Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

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B-Cycle, a small-scale bike share system that launched here in 2010. Photo by Michael Malecki.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Thursdays.]

There’s a common misconception that transportation biking is only for privileged white folks. Recently Tribune columnist John Kass expressed this attitude when he dismissed cyclists as “the One Percenters of the Commuter Class,” but in reality people from all walks of life use bikes to get around. Many of these folks are the so-called “invisible riders,” low-income individuals who ride, not because they’re looking to get exercise or save the planet, but because they need cheap, efficient transportation.

Chicago’s new bike-sharing system, slated to launch next spring and grow to 4,000 vehicles by the end of the year, is a great opportunity to broaden the demographics of cycling here to include more residents from underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. By providing cycles for short-term use, to be ridden from one automated rental kiosk to another, it will function as a second public transportation system and remove some of the major obstacles to cycling: the need to purchase, store and maintain a bike, plus fear of theft.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will first install rental kiosks in the Loop and nearby neighborhoods, but coverage will eventually expand to serve an area generally bounded by Devon Street, California Avenue, 63rd Street and Lake Michigan. The roughly 400 kiosks will be located at transit stations, retail and employment centers, schools, hospitals and other convenient places. Citizens can suggest locations at Share.ChicagoBikes.org.

Continue reading Bike share, not white share: can Chicago’s program achieve diversity?

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Bike sharing in Toronto: a preview for Chicago’s program

On a recent visit to Toronto, I decided to try Bixi bike sharing as a way of exploring the city, getting a taste of the Toronto cycling experience and trying bike sharing, in anticipation of Chicago’s planned launch of a similar system.

Each day, my ride was waiting outside my door.

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York station, at York and Queens Quay West.

When I entered my code on the dock keypad, the yellow light flashed, then the green light was accompanied by a bike bell sound.

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Members insert their key fob. Lights indicate the bike’s unlocking/locking status. 

The Bixi bike is a sturdy utilitarian model, comparable to a Dutch city bike. Its heavy steel frame and fat tires absorb a good amount of vibration and shock. Its front basket has a built-in bungee cord to keep things in place.  A hub dynamo powers LED blinky headlights on the front of the basket and tail lights on the rear stays.  They worked quite reliably when the bikes were moving, but I found myself wishing that the tail lights were a little brighter.  I supplemented mine with an additional red blinky that I brought from home. Continue reading Bike sharing in Toronto: a preview for Chicago’s program

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