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NEWS: Bike-share program parked for at least a year

Would-be commuter cyclists in Vancouver will have to wait at least another year for a public bike-share program to hit city streets and separated bike lanes.
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Would-be commuter cyclists in Vancouver will have to wait at least another year for a public bike-share program to hit city streets and separated bike lanes.

According to city staff and cycling advocates, a European-style bike-share program is unlikely to get off the ground in Vancouver until spring 2012.

The soonest that I think we could expect is probably a year from now, said Scott Edwards, manager of the City of Vancouvers streets activities branch.

Establishing a public bike-share program is a top priority identified in the City of Vancouvers Greenest City 2020 initiative its bid to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Edwards said city council asked staff in 2009 to look into launching a bike-share program before last years Olympics but the project was delayed due to pre-Games planning.

A second projected launch this spring has been pushed back so the city can issue a public request for proposals from vendors and figure out solutions to logistical issues around ensuring bike-share users can comply with Vancouvers helmet laws, said Edwards.

While Vancouver initially looked into a bike-share system from Montreal-based company Bixi, Edwards said options for vendors and technologies have exploded in the past two years in cities around the world. Staff are now watching closely to learn from other cities experiences.

I think its probably been a good thing that weve been able to observe that, he said.

While Montreal implemented a Bixi bike-share program in 2009 and Toronto followed suit earlier this month, Edwards said Vancouver staff have kept a particularly close eye on Melbourne, Australia, one of the first places to implement a bike-share system in a city with helmet laws similar to Vancouvers.

Melbournes system has not been as popular as bike shares in other cities and many speculate the helmet laws are to blame. Though Melbourne recently introduced helmet vending machines to encourage easy access to helmets, Edwards said Vancouver is waiting to see how various bike-share vendors address the helmet issue.

I think theres a number of lessons learned coming out of Melbourne, including the season they launched in, but helmets of course play into it... Im sure that theres a clever solution out there somewhere in the market place.

Keith Ippel of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition agreed an easy solution to the helmet issue will be the key to a successful bike share system in Vancouver.

Thats not something that has historically been done in other public bike shares, he said.

Ippel has been working with brand consultants Cause + Affect and representatives from Modo, formerly the Co-operative Auto Network, to put together a feasibility study on bike sharing in Vancouver.

Ippel said with a rash of new vendors entering the scene, including American candidates B-Cycle and DecoBikes, the city is wise to sit on the project for a while. Lets take the time to do it right, as opposed to putting something on the ground that maybe (a) is not the optimal solution for Vancouver and (b) if you miss on the helmet solution, youll miss on the system. I think cooler heads have prevailed.

Ippel added that implementing a bike-share program this year might also raise the hackles of Vancouverites who feel the city has already spent too much money on cycling infrastructure, such as the $4-million separated bike lanes.

I think that is a practical risk, he said. You dont want to do too much too soon.

Ippel said he expects the city to issue a public request for proposals before the summer.

reporter@westender.com