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Bikeshare rolls into Chi-Town, spreading transportation bliss

To hear the Chicago Tribune tell it, people who used the city’s new Divvy bike-share system on its first day of operations last Friday experienced nothing but headaches. But on Sunday, I rode a Divvy to all 68 of the new docking stations, and witnessed only a few problems, most of them minor. I also spoke to plenty of satisfied customers, and walked away from my 12-hour, 40-mile odyssey mostly unscathed.

The system, funded with $22 million in federal and local grants, is owned by the city of Chicago and operated by Alta Bike Share, Inc., which also runs New York’s recently launched Citi Bike program, as well as systems in Washington, D.C., Boston, and the Twin Cities. Denver also has the B-cycle public bicycle program, and other major cities slated to get bikeshares in the near future include San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.

Divvy is part of several large-scale sustainable transportation initiatives in the works under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. These include a complete overhaul of the south branch of Chicago Transit Authority’s Red Line, bus rapid transit projects, construction of 100 miles of protected and buffered bike lanes, and The Bloomingdale elevated greenway, which promises to put New York City’s High Line to shame.

Chicago’s bike-share program will eventually include 400 docking stations and 4,000 bikes, clunky-but-comfy three-speeds painted the powder-blue shade of the Chicago flag’s stripes. A $7 daily pass or $75 annual membership entitles users to an unlimited number of half-hour trips. To encourage turnaround, a $2 late fee applies for the next 30 minutes, with charges rising steeply for subsequent half hours. But it’s an open secret that you can keep a bike as long as you like without late fees, as long as you check it into a station every half hour.
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