Even With the New Dockless Pilot, Chicago Still Has Vast Bike-Share Deserts

The DoBi pilot has expanded the area of the city with bike-share access by roughly 50 percent, but big areas of the Southwest and Northwest sides still don't have shared bikes. Map: Steven Vance
The DoBi pilot has expanded the area of the city with bike-share access by roughly 50 percent, but big areas of the Southwest and Northwest sides still don't have shared bikes. Map: Steven Vance

Chicago’s Divvy system has one of the most, perhaps the most, expansive service areas of any U.S. docked bike-share system, covering more than 100 square miles of Chicago’s 227 square miles and serving 63.8 percent of the population, according to the city government. And Tuesday’s launch of dockless bike-share technology on the Far South Side, mostly outside of the Divvy zone, provides access to shared bikes for somewhere on the order of 250,000 more residents. (The pilot area includes just about all of five wards, and parts of several others, and each of Chicago’s 50 wards contains roughy 50,000 people.)

But Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke has noted that just because all those people now live within the dockless bike-share (“DoBi”) pilot area, that doesn’t mean mean there will be enough cycles to go around. Companies are limited to releasing 250 bikes each, or only 50 if the cycles don’t have a built-in U-lock or cable lock for securing them to a fixed object. (After July 1, all bikes must be “lock-to” models.)

The current vendors include two operators with “free-locked” bikes (LimeBike and Ofo) and one with lock-to cycles (Zagster/Pace), so that’s at most 350 vehicles to be spread over something like a fifth of the city’s area, compared to about 6,000 Divvy cycles. However, word is that a fourth company, Jump Mobility, may soon deploy up to 250 lock-to bikes, and other vendors may get permits as well.

To get a better idea of exactly which parts of town currently have bike-share access, I asked Streetsblog’s Steven Vance to create a map superimposing the Divvy service area with the DoBi zone. Rather than simply drawing a line around the perimeter of all the Divvy stations, he drew a circle around each station with a quarter-mile (two standard Chicago blocks, or about five minutes of walking) radius. We’re guessing that’s about the maximum distance most people are willing to walk to access a bike-share station or get from the docks to their destination, so it more-or-less illustrates the territory that is actually served by the station.

The dockless pilot area contains just about all of five wards, and parts of several others. Map: CDOT
The dockless pilot area contains just about all of five wards, and parts of several others. Map: CDOT

The map shows that the dockless pilot expands the portion of the city with shared bikes by about 50 percent (although it’s worth noting that large portions of the territory, such as the Lake Calumet and Wolf Lake areas, are unpopulated.) But it also shows that huge swaths of the Southwest and Northwest sides don’t have access to Divvy or DoBi. Since federal funding for new bike-share docks will likely be in short supply under the Trump administration, expanding the dockless zone to include the entire city — which would essentially cost taxpayers nothing — would be the obvious solution to address that issue.

On the other hand, the city of Chicago wants to make sure that DoBi won’t cause major problems with street clutters as it has in other cities, or cannibalize traditional bike-share. So far the latter issue doesn’t seem to be a problem in Washington D.C., which is allowing dockless vendors to operate citywide.

And while the dockless pilot area generally includes all parts of the city south of 79th Street, superimposing it on the city boundaries shows that large parts of the Ashburn, South Chicago, and East Chicago community areas south of 79th were excluded from the service areas, which means that most residents in these sections also live in bike-share deserts. It’s not clear why these areas were left out, and the local aldermen have not responded to my inquiries.

Finally, Steven’s map illustrates that while the Divvy zone covers a large portion of the city, the coverage isn’t equitable because the stations are much closer to each other – and thus more convenient – in some parts of town than others. For example, in Lincoln Park, where stations are rarely more than two blocks apart, just about all residents live within a five-minute walk of a station. Meanwhile in Englewood, something like half of the territory within the Divvy zone isn’t within a convenient walking distance from the docks.

Granted, the higher density of people and destinations downtown and in North Lakefront neighborhoods partly justifies the higher density of docks in those parks of town. But it’s no surprise that most stations on the South and West sides have seen relatively little use, because the inconvenient station spacing makes them a lot less useful.

  • planetshwoop

    Trump administration issues aside, my sincere hope is that Divvy expansion continues. I would hate for Divvy to be put on hold because we *might* get DoBi. Are there experiences from other docked bike-shares that shows how well it works in wider coverage areas? (Berlin? Australia?)

    Another point to consider: I think aggressive bike-share roll-out will be another dent in bus usage. I will happily give up the misery of riding the bus for the last mile if there is a bike share since the price is about the same.

  • Cameron Puetz

    South Chicago seems really odd to have cut off. The rules had to be specifically written to exclude that triangle between 79th and the Skyway. Plus it’s a neighborhood with the density and infrastructure for bike share to have a good chance of success.

    The only argument I could see is that riders would be more likely to ride out of the zone into South Shore, than across the Skyway to other neighborhoods in the zone. However, that’s that could also be turned around as an argument for expanding the zone to reach more commercial areas.

  • CIAC

    There’s not going to be a significant amount of bike sharing, whether Divvy or dockless bikes, in any neighborhood where car travel is easy and inexpensive. Bike sharing (or even biking in general for transportation purposes) only occurs when it compares favorably, economically and in terms of convenience, to car travel. That’s not the case on the south side just as it isn’t the case in Kenilworth, the richest suburb in the state.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    So you’re saying it’s not easy or inexpensive to drive in Davis, California, where bike mode share is ten times that of Chicago? If you want to stick to Chicago, Beverly is also an relatively easy and place to drive compared to the rest of the city, but it’s one of the more bike-oriented neighborhoods.

  • CIAC

    Davis, California appears to basically be a college town. That’s different because a lot of college students will choose not to own cars if that were possible. As for Beverly, according to this guy it isn’t bike friendly at all: https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20150403/beverly/beverly-blogger-dreams-of-bike-lanes-restaurant-row-hood/

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I question whether, as many folks seem to think, and many say outright (e.g. Mary Wisniewski in her Trib article recently :
    — that dockless bikeshare really is/will be less expensive for most ‘regular’ users than docked, Divvy bikeshare. If a person takes only 4 trips a week — and remember each ‘leg’ of a journey is a ‘trip’ — then that adds up to $208 per year (at $1 per ride). Currently, Divvy is $99/yr and $10-$15 discounts are pretty easy to come by. Could this (private, for-profit dockless bikeshare) be another way that for-profit corporations stick it to low-income folks? Or do dockless companies offer discounted annual memberships? $1, $4, $33 for one time, 24-hr, and annual membership, respectively, for dockless bike share fees seems reasonable/fair to me. What do you think, Streetsblog and Streetsblog readers?

  • CIAC

    This is a pilot. The service doesn’t exist except in test form. I don’t see how you can have annual memberships with a service that doesn’t even exist yet and we don’t know if it will. If it does and if there are people who use dock-less bikes very frequently (which I’d be skeptical about) I’m sure the companies will offer annual memberships. I don’t know why they wouldn’t.

  • what_eva

    South Shore has a buffered bike lane from 87th up to 71st where the LFT starts, so would be pretty reasonable to get well north of the pilot area.

  • what_eva

    I have divvy available for my last mile but I’m happy to have the bus too. I want the bus on those days when it’s raining or my knee hurts or it’s cold and I don’t feel like biking the last mile.

  • LazyReader

    If people want to ride a bike they’ll ride a bike. Anyone who already showed any propensity towards biking would own their own already.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Nope, bike-share has advantages that may make cycling more practical and appealing for people who don’t own a bike, or own one but don’t ride it. For example, lots of people have bikes with flat tires and rusty chains sitting in their basement or garage, but rarely get around to getting them in working order. With a bike-share membership, you don’t have to worry about buying, securing, storing, maintaining, or repairing a bike. And, particularly with dockless bike-share, which can cost as low as $1 per ride, you can try out urban cycling with a much lower financial commitment than buying even a cheap used bike and a decent lock.

    And what a lot of people who’ve never used bike-share don’t understand is that it can do a lot of things a privately owned bike can’t. Want to take the train to work so you don’t show up sweaty but bike home for exercise? Meet up with a friend by bike, but then travel with them by another mode? Take the CTA somewhere during rush hour and use a bike as a “last mile” solution? A bike-share membership allows you to do all that, which is why many people who own multiple bikes also have a membership.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Right, this is a pilot. I meant “Do Limebike, Ofo, Jump, Zagster, etc, etc offer in the US cites where they already exist — i.e. In their general business models — a low cost annual membership model? I have never heard of them doing so, only “$1 per ride.”

    As for using bikeshare, I have 4 bikes. I ride my commuter bike year round several miles in each direction. I work in the Loop area, and live on the north side. I also have annual Divvy membership, and use it for “last mile” on the days I take the train, for meetings across the Loop and other areas, whe my plans or the weather suddenly changes, LOTS of reasons come up over the course of a year! I think I average about 200-250 Divvy rides a year, on top of the 2000-3000 miles per year that I ride my own bike(s). I am sure that many, if not most, Divvy annual members own their own bike(s)!

  • Frank Kotter

    Dear Lazy, I’ve tried to engage you respectfully and by providing facts to counter your often long-winded statements. I assumed you were open to dialog but now reading this post, it is clear that you are as out of your league as you are disinterested in bringing the debate forward in any way.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Just to reinforce John’s points: while I have a personal bike, I have to get my kid to school which generally makes biking to work logistically impossible due to the timing. So today I took CTA in to work in the South Loop/Museum Campus. I will be using Divvy to get to a mid-day meeting in the Loop, and then I’m planning on taking Divvy to get to the Blue Line after work (although if it is this nice, I may just go ahead and Divvy hop all the way home).

  • Divvy asks in a survey if members have their own bike. I looked for a hot minute for the results but I didn’t find them.

    Divvy is conducting its annual survey right now; I took it this morning.

  • That’s a good question of do these DoBi providers have discounted memberships.
    LimeBike has no indication of pricing on their website, which I presume is so they can be flexible by market, and have their app show the actual price in a given location.

    @johnaustingreenfield:disqus @openid-23118:disqus Do you know?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Wonder if anyone (Steven, John, others) has found out if any DoBi companies will be offering annual memberships at a cost comparable, or lower, than Divvy? This is, I think, an important equity issue.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Looking into it…

  • Anne A

    I don’t quite agree with how you’ve interpreted the piece about Beverly. 95th and Western definitely are NOT bike friendly streets. Jeff is a friend of mine and we’ve had a lot of conversations about these issues. Getting to/from businesses on streets like 95th and Western is workable for many locations by using side streets as access points. I do it all the time.

    Beverly and Morgan Park could definitely be improved in terms of overall bike friendliness, but large areas of both neighborhoods are fairly bike friendly now.

    Not sure that I’d consider it one of the more bike-oriented neighborhoods quite yet, but I’m encouraged by the level of interest in bike share and seeing more people riding around the neighborhood and to/from the train compared to 5 years ago.