Free bikes: Application process, rules explained as city prepares to give away 500 bicycles, along with locks, helmets

Among other requirements, applicants must be at least 14 years old and can’t already own a bike. The 500 bikes are the first installment of 5,000 the city plans to give away over four years.

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A bike lane in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood.

A bike lane near Riis Park in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood.

Sun-Times file

Chicago’s great bicycle giveaway will begin this summer, with “at least 500” bikes, helmets, locks and lights distributed to qualifying residents 14 and older who don’t already own a bike.

The competition begins July 18 and continues through Aug. 4. During those 18 days, the Lightfoot administration will accept applications at www.chicago.gov/bikechicago. Paper applications can also be downloaded on that site and mailed to City Hall.

To qualify for the latest in a string of pre-election freebies, applicants must:

• Be at least 14 years old. A parent or guardian must be present when anyone under 18 picks up their bike and safety equipment.

• Live in a household with an income “at or below” 100% of the Area Median Income for Chicago. That’s $73,000 for an individual, $104,200 for a family of four and $120,900 for a six-member household.

• Not already own a bike.

• Face what the city defines as “mobility hardship” or participate in a mobility program operated by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

In all, plans call for 5,000 bikes to be distributed over a four-year period — assuming Mayor Lori Lightfoot wins a second term.

In the first year of the program, 500 bikes will be distributed, bankrolled by a “Climate Recovery Bond” used to “improve the mobility of residents” and “encourage the use of sustainable modes of transportation.”

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At least some of those 500 bikes will be “assembled by and distributed to” members of Greencorps, a green jobs training program for high school students attending Chicago Public Schools.

Some will also go to participants in CDOT’s 2022 mobility programs, including Chicago SAFE Ambassadors’ Learn to Ride program and “Open Boulevards” events.

A bike giveaway and bicycle safety camp event at Union Park in August 2021 was hosted by the 27th Ward.

A bike giveaway and bicycle safety camp event at Union Park in August 2021 was hosted by the 27th Ward.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The freebies will be single-speed commuter bikes that, according to the city, are simple to maintain.

Designated recipients will be matched with an appropriate-size bike and will get the information they need to have confidence making their way on Chicago’s disjointed network of protected and unprotected bike lanes.

Last month, Lightfoot announced plans to add 25 miles of bike lanes by Dec. 31. All those new lanes will be protected by a concrete curb, and all bike lanes now marked off only by plastic posts will get a similar upgrade by the end of 2023. The goal is to protect cyclists shaken by a wave of recent cycling accidents, some fatal.

The project Lightfoot calls the “biggest expansion and upgrade of low-stress bike routes” in Chicago history will be bankrolled by her five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan.

Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council, called that announcement a “good start.” But she said, “It’s not a commitment to do the whole system yet. And that’s what we would want. We need to know, what is the long-term plan for the whole network?”

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi first announced the bike giveaway during a March 31 speech to the City Club of Chicago.

Biagi called it a “community cycling strategy” aimed at developing bike routes that acknowledge the reality of “everyday life” in Chicago neighborhoods.

“We’re gonna give away 5,000 bikes to Chicago residents. Free bikes. And a helmet. And a bike lock,” Biagi told her audience that day. “We need to do our part, right? We’re building out the network. We’ve got the bikes.”

In a press release announcing the application process, Biagi called bike riding an “affordable, sustainable and healthy way to travel that reduces car congestion and improves quality of life.”

“We’re excited to launch this program and start distributing bikes and safety gear this summer and throughout the next several years,” the commissioner was quoted as saying.

“Along with improving and expanding the city’s network of bike lanes and trails, CDOT is committed to making biking a more popular and practical option for all residents — and Bike Chicago will do just that.”

Lightfoot is leading a delegation to London and Paris this week to promote Chicago as a business destination and a financial technology hub.

In the release, she was quoted as saying that “every resident in our city deserves equitable accesss to safe, reliable and affordable clean transportation options.”

“Bike Chicago accelerates both the city’s climate and equity goals by providing new workforce pathways, bikes and supportive resources that promote safe biking and a healthy, low-carbon transportation ecosystem for all Chicagoans,” the mayor said.

Paul Fitzgerald, executive director at Friends of Big Marsh, crosses a new bike lane along West 119th Street and South Green Street in the West Pullman neighborhood in September 2021.

Paul Fitzgerald, executive director at Friends of Big Marsh, crosses a new bike lane along West 119th Street and South Green Street in the West Pullman neighborhood in September 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times


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