October 05, 2013|By John Byrne, Chicago Tribune reporter
Source: Chicago Tribune
Mary Lin isn’t one of those anti-bike people. Nor is the University Village resident a not-in-my-backyard type ticked off that one of the city’s Divvy bicycle rental stations got plunked down in front of her home.
But as the daughter of a Chicago firefighter, she is a stickler when it comes to fire lanes.
So when Lin saw the rear wheels of the rentable bikes at a newly installed Divvy station jutting into the narrow lane firefighters would use to get at the hydrant that serves dozens of town houses in her complex, she started making calls to get it removed.
“I’m not a crabby person,” Lin said. “I just think this is a safety issue.”
A few days ago, the bike rack got pulled from the intersection of May and Polk streets after the Tribune asked the city about it. It’s one of 23 stations the city has moved since the bike rental program took off and the high-tech racks began proliferating in some of Chicago’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
Divvy crews have buzzed through the city this year installing stations at 286 sites as part of the company’s push to get 300 in place before stopping for the season in a couple weeks. While it took nearly two weeks for Lin to get the bike rack moved from the fire lane, a city Transportation Department spokesman said several layers of checks and balances have made the need for relocation relatively rare.
After soliciting online recommendations from Chicagoans on where to put the racks, city transportation officials scouted the sites themselves and consulted with local aldermen about final placement, department spokesman Peter Scales said.
Still, problems have cropped up. According to information Divvy provided to the city, 23 stations have been moved since mid-June, a couple weeks before rentals began.
Two racks — at Lincoln and Armitage avenues and at Milwaukee Avenue and Wood Street — were relocated because of concerns that people had to walk into the street close to car traffic to pull bikes out of racks, Scales said.
The Chinese consulate near Clark and Erie streets requested that a rack near its building get moved for security reasons. A station at Larrabee and Kingsbury streets on the Near North Side wasn’t getting enough light to keep its solar-power computer running, so workers moved it from the west side of the street to the east.
Five were moved because of construction projects, some only temporarily. And seven were relocated after the company decided it wanted more or fewer bikes at a particular station, according to data from Divvy.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has touted the Divvy program as a success, chronicling each milestone of the nascent bike rental system in a series of news releases. “In just the first month of operations, Chicagoans and visitors to the city have taken more than 80,000 trips and have collectively ridden an estimated 250,000 miles, longer than the distance to the moon,” read one release in August.
But Divvy has its share of detractors.
A Lakeview condominium association sued to have arental station removed from near its building. One condo resident said she feared property devaluation, safety issues and trash buildup.
Others have taken the city to task for the lack of easy access where they live, noting that vast swaths of the South, West and Northwest sides don’t have the machines yet. The bike rental system was rolled out in late June in the downtown and River North areas before spreading out to neighborhoods. The city plans to add another 100 stations in the spring, for a total of 400, but when complete the racks will be found only from 63rd Street to Devon Avenue and Lake Michigan to roughly California Avenue.
Divvy is managed by Alta Bicycle Share, a company that runs bike-share programs in other U.S. cities and abroad. Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein formerly worked as a consultant for Alta. He has denied allegations by an Alta competitor that he steered the Chicago contract to Alta.
The machines lock the bikes and issue codes to people who pay $7 to take them for short rides over 24 hours or $75 for annual passes.
For Lin, the process of figuring out who had the authority to move the Divvy bikes out of the fire lane got to be head-spinning.
She said a firefighter came by to take a look and told her there was no way a firetruck could make a turn into the fire lane if the rack had bikes in it.
So she called 311, talked to the Building Department, the Department of Transportation, the Fire Department and Ald. Daniel Solis’ 25th Ward service office.
Scales said the city got the Fire Department to inspect the site after the Tribune asked about it, and the verdict came back that there was no problem with the Divvy station. “But out of an abundance of caution, we decided to move it,” he said. The city Water Department also had to repave part of the fire lane, which the bikes would have made difficult, he said.
More than a week after Lin said she started making calls, Solis told the Tribune his office had reached an agreement to move the station about five blocks west to a spot near Arrigo Park.
Solis said he was not consulted before the rental location was put in between the town houses and the fenced-in artificial turf field at neighboring Sheridan Park. But the alderman pointed out such things often don’t come to his attention until there’s a problem.
“It is a concern,” Solis said before the Divvy station was moved. “But they will get it out of there quickly, and the new location at Arrigo Park will be a nice spot for a station.”