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I am a Vancouverite, born and raised in the city. I believe Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, as confirmed by recent livability reports. I also believe that Vancouver is populated by educated, eco-conscious and health conscious people who are committed to preserving this treasure for future generations. So, why is it that people continue to resist any initiatives that are designed to increase the cycling network in our cities?
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I note the current controversy in Victoria over lost parking spots due to bike lanes. This is similar to the fuss over the Hornby St and the Union St bike lanes … and to the recent article in the 24 Hours by Ada Slivinski “Bike Sharing Shouldn’t Be Subsidized”. Slivinski is of the opinion that the subsidy of our bike share program is a poor use of taxpayers’ money. Why is cycling always the villain of our transportation mosaic? ALL transport is subsidized! Even walking is subsidized.
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We are about to launch on a $3.5 billion project to replace the replace the Massey Tunnel – is that a for-profit model? An annual $1 million dollar subsidy for bike share is a mere fraction comparatively. What about the Golden Ears Bridge and the new Port Mann Bridge? Motorists will drive miles out of their way, wasting time and gas, just to avoid paying a toll. While so many motorists are opposed to paying for the very expensive facilities their cars require, the reality is that society subsidizes motorists to the point of putting in NINE dollars for every dollar the average motorist puts it.
And of course, transit is also heavily subsidized. Will transit ever be a for-profit entity? NOOOO! And as part of a transit system, neither will the bike share system. This is as it should be – one of the most important things that a city can do is provide safe, affordable transit for all.
Joe has written extensively on the reduction of car trips into the downtown core, as evidenced by the almost-empty office parking lots – and about how the increase in cyclists and decrease in motorists has actually been good for business.
But still people like Ms. Slivinski have doubts. So we continue to pay billions of dollars to support the car culture for drivers who refuse to pay user fees, but subsidizing a user-pay bike share program is a waste of taxpayer money! Pu-lease.
Ms. Slivinski also notes that our city is already well-served by local Vancouver bike rental businesses. That is true for anyone who wants to take a long recreational ride. What she fails to appreciate is that a bike share program is not designed to serve recreational riders, but to add to the reach of our public transportation network. New York’s leaders observed the success of bike share programs in other cities and commenced their own bike share program in 2013. New York’s Citi Bike bike share system is now planning its second expansion since 2013. Joe Walder, CEO of New York’s Citi Bike bikeshare system, sums up his vision of making bike share part of the transit system of major cities:
“The patterns where we’re living and working have become completely different than what was imagined 100 years ago when the subway was created. Bike sharing is creating effectively personalized mass transit. The idea that my trip is defined by station has been removed.”
Research published in the NYC Commuting Distance Report (New York City Department of Transportation) has shown that that 10% of automobile trips are less than one-half mile, 22% are less than 1 mile and 56% are less than 3 miles. Most people can easily cover these short distances by bicycle.
Arguably New York City has the biggest and best supported transit system in the world, with many New Yorkers boasting that they don’t drive or own cars. However, transit cannot reach every corner of every neighborhood. Bike Share programs such as New York’s Citi Bikes were developed to cover the gaps in the transit system – and also to reduce emissions, road wear, collisions, congestion, and to improve public health. If big cities like Montreal and New York have done the research and created these systems, why would Vancouver not follow suit?
Joe and I spent a week in New York City recently and were delighted to see a thriving cycling culture, especially the Citi Bike program. Despite the bitingly cold weather we noticed that most of the bike share stations we passed were usually empty or nearly empty.
We also noticed that the Citi Bikes were used as part of a very casual bike culture, which seems to view riding a bike to the subway as being just as natural as walking to the subway. This laid-back attitude was reflected in the way people dressed for cycling – essentially, most of the cyclists we saw in downtown Manhattan appeared to be wearing exactly what they would be wearing if they were NOT riding a bike. That extended to their heads, where many wore woolen hats, but very few bothered with helmets.
Joe and I also spent a week in Montreal a few years ago and used both the Bixi Bike Share system and also rented bikes. We used the Bixi bikes to travel from our hotel to restaurants and other attractions, and even the bike shop in Old Montreal – where we then picked up rental bikes to ride longer distances along the many wonderful bike routes in Montreal. Rental bikes and bike share bikes are entirely different machines, and have very different roles to play. Bike share bikes are usually solid and heavy, and really not suitable for long distance rides.
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A bike share program in Vancouver is not going to compete with bike rental shops as they are two separate markets – transportation versus recreation. And yes, Ms. Slivinski, cycling commuters represent only 4.3% of total commuters right now – but there is still very little infrastructure in place and, IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME (as is obvious as soon as one travels beyond Vancouver and sees how things are done in other cities).
Ms. Slivinski is doubtful that a bike share service would increase bicycling commuters. Again, she fails to understand the role of a bike share program – it is supposed to be a part of a complete transit system – a system which users can personalize to meet their own needs. For example, we observed in Montreal that people came off the Metro system, put their briefcase in the basket of a Bixi bike (located conveniently at Metro Stations across the city) and headed off for the short trip to their office. These were not cycling commuters in the usual sense – No, they used rapid transit AND a bike share.
Increased infrastructure and end of ride facilities WILL increase cycle commuters. Just note the increase of cycling trips over the Burrard St Bridge since the bike lanes were introduced, or the massive increase in bike riders along the Hornby and Dunsmuir separated bike lanes.
Bike share programs are designed to improve our cities and improve our lives. Who can argue with improved safety for pedestrian and cyclists, PLUS reduced traffic in our downtown core? Who can argue with improved health for people when they cycle short distances rather than using their cars?
Following Ms. Slivinski’s logic … should we have a for-profit model for our hospitals? What about a pay-per-flush system for our sewer infrastructure? Now that’s just plain silly!
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