Biker Town

Biker Town

The Capital Bikeshare program in DC is a precedent for Chicago’s larger initiative.
Andrew Bossi / Flickr

Chicago’s transit system has long helped commuters navigate the city, but a new bike-share program announced by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will help fill in short-distance gaps between trains and buses. Bike sharing allows riders to check out a bike at one location and deposit it at another and is seen as a supplement to existing transportation networks. The proposed system calls for an initial run of 3,000 bikes to be distributed over 300 stations increasing to 5,000 bikes and 500 stations over the following two years. Stations will be located around existing transit stops and in densely populated areas of the city.

The ambitious opening date set for summer 2012 is no less bold than Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s vision for a world-class cycling city. Bike sharing is one of four goals espoused by Emanuel to increase Chicago’s bikability. The mayor also seeks to double the amount of bike parking in the city, build the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated bike and stroll path on an old rail right of way, and install 100 miles of protected bike lanes over the next four years, with 25 miles completed by May 2012.

“We’re very encouraged by the mayor’s support for cycling,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “We think the city can achieve these objectives. The most challenging aspect of this process is turning around the RFP.” The city is currently seeking a bike-share operator, with responses due October 25.

For the past two years, a small privately-operated bike share system called B-cycle run by the bike-rental company Bike and Roll Chicago has maintained 100 bikes and eight stations in the city. The system is limited but still popular. “It’s steadily been growing,” said Jared Arter, general manager at Millennium Park. “We’re seeing about 80 rentals a day.” Arter said B-cycle has responded to the city’s RFP. “For a private company to go solo without government support, it can only be so big,” Burke added.

Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grants will provide initial funding, but user fees and corporate sponsorships will also contribute.

Gabe Klein, CDOT’s commissioner, already has a track record for implementing large bike-share programs. He oversaw the launch of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. in September 2010 when he was director of the District Department of Transportation. The $6 million, 1,100 bike, 100 station system has been heralded as an enormous success in its first year, doubling its initial ridership goals and hitting 1 million rides on the system’s anniversary. In D.C., cyclists averaged 1.79 miles per trip, demonstrating the strength of bike-sharing to connect short distances.

“Across the board, cycling has increased in Chicago. It’s doubled in the last ten years,” Burke noted. “Bike share is a great way for people to make biking part of their daily routine.”