How will the Vancouver bike share helmet system work?

Vancouver bike share helmet machines: New facts emerge and a few mysteries persist.

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Bike share coming to Vancouver in 2014

Straight to the dome 

Vancouver has joined the public bike share club, whose membership is as diverse as it is large. Bike share programs meet success or failure due to many intertwined criteria such as geography, price, city infrastructure, and local laws. And Vancouver's helmet law was pegged as a "key challenge" during yesterday's debate on bike sharing. 

The "local laws" bit is a particular sticking point for many would-be users of public bike share (PBS). How many of you carry around a bike helmet if you're not also pedaling a bicycle of your own?

At the moment, the answer is of course "none", so Alta Bike Share– and the City– can only speculate on whether or not you will do so once those bike share docking stations appear.

You and me, baby, ain't nothing but MAMLs

There's a section of the Vancouver cycling crowd called MAMLs: Middle-Aged Males in Lycra. Those are the folks who don artificial fibers, wraparound sunglasses, and aerodynamic helmets before they even deign to be seen astride a bike.

What about the rest of us? For example, I don't really do lycra, but do I rock clipless pedals, and I occupy that left lane when taking a left turn.  I'm very comfortable in traffic, but I wear a helmet whenever I ride because I see a lot of Vancouver drivers can't comprehend the notion of the pedestrian-controlled stoplight or the simple roundabout. 

Conversely, if you're a cyclist who'd only stick to separated bike lanes, would that perception of safety affect your decision to wear a helmet?

So maybe the question is not "Will you use a shared bike if a helmet is required?", but rather "What makes you wear a bike helmet when you ride: do you want to protect your dome, or because you want to avoid a fine of up to $100?"

So, really, the Provincial helmet law has been a deciding factor for whether or not you take that bike journey no matter whose pedals you're using; this time, though, the City has $6 million worth of skin in the game: they need to make sure that the public perception is one of very little friction.

Blazing a new trail

I had previously compared the Helmet-o-matic concept with the helmet scheme used by Melbourne Bike Share, but that comparison is no longer accurate.

Melbourne's bike share program (in)famously includes an ad-hoc network of helmet outlets. Only two of these outlets are automatic helmet dispensers: one is at Southern Cross Station, and the other is at Melbourne University.

Melbourne helmet dispenser

Helmet dispenser at Southern Cross Station, Melbourne (photo by Peter Halasz)

The rest of the system is handled by corner stores. The system was not well-received, and ridership suffered. Melbourne is now testing a free helmet system, similar to that in Brisbane, in hopes of boosting ridership.

The upside: free helmet attached to each bike. The downside: you have no idea who used the helmet before you did.

So there may be some itchin', but there will be no friction in grabbing a Melbourne Bike Share ride. Have fun with those hook-turn intersections. If the free helmet scheme works, perhaps Melbourne Bike Share can expand into areas like Fitzroy, St. Kilda, and the fixie locus that is Northcote.

The Public Bike Share proposal approved by City Council is scant on details regarding helmet provision. Page 11 of the July 23, 2013 Vancouver Public Bike Share Report reads,

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