In late April, I learned of the City of Chicago’s plans to launch a new bike share program called Divvy. Aware of how this kind of system has already taken off in other major cities around the world, I was eager to learn more about how the program will work here in the city, as well as the design of the bikes themselves. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Scott Kubly of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) about this new system, all set to launch this month. Read on to learn more about what the City of Chicago has already done to make Chicago an even more bike-friendly town, what projects are already underway, plans for future improvements and, of course, to learn all about Divvy.
Andrew DeCanniere (AD): While the City has seemingly invested quite a bit of time, money and energy into making Chicago a more bike-friendly city over the years, it seems that significant progress has been made in the last couple of years. What are some of the recent improvements and what is in the works?
Scott Kubly (SK): Well, we’re a big city for biking, and so that’s lead us to start making really rapid improvements and build on the progress of the Daley administration. Over the last year, we’ve rolled out over 30 miles of protected bike lanes and are in the process of doing another 35 this year. It’s a way to hit the Mayor’s goal of 100 miles of protected bike lanes in four years. To do that, we’ve been putting facilities all over the city. The big one that we’ll be rolling out this summer is on Milwaukee Avenue, and that will be coming soon. We completed the Streets for Cycling 2020 plan, which is a comprehensive plan for the city’s bike network. There’s a network of about 645 miles of on-street bikeways, both protected lanes and regular bike lanes as well as neighborhood greenways throughout the City of Chicago, so that we can make cycling safe for everyone from 8 to 80. Basically, what we want to do is to make the roads as safe as possible for all users, so that no matter your age or skill level, you feel safe riding on the streets of Chicago. As a part of that plan, we have put together a facilities guide that lays out the different types of facilities that we have in the city and how to use them. We are also launching a new bike share system, which will be comprised of 400 stations and 4,000 bikes. That’s going to launch this June, and it will serve the city going all the way up from Devon Avenue down to 63rd Street and then all the way west to California Avenue. It will be a very dense network of stations and is going to be affordable. It will be $75 for an annual membership, which will allow you an unlimited number of trips at no additional charge, provided each of those trips are under 30 minutes. If a trip is over 30 minutes, there’s a small fee. So, it’s going to be the fastest, cheapest, most reliable way to get around the city, and it’s going to open up biking to a huge new group of people. No longer will you need to have your bike with you all day to use one. You only need to make a one-way trip. So, if you’re at work and you need to go to a lunch meeting, you can bike across the Loop for the lunch meeting. If you’re meeting a friend for Happy Hour, you can bike to the Happy Hour but then take a cab home. It’s really a much more convenient way for people to use bikes. Then the bikes themselves are really nice. They’re upright, so you are more visible to cars. They’re more robust, so you don’t feel the bumps in the road, as you would on a smaller bike. They are designed for everybody. They can be used by anyone from 4’10” up to 6’4” or 6’6.” They really are bikes that are built for everyone. Additionally, you have a step-through design so that it’s very easy to mount and dismount the bike. They have a chain guard so you can wear a suit, and fenders so that you could wear anything from shorts and a T-shirt to a suit. For example, you’ll see me riding around town in my suit once we roll the system out.
AD: It really seems like there’s a huge amount of flexibility in terms of the overall design -- both when it comes to the bikes and the system itself -- which is great. There are so many places you can return the bikes, too, so that you’re able to start out with one mode of transportation and switch to or from it.
SK: And that’s kind of how we came up with the name. So, Divvy is the bike share system’s name, and when you look up “divvy” in the dictionary, it says “to divide and share.” That’s really what the bike share system is. You can view it in terms of the fact that you’re sharing bikes, or you can view it as you’re dividing up your commute or trip into different modes. Maybe you biked to work, but it rains in the afternoon so you take a cab, the bus or catch a ride with someone to get back home. It’s super flexible. The stations themselves are completely modular and solar powered. You can just drop them in wherever there is space. You don’t have to worry about excavation.
AD: And is this going to be available in winter as well? Are the stations and bikes going to be kept out all year long? I’m curious, because though I don’t ride a bike myself, I’m sure that there are some challenges to riding in winter. It’s probably not as easy as, say, it is to ride during the rest of the year. So are the stations and bikes going to be picked up and stored someplace during the winter months and then brought back the following spring, or are they just going to be left outside?
SK: The system is going to operate year-round, because we will get a warm day every now and then in December, January or February. Sometimes you’ll get a 50 degree day here and there, and we want to make sure that when it’s warm, or when people want to ride the bikes, they know it’s always going to be there. That’s the number one thing. If you want people to use your service, then you need to make sure that it’s always available. But in winter, when the bikes aren’t being used as much, we’ll pull some of them into a warehouse so we’re able to do preventive maintenance on them, make sure that they’re well maintained and operating smoothly. So, it’s a little bit of both. The stations are modular as well, so if we have a station and we find out that it’s a block away from where it needs to be, we can pick it up and move it. If we find a station needs to be expanded because there’s too much demand, we can add docks to that station so it’s a little bit bigger. It’s just this incredibly flexible system. I think that what you’ll find is that it will truly be the fastest, cheapest way to get around. In other cities they have shown that users of bike sharing save as much as $850 a year in transportation costs. It’s everything from saving money because you took a bike instead of a taxi to taking a bike instead of driving, or perhaps you took a bike instead of the bus or the train, so you wind up saving money. That, in turn, allows you to spend more on goods and services that you want to consume, so if you’re saving $850 a year, maybe you get to go out to eat a couple more times, or you’re able to go out and buy your own bike if you want to. It’s an economic development tool as well.
AD: And then there are a lot of health benefits, too. Are there any plans to expand the service boundaries?
SK: We would like to continue expanding the service both north, south and west. Our goal is to keep expanding the system. You’re also right from the health standpoint. There are a lot of health benefits of active transportation, that’s why we’re always trying to promote biking and walking. Beyond that, when you ask people why they bike or why they want to use bike sharing, typically it’s because it’s fast and it’s affordable, but also it’s fun. I think it’s a very relaxing way to get around town. You’re outside, you’re active, as you’re pedaling you’re releasing endorphins, so it actually puts you in a better mood as you’re commuting, which is the opposite of what I think driving a car does to you.
AD: I think it’s safe to say that. I can’t say I know many people who enjoy rush hour, sitting in traffic in your car or crammed onto a bus that is just way beyond full, stuck there for what can seem like forever, especially at the end of a long day or when you have to be someplace by a certain time. I think a lot of people tend to just stress out, and it’s so much nicer when you’re able to arrive at work relaxed rather than stressed out.
SK: I think the other thing that is great about this is that it’s going to get a lot of folks that are not your typical rider out on the street. It’s going to put a lot more bikes out there, but it’s also going to encourage people that are on their bikes now to follow the rules of the road a little bit more as they see other cyclists stopping at stoplights and things like that, which I think is something that you see in other cities. The more people you get out there, the better the adherence to traffic rules you’re going to see.
AD: That makes sense, because with a broader mix of traffic people should be more alert, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians alike, which might not happen in a town where the traffic consists primarily of cars because there’s really no way to get anywhere on foot and there’s no public transportation to speak of. Then there are also the benefits to the planet. With a program like Divvy, you stand to greatly reduce emissions.
SK: Absolutely. What you’re going to see is with 400 stations and 4,000 bikes -- once the system is up and running and people are using it regularly -- on a sunny day you will probably see 20 to 25 thousand rides a day, Those would have been a car. Now it’s 25,000 people getting around via bike. It’s also going to be great for businesses. If you think about a bike share station sitting in front of a store or restaurant, it’s taking up some space on the sidewalk, but you’re creating the opportunity for people to access that business. In a dense, busy area, a typical bike share station might get used 50 times a day or so, and that’s 50 customers that now have better access to the business that the station is in front of. So we think it’s going to really help businesses. I’m sure you can think of restaurants that, if you want to get to them via the L, it’s a bit of a long walk. Now this will really extend the reach of the L. It’s really improving access to all parts of the city.
The Divvy bike share system launches on June 14, 2013. For more information please log onto the Divvy website.
In addition, Chicago Bike to Work Week is almost underway. Chicago Bike to Work Week takes place beginning on Monday, June 10 and runs through Friday, June 14 this year, with the Bike to Work Rally taking place on Friday, June 14, as part of Bike Chicago 2013, presented by Goose Island Beer Company and the City of Chicago. Highlights include spinning classes in Millennium Park presented by Life Time Fitness, a yoga class that is designed specifically for cyclists, a screening of the 2003 animated feature film The Triplets of Belleville in Millennium Park and more. The Bike to Work Rally itself will feature live music, a free continental breakfast (provided by 7-Eleven), and a free T-shirt, and all participants have use of the complimentary Kickstart by Mountain Dew Free Bike Valet.
For additional details regarding Bike Chicago 2013, Bike to Work Week, the Bike to Work Rally, and a complete list of sponsors, log onto www.bikechicago.us.
Please note that the information presented above regarding Bike Chicago 2013, Bike to Work Week and the Bike to Work Rally has been obtained from a City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Press Release, dated April 29, 2013.
Update (June 17, 2013): Last week the City of Chicago announced that the launch of the bike sharing program, Divvy, would be slightly delayed. The program will now launch on June 28, 2013.
"Bike the Drive" Photos: Patrick L. Pyszka/City of Chicago; all other photos: City of Chicago