CDOT releases more details on the “Bike Chicago” free bicycle program

Participants will be given single-speed bikes (not this particular model), which work fine for flat Chicago and are easier to maintain than most bikes with multiple gears. Photo: John Greenfield
Participants will be given single-speed bikes (not this particular model), which work fine for flat Chicago and are easier to maintain than most bikes with multiple gears. Photo: John Greenfield

Update 7/12/22, 11:00 AM: CDOT provided the following info to Streetsblog about what kind of bikes will be given away: “The bikes are the Fyxation Pixel in various sizes and colors, both the step-through and the standard model, the State Azure and the State Ellison, both in the single-speed version. The city has not committed to using the same model bikes each year. The brand and model of bikes procured will likely depend on vendor pricing and the quantities available.” While Streetsblog can’t vouch for the quality of these bikes, it’s definitely a good thing that the bikes that were chosen have fenders, chainguards, and front and rear carrying racks, which will make them very practical for commuting.

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The Fyxation State Azure (3-speed model shown) and State Ellison bikes. Click to enlarge.

The Lori Lightfoot administration previously announced plans to address high gas prices by giving away $5 million in free transit cards (which was a great idea) and $7.5 million in free gas cards (which was a nightmarishly bad idea.) Now the city is getting ready to provide a major perk for Chicagoans who would like to get around the city by bicycle.

Last month the Chicago Department of Transportation provided Streetsblog with some preliminary info on how the planned giveaway of 5,000 bikes, plus safety and maintenance gear, would work. Today CDOT formally announced the full details of the program, dubbed “Bike Chicago.” The initiative is being funded by the $188 million Chicago Recovery Plan (previously called the Climate Recovery Plan), which the city says will fund “climate mitigation and environmental justice initiatives.”

The 5,000 cycles will be distributed over four years, with at least 500 bikes given out to age and income-eligible residents during the program’s first year. Online and paper applications will be accepted from July 18 through August 4, and bike distribution will begin in August. Depending on demand, the city may use a lottery for years 2-4 of the program to determine which qualifying residents will get bikes.

Image: CDOT
Image: CDOT

“Riding a bike is an affordable, sustainable, and healthy way to travel that reduces car congestion and improves quality of life,” said CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi in a statement. No lie detected there. “Along with improving and expanding the city’s network of bike lanes and trails, CDOT is committed to making biking a more popular and practical option for all residents – and Bike Chicago will do just that. We’re excited to launch this program and start distributing bikes and safety gear this summer and throughout the next several years.”

“Every resident in our city deserves equitable access to safe, reliable, and affordable clean transportation options,” said Lightfoot in a statement. “Bike Chicago accelerates both the city’s climate and equity goals by providing new workforce pathways, bikes and supportive resources that promote safe biking and a healthy low-carbon transportation ecosystem for all Chicagoans.”

Sure, if Lightfoot really cared about reducing carbon emissions, she could have simply chosen not to pay people $7.5 million in taxpayer money to drive. But let’s give her credit when she actually does something positive to address climate change, and the bike giveaway falls solidly in that category.

For the first year of Bike Chicago, some of the bikes will be assembled by and given out to participants in CDOT’s Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, a green jobs training program for kids in Chicago public high schools. Other bikes will be distributed to other participants in CDOT 2022 mobility programming, including the Chicago SAFE Ambassadors’ Learn to Ride program, the Open Boulevards events, and then on a first come, first served basis for residents who qualify. To get a free bike, you must:

  • Be a Chicago resident;
  • Be at least 14 years old (teens under 18 will need a parent or guardian present when picking up the bike and gear)
  • Have a household income at or below 100 percent of the Area Median Income for Chicago
  • Not already own a bicycle;
  • Face higher mobility hardship OR
  • Be a participant in a CDOT Mobility program.
Community Areas with "high mobility hardship" are indicated by darker colors on the map. Image: City of Chicago
Community Areas with “higher mobility hardship” are indicated by darker colors on the map. Image: City of Chicago

The online application and paper application will be available after July 18 at https://www.chicago.gov/bikechicago. The app asks for the recipients height, so they can be paired with a right-size bike.

If you qualify for a bike and gear, the city will notify you of the pick-up location and timeframes. For the first year of the program, the city is planning to distribute bikes in August and September 2022.

  • If you are a participant in the Green Corps Programs, the bike and accompanying equipment will be distributed through the program.
  • If you participate in a Learn to Ride program, staff will coordinate with you to pick up a bike and equipment at a distribution site.
  • If you participate in a CDOT Open Boulevards event, staff will coordinate with you to pick up a bike and equipment at a city distribution site.

The program sounds great, with the one criticism that the income requirement should be lowered. As it stands, a single person making $73,000 can get a free bike. If you’re making that much money, you can easily afford to buy your own cycle, so the bike should instead be given to someone with a lower income.

The income requirements for a free bike.
The income requirements for a free bike by household size.

When recipients pick up their bikes, they’ll be given a packet of info on how to safely navigate Chicago streets (as best as they can in a city that lacks a cohesive protected bike lane network) and maintain their bicycle. The free bikes will be a single-speed commuter model (you don’t really need more than one gear to get around our pancake-flat town), designed to be simple to maintain.

Additional information on Bike Chicago is available here.

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