What the New Bike Sharing Program Might Mean to Chicago

What the New Bike Sharing Program Might Mean to Chicago
Courtesy of Nice Ride Minnesota

Word came this morning that Mayor Emanuel has selected a vendor for the city’s bicycle-sharing rental program.  (Thanks to Grid Chicago for being the first to share this)

The contract was awarded to the same Oregon-based company that runs similar programs in Minneapolis, Boston, Washington DC, Melbourne, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa and will soon be rolling out a program in New York City.  The company, Alta Bicycle Share, along with its equipment partner, Public Bike System, were likely chosen for the turnkey nature of their system.

Similar to the I-GO car share system, a subscriber walks up to a bike rack, inserts a credit card, and removes a specially-designed bicycle.  The bike features fenders and a chainguard to protect the rider’s clothing and a front basket to carry items like a laptop case or shopping bag.  The user then has a half-hour to ride to another rack located nearby his or her destination before being charged an additional fee for the use of the bike.   The rental ends when the bike is securely returned to the rack.

The program will begin with 300 stations each containing 10 bicycles and will eventually grow to 5,000 bikes distributed to 500 stations.  Exact locations for the racks are being studied, but will likely be located near CTA stations and throughout the Loop.

One interesting aspect of the program is its environmental impact.  The bike racks and payment kiosks are solar powered and the data transmission is wireless, so installation does not require excavation for utility work.  Once the initial outlay has been made for the stations and bicycles – paid for largely by Federal air quality mitigation funding – the system will be maintained and supported by subscriptions, user fees, and advertising revenues.

So what does this mean to the average Chicagoan?

For starters, there will be a lot more bikes on the street in the warm weather months!

From roughly April to November, we can expect to see an additional one half million people making trips by bike if we experience the level of participation recorded by Minneapolis in its first year.  Another 500,000 bike trips is bound to increase bicycle visibility and remind more motorists of their responsibility to share the road.

More bikes on the road will shine a spotlight on the deficiencies in our bicycling infrastructure and serve as an impetus for improvement.  With a commitment to bicycling already demonstrated by the Emanuel administration along with a host of creative, talented, and experienced local organizations to provide both input and solutions – Active Transportation Alliance, League of Illinois Bicyclists, League of American Bicyclists, Grid Chicago, and the chainlink – bicycling in Chicago can only get better.

While it is disappointing that our own Bike and Roll Chicago was not chosen for the bike share program, this may actually serve as a boon to their all-day, tourist rental business.  Bike share programs aren’t conducive to hourly and daily rentals for sightseeing.  An entire day’s use would result in a rate more than double of what Bike and Roll charges.  Tourists who hadn’t even considered sightseeing by bike might be intrigued by the amount of bicycle traffic they’re seeing and inquire about alternatives for all day, recreational rentals.

Since bicycling can be contagious, the Bike Share Program may actually encourage more people to get back on bikes.  What starts as a short trip on a nice day to avoid waiting for a bus or fighting for a taxi, can easily stir memories of past adventures on a bike.  Once bitten, there are plenty of great bike shops throughout the city and suburbs to help one rediscover bicycling.

And for all of those people who don’t feel that bikes belong on the city streets or that the city shouldn’t pay for a bike rental fleet, just remember one thing; the more people on bikes, the cleaner the air you breathe.  Half a million bike trips can mean up to half a million fewer trips by car.  And less congestion, to boot.

Watch for more information as the program receives council approval, asks for citizen input for the location of stations, and prepares for the rollout.

Just another reason why 2012 may very well be the year more people rediscover bicycling


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Keep riding and be safe!






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  • Actually, I am a bit perplex, since the system was designed and made in Quebec, Montreal was the first to get it and since it as been a huge success, is Alta just a re-seller or is it a subsidiary of the original company Bixi? Anyway O am sure Chicago will greatly enjoy it, since it is a wonderful system.

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