Millennium Park Bike Station Offers Viable Commuting Option
Bicyclists are keen to pedal up

Rendering courtesy of the architect.by Heather Livingston

Tucked away in the northeast quadrant of Chicago’s Millennium Park, a 12,000-square-foot bicycle station is fast becoming the jewel of the park for many Chicagoans. Designed by Chicago-based Müller & Muller Architects for the Chicago Department of Transportation, this 300-bike parking/changing station quietly opened last summer amid the flourish of big-spectacle projects such as Frank Gehry’s band shell. However, since that time, the “Little Station that Could” has been operating at or near capacity and now has a lengthy waiting list for locker space.

Photo © Nathan Kirkman.A tight schedule
Funded by the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration under the TEA-21 Act, the station was designed to promote bicycle riding to improve health and air quality in Chicago. According to David Steele, AIA, Müller & Muller’s senior designer for the station, the turnaround on this project was very tight: Design began two summers ago, construction started last spring, and the station opened at the beginning of July 2004. “We had a very short design schedule and extremely short construction schedule, so everybody really had to work well together. Initially, the entire bike station was meant to be underground—it wouldn’t be visible from above—but we thought that would be a mistake. It needed a more attractive and official presence so the people would know about it. It actually has become somewhat of a landmark for bikers in Chicago.”

Photo © Nathan Kirkman.Built on top of a garage underneath the park, the above-ground portion of the bike station is the grand entrance of the facility. The glass curtain wall and interior atrium welcomes cyclists and pronounces a public presence for the site. The architect designed the atrium’s skin to maximize energy efficiency and natural ventilation. The vertical surface features “a series of stainless steel cables on which plantings will eventually grow and climb to create more shielding,” notes Steele. “In the summer, you’ll get a really leafy effect on the building. As some of the leaves go away in the fall, the effect will be more lacy and open, allowing a lot more sunlight in.”

Although one of the goals of the project was to promote sustainable architecture in the city, the project is not LEED™-certified. This is largely due to the tight timeline, but also because LEED is primarily geared toward office buildings, making translation to this project type difficult. However, Steele notes that, based on an informal survey, they do believe that it would meet LEED certification criteria. Among the green features are 120 photovoltaic panels atop the building that produce a portion of the facility’s electricity, an amount equivalent to provide “enough power for 100 average American homes,” the architect says.

Photo © Nathan Kirkman.The price is right
At the edge of Chicago’s famed “Loop,” the two-level station is a draw for bicyclists, runners, and in-line skaters because of its attractive design and setting and convenient downtown location near mass transit, Lake Shore Drive, and a multitude of office buildings. The first full-service bicycle station in Chicago, it offers free daily bicycle parking and clean, bright, modern locker room facilities for the minimal cost of $1 a day (monthly passes can be obtained for $15 and annual passes for $90). The Millennium Park Bicycle Station “not only gives bicyclists a place to park, but more importantly, a place to get cleaned up,” says Steele. “If you ride your bike to work, especially in the summer, you get sweaty and don’t want to go into the office like that, so there are showers and lockers to store your things so you can be presentable at the office.”

Photo © Robert Murphy.The bikes are deposited on double-stacking racks with a “pull-out lever that allows you to pull your bike up to the second level and push it back in,” says Steele. “It’s fairly easy to use even though they’re double-stacked.” The locker facilities provide 240 lockers for monthly or annual users and 100 pay lockers. The individual showers, four for both women and men, each has a personal dressing area attached, eliminating the corral feel common to many fitness center locker rooms. “An effort was made to give some personal feeling to the place so it’s not like you’re going into a big bullpen shower room.” Steele also notes that the facility operator, Bike Chicago, would like to add more showers eventually. Although the showers are accessible without a wait for most of the day, during rush hour they can get backed up because most commuters arrive within 1–2 hours of each other.

Steele notes that the popularity of the station has been somewhat surprising. There’s no real precedent for this project type in the U.S., so it was difficult to gauge how successful the project could be. “It’s more common in Europe. We really didn’t know how popular it would be, but there’s a strong contingent of bike riders in Chicago who even ride through the winter, and the city has put in bike lanes all over the place. The lakefront trail runs through the park and almost the entire length of the city, so there are some great opportunities for biking in Chicago.”

Photo © Robert Murphy.The Millennium Park Bike Station also provides a home to the Chicago Police Lakefront Bicycle Patrol Unit, offering excellent lakefront proximity for the police and additional security for bicyclists. Essential to commuters and recreational enthusiasts alike, the station supplies bicycle repair and rental and soon will offer a small café featuring healthy drinks and snacks. In addition, during special events in the park, the station offers free valet parking, making it a viable option throughout the seasons and at all hours of the day.

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