Chicago bike sharing: Where is it now? and other conversations


A woman rides a bike sharing bike in Seville, Spain. Women may be an exclusive target market for bike sharing in Chicago where, as a portion of trips to work, make up only 25%. Photo by Claudio Medina. 

We’re expecting a bike sharing announcement very soon, within 1-2 weeks. I thought it would have happened by now, as the City gave itself a deadline of the new year. I can only guess how this delay will affect the launch. Before the announcement comes, though, I wanted to discuss a few ideas and concerns. So this isn’t much of an update but more like, “Hey, bike sharing’s still a thing even though you last heard about it in October!”

What is bike sharing?

It’s a new transit system, using durable bicycles that have lights, a few speeds, quality brakes, and a cargo basket, taking you from where you are to anywhere in the network, just like the CTA. You pick up a bike from Station A and drop it off at Station B. You pay a small membership fee for a month or a year, and all trips under 30 minutes are free*.

“Unless you walk to work, there’s simply no cheaper way to go,” said Josh Stephens, 37, of Adams Morgan [in  Washington, D.C.]. “The cost savings have been ridiculous.” Washington Post

I’ve never used a bike share but this seems to be a common sentiment. The article from which that quote came discusses some of the drawbacks, but it’s not like they’re driving away customers. In fact, new customers and ridership on Capital Bikeshare keeps growing.

Selecting station locations

Since September 2011, there’ve been three Requests for Proposals (RFP) related to Chicago bike sharing; the first one was for a vendor to manufacture and install the bikes and stations; the second one is about station selection and public outreach, which Sam Schwartz Engineering will handle. (They are doing a decent job handling the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 currently.) The third RFP is for finding and managing marketing and sponsorship opportunities.

To analyze where stations can and should go, I am hoping that Sam Schwartz Engineering looks to the efforts in New York City (where its headquarters are). In this vein, I expect there to be an online crowdsourcing map like New York City’s bike share map (see screenshot below), to grab attention and generate a lot of interest and feedback. Along with a great “street team” going from neighborhood to neighborhood (which NYC exhibited how to do well – see photos from a demo day), an online crowdsourcing map is extremely easy way for the city to gather input from the public on where they would like to see bike sharing stations. The data will already be geocoded and can be easily integrated with any other analysis the planners have.


A screenshot of the NYC bike sharing station selection map

Why is it so late?

We don’t know. The City has been in a private negotiation with a vendor (or two?) since the RFP re-issue in December and is keeping its lips sealed.

Kevin Zolkiewicz, a Grid Chicago contributor, asked on our Facebook page

I’m curious about the implementation zone. One report of boundaries that I read left out some fairly significant neighborhoods, including Edgewater, one of Chicago’s densest neighborhoods. I’m also curious how CDOT plans to beat New York to launch when we’re now into February and an operator hasn’t even been selected yet.

This “implementation zone”, as I understood it from the pre-proposal conference was just a guide for the proposer to help them develop their proposal costs. It’s not set in stone and bike sharing locations could appear outside the implementation zone based on (1) the planning process (2) outside sponsorships and station donation. The zone is defined as the lakefront on the east, Belmont on the north, Ashland on the west, and 35th Street as the south border.

Jared Kachelmayer asked on our Facebook page: “Who is the target user?” These are my ideas:

(1) People who don’t have bikes.

(2) People who use transit. This is the most important target market, I think, as bike sharing is a perfect companion to bus and train use – this group has the highest potential to take some trips  by bike share. Transportation planners often talk about “last mile” connectivity with transit: how to get transit customers from home to the station conveniently and safely. A combination of safe streets (still in progress) and worry-free bikes will be good, and could even increase transit ridership, or at the least make for shorter commutes (no more bus to train when you can bike to train!).

(3) People who have bikes, but do not maintain them or don’t want to maintain them. It’s a worry-free bike. Or they don’t want it to get stolen.

(4) Visitors. This may cut into the tourist-oriented bike rental business operated by several companies at lakefront parks. But it will mean that visitors with a week membership (and I presume one is available) can bike around town instead of and in addition to using transit. Think about this: A visitor buys an RFID-enabled transit card at O’Hare or Midway (think the Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus), takes the train into town, checks into a hotel, then takes a bike out to the museum, then from the museum to dinner, then dinner back to the hotel.

(5) This guy. Bill Walsh, a copy editor at the Washington Post, talks about his experience joining Capital Bikeshare. He says he’s used it on 302 out of 320 “commuting legs” to work since joining in April 2011. He mentions that his wife bought a membership as a charitable contribution to a good idea – I find this amusing, but probably not out of character for a lot of progressive transportation advocates and activists I know in Chicago.

And who won’t use it?

  • People scared of cycling in Chicago. The pace of installing protected bike lanes where stations will be must pick up. That means continuing Jackson Boulevard to Halsted Street (which is the original plan but IDOT is blocking) and into the Loop (which will likely have the highest density of bike sharing stations). It also means adding more bike lanes in, to, and from the Loop. The Bike 2015 Plan Tracker tells of the progress of bike lanes in the Loop – there were supposed to be some by 2010.
  • People without bank cards. See “Unbanked” below. I know people at CDOT are working on this. I look forward to hearing how they will address. This may take some time; I’m not expecting their strategies to be ready before launch.
  • Taxi drivers. Might it take away business? Perhaps…

Who else is going to be a target user of a Chicago bike sharing system? And who won’t use it?


D.C. residents play a Paperboy game on Capital Bikeshare bikes. Photo by Michael Jantzen.

Unbanked customers

This topic deserves its own article, but I wanted to get people thinking about it. I guess that a lot of Grid Chicago readers will already have bank cards, so it’s not an issue for you, but if, like me, you want the program to reach the largest population, this is something to consider. Read this article for more information: Bike sharing and the unbanked in Washington, D.C.

I think there can be other options for people without bank accounts to have access to bike sharing. The reason a credit card (and a bank account behind it) is so that someone can be charged if/when the bicycle they were using is lost or stolen – it’s about liability. But what if community organizations can take on this risk?

For example, an organization can secure 10 memberships that can be loaned to 10 members, or have 10 memberships that can be loaned to all members, but only 10 people at a time. Like a museum pass from the Chicago Public Libraries. The risk-taking organization can have its own agreement with its members who elect to borrow a bike sharing pass.


Bike sharing is demonstrated to New Yorkers soon after the NYC Department of Transportation announced Alta Bicycle Share as the winning vendor. Alta was a likely proposer in Chicago. Photo by Scott Lynch. 


A good bike sharing system needs a good name. Here’s a list of names my friends and I have come up with:

  • #bikeCHI – Just make it a hashtag!
  • ChiBike (shy bike)
  • ChicaBike – I don’t think this will work.
  • Windy Bike
  • Share Bike – Pretty apathetic.
  • Bicago
  • Bikecago – This one’s hard to pronounce.
  • Chicycle – This can be pronounced one of several ways: Shy-cycle, Shicicle (like sh-icicle), Chai-cycle, or Chai-cicle (like ch-icicle). I prefer “shicicle”.
  • Chivelo

I also listed four joke names in a September article: RideDaley, Rahmbike (could be pronounced romm-bike or ram-bike), RahmRollers, and Klein Bikes. I also thought of some slogans (if I knew Spanish, I would try to make some in that language as well):

  • Skip the hike, take a Windy Bike!
  • Don’t pay a fare, take a Chicycle there!
  • Your train was late so share our bike to work!

To compare, bike sharing systems in other cities have these names: Nice Ride (Minneapolis, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield), New Balance Hubway (Boston, yes, the shoe company sponsors it), Capital Bike Share, Bicing (Barcelona, Spain), Barclays Cycle Hire (sponsored by the bank; known to Londoners as Boris Bikes after the mayor, Boris Johnson), Vélib’ (a portmanteau of “vélo”, bike, and “liberté”, freedom), Bixi (in Montréal and Toronto).

For the system in Seville, Spain, they merged “Seville” with “bici” (bike) to get “Sevici”. I thought that was clever. Calvin Brown sent me these two videos of bike sharing there, both featuring vandalism to the bikes, but the perpetrators went to jail and paid large fines.

Do you have some ideas for naming the system? And who do you think would be a likely sponsor for such a system?

*Some of the information in this post is subject to change, as a proper bike sharing system hasn’t yet been announced.

16 thoughts on “Chicago bike sharing: Where is it now? and other conversations”

  1. Alta is announcing a new office in Chicago so it should be soon that Alta is announced as being awarded Bike Share Chicago.  Congrats Gin Kilgore! 

    1.  No announcement has been made.  I have nothing to do with the bid; Alta bike share is a different company. But I am happy to be working for Alta Planning + Design.

  2. What a long time coming for Chicago.

    I was lucky enough to study/live in Seville for 6 mo. at the end of ’07 when Sevici bike was being implemented and it was an absolute hit with all of my American classmates (I’m not entirely sure about the locals, since I wasn’t the best linguist at the time). At the time, we all lamented the fact that this wasn’t available in the US…thankfully that appears to be coming to an end.

    My 2 cents…The reason it was so popular in Seville was due to the fact that 1) The bikes were easy to ride, with a basket for carrying things, and a bell for safety 2) there were stations in every neighborhood thus you were never more than a short walk away from a bike 3) They had an easy to use system (like Chicago is proposing) with the first 30 min free.

    In addition to the stated answers to the question, “Who is the target user?”, I think this would be popular with the reverse commute crowd.

    I live near NorthCenter but have to commute out to the burbs for work (one of the many burbs that has horrific access to transit). Therefore, I hate driving on the weekends, but I just don’t bike enough to justify the expense of all the upkeep that goes along with maintaining a safe bike.

    1. Reverse commuters. I like that. 

      So you’re saying that there are people who aren’t biking to work because it’s far and probably dangerous (no slow streets between Chicago and most adjacent municipalities) and thus don’t own or maintain bikes at their Chicago residences. 

      I need to ask who the City has selected for its marketing and sponsorship consultant – they have a big job ahead of them. 

      1. Exactly. I know many of my peers (mid to late 20’s w/o family’s yet) who live in the city but have commute via the 90/94 or 290 out to Schaumburg, Park Ridge & Oak Brook.

        In an ideal world we would bike to work, since sitting on the Kennedy is a special kind of hell. Unfortunately, ideal it ain’t, therefore I think this type of program would absolutely appeal to us for basic travel around the city if marketed and rolled out properly.

  3. If the system uses the Montreal Bixi bikes then it should be a hit.  I lived in Montreal when the system was launched and was quite skeptical.  The system took off like crazy.  I didn’t try the system until a year after launch (have my one commuting bike) but tried to a few times when using my own bike wasn’t feasible. The system is addicting.  Love it!  The bikes are a little on the heavy side but are suitable for the job at hand.

    The Montreal system incrased the free time to 45 minutes for yearly subscribers.

    Just moved to Chicago and can’t wait to try the new system. 

    1. I visited Toronto last year shortly after their Bixi launch, and I saw plenty of the bikes in use on the streets.  Seems like their bike share is off to a good start.

      1. Toronto doesn’t have the bike infrastructure that Montreal has, a mayor that is completely anti-bike/pedestrian/transit and Bixi did take off in TO.

        1. The fact that Bixi has been so popular in TO in spite of of the mayor says everything about how much folks in TO wanted it.  Whenever I’ve visited, I’ve been impressed with the amount of bike traffic.

  4. I think bike share will be a big hit with people who take the train to Ogilvie or Union and then have more than half a mile but less than two miles still to go to get to their workplace. Too far to walk, inconvenient to take a bus/El. This will include employees going to the UIC/Rush medical campus, south LSD museum campus, Streeterville/Northwestern Memorial area, all the ad/design/creative places in the Tree Studios/River North area, and companies on Goose Island.

    I’m personally going to use bike share as a gateway drug to entice my Loop coworkers to try urban bicycling. (“C’mon, we’re just going to Greek town for lunch. It’ll be fun! Everyone’s doing it.”)

    1. I like your idea, but it really depends on city’s ability to implement protected bike lanes downtown. Without that, I doubt many suburban commuters will be jumping on bikes on Canal St. (it’s scary enough for everyday urban cyclists right now).

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