By Jon Hilkevitch
Hundreds of three-speed bikes painted "Chicago blue" will hit the streets in June when the city debuts a bicycle-sharing rental program that originally was set to launch last summer, officials are expected to announce Thursday.
Operating under the name Divvy, which is intended to convey the idea of sharing bikes, the system will start out with about 75 solar-powered docking stations in the downtown and River North areas and expand within a year to 400 stations and about 4,000 bicycles covering much of the city, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The federally funded program is envisioned for the public to ride the bikes on short trips of mostly 30 minutes or less, instead of taking a taxicab or a bus or, worst of all, driving.
The new transportation option is especially geared toward Metra and CTA commuters looking for a fast and inexpensive way to travel the final mile or less of their daily trips between train stations and offices, officials said. The CTA and Metra ban bikes on trains during peak commuting hours.
Ultimately, one of the measurements of success would be a reduction in traffic congestion from bicycle trips replacing car trips, officials said.
Many of the first bike-sharing docking stations will be near Union Station, the Ogilvie Transportation Center and CTA rail stations downtown, officials said. Users will pick up a bike from a self-service docking station and return it to a station close to their destination.
Alta Bicycle Share, based in Portland, Ore., will operate the program year-round. It is budgeted to cost about $22 million and is "expected to pay for itself" over time, said Sean Wiedel, an assistant commissioner at CDOT who oversees the bike-sharing program. Federal grants for projects that cut traffic congestion and improve air quality are providing the initial funding.
The heavy-duty bikes feature a step-through, one-size-fits-all design; upright handlebars with the gear-changer on the grip and wide, adjustable seats for comfort; hand brakes; a chain guard to protect clothing; and a basket with an elastic cord for storing items.
The bikes, which are the same blue shade as the stripes on the Chicago city flag, also will be outfitted with headlights and taillights that illuminate automatically as the bike is pedaled, officials said.
Bike-share customers will be responsible for the bikes while in their possession, officials said. The replacement cost of the bikes is about $1,200, officials said. No bike locks will be provided because customers are expected to park the bikes only at the docking stations.
Helmets also will not be offered, officials said, citing too many complications, ranging from keeping track of the helmets to disinfecting them between customers.
"We'll encourage folks to use their own helmets, if they think they'll need them," CDOT spokesman Pete Scales said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who plans to build a 645-mile network of biking lanes by 2020, acknowledged delays in carrying out the program, which was announced by the previous administration. Emanuel said in an interview Wednesday that "getting it right is better than rushing it."
The program will be expanded from the central business district to city neighborhoods in the first year, officials said. The Divvy territory will roughly encompass 63rd Street to Devon Avenue, and Lake Michigan to California Avenue.
The city plans to sell sponsorships for the program in the future, Emanuel said. But for now, the Divvy logo will be splashed across the bikes, docking stations and advertising. The logo contains a double-V symbol, similar to the sharrows that are used to identify bike lanes, according to CDOT.
Bike-sharing memberships are scheduled to go on sale in mid-May, officials said. Yearly memberships will cost $75, and daily passes will be sold for $7. Both will allow for unlimited trips up to 30 minutes each. Hourly rental fees will apply after the initial 30 minutes.
Alta Bicycle Share manages bike-share programs in several other major U.S. cities and abroad. In Washington, D.C., the program operated by Alta is setting records with up to 10,000 trips a day, officials there said.
Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein formerly worked as a consultant for Alta, but he has denied allegations by an Alta competitor that he steered the Chicago contract to Alta.
Emanuel said bike sharing represents an important component in the city's overall transportation system.
"We used to only think cars and mass transit," the mayor said. "Today, Milwaukee Avenue is one of the most-biked streets in America. The first protected bike lane in the city, on Kinzie Street, has had a positive impact on the economy."
He predicted that the bicycle-sharing program "will open up the neighborhoods to tourists."
Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, said he hopes more bicycles on city streets will lead to "better interactions between cars and cyclists."
CDOT plans to launch a new safety campaign that covers the rules of the road and provides safety tips to bike-share clients, officials said.
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune