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Divvy in the time of coronavirus: What the bike-share system is doing to protect riders, workers

1:57 PM CDT on March 23, 2020

Photo: Bill Hinostroza

Last week we noted that Divvy bike-share ridership had spiked so far this month, possibly due in part to people opting to bike instead of riding transit to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. The total number of Divvy check-outs from March 1-11, including members and casual rentals, was 82,112. That number was up more than 100 percent from the same period last year year, when there were only 40,078 bike-share trips. That was in keeping with biking booms this month in other U.S. cities like New York.

The Divvy ridership boom has leveled off a bit since then, probably due to coronavirus-related closures of workplaces and retail, as well as less bike-friendly recent weather. But the number of bike-share trips from March 1-19 of this year was still significantly up from the same time last year, with 114,394 rentals compared to 90,995 last year, a roughly 26-percent increase, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

"Divvy has been aggressively increasing its cleaning protocols," said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. "It has been following updates on COVID-19, including guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Chicago Department of Public Health."

Workers are disinfecting high-contact surfaces on bikes, such as the handlebar grips and saddles, each time they arrive at the warehouse for maintenance, Claffey said. They're also disinfecting the high-contact surfaces on the vans used to transport vehicles at the start of each shift. Employees are also wearing gloves when handling bikes both at the warehouse and at stations.

When using Divvy, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and/or wipe off the grips with a disinfectant wipe before riding, and wash your hands afterwards.

While traffic has been very light in recent days, some motorists are taking advantage of the lack of congestion and eyes on the street by speeding or running stop signs, so it's best to remain cautious when cycling and not assume drivers are going to stop. You can find lower-stress side-street routes in the central city on the Mellow Chicago Bike Map, which should be expanded citywide this spring.

Other big cities like Bogota, Columbia, Mexico City, and Philadelphia have been creating emergency bike lanes or creating car-free streets during the pandemic to make more room for socially-distanced travel and recreation an alleviate crowding on transit. It would be great to see Chicago take that approach as well, perhaps creating temporary protected bike lanes using Jersey walls or other moveable barriers. Multi-lane roadways like 95th Street, Irving Park Road, Cicero Avenue, and Western Avenue, which have way too much lane capacity for cars during a time when fewer people are driving, might be good candidates for this approach.

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