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Rahm defends bike-sharing delay

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Gabe Klein, commissioner of transportation, points to a bike lane while the mayor and Alderman Ariel Reboyras, 30rd Ward, watch passing bikers. At Malcolm X College, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces the building of more than 30 miles of bicycle lanes in neighborhoods across Chicago this year. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Chicagoans will have to wait until next spring to rent 3,000 bicycles from 300 stations because the city is determined to "do it right," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.

"I'm not disappointed. We want to do it right. It's about planning and doing things in the right way and the correct way."

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that Emanuel's plan to make Chicago the nation's most bike-friendly city had hit a pothole with the delay until next spring of a bike sharing program that was supposed debut this summer.

The delay comes as Inspector General Joe Ferguson continues to investigate a rival bidder's claim that the bid process was greased for Alta Bicycle Share, an Oregon company that once hired Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein as a consultant.

Problems with Alta's newly-developed software have also stalled the company's 10,000-bike rental program in New York City.

In light of those complications--and a $26 million lawsuit filed by the old software developer--Emanuel was asked whether he's still confident that Alta can deliver on the 15-year, $65 million Chicago contract.

"I'm confident, yes. And I'm confident the city of Chicago is on the right path because we've gone from last as it relates to protected bike lanes to first in the nation."

At a news conference to showcase three technology companies in the West Loop, Emanuel touted bike-sharing and bike lanes as a selling point and a key component of Chicago's transportation system.

"When we got Google and Motorola [Mobility] to move downtown, they moved to the Merchandise Mart because they knew they could get the type of employees they need. And one of the things that employees look today is the quality of life and quality of transportation because of the ease that comes with it. And that ease is having trains as a choice, buses as a choice and bikes as a choice getting to and from work," the mayor said.

Last spring, the Chicago City Council gave Alta the go-ahead to operate the bike-sharing system until 2027, despite rival Bike Chicago's mid-March claim to the Sun-Times that the process was "tainted" by Klein's past ties to the company.

The city issued request for proposals last fall with a quick, 30-day turnaround, attracted only three bidders, then cancelled the bids and issued a second request without releasing the first-round proposals or explaining why they were cancelled.

Bike Chicago owner Josh Squire claims Klein did not disclose his prior relationship with Alta and did not really recuse himself from the selection process as he claimed. He also contends that Bike Chicago's start-up costs were $7 million lower than Alta's and that its annual operating costs were $1.6 million less.

Currently, bike sharing in Chicago is a small private venture limited to 100 bikes at six stations at popular tourist destinations including the Museum Campus, Buckingham Fountain, the John Hancock Center, McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

Billed as the "missing link" in Chicago's mass transit system, the new program is expected to be geared more toward everyday people interested in making short trips by renting a bike at one location and dropping it off at another.

Bicycle enthusiasts would pay $75 for an annual membership and $7 for a daily membership that gives them unlimited rides under 30 minutes. The cost to members will be $1.50-to-$2 for every hour after the initial 30 minutes.

Solar-powered docking stations that resemble gas stations for bikes -- complete with advertising panels -- would be located a quarter-mile apart near CTA and commuter rail stations and in other high-density areas that enjoy at least two hours of sunlight.

Bikes featuring multiple speeds, front and back lights, a cushioned seat and basket will have sponsorship logos on the fender.

The city expects to use $18 million in federal grants earmarked for reducing air pollution to purchase the bikes and build stations, along with $3 million in matching funds from the city.

The network will then be turned over to Alta for the next five years -- with a pair of five-year renewal options -- for an annual operating fee. Advertising and sponsorship revenues would go to the city.

The contract will also include bonuses for high usage and strict performance standards -- including bike maintenance, snow and graffiti removal and a stipulation that Alta vans roam the city to make certain no station is either full or empty for longer than fifteen minutes.

The system -- with 3,000 bikes at 300 stations initially and 4,000 bikes at 400 stations over time -- was supposed to launch in an area that stretches from Montrose to 43rd Street and the lakefront to Western then grow north to Devon, south to 63rd and west to California.

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