired earlier this year. Applications are due Wednesday afternoon.
  • Between 80 and 90 percent of the stations on the ground now were specifically suggested by Chicagoans when CDOT solicited ideas in early 2013. CDOT is soliciting suggestions for infill locations and to expand the service area by 175 stations in 2014.

Tweeted photo by Angie Leyva.

  • BlueFairlane

    Here’s a question that nobody might know the answer to yet. How long does it take the Divvy people to collect 1200 bikes and put them in storage? Once the storm has passed, how long does it take to get the bikes back out?

  • WestLooper

    Great question. I am not sure I understand the rationale. It’s not like the larger volume of snow is any worse for the bikes, and some intrepid souls may want to venture out in a blizzard.

  • BlueFairlane

    The only rationale I can think of would be in the rare instance, like the blizzard a couple of years ago, that a bike could be buried completely, either by the falling snow itself or by a plow pushing snow over it. I could see how extricating a bike once it’s buried and the snow turns to ice could cause damage.

  • Water will enter the bikes’ parts as snow melts and then later freeze, preventing the bikes (or docks) use until the ice melts.

    Also, the bikes’ chains are not fully enclosed and are damaged by the salt.

  • I think it was on the Chicago Tonight show, or maybe Sean Wiedel at the MBAC meeting, where it was said that 100 people work for Divvy doing maintenance and distribution.

    There are 300 stations. I think each van holds 20-22 bicycles. Let’s say it takes 45 seconds to load a bike into a van. And it takes, on average, 15 minutes to reach any station from any other station (or home base). How much time is needed? (There are people better at scenarios like this than I, so I’ll pass.)

  • Jin Nam

    I’ve noticed that seats are lowered and turned 180degrees since winter weather hit town. I thought a random person did this at one station but noticed this at just about every station. Wondering why it’s set up this way, presumably when redistribution happens? It’s one way I keep casual observational tabs M-F on the same stations to see if they are being used. They are. I see people riding. And bike seats are in normal orientation and at various heights at the docks. Number of bikes vary greatly from near-full to near-empty. Numbers change daily. All manner of people riding the divvy dressed anywhere from over the top layering or freezing from inadequate layering. Yet all pedal on. =)

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    I noticed a couple bikes with seats turned 180 degrees. Maybe Divvy is using it the same way you are – to see how many bikes are actually going out.

    Thursday I Divvied from Halsted & 35th to the Hancock Building wearing a base layer, jeans, and a heavy wool sweater. There’s always a big fuss about biking in winter in Chicago, but on days like yesterday you don’t even need a coat!

    P.S. I encountered some tourists from California who want to try out Divvy and may do so today.

  • Alex_H

    Shouldn’t Divvy have all the usage information they need in digital form? Keeping track of things in this way seems too low-tech for what I perceive to be a fairly sophisticated operation.

    My vote is that this method somehow makes it possible to fit more bikes in a van.

  • Renee Patten

    Pretty sure the seat being turned around is a universal sign that something is wrong on the bike, needs to be repaired.

  • Tony Adams

    The 30 minute thing is what keeps me from buying an annual membership. I bought a one day pass in NYC recently and it was very nerve-wracking either making all my trips in 30 min or swapping bikes to get an additional 30 minutes.
    2. Six inches of fresh snow is FUN to ride in. I would think a DIVVY with its enormous tires would be a great snow bike. But I guess schlepping them around in the vans would be troublesome?

  • Alex_H

    You could always treat it as just “paying $1.50 for the privilege of riding a bike around for 55 minutes.” That’s what I do when I need to go somewhere that I can’t get to in half an hour.

  • Jin Nam

    Doubtful. They are docked as they would be at redistribution – clustered in groups, usually 3 together. Seat turned and lowered all the way. I ride really early in the morning. The few times I opted for the divvy, I’ve had to adjust the seat as normal. Bikes worked fine. The “wrench” button is there to alert that a bike is not working.

  • Jin Nam

    I’ve seen them rebalance and the bikes roll out of the van with seat in normal orientation. I’ve only noticed this seat turn oddity since the snow storm. I think I’ll just as divvy to get an answer! =)

  • Alex_H

    I’ve seen this as well, but it could be that some rebalancers use a different method…

  • Tom Hagglund

    Most of us Divvy rebalancers drop the seat posts down all the way when loading a van, to pack them better, but it’s the bike techs who spin them around 180 degrees, in order to stack them more tightly in the shop. Usually the first thing rebalancers do on a shift, before leaving the shop, is to fill their van with bikes, fresh from the recently-checked-over bike corral. These will probably have the seats turned around. You start by dropping off bikes in stations that are short of bikes, before you start grabbing more bikes from the overfull stations, which will likely have the seats turned normally.
    At first, I was spinning all the seats back to normal and raising all the posts a few inches, to avoid the perception that this was a broken bike, until I realized how much time this was taking me, tweaking hundreds of bikes each day. I decided that if I had to miss visiting one or two stations during a shift simply because my time was being spent fiddling with seat posts, it wasn’t worthwhile, so my bikes are now docking with the seats in all directions. I figure most folks will raise or lower the seats, so I’m not really causing a hardship. I do check to see if the seat clamp is loose enough that normal humans can open them, which is not always the case.

  • Turning the seat sign is for other riders, to be used in addition to the wrench button.

    This being the winter, though, it may have been that adjusting the seat up/down was too hard for someone (because of frozen parts).


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