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BIXI Coming to Town 5

TorontoBixi2

Image courtesy of toronto.bixi.com 

BIXI is coming to Toronto – for real this time. Well, unless it gets cancelled again. But it seems more real this year than last year – for real.

I’m proud to say that I am now one of the 1,000 “founding members” of Toronto’s BIXI program. For less than a monthly metro pass, I in turn receive a full-year bicycle rental membership with BIXI – granting me the right to use BIXI bicycles for free for up to 30-minutes for an entire year.

I attended the “BIXI bash” last Wednesday at the Gladstone hotel, but the BIXI folks were too busy signing up other enthusiastic new BIXI members – so I opted to do it online instead.

I have been an ardent supporter of BIXI since I took Montreal’s BIXI’s out for a test ride in July 2009. Despite its early flaws which I pointed out in that article (most of which have been rectified), I found the system to be a great step forward for urban cycling.

The concept is amazing – almost everywhere you look you can find a BIXI bike station waiting for you to hop on and instantly and magically become an urban utility cyclist without worrying about whether your bike will be stolen, or dealing with that flat tire that you haven’t got around to fixing for a few weeks.

Or perhaps you live in the suburbs and travel by train or public transit when you go downtown. BIXI will be there waiting for you too like a great friend who is always there to pick you up at the airport.

Or maybe you don’t even own a bike – don’t worry, BIXI won’t hold it against you.

And I’m not the only one who thinks BIXI is a great idea – the program has exploded to cities around the world, including Melbourne, Boston, Washington, and Minneapolis. Most recently, BIXI launched in London, UK with more than 6,000 bikes at 400 stations for its first phase.

Toronto isn’t a city that likes to stay ahead of the curve, so we are “playing it safe” by only investing in 1000 bikes at just 80 stations. My hope is that the lack of bikes won’t impede on the convenience of the system in this city of 2.5 million people.

Montreal – a city of 1.6 million people – launched with 3000 bikes at 300 stations and later increased its fleet to 5000 bikes at 400 stations.

Paris, not commonly known as the most bike-friendly city, with a population of about 2.1 million in the city centre has 20,000 bicycles available at 1,639 stations with its Vélib’ system.

VelibParis

Photo courtesy of Jamie Barras 

Fellow cycling blogger David Hembrow points out that bike sharing schemes won’t have a significant impact on transforming a city into a cycling culture in a recent article. True, bike sharing schemes aren’t the silver bullet that will change a city overnight, but their presence alone can help bikes become a more accepted mode of transportation.

David’s silver bullet solution is to invest in the infrastructure that can help people be safe (and feel safe) while riding a bike. But in many North American cities, the majority of the population don’t accept cycling as a mode of transportation and are against investing in cycling infrastructure if it has an impact on our current road design – people don’t like change here.

So while I will continue to push for better infrastructure – because I agree with David that infrastructure is extremely important – I will also support and promote investing in a bike sharing scheme because I believe it will help bring urban utility cycling to the forefront of people’s minds.

Regarding Toronto’s BIXI program, reader James Mallon commented in April that Toronto’s motto is “aim low, and miss”. In reality, I hope the motto for BIXI will become “aim low, and expand”.

You know, It could be worse – we could be dealing with a an ineffectual helmet law as they are in Melbourne.

If Toronto’s motto is “aim low, and miss”, then Melbourne’s motto would be “aim low, and carry a helmet”.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com.

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  • jamesmallon

    I can be pretty negative, but Toronto facilitates it. Good luck to Bixi. I am in Tokyo for the next two years, and it will be interesting to see what two cycling seasons of Bixi downtown does for the traffic atmosphere. Funny that cycling infrastructure is far worse in Tokyo, but more people cycle. These things are cultural

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10510514405099510918 Michael

    Good, news James. David Hembrow does have a point. But what he does not take into account is the power to change people’s thinking, to see bikes in a new way, these schemes have, when folks see Bixis in front of them everywhere for the taking.

    It might be expensive mind conversion, but I’m convinced it works. And it’s not as if the money spent on these bikes was available for the infrastructure which he says is key.

    Money wont move into that area without the sizeable lobby group Bixi can help build. Mike

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13186428862833389619 Kevin Love

    In my opinion it is a “chicken or egg” sort of thing. David Hembrow is right that Toronto needs Dutch-style infrastructure if we are to become a cycling city. But I believe that Bixi is one of the ways to build the consensus to make that transformation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09507726400631105540 David Latimer

    I recently used the Velib system in Paris and thought it was great; very flexible. I was able to pay 1 Euro for a one-day membership and get 30 minutes free or pay just a Euro for an additional 30. The stations were advertised as being within 300 metres of each other and I was easily able to find stations across the city. Hope Bixi is able to match it at some point.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Dave, glad you had a good experience with the Velib system. How was your experience with motorists in Paris? I know the French are known to drive fairly aggressively, but I suspect drivers are more aware of cyclists there than here in Toronto. Though I’m sure it’s nowhere near cycling Mecca (the Netherlands) of course.