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Bikeshare rolls into Chi-Town, spreading transportation bliss

Pedaling Divvy bikes on the lakefront
John Greenfield
Pedaling Divvy bikes on the lakefront.

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., and Boston. 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.

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Bike messengers: Still rockin’ in the freewheel world

Photo by Dave Schlabowske.

Last week, while the world’s finest amateur athletes competed in London, hundreds of poorly paid professional athletes from four continents convened in Chicago for the Olympics of bike messengering. They were here for the 20th annual Cycle Messenger World Championships, the ultimate test of two-wheeled delivery prowess.

It was a long, alcohol-fueled week of events celebrating the courier lifestyle, including the main race simulating a day of work in the Chicago Loop business district, on-street “alleycat” races, a courier-themed film night, track competitions, and the Messenger Prom, where cyclists got dolled up in slinky dresses and ironic tuxedos.

Many pundits have predicted that bike couriers would go the way of the Pony Express, rendered obsolete by digital technology. But the crowd of messengers, who came from as far away as Guatemala, Japan, and Australia, proved that, while email and online file sharing have cut into the messenger business since the salad days of the 1990s, as cities grow more congested, there may always be a place for fast, efficient, environmentally friendly bike delivery.

Read more: Cities

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Out spokin’: LGBT bike group rides with pride

Photo by luxomedia.

"It's not that we don't like straight people," explains Jeff Rogers, president of the Windy City Cycling Club (WCCC), Chicago's oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender bicycle group. "On the contrary: The biking community at large tends to be made up of very nice people who are very accepting of diversity in general. But gay and lesbian people have a comfort level with each other that's different than with straight people."

That sense of belonging is easy to see as we hang out at T's, a buzzing lesbian, gay, and straight pub in Chicago's LGBT-friendly Andersonville neighborhood, on a sunny February afternoon. A dozen or so club members, mostly women plus a handful of men, are gathered at an off-season social for Dykes Pedaling Bikes, the club's monthly women's ride. Ranging in age from late 20s to late 50s, they kibbutz over $5 hamburgers and tall glasses of hefeweizen with lemon slices as Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" blasts on the sound system. A couple of them wear the club's jersey, featuring a bicycle wheel, the Sears Tower, the Chicago flag, and a rainbow banner.

Read more: Biking

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Zen and the art of urban transportation

Commissioner Gabe Klein.Photo: Steven VanceThis is excerpted from a longer story in GRID Chicago. To read the original, which includes a (somewhat hair-raising) ride to work with the commissioner, click here. When forward-thinking Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein reported for work on May 16 as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new administration, it marked a sea change in the city's priorities. Chicago spent most of the 20th century trying to make it easier to drive. In recent years, as other cities pioneered green transportation initiatives like car-protected bike lanes, large-scale public bike sharing systems, and "ciclovia" events …

Read more: Cities, Transportation