Editors Note: This is Alex Vickers’ final installment chronicling his experiences with Divvy Bikes and Chicago’s transportation infrastructure. Here are his other pieces from the series: ‘Industry Insight: Marketing Divvy Bike Share,’ ‘The Nuts and Spokes with the Planners of Divvy,’ and ‘Bike Share: Not Just a Solution for the First and Last Mile“
My weeklong whirlwind in Chicago culminated into A Day of Divvy, a first-hand video guide to enjoying Chicago through its new bike share program. It was the first time I had experienced the interface between rail, quality bike infrastructure, and bike share. And Chicago set a high standard by which I will judge my future excursions. After living and working in Los Angeles where I bike commute every day, having a real bike infrastructure network instead of a sharrow or a “bike friendly street” at my disposal was incredible.
I started my Day on Divvy at the station right next to my good friend’s apartment, which was conveniently located just a half block away. My day took me from the Ogden/Racine Station (pictured on the right) to Division St and Wicker Park. I then biked from Wicker Park down the Milwaukee cycle track to the River North area, following the Illinois Street bike lane to the Navy Pier. From the pier, I took the Lakeshore River path to my final stop at the Millenium Park. You can check out my route by clicking on this link.
Renting A Bike
Renting a bike from Divvy was simple and if you’ve used the PBSC system in other cities like London, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., or elsewhere it will be very familiar. Per the video, you begin by selecting your language and are brought to a screen with “Get a bike,” “Get new ride code,” “Station Full?” and so on. Once you’re guided through the menus, you are given a receipt which contains a ride code. You then enter the five digit number into the pad on the dock and your bike will be released. (For a complete video rundown of the rental process, check out the “Teach Me How to Divvy” video series that Divvy put together.)
I started the day with Pierogis at Podhalanka, which is right next to the Divison CTA stop. The sausage is highly recommended and the pierogis cannot be missed. The owner at Podhalanka was super friendly and offered us a full spread of Polish cuisine.
There’s a painted bike lane on Division and a number of cool bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and everything in between. It feels like what a “Complete Street” should look like: people enjoying drinks on the outdoor patio, women and strollers on the sidewalks, a bike lane, and Divvy stations every two blocks. It is a textbook “Bike Friendly Business District” and really shows the power of community and infrastructure coming together.
I was riding along the Divison bike lane and had to stop when I saw the “Smoke Daddy BBQ” restaurant. Their outdoor seating is right next to a Divvy Station and diners have a fantastic view of riders checking in and out. According to locals, they have world-class BBQ and, as I found out, a wide selection of craft beers to choose from. I was in heaven.
The next stop was Wicker Park right by the “Six Corners” intersection, which also features a Divvy Station and the Damen CTA stop. This community felt very similar to Division Street but a bit further along in its gentrification, it felt more well established and deeply rooted whereas Division feels brand new. I highly recommend a short walk up and down Milwaukee Street; every storefront is a unique thrift shop, restaurant, or bar.
One thing that surprised me about Chicago is how developed the coffee scene is. Going to Starbucks felt like a cop out–there was a boutique coffee shop serving fine espresso and cold brewed iced coffee around every corner. My favorite of the trip was Wormhole Coffee, located around the corner from the Damen/Pierce St Divvy Station. I got a cold-brewed iced coffee made with their freshly roasted coffee beans. It was just what I needed to keep me going through my series of Divvy trips. Wormhole has a nerdy, space-aged vibe and they somehow got a Back to the Future Delorean (photographed above) on top of a lofted area.
Another spot to check out is Glazed and Infused, a delicious donut shop that serves up gourmet “reinventions of an American classic.” I had their Maple Bacon Longjohn–a savory and sweet donut with a piece of bacon embedded directly into the frosting.
The next stop was River North, which unfortunately didn’t make it into the cut for my ‘Day on Divvy’ video. If you’re traveling from Wicker Park like I did you should take advantage of Milwaukee Blvd’s cycle track.
River North is a historic area just outside of Chicago’s Downtown ‘Loop’ that features the “Magnificent Mile.” It’s very tourist friendly and features a menagerie of higher-end department stores and branded storefronts. If you appreciate art, River North boasts the highest concentration of art galleries outside of Manhattan. One of Chicago’s most historic landmarks is the Water Tower, which is one of the few survivors of Chicago’s 1878 fire. The Tower (partly pictured above) has since become a symbol of Chicago’s progressive rebirth after the fire. It’s both a nod to the industrial strength that gave the Second City its start and the reestablishment of Chicago as a world class post-industrial city.
The Navy Pier
From River North, I biked down Illinois Street’s bikeway to the Streeter/Illinois station, which is the closest station to the Navy Pier. It’s Divvy’s most popular station due to this tourist hotspot. I learned during my interview with CDOT that Divvy’s busiest day thus far had occurred during my visit due to Chicago’s Air and Water Show. The plane stunt extravaganza drew the locals to the Navy Pier so as a result the Streeter/Illinois Station received a dramatic spice in usage. Of the 8,346 trips taken that day, 1,049 trips started or ended at the Navy Pier which has 35 docks.
The Navy Pier has a ton of attractions that are particularly kid-friendly. It features bumper cars, a roller coaster, cotton candy, and a huge ferris wheel that offers a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline. The video does the view better justice than words ever could.
The Lakeshore Trail
The Navy Pier is adjacent to the Lakefront which is a huge public space that runs along Lake Michigan. The 18-mile Lakeshore Trail cannot be missed, especially if you’re a cycling enthusiast. And Divvy stations dot most of the trail, so you don’t have to worry about surpassing that 30 minute limit.
There are few public spaces that I’ve been to besides New York’s Central Park that top the Lakefront. I found myself pulling over to take in the sights every five minutes. You bike by harbor after harbor, beach after beach, park after park, and run into many of Chicago’s most beautiful sights along the way.
One of these “beautiful sights” is the Millennium Park which is the crown jewel of the Lakefront. If you take the Lakefront Trail from the Navy Pier, you’ll be led right to it. It features the famous ‘Bean’ where I ended my video, as well as a public concert venue and the world famous Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute is a truly remarkable museum, as a former student of Art History, I was overcome with the amount of famous pieces I recognized from my textbooks.
If you’re in Chicago and do one thing, go to Millennium Park’s ‘The Bean.” Seriously. It’s such an engaging public art piece. Everyone is checking out their reflections and taking pictures. Distracted tourists gazing at themselves in the reflection repeatedly walked in front of my shot–I can’t tell you how many takes I had to do for this section of the video. The best part about “the Bean” is how spellbound all kids were by the chromed legume; there was a deafening chorus of laughter and enjoyment. I couldn’t think of a better place to end my ‘Day on Divvy.’