Divvy-01

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series about Divvy, Chicago’s new bike share program. Check back Thursday of next week to see Alex Vicker’s next installment. 

The first thing I did when arriving to Midway airport in Chicago from my hometown of Los Angeles was purchase a week-long subway pass. If I took more than two rides a day, the $33 CTA week pass would be a great bargain. And the last time I was in Chicago, I remember sorely regretting not purchasing one because my subway fees ended up far surpassing the value of the pass. But that trip was long before the Divvy bike share system–Chicago’s newest form of public transportation–had launched, and I underestimated how much more I’d rely on bike share to get around the Second City.

Bike share is often referred to as a solution to the first and last mile issue of transit connectivity–namely, it’s good at getting people to and from transit stops. But I found that it can serve a purpose beyond that; bike share can work for longer trips too. While the convenience factor ultimately depends on where your destination is, there were actually a few instances where solely using bike share for a trip longer than a two miles was more convenient compared to taking other public transit. Take, for example, my trip to Belmont Harbor.

On Saturday, I went up to the harbor for Chicago’s Air and Water show on the North side of Chicago, which is well served by transit with ample buses and the Red/Brown line. From where I was staying I would’ve needed to transfer in Downtown “Loop” before heading north, which made the trip more time consuming in comparison to bike share.

My Belmont Harbor journey on CTA

An hour before meeting up with the family friend at Belmont Harbor, I checked Google to see how long it would take on the CTA. Between the walking and the transfers, it would have taken me 44 minutes. Biking on a Divvy was a fair distance away–over four miles–but I was in a hurry and I wasn’t in the mood to pay the extra bucks for a taxi. So rather than take a 44 minute train or an expensive cab, I opted for a 28 minute Divvy and ended up at my destination right on time. There was a slight issue on the other end because the station was full, so I had to bike 4 blocks further away to get to an empty dock. Even with the 10 minute delay of finding another station, I still had a quicker commute on Divvy.

Chicago Bike

My Belmont journey on Divvy

While many see bike share as simply a short-trip transit solution, there are certain cases where biking is more convenient due to transit schedules and routes. Of course, there is a case to be made for active vs. passive transit; you can’t read the newspaper and one shouldn’t play with your smartphone while riding a bike share bike. But if I can use Divvy to get somewhere 15 minutes quicker than taking other transit, I’d rather get some exercise and save the time. Couple that with the sunny weather and Chicago’s fabulous bike infrastructure and you have further cause. And while some may balk at a five-mile bike ride, a typical bike share bike is ideal for casual riding and I was only slightly winded at the end of my journey to the harbor.

Divvy also offers flexibility and freedom that a traditional fixed transit line cannot. I didn’t have to rely on train schedules and fixed routes. Bike share is the first carbon-free, human-powered form of public transportation that emulates the freedom and independence of an automobile without the headaches of getting stuck in traffic. While the convenience of bike share, rail, and bus largely depends on your destination, the interplay between the pros and cons of each mode is more diverse with bike share in the mix.

Having toted Divvy as a great new way to get around for longer trips and shorter ones alike, I must end this piece with a confession. While I was taking Divvy far more often than the CTA during my stay in Chicago, there was one case where the subway was my first choice: on my way home. After a long day of riding, I thoroughly enjoyed having an air conditioned subway car to take me all the way home.