A Divvy bike station at Addison Street and Drake Avenue. Credit: Photo by Max Herman

On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new program, Divvy For Everyone, that will provide low-income Chicago families with deeply discounted memberships to the city’s bike-share program.

But a Reporter analysis shows that the Divvy program is still inaccessible to many low-income Chicagoans, particularly in communities of color.

The new program targets families who don’t have a credit or debit card and make less than 300 percent of the poverty level, or $72,750 for a family of four. They will be able to pay just $5 for a one-year, one-time Divvy membership, which usually costs $75. Importantly, these families will be able to pay with cash, since lack of access to banking can be a barrier to low-income families wishing to use Divvy.

Data on people living at or below 300 percent of the poverty line is hard to come by. But more than 40 percent of Chicagoans living below the poverty line live in a community without a single Divvy bike station, the Reporter’s analysis found. An additional 20 percent live in a community area with fewer than 5 Divvy stations.

Research shows that people are likely to walk no more than 1,000 feet—or about five minutes—to get to a bike-share station, according to a recent report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. That means that, in areas with few stations, Divvy is unlikely to get used, no matter how low the cost.

“[Bike share] systems that have lower station density in low-income neighborhoods often exacerbate equity issues as stations are too far apart to provide a real transportation option for low-income riders,” according to the report.

When the city added 173 new stations this spring, they typically placed them about a half-mile apart from one another, according to reporting by Streetsblog Chicago, a transportation blog. Many of those new stations were in low-income neighborhoods that were missed in the initial round of Divvy building.

The additional stations still leave more than half of the 77 Chicago Community Areas without a single Divvy station, mostly on the Far South, Southwest and Northwest sides. Of the nearly 1.2 million Chicagoans who live in neighborhoods without Divvy, about three-quarters are black or Latino, the Reporter analysis found.

Michael Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, did not immediately provide a response to the Reporter’s questions about the Divvy program.

Slow Roll Chicago, an organization working to increase biking in low-income communities and communities of color, supports the Divvy for Everyone program and is working with the city to get the word out about it. Oboi Reed, one of the group’s co-founders, said he’s happy with the progress the city is making with expanding Divvy, but that there is more to be done.

“Our position is that Divvy is a public resource, it’s a form of public transportation in Chicago,” he said. “We want to see Divvy accessible to everybody, all the way to the border of Indiana on the south and the border of Oak Park on the West.”

Emanuel said in a press release announcing the new program: “Divvy only works when everyone has a chance to use it.”

He’s right—and despite the administration’s latest efforts, we’re still a long way from that.

Sources: Chicago Data Portal; American Community Survey

Jonah is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at jnewman@chicagoreporter.com and follow him on Twitter @jonahshai.

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  1. Nice reporting. It’s a tough dilemma — the city doesn’t have an infinite budget for installing and servicing Divvy stations. They want to reach as many neighborhoods as possible, but if they spread the stations too thin, the service isn’t as useful. They also need to make sure the system isn’t operating at too much of a financial loss, or it won’t be sustainable. it’s a difficult balancing act, but offering deeply discounted memberships for low-income Chicagoans is a step in the right direction towards equity.

    1. Because, you know, we have to supply poor people with EVERYTHING… and we have to act like they’re actually interested in a bike share…

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