Providing Mobility Options

After two weeks in Europe at conferences and touring train systems in 2010, I flew into Chicago for another conference. My wife joined me for an early morning walk to a park along the lakefront, where we were surprised to come across a newly installed rack of bikes for rent. After a quick swipe of the credit card and minor adjusting of the bike seats, we were off, covering miles of the lakefront trails with a spectacular view of the skyline along Lake Michigan, seeing far more than an hour’s walk would have allowed. It was as if a bit of Paris had been transplanted to Chicago.

Along various stops on my train tour, I had been photographing bike sharing racks in Paris and Bordeaux (pictured). Bike sharing was available in more than 200 cities worldwide, but was not that common in the United States. Fortunately for me, in 2007 Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley also had seen the bike sharing program in Paris and had just implemented a pilot program with a few stations along the lakefront. Now, one year later, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago program is poised to add 3,000 bikes and 300 docking stations by summer 2012 with plans to double those numbers by 2014.

The expansion of the Chicago system is being directed by Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, who launched a bike sharing program in Washington, D.C., that is wildly successful (one million rides in its first year). Based on the plans I’ve seen, he’s making a full-on effort for similar success in Chicago with solar-powered bike docking stations located every quarter mile in prime areas and close to transit stations.

Klein has stated that the program is designed to meet several livability goals: “We’re really envisioning this not just as a bike program – this is an entirely new transit option. It’s a way to link people for their last mile from the CTA stop. It’s a way for people to get to the grocery store, or to get to their husband’s work or their girlfriend’s house. This is also a way for tourists to come and see the city at street level.’’ As a Chicago native, I was able to see and appreciate the city as never before, thanks to the B-cycle program. No doubt millions of residents and visitors will do the same in coming years.

Chicago has applied for federal congestion-relief funding to inaugurate its program, but user fees and advertising are expected to cover all annual operating costs.