Chicago's first large-scale bike sharing program is ready to roll.
For a $7 daily pass or $75 yearly membership, users can pick up a Divvy bike from a self-service docking station for unlimited trips up to 30 minutes each; after the ride, bikes can be returned to any other station near their destination.
In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the news saying, “Bike sharing is another large step we’re taking to make Chicago the best big city in America for cycling."
The "Chicago Blue" bikes — painted the same color as the stripes on the Chicago city flag — will be for hire every day of the year. Much like the Barclay's Cycle Hire system in London, or D.C,'s Capital Bikeshare, Divvy is "envisioned for short point-to-point trips, or as alternative option for a multi-mode commute," according to the city.
CDOT said the program will boost active transit for residents, cut down on pollution and ease congestion among other benefits. The solar-powered docking stations will likely hit transit hubs downtown first. "In Chicago, we expect bike share to be used by commuters and tourists alike, whether they are trying to get across town at rush hour, traveling to and from CTA stations, connecting to the lakefront," CDOT said.
As for the bikes themselves, CDOT says they'll be "comfortable for all users:" Features include a step-through frame, upright handlebars, cushy, adjustable seats as well as "three speeds, hand brakes, a chain guard to protect clothing, front rack for carrying things, puncture-proof tires, lights for night riding, and fenders to keep riders dry."
According to Streetsblog Chicago, if New York's 6,000-bike network plan pulls through, Chicago’s will be the second-largest bike-share program in the nation:
"Divvy will start out with about 75 automated docking stations, mostly located in the Loop and River North. Within a year, CDOT hopes to install all 400 stations for 4,000 bikes across an area roughly bounded by Lake Michigan, Devon, California and 63rd."
Earlier, the city's bike-sharing program had been put on pause after its expected roll-out in 2012 due to investigations into the bidding process. The Sun-Times reported last fall a rival bidder claimed "the bid process was greased" for winning bidder, Alta Bicycle Share, on account of one-time ties to CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein.
Emanuel has previously pledged to boost the Windy City's bike infrastructure, including the promise at the outset of his term to add 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015. The mayor has also touted a bike-friendly Chicago as a means of improving quality of life of residents and attracting new business — particularly tech startups — to the city.
The cycling-centric efforts have been met with criticism, too: Drivers lodged complaints when the city opened its first two-way bike lane on Dearborn Street downtown, while others have complained about amenities to city cyclists in general.
The city says Divvy's initial funding comes from a variety of federal grants as well as TIF funds. According to the Tribune, Sean Wiedel, an assistant commissioner at CDOT who oversees the bike-sharing program said the budgeted cost is roughly $22 million and is "expected to pay for itself" over time.
While both former Mayor Daley and Emanuel are noted bike enthusiasts, perhaps President Obama will take the Divvy bikes for a spin when he's back in town next: Earlier this week, the White House shared a video of the commander-in-chief peddling a bike-powered water filtration system.