A little over six months after the Divvy bike-sharing program launched, Chicago’s most-populated neighborhood doesn’t have a single station – but that could change, according to a city transportation official.
WBEZ first reported on this inequity just days after Divvy launched last summer.
Of the city’s 400 bike stations, just two are slated for the West Side neighborhoods of Austin, North Lawndale, Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park (one in North Lawndale and the other in West Humboldt Park).
In November, the Chicago Department of Transportation received a federal grant to build 75 more stations in 2014, bringing the total number of Divvy stations citywide to 475.
The goal is to keep expanding to the entire city, said Sean Wiedel, an assistant commissioner for the CDOT who’s the city’s point person for the Divvy program.
It was always the plan to start with Divvy stations Downtown and keep moving outwards, he said.
Wiedel said some of the new stations will be put in Austin, but he couldn’t say how many.
Although former transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein has acknowledged the lack of stations on the city’s West Side, he has said there’s a need to concentrate stations in areas with more businesses and residents.
Austin has about 99,000 residents, with Lakeview close behind with approximately 95,000 residents and multiple Divvy stations.
But it’s more of an issue of connectivity, said Max Muller, director of government relations and advocacy for the Active Transportation Alliance.
Divvy only works within a network, and Austin is so far west that it’s disconnected from that network, he said.
The advocacy group wants everyone to be able to use the bike-sharing program and for Divvy to be everywhere in the city – even the suburbs.
But the placement of the original Divvy stations was strategic, said Muller. If the program wasn’t successful at launch, it would have been harder to advocate for expanding it to the whole city.
One biker who lives on the border of Austin and Oak Park said it’s not about the number of residents.
“The whole program is geared more toward business than the bicycling community,” Bobby Mitchell said.
And there’s a lack of viable businesses in Austin, he said.
“When you have a strong business environment, things like Divvy just fall into place,” he said.
Mitchell was part of a group of cyclists who toured the neighborhood last summer with Red, Bike and Green, hoping to create a sustainable black bike culture they told AustinTalks is largely missing.
While the group hopes some of the new stations end up in Austin, Eboni Hawkins, co-founder of Red, Bike and Green’s Chicago chapter, said she’s more interested in the city addressing infrastructure problems for bikers on the West Side, like the lack of bike stores and bike parking.
Longtime Austin resident Sarah Patton said she was excited about Divvy when it launched last June.
But when she learned there were no stations in her neighborhood, Patton said she felt disenfranchised.
“I do feel left out. I don’t see why we couldn’t have it. People in Austin need to get places like everyone else, and we need a cheaper way to get around.”
Patton said she has a medical condition that requires cardio rehabilitation, and she has thought about buying a used bike and fixing it up but can’t afford it right now.
“I pay taxes; I should be entitled to use Divvy,” she said.
Patton thinks there’s another hidden reason behind the lack of stations in Austin. She suspects the city is worried about the bikes being vandalized or stolen.
“I think they’re thinking about crime, because why wouldn’t they put them here? They had no problem putting them on the Gold Coast or Sheridan Road. I’m tired of prejudice against this neighborhood,” she said.
But both Patton and Mitchell said Austin residents have be to be more vocal about what the community needs.
They believe if more residents requested Divvy bike stations, the city would have to respond.
“If you don’t make enough noise, nobody’s gonna do anything,” said Patton.
Residents who attended a series of community meetings held by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) last fall made it clear they want Divvy stations.
The alderman said she’s working closely with the Department of Transportation to determine a timeline to get at least one station in Austin.
“We are studying potential locations for the bikes. We are on the path to becoming a greener, more accessible city and ward,” she said in a statement to AustinTalks.
Ald. Graham did not respond to follow-up questions asking for more specifics about how many stations she’s requested and when one or more stations would open in Austin.
The Active Transportation Alliance’s Muller said there’s something people in neighborhoods without Divvy can do besides contact their alderman.
They can raise money to put toward a Divvy station, he said, but he admitted that might be difficult to do in lower-income neighborhoods.
People can also go to suggest.divvybikes.com, he said.
Neighboring Oak Park has submitted its own federal grant application for Divvy, and if the suburb gets the bike-sharing program, that has potential to help the connectivity issue in Austin, said Muller.
The CDOT’s Wiedel confirmed the goal is to expand in Oak Park and Chicago’s West Side.
Although Patton agrees more residents should speak up, she doesn’t think it’s right that they have to.
“Aldermen and representatives should look out for us. We shouldn’t have to ask for things the rest of the city gets,” she said.