Vancouver Province column: City must address theft, safety issues before peddling bike rental program

September 15, 2008

Peter Ladner, the Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate in the upcoming Vancouver municipal election, has a transportation vision for the Lower Mainland that goes beyond public transit and private vehicles.

Ladner, a long-time cycling advocate, would like to see more commuters getting around by bike.

Last year, the city councillor and former TransLink board member requested a feasibility study on bringing a bike-rental program to Metro Vancouver.

The consultant’s report is now in, and it concludes that some Vancouver neighbourhoods are indeed ready for self-serve bike renting.

That is, if taxpayers or another party can come up with the $10 million per year to maintain a fleet of 3,800 bikes.

Funding aside, such a program is, in theory, a terrific idea. After all, bike-rental programs have proven to be hugely successful in European cities like Paris. And this past spring, similar pilot programs began in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

Greater Vancouver, meanwhile, has a community of die-hard cyclists that would surely embrace this program.

The problem is, Vancouver isn’t Paris. And there are a few reasons why this form of bike sharing could be more of a transportation bust than a breakthrough.

The first sticking point, trivial as it seems, is our mandatory bike helmet laws. It’s hard to believe that work-a-day commuters are willing to carry head protection around just in case they decide to rent a 10-speed on the way home from the office.

Secondly, Metro Vancouver’s property theft epidemic means these bikes will be under constant siege.

As a victim of bike theft myself, I have no doubt these community two-wheelers will be sitting ducks for our ever-creative criminal class.

And then there’s the issue of personal safety. Local safe-cycling infrastructure is a far cry from what exists in the bike-friendly cities of Europe. For the most part, cyclists have to fend for themselves in fast-moving, road-raging Lower Mainland traffic.

As for downtown Vancouver’s so-called “dedicated bike lanes,” they are often anything but — forcing cyclists to dodge parked delivery trucks and wayward cars during rush hour.

Cycling advocate Gil Penalosa, who lectured at the SFU City Program last month, made the case that a bike lane that isn’t safe for an eight-year-old or an 80-year-old isn’t a bike lane at all.

I couldn’t agree more.

To its credit, Vancouver is at least moving in the right direction with the building of the Carrall Street Greenway, a cycling route running north of False Creek that gets bikes off the road, away from vehicle traffic.

So there’s hope yet.

Bicycle sharing on the West Coast could eventually be a hit with local commuters –and Ladner deserves his share of credit if it does.

But before that can happen, he and other civic leaders must address the safety and security of commuters who are already getting around on their own bikes.

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3 Comments

Filed under Commuting, Cycling, Environment, Green Space, Law and Order, Politics, San Francisco, Transportation, Urban Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

3 responses to “Vancouver Province column: City must address theft, safety issues before peddling bike rental program

  1. The helmet laws really are the biggest stumbling block. Bike theft, not so much. Although bike theft is rampant in Vancouver (I’ve too have been burnt), I don’t think it will affect bike-sharing because all programs out there are designed to use non-standard parts, so they’re pretty much useless to any thief. Vandalism is still a concern.

  2. Metropolis West

    I agree. There are solutions for bike theft. There isn’t an easy solution for the bike helmet problem. Any entrepreneurs out there who want to tackle this one?

  3. Christopher Cotrell

    Tel Aviv, Israel is considering a similar program, and is running into a similar problem with a recently passed nationwide helmet law. The simple solution that some are pushing for: repeal the helmet law.

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