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Advances in Bike Sharing Access in Chicago, Illinois

A Divvy station at 55th St and Woodlawn Ave on the South Side of Chicago. A Divvy station at 55th St. and Woodlawn Ave. on the South Side of Chicago

Since over 600 cities worldwide have their own bike share programs, one would hope that Chicago, ranked the sixth most bike-friendly city in the United States, would have a strong program. Chicago's Divvy Bikes, introduced in 2013, have seen a great expansion in usership – as of June 28, 2016, the program has almost one million unique users. The bike program has grown over six times in size, with the original fleet of 750 bikes now a robust 4,760. The program, sponsored by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), owes this success in part to its thorough campaign to make its bikes more accessible to a broader variety of customers. Once only available in small swatches of the city's North Side, the bikes are now available across 476 stations from as far north as just south of Evanston to the city's South Shore neighborhood. Students, corporations, and community organizations can now get special discounts on pricing.

Divvy's newest effort, Divvy for Everyone, has expanded this accessibility to communities that could benefit from it the most: low-income individuals and families. In order to qualify for Divvy for Everyone, the customer must be a first-time Divvy user and a Chicago resident whose individual income is below $35,310, or higher for bigger families – for example, a family of three would need to make below $60,270, and a family of five would need to make below $85,230. The Divvy for Everyone program costs only a one-time cash payment of $5 for an annual membership to qualifying participants and allows for an unlimited amount of free trips that last under 30 minutes.

A Divvy station at 53rd Street and Kimbark Ave on the South Side of Chicago. A Divvy station at 53rd Street and Kimbark Ave on the South Side of Chicago. Most of the bikes have been checked out as this is along a fairly populated commercial corridor.

While Divvy for Everyone makes up a small fraction of overall Divvy users, the program itself is quite helpful for those who use it. According to Amanda Woodall, who manages the Divvy for Everyone program, there are over 1,100 enrollees as of January 31, 2016, marking the first six months of the program's existence. Woodall elaborated that more than 80% of Divvy for Everyone enrollees have used the program at least once, and more than 50% have taken ten or more trips. According to the Divvy for Everyone webpage, greater Divvy access helps stimulate local neighborhood economies: members use Divvy far more for shopping or errand-related trips than they do for work-related trips. Additionally, 70% of Divvy members have said they are more likely to patronize businesses with a Divvy station nearby.

Woodall revealed that efforts to bring Divvy stations to lower-income community areas are still in the works. Plans are being developed for more neighborhoods in the South and Southwest Sides of the city, which have some of the lowest average incomes by neighborhood. Woodall encouraged those who are interested to "stay tuned in the coming weeks for an official announcement on those locations." In fact, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced on June 28, 2016 that the next set of targets would include 580 stations and over 5,800 bikes, focusing heavily on the South and Southwest Sides of the city.

Is there a bikeshare program in your community? What could be done to make those services more accessible? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.

Credit: Images by Hannah Flynn. Data linked to sources.