Cycling made more accessible

By Kaley Fowler

During the past decade, cycling has picked up speed in Chicago and has become a way of life for many. In following the trend, a new initiative aims to recruit additional bike enthusiasts through increased access to bicycles.

On March 14, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance to the City Council seeking to enter a contract with Alta Bicycle Share Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based company, to implement a large-scale bike share program that would make it possible to rent and return bicycles at self-service docking stations located throughout the city.

“Chicago is going to offer one of the top bike sharing programs in the world, and one of the largest in the United States,” Emanuel said in a press release from the Mayor’s Office. “Alta and their Public Bike System Company are the global leaders in bike sharing programs, and will set up and operate the new system that will be a key part of achieving our goal of making Chicago a world-class city for bicycling.”

Chicago B-Cycle, another bike share program with six rental stations, already exists but is not affiliated with the City of Chicago.

The Chicago Department of Transportation began looking into the Alta plan in September 2011 and issued a request for a proposal citing an initial need for approximately 3,000 bikes to be housed in 300 docking stations citywide. CDOT plans to add 1,000 more bikes to be housed in 100 additional stations in the year following the program’s launch.

According to the press release, the solar-powered docking stations will be located in densely populated areas, such as near public transit stations, roughly a quarter-mile apart.

“Putting 3,000 bikes in Chicago that are available for quick, easy checkout at a reasonable price will really change how people get around,” said Amanda Woodall, policy manager for the Active Transportation Alliance, an organization that promotes bicycling as a healthy means of transportation.

Altering transportation trends is at the forefront of the initiative, according to Ben

Gomberg, CDOT Bicycle Program coordinator, who believes the program’s accessibility will promote interest in cycling.

“By making bikes convenient to use, people who don’t normally bike will give it a try,” Gomberg said. “Especially since the bikes are designed for novice riders with [a] one-size-fits-all design.”

Regular users will be able to sign up for annual, weekly or daily memberships that can be accessed online, while one-time users can use their credit cards on site at the time of rental.

While the Chicago project will be initially financed through federal grants, city officials assert that membership and user fees will generate enough funds to sustain the program. At this point, membership and rental costs have not been determined.

The project is modeled on the success of other bike share programs worldwide.  Alta and its bicycle manufacturer, PBSC, currently operate similar programs in major cities, such as London, Montreal, Boston and Washington, D.C., among others. The company will also launch programs in New York City and Chattanooga, Tenn. this year.

According to Tom Alexander, spokesman for the Mayor’s Press Office, there is no estimated construction date at this point, as the City Council is still in the process of reviewing the proposed ordinance.

“Bike sharing will help to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and promote health and fitness,” said Gabe Klein, CDOT commissioner, in the press release. “[It] will enhance the quality of life for everyone who chooses to use it.”