Last weekend I visited Chicago, and found myself missing my bicycle. Trudging from place to place on foot cramped my style and hindered me from getting my bearings as quickly as I could by bike. I longed to sail through Millennium Park, to lock up at the field museum and explore a different district all on two wheels. Unfortunately, the Megabus wouldn't allow me to stow my bike as my 50 pound piece of luggage. Plus, what would I wear?
Once we found our hotel and set out to explore the expansive downtown lakefront, I noticed that the kind of bicycle infrastructure I'm used to at home is largely absent. With hardly any bike lanes or trails, it's difficult at best for the few cyclists out and about on the roads. Perhaps there's less need for such bicycle infrastructure in the city, given its enviable public transportation system. But I couldn't help but feel that citizens of Chicago are missing out on what this tourist had grown accustomed to in her hometown.
I did see a few brave souls weaving through the heavy Chicago traffi. Plus sidewalks speckled with bike racks. And I also noticed the clever monetization of bicycles for tourists. A company called Divvy offers corrals of bicycles every few blocks. The bikes seemed well maintained and the payment interface easy to navigate. Purchase one 24-hour pass and receive unlimited 30-minute rides. Go over the 30 minute limit and your credit card is automatically charged an extra fee.
Users of the bike share program can zip through the city quickly, but not necessarily easily. The lack of bike lanes forces many out-of-towners onto the sidewalk, mixing dangerously with the heavily trafficked pedestrian areas. Also, the corral does not provide helmetsm making it an at-your-own-risk situation if you should decide to compete with the busy auto traffic. In all, I appreciated the idea behind the bike share option, but without an appropriate space for users, it seemed just a little off to me.
Visitors to Indianapolis can look forward to a bike share program set to launch early next summer. You can read more about it at NUVO's sister site Indiana Living Green. But basically, the program will work much the same as the one in Chicago, with the added bonus of a workable infrastructure already in place and easy to navigate.
On returning home, the first thing I did was take a tour of my own city by bike - thankful to live in a town that places importance on the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Because I've been using it for the past year and half, I never really stopped to consider the magnificence of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, the city's bike lanes - and our ability as cyclists to actually travel (and travel safely) from place to place.
If you haven't seen it yet, I really recommend taking a look at this Street Films short, which features the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. My eyes well-up with pride every time I watch it. It's a good reminder of what makes bike culture in Indianapolis, in our city, so special.