CommuniDivvy: Biking as community building - Metropolitan Planning Council

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CommuniDivvy: Biking as community building

Abby Crisostomo

The elusive red Divvy!

Can I just say…how great is Divvy Bikes? On my Divvy commute last Wednesday, I ran into and chatted with Sean Wiedel from Chicago Dept. of Transportation, saw Aaron Koch from Chicago Dept. of Water Management on Divvy in the Dearborn Bike Lane and spied a woman riding the coveted red Divvy!

There’s been no shortage of Divvy love in the news recently, but I can’t help but join the chorus. Divvy—along with other recent bicycle infrastructure investments in Chicago, like the Dearborn Street two-way bike lane and repaving of heavily cycled Wells Street—has completely changed my bicycling life.

I was once a pretty casual, fair-weather cyclist. I own a trusty hybrid commuter bike and, particularly after I started working at Metropolitan Planning Council (which provides secure indoor bike parking and showers), I rode to work once or twice a week in the summer. Often, though, any little excuse would keep me from bike commuting: It might rain later! I need to be presentable for a 9 a.m. meeting! It’s too hot! I have plans after work and I don’t want to drag my bike around! Even though I liked riding, the hassle frequently kept me from doing it.

Then came Divvy. I’d been eagerly awaiting bike share in Chicago since I wrote about it for Talking Transit as an MPC research assistant a couple years ago. As soon as they announced the launch, I suggested MPC sign us up for a corporate membership. I got my key fob in the mail on July 5 (part of why I bothered to go into the office the day after July 4 was to pick it up!), took a test ride that afternoon and haven’t looked back.

Me and a Divvy bike.

You could say that I’m a bit obsessed with Divvy (in fact, many of my friends and coworkers do). There have been several occasions at which I’ve met someone new and they’ve said to me, “Oh, I recognize you from Twitter talking about Divvy.” I was convinced to start the People Looking at Divvy tumblr (submit your photos!). I get excited like a little kid when I see the red Divvy and even participated in a friend’s epic late night hunt for “divvyred.”

But the real story is in the numbers. Since I got my membership, I’ve ridden 81 times covering 131 miles in 15.5 hours (putting me at #11 on the DivvyBrags leaderboard!). Between July 5 and August 21, I rode Divvy all but 11 days (and I was out of town for a few of those.) My usage averaged two rides a day and 12 minutes long per ride, with my longest ride clocked at 26 minutes and the greatest number of trips in a day at five. I live close enough to work that I now commute by Divvy, giving me the flexibility to ride without worrying about a return trip.

Others at MPC have embraced Divvy, as well. Roughly half the staff has a Divvy account, and most have ridden for both work and personal reasons. Executive Vice President Peter Skosey thinks Divvy is “extremely easy and convenient and combined with all the other modes of transportation I have at my fingertips, I feel I can go anywhere with my Ventra card and Divvy key fob.” Madeline Grennan is still getting used to locating stations, and Ryan Griffin-Stegink, Ariel Ranieri and Christina Harris are looking forward to getting stations in more neighborhoods. A few people still have concerns about getting used to the way the basket works, making sure to have a helmet handy and learning how to ride in the downtown traffic, but even those who haven’t ridden yet intend to try it out.

With Divvy, I now can add biking to the wide array of transportation options I have at any given time. I have the ability to choose to cycle on a whim. It’s made cycling a more casual, everyday part of my life, rather than a hassle I have to prep for. The slow, comfortable ride has convinced me that for my 1.7 mile commute, I can get by wearing my work clothes and still look presentable. And it has reduced the time needed to get to and from meetings and Metra stations. This must be how they feel in Europe!

Of course, everything can be improved. The helmet issue is a difficult question. I was inspired to buy a new helmet and carry it around when I know I’ll ride, but the beauty of Divvy is the spontaneity of it, which isn’t conducive to helmet-wearing. Stations mid-sidewalk and riders unfamiliar with downtown riding means there are more cyclists riding on sidewalks. People living in neighborhoods farther from the loop haven’t been able to experience the benefits yet.

Generally, though, my personal anecdote is reflective of a growing recognition of the many benefits of a positive cycling culture. Women are thought of as the indicator species for cycling use and as the recent League of American Bicyclists report on female bicyclists states, the “five Cs” of comfort, convenience, confidence, consumer products and community will get not only more women, but more people riding. And that positive cycling culture is good for all of us. It reduces car traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by getting cars off roads. Access to bikes can foster more healthy, active neighborhoods. And these cycling improvements help make the cycling “community” become bigger, more inclusive and more equitable.

What are your thoughts? If you’ve ridden Divvy, share your experience in the comments. If you haven’t “Divvied,” I encourage you to try it out for a $7 day pass.


  1. 1. Ryan Richter from Chicago, IL on August 27, 2013

    I have only "Divvyied" once - to a happy hour in the West Loop from my office near Union Station. Seemed to be a great use for trips like that. Unfortunately, my far northwest side neighborhood seems unlikely to get Divvy in the near future (we only just received an iGo!) so it looks like lunch, happy hour and downtown meeting trips by Divvy for me.

  2. 2. Joe G from Uptown on August 27, 2013

    The city really needs to make a plan for enforcing the no riding on the sidewalks rule. Bicycles riding on the sidewalk, where the modes of transportation are primarily by foot, is so annoying!!!

  3. 3. Will from United States on August 27, 2013

    I'm in DC, and have had three years of getting to know and love CaBi (full disclosure, I worked on the launch at DDOT while Gabe Klein was there, and think the world of his leadership and passion for bicycling). I wanted to chime in on the helmet issue.

    While I generally ride with one, especially on my own bike, I'm much less inclined to on CaBi. This is for the convenience factor of taking unplanned rides, but I've also come to grips with a couple facts. Helmets aren't the force fields that were advertised, and also, with more and more protected bike infrastructure and motorist awareness of growing number of cyclists, it's not dangerous to ride without a helmet, especially if you are riding at CaBi or Divvy pace.

    If you haven't already seen it, watch Mikael Colville-Andersen's TEDx talk on the matter here:

    He makes a great point.

    I say this as someone who has cracked helmets racing and commuting, if you aren't riding like a hellion, you can probably ditch the helmet and be fine.

    While we often think of what could go wrong, more and more things are going right with cycling in U.S. cities.

  4. 4. nicolle from near west side, Chicago on August 30, 2013

    i love Divvy! i've had my key for about a week now...i've been looking forward to it since it started, but finally bought my yearly key as soon as they opened the stop about a block from my apartment.

    i'm using it to replace a lot of my short bus's so easy to just grab a bike and go, instead of waiting fifteen minutes for a bus to take me a mile, mile and a half. i've ridden it every day so far since i've gotten my key (well, except for today, but i haven't left my apartment yet!), and it's amazing. it saves a lot of time on waiting and transfers. also, it's nice because it runs twenty-four hours -- which some of my favourite buses, like the Damen, do not. all in all, it's a really nice complement to the CTA.

    as for the helmet issue...i rode my bike around my (suburban, nowhere near Chicago) neighbourhood a lot when i was a kid, but the only biking i had done as an adult before Divvy was a ride or two on Denver's bike shere when i was there for work. i'm still new to riding in traffic, i don't trust myself a lot yet, and i don't think i'll ever fully trust the other drivers. i got myself a high-visibility blaze orange helmet, and i wear it every time i ride. it's not a big deal, really...i always carry a backpack with computers, books, that sort of thing anyway, so i just stick the helmet in there when i leave the apartment, or buckle it to a strap. that way, if the spirit moves me to hop Divvy, i can feel comfortable doing so.

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