Divvy bikes ride into the suburbs next year: Will they be used?

Iwen Lai and Kenyon Mayeda rented Divvy bikes Sept. 29 while visiting Chicago from Los Angeles. Lai said she borrowed a bike for its affordability and convenience, adding, “It’s also good for the environment.”
Iwen Lai and Kenyon Mayeda rented Divvy bikes Sept. 29 while visiting Chicago from Los Angeles. Lai said she borrowed a bike for its affordability and convenience, adding, “It’s also good for the environment.

By Alexandria Johnson

Divvy, the popular Chicago bike-sharing program, will be expanding to Evanston and Oak Park for the first time next year. However, some transportation experts wonder if residents of those suburbs will use the blue bikes, given the prevalence of car ownership in the suburbs.

“I think the big problem in those cities is there aren’t a lot of commuters who would use them, especially in Oak Park,” said Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. “Evanston seems to fit the mold better than Oak Park.”

But other transportation groups and the suburbs themselves are not concerned that the bikes will go unused.

“We’ve been thrilled with the success of Divvy in the city and were excited to hear that Evanston and Oak Park were interested in hosting Divvy in their cities,” said Ted Villaire, a spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization that supports public transit, cycling and walking.

Active Trans encouraged the two suburbs to pursue funding. “We were the cheerleaders in encouraging them to go after the grant money,” Villaire said.

The group also consulted with Evanston and Oak Park to identify appropriate spots for Divvy docking stations.

By analyzing resident feedback, Active Trans expects Divvy to be successful in both suburbs, Villaire says. He notes Evanston is one of the cities in the country with the highest share of bicyclists.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the $3 million state investment in the Divvy bike-sharing program on Sept. 28. The money comes from federal funds provided to the Illinois Department of Transportation, said Dave Blanchette, a spokesman for Quinn. Oak Park and Evanston have contributed combined supplemental funding of $200,000.

The Divvy program also will be expanded within the City of Chicago to new neighborhoods including Austin, Garfield Park, Rogers Park and West Rogers Park. Chicago is kicking in an additional $550,000 toward the cost.

Between Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park, there will be more than 700 new bikes on the roads.

Divvy came to Chicago last year and will have a total of 545 stations in the city after the expansion. Evanston will receive eight docking stations and Oak Park will get 12.

“There was quite a bit of excitement and support in community,” said David Powers, a spokesman for the Village of Oak Park. “It’s hard to live in Oak Park and not know about Divvy.”

Evanston officials share his excitement. “Divvy has been so successful. Bike sharing is gaining momentum across the world,” said Catherine Hurley, Evanston’s sustainable programs coordinator. “It’s exciting the city had the foresight to put in and seek funding over a year ago.”

Chicago was initially denied a Divvy expansion in the spring when it pursued a grant through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, which provides funding to community projects that support transportation improvements.

While the Divvy program likely would not work in all locations, even some smaller cities could be good candidates for alternative bike-sharing opportunities, Villaire said. For instance, many universities including North Central College in Naperville host their own private bike-sharing programs.

Schwieterman expects it will take time for the Divvy bikes to gain popularity in the suburbs. The bikes will likely see less use in the winter as they do in Chicago, but he believes that residents of both Evanston and Oak Park, which have a quasi-urban feel, will embrace them.

“[Divvy] needs a little push in Evanston and Oak Park, and the governor’s program will give it that push,” he said. “It’s very different if you, say, go out to Wheaton, where the density is too low to have these pods around when it’s all single-family homes.