JacksonSouth Loop

Riders Prepare for Winter Challenges on Divvy Bikes

By Colleen Connolly and Melanie Stone

Posted: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013

Chicago resident Ann Markey frequently relies on two-wheel transportation to get to work.

Although she usually rides her own bike, she occasionally supplements her commutes with a Divvy bike. As the temperatures drop and gray clouds threaten snow, Markey will continue to ride.

“The only issue is the ice,” Markey said, as she zipped her coat up to her chin and took out a Divvy bike from the corral at State and Van Buren streets to get to work.

Divvy officials would agree.

Chicago city officials announced this fall that the Divvy bike-share program will continue through the winter, except in cases of extreme weather conditions. After more than five months of biking in the sunshine, fallen leaves and occasional heavy winds, Divvy bikers will now be able to test the powder-blue bikes in the snow and ice.

All Divvy stations will continue to operate throughout winter, but the number of bikes at each station will be reduced to match ridership, according to Elliot Greenberger, deputy general manager of Divvy.

According to Divvy officials, there are currently 300 bike stations, which are all in use 24 hours every day, but they plan to add 175 new stations in 2014.

Sheffield Avenue & Wellington Avenue Photo: Melanie Stone

Photo: Divvy bikes waiting in the snow at Sheffield Avenue and Wellington Avenue. (Photo/Melanie Stone)

The decision to close Divvy stations during extreme weather will be decided on a case-by-case basis, Greenberger said. The stations will only close when the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) determines that the weather conditions will affect the equipment or the safety of bikers. No special treatment will be given to the Divvy bikes or station docks, but Divvy employees will work to keep them free of snow and ice, according to Peter Scales, spokesperson for CDOT.

Despite the severity of Chicago winters, bike rentals are not anticipated to drop significantly.

“Everyone’s comfort level will differ when it comes to riding in cooler weather, but as the temperature starts to dip we’re still seeing annual members take thousands of trips per day,” Greenberger wrote via email.

One of those bikers who will continue to ride through the winter is Chicago bicycle expert Steve Vance, a writer for the transportation blog Streetsblog Chicago and a former employee of CDOT’s Bicycle Parking Program. Vance said it is dangerous to ride when there is black ice, but he otherwise supports year-round biking.

“Biking is possible in the wintertime (is there even snow half the time?) and Divvy members shouldn’t be excluded,” Vance wrote via email.

Not all Divvy users will continue using the bike-share program during the harshest weather of the year, however. Chicagoan Aaron Wolfson, who uses Divvy bikes a few times a month, said he thinks Divvy should continue service throughout the winter, but he isn’t sure that he will use it as frequently.

“If there’s a lot of snow on the ground, like say three, four, five, six inches that would prevent you from riding safely, then I would probably be against that,” Wolfson said. “I probably wouldn’t use it in that case, but that’s not to say other people wouldn’t.”

Chicagoan Steve Schwartz often uses Divvy for transportation. Photo by Melanie Stone

Chicagoan Steve Schwartz often uses
Divvy for transportation. (Photo/Melanie Stone)

All bikers — both locals and tourists — should exercise more caution when riding in the winter, Greenberger said. This means bikers should keep an eye out for snow and ice on the road and try to stick to familiar routes. Divvy bikes are equipped with automatic lights and reflectors to help drivers see bikers in the dark. In addition, the bikes support an upright position for the biker, making them more visible to cars, Greenberger said.

Winter bikers should adequately prepare for biking in frigid temperatures with several layers of clothing, coats, scarves and gloves. Vance also recommends weather forecasting before hitting the streets. He said he checks weather websites to gauge the wetness of the pavement as well as Twitter to see what other bikers are experiencing.

Just as bikers should practice extra caution on the road during winter, drivers often do the same, which could benefit bikers, Vance said.

“Chicago is usually really good with snow removal, and somewhat unexpectedly drivers pay better attention to people bicycling when there’s snow on the ground, as the cyclist often has to move around a bit more to avoid unplowed parts of the street,” Vance wrote.

In addition to the cold and wetness of winter, other seasonal biking hazards, such as fallen leaves, may conceal possible snow or ice underneath. Elliot recommended riding straight through these dangerous spots rather than turning or leaning into them.

Despite the potential dangers it can pose, wintertime biking also affords certain freedoms that are more difficult to find during the more comfortable seasons for biking, such as summer or early fall.

“There are fewer people biking in the winter, so you can have the bike lane all to yourself,” Vance wrote. “There’s also fewer people driving … so you can have the street all to yourself.”

For regular bikers like Chicagoan Steve Schwartz, who relies only on the CTA, Zipcar, his own bike and Divvy for transportation, a little cold won’t stop them from getting out there.

“Despite how cold it gets in Chicago, I think if you’re a regular cyclist you learn to acclimate to the temperature, so it really isn’t that bad,” Schwartz said. “Until we get some ice and snow accumulation I would be perfectly fine with it. I’m looking forward to it actually.”

Read more: Find Divvy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Bikers can search for them using the hashtag #DIVVYON.

Interactive Map: Chicago's Top 15 Busiest Divvy Bike Stations

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