CITY HALL — Aldermen cheered this year's Divvy expansion at City Council budget hearings Thursday, but said they still want more.
"When can we expect to see the Divvy bikes on the South Side — the far South Side?" Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) wondered.
Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) added that residents of his far Southwest Side ward are "anxious for Divvy."
"We've gone from zero to the largest program in the country in two years," said Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. She pointed out that the city's bike-sharing system added 175 stations and 1,750 bikes this year for a total of 475 stations and 4,700 bikes, doubling the stations' coverage area to a range including Touhy Avenue to the north, 75th Street to the south and Pulaski Road to the west. She estimated it covered more than half of the city's population.
Without committing to a timeline, Scheinfeld pointedly said the system could continue to expand — with additional funding from aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as other sources. "It is dependent on securing additional capital dollars," she added, while thanking aldermen for their support.
Yet Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he was already "amazed" at the "efficiency and use" of the system in his West Side ward this year, adding that he thought the system's arrival in his neighborhood had spurred others to get on bikes as well.
Scheinfeld cited "continued strides" in so-called alternative transportation, with 40 percent of the city now commuting to work not in cars, but on bikes or public transportation.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) raised questions about Department of Transportation funding for the Active Transportation Alliance. Scheinfeld couldn't immediately give a funding amount, but said it came from federal funds intended for outreach on transportation issues.
While calling the alliance an "admirable" group, Reilly said he objected to being "targeted" by it over his opposition to bike lanes, as on Kinzie Street. "They're an advocacy organization as well as an education organization," Reilly said, adding, "I don't think it smells right for tax dollars to be used for an organization that lobbies."
"They do wonderful work," said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th).
"I understand you serve on the board, alderman," Reilly responded.
"So do I," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st).
"Good for you, Joe," Reilly said, but persisted in his objection to alliance funding.
"They are a fantastic, fantastic organization," Moreno later added. "They're not involved in politics. They're not involved in a campaign." Instead, he insisted, the alliance is an "advocacy" group. "They're doing everything on the up and up," Moreno said, "and I'm glad they're partnering with the city."
Ron Burke, executive director of the alliance, said it had been doing outreach work for the city on transportation issues "for a decade now" and has similar deals with dozens of cities nationwide, thanks to its direct pipeline to cyclists. He confirmed the group had clashed with Reilly over his proposal to move the Kinzie bike lanes to Grand Avenue due to construction at Wolf Point.
According to Burke, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) has resisted that move onto a section of Grand in his ward, which has scuttled talks of any move of the Kinzie bike lanes, which Burke called "a real high-priority project for us," with substantial bike traffic off Milwaukee Avenue where it ends at Kinzie.
According to Scheinfeld, the city is completing its plan to add 100 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of this fall — another pet project of the Active Transportation Alliance — and she cited how Chicago was recently named the No. 2 U.S. city for cycling by Bicycling Magazine. She said her department was spending $3.1 million on them this year.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said he'd advocate expanding bike registration, with the money to go toward infrastructure improvements such as bike lanes. "Every little bit counts when it comes to revenue," Osterman added.
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