Talking Transit: Biking rising quickly as a mode of travel in Chicago - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Biking rising quickly as a mode of travel in Chicago

Flickr user Steven Vance (cc).

On some Chicago streets, Divvy bikes outnumber others.

Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.

Get In the Loop on all the latest local, national and international transit headlines.

Did You Know?

Following the construction of dedicated cycling lanes on Dearborn Street through downtown Chicago, the number of bikers using the street expanded by 171 percent, the largest increase recorded in a nationwide study of new bike lanes. More than 20 percent of the riders on Dearborn, the report demonstrated, had switched from another mode such as driving.

Bike lanes and bikeshare—a successful combination

The dramatic success of the Dearborn protected, dedicated bike lanes in spurring new ridership will come as no surprise to people who work downtown, where more bikers seem to zoom by every day. Particularly visible are the bright blue bikes of Divvy bikeshare, which is celebrating its first anniversary at the end of this month. As of May, people had taken more than 1.1 million rides on Divvy’s 300 bikes, and over Memorial Day weekend last month, Divvy set a ridership record, with over 16,000 people choosing to ride the bikes that Sunday.

Bike lanes and bikesharing both encourage biking and will play an important role in improving access to transportation options in the Chicagoland region into the future. As part of its Commute Options initiative, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has energetically advocated for alternatives that allow employees to get between home and work without having to rely on driving alone. Biking contributes to that goal while also encouraging more vibrant neighborhoods and enhancing transit access.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made the expansion of local bicycling facilities a major element of his administration, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has proposed more than doubling the number of regional bike trails to 2,700 miles by 2040. The city plans to complete 100 miles of protected bike lanes by spring 2015 and 645 total miles by 2020, ambitious goals that will pay off with increased biking.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois will pay for part of the cost of those improvements in a $12.5 million sponsorship deal with the City. Further, the city has earned $650,000 in advertising at Divvy stations thus far.   Other improvements will be covered by local, state and federal grants.

So far, the City’s work has begun to pay off. The share of local workers who choose to bike to work every day has more than doubled from half a percent in 2000 to 1.3 percent between 2008 and 2013. Though that’s a lower share than Portland, San Francisco or Seattle (which have bike shares of 6.1, 3.4 and 3.4 percent, respectively), the growth in biking in Chicago has been remarkably quick—and the improvements planned for the region suggest that growth will only continue. A newly released study shows that the city’s residents make an average of 125,000 bike trips a day.

Local business has also started to pay attention. The chambers of commerce of Lakeview and West Town, two central Chicago neighborhoods, announced this year that they plan to develop into “bike friendly” business districts that appeal specifically to people who bike around those neighborhoods. They will encourage local merchants to offer bikers discounts on services, or even free items, such as a cup of coffee. Bikers, these local groups recognize, have the potential to expand economic activity in community shopping districts.

Bikes and transit can work together

One of the most interesting findings of the national study of bike lane implementation mentioned at the beginning of this article was that more than 90 percent of bike riders in Chicago also had a transit pass, more than similar riders in Austin, Portland, San Francisco and Washington. But in all cities concerned, bikes are an element of the overall transportation system, not a full replacement of other modes.

In many ways, bikeshare systems like Divvy can be considered a transportation “enhancer,” making other modes easier to use. For example, in New York, that city’s bikesharing system provides an important alternative to the transit system when delays occur on the subway lines. People who might normally take the train are being offered an alternative choice when problems come up.

In Chicago, Divvy complements the transit system by making it possible to travel between neighborhoods without convenient transit connections. An analysis of Divvy rides showed that large numbers of riders were using the system to get between adjacent neighborhoods like the West Loop and University of Illinois at Chicago, where effective bus or train service may not be available.

At the same time, Divvy extends the rides of people who use transit as a part of their daily commutes. The majority of Divvy rides taken at rush hour are made by commuters travelling from the Metra stations west of the Loop to and from offices throughout the Loop. The top three most used Divvy docks are those in front of Union and Ogilvie Stations. In other words, bikesharing provides a useful additional way to get around, speeding transit trips and likely making public transportation more feasible for people who might otherwise stick to the ease of driving their cars to work.

One year in, Divvy has made a big mark on Chicago, and the City is currently considering expanding the system’s footprint into other neighborhoods around the city and potentially into nearby suburbs. But the bikesharing system is only one element of Chicago’s growing bicycling culture. The Active Transportation Alliance sponsors the bike commuter challenge, which encourages workers throughout the region to commute by bike, beginning this week. In 2013, MPC won the challenge for its category of non-profit groups employing between five and 24 people. We’re looking forward to taking home gold this year as well!


bike lane, biking, divvy


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