Chicago plan to give away thousands of bikes starts slowly, costing $231,000 so far

In late March, at a luncheon for the city’s political and business elite, Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi announced that the city would be giving away 5,000 bikes.

“Free bikes. And a helmet. And a bike lock,” Biagi said in his City Club speech.

For months now, the Chicago Department of Transportation has withheld key details of the program, but on Monday it released a timeline showing the bike giveaway will roll out slowly. The 5,000 bikes and accessories will launch over the next four years and at least a tenth of them will come out in the first year, city officials said.

According to the city, participants in a CDOT youth green jobs training program and mobility programs will earn entitlements first, then other qualifying residents.

City officials did not initially answer Tribune’s questions about how many bikes the city had purchased, but after Tribune filed a Freedom of Information Act request, they said the Department of Transportation has 680 bikes for the program. So far, the city estimates the program has cost $231,068.

The city bought 350 bikes this spring through environmental company WRD, according to invoices released by the city. Another 330 bikes the city is putting up for the program were initially ordered for the Greencorps Youth Program, a green job training program for high school students whose participants are now among those to receive bikes under the giveaway, the city said.

CDOT said it will gradually increase distribution of the bikes over the next few years, until all 5,000 single-speed model passenger bikes have been delivered. The city did not have an estimate of the total cost of the program, and spokeswoman Amanda Bolton said officials hope this year to seek competitive bids to provide bikes for the later years of the program.

“CDOT is committed to making bicycling a more popular and convenient option for all residents, and Bike Chicago will do just that,” Biagi said in a statement.

The program comes as the city recently released a climate action plan that called for prioritizing the use of walking, cycling and public transportation to reduce emissions.

“All residents of our city deserve equal access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable transportation options,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “Bike Chicago accelerates the city’s climate and equity goals by providing new pathways for the workforce, bicycles and supporting resources that promote safe cycling and a healthy, low-carbon transportation ecosystem for all Chicagoans” .

Among those to receive bikes in the first year of the giveaway are participants in CDOT’s mobility programs such as the Chicago SAFE Ambassadors and Open Boulevards events, along with the Greencorps Youth Program, where high school students learn to assemble and maintain bicycles. among other skills. Bikes will then be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis to qualifying applicants.

The city estimates that about 250 bikes will be available to those who apply by mail or online.

Program applicants must be Chicago residents at least 14 years of age and have a household income at or below the city’s area median income. They must not own a bicycle and have a “major mobility impairment” or participate in one of CDOT’s mobility programs.

Applications will open on July 18 and distribution is expected to begin in August.

The Lightfoot administration is making its moves as Lightfoot prepares for what is expected to be a challenging re-election fight in February 2023. So far, the mayor has announced gas card giveaways, reversed her previous opposition to a basic income raised for the first time by a councilman. , and she’s also giving rebates to home and business owners so they can buy security cameras.

Even as the city prepares to give away bikes, a series of recent deaths of cyclists and pedestrians have prompted new calls from bike advocates. infrastructure throughout the city that prioritizes the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, such as more bike lanes and more protected lanes. The city has about 400 miles of bike lanes on and off city streets, and has recently undertaken work that will protect about 45 miles with concrete curbs.

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