Vancouver first western Canadian city to incorporate bike sharing into transit scheme

Bike share hopes and fears as City Council approves Alta-Bixi proposal.

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Bicycle Day at City Hall

It's official: Vancouver will be the first western Canadian city to incorporate bike sharing into its transit scheme. Vancouver's bike share program is scheduled to launch 2014 with 250 bikes and 25 stations to begin with, expanding over the next few months 1,500 bikes and 150 stations.

Vancouver City Councillors approved the bike share program 7-2 in a move that will thrill cycling enthusiasts. However, Canada has yet to launch a successful bike share program.

City Hall's (and the city's) supporters of the program, to be managed by Alta and implemented with Bixi's hardware, point out that Vancouver's business structure surrounding the program will be different than those in Toronto and Montreal. Councillor Raymond Louie alluded to the tribulations faced out East as "horror stories".

While preparing to liveblog the proceedings, I overheard a City Hall staffer saying that the Councillors did not necessarily have to vote on the bike share proposal: they could have asked for more information on the project, or punted it forward for another meeting.

However, the writing was on the wall two hours into the presentation, when Elizabeth Ball (who was opposed to the proposal in its current state) said, "It's clear that this is going to go through" before bringing up her objections to what she described as the lack of information around the project's financing and the proposed helmet dispenser system's efficacy.

Also opposing the plan was Councillor George Affleck, who couldn't come up with an example of a bike share system comparable to Vancouver's, and who was also uncomfortable with the apparent marginalization of local bike store owners. He said, "We're talking [about] millions of dollars of taxpayers' money" getting put into something that's "likely to fail".

Voting in support of the bike share program, Councillor Tim Stevenson said he was in favour of anything the City could do to encourage people, especially women and girls, to cycle; and that the initial cost of the program would be tiny compared to the $54 million per year into roads.

Though he has recused himself from the Kits bike path debates, Mayor Gregor Robertson came out firmly in support of the bike share program.

Leading from the rear

Vancouver is nowhere near first in bike sharing: over 500 systems exist worldwide. However, we will be the first city to roll out a system-wide helmet dispenser system more complicated (and more sanitary) than locking them to the bikes.

A recurring element in the discussion was that the bike share program's success would be tied to Vancouver's ability to implement a strong network of bike lanes that make casual local cyclists and tourists alike feel safe as they ply the streets.

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