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Chicago Launches Bike Share: A Divvy Day One Dispatch

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 12:05 PM

WBEZ
Seven-year-old Maurice Neuman checks out one of the new bikes in Chicago's bike sharing program, Divvy. (WBEZ / Robin Amer/flickr)

Chicago opened its bike sharing program Friday. By next spring, the city will have 400 stations and 4,000 bikes, making it one of the largest in the U.S.

Here are the basic facts for day one as reported by our friends at WBEZ:

Divvy kicked off with 65 solar-powered docking stations. The plan is to add hundreds more by next spring. With a fleet of 700 powder-blue bikes...

[M]ost of the stations will stand within a couple miles of the lakefront, clustered mainly in the Loop and densely populated neighborhoods along transit lines...

Divvy’s startup financing include $22 million in federal funds and $5.5 million in local funds.

The day-to-day operations will be up to Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, which also runs bike-share programs in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein once consulted for Alta and received criticism when Chicago chose the company for the city’s program. Klein said he recused himself from the selection process.

 

WBEZ's Robin Amer and Chip Mitchell explain the details of Divvy in a thorough post here and in this audio interview

They also raise the issue of racial equity in Divvy's design.

The station locations are mostly downtown, placed with a mind to spur economic development. That means that poorer neighborhoods have fewer stations, if any. "This strategy, putting the first stations where the demand is already highest, means that from the outset, some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods have been left behind," they write. 

This is by no means unique to Chicago. Other cities have found that bike share tends to attract educated, younger members and people who already cycle, which often tends to mean more whites than the general population. That's the case in D.C., and in Denver as well where more than 90 percent of riders were white when we last checked. 

Still, there are some demographic trends in Chicago that make this particularly poignent. Black and Latino bike ridership has been on the rise, Amer and Mitchell Report. And as the Chicago Department of Transportation points out, "one-third of its planned bike-sharing stations will be in census tracts below the city’s median income. That proportion is higher than comparable systems in either Boston or Washington, D.C." So maybe Chicago has an opportunity to buck the trend as most cities are making some effort to do. 

Read the full report and listen to a pair of audio dispatches from Chicago at WBEZ. 

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