April 28, 2008

Bike-sharing in North America Starts in D.C.

I suppose there was a remote chance that Vancouver could have had North America’s first Paris-style bike sharing program (see Price Tags 101 for details).  But now it looks like Washington, D.C. will be the pace-setter. 

The New York Times has an article here.

Starting next month, people here will be able to rent a bicycle day and night with the swipe of a membership card.

A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city…  The district has teamed up with an advertiser, Clear Channel Outdoor, to put the bikes on the streets…

In the deal, Clear Channel will have exclusive advertising rights in the city’s bus shelters. The company has reached a similar deal with San Francisco. Chicago and Portland, Ore., are also considering proposals from advertisers.

Proponents hope to see the D.C. system grow to a thousand bikes in about a year – a necessity, I’d say, since 120 bikes aren’t enough to reach critical mass. 

TransLink currently has a study underway as a result of a motion moved by Peter Ladner under the old structure.  It should go to the executive committee in a week or so, and then to the board.  The report won’t likely be posted, since these meetings are all closed.  Indeed, it’s possible we won’t even know publicly if it’s killed off at that point. 

But I’m hopeful that some progress will be made towards a full-scale system that will show this region is sincere about leadership in sustainable transportation options.


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Thanks to all you PT readers who came out to celebrate the 100th issue of Price Tags and the donation of my slide collection to the Active Transportation Lab at UBC.  (Special thanks to Larry Frank, the Bombardier Chair at SCARP and to the Bombardier Foundation for making it possible.)

Of course, fellow blogger Stephen Rees was there – and here’s his summary.

What will most people remember?  Probably this:

Thanks, B:C:Clettes – you give new meaning to pedal power.


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This bit of pavement doesn’t rank as “New Stuff” quite yet: it’s the southern end of the Carrall Street Greenway (design here) – a critical link between the False Creek seawall and, eventually, Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour, completing the loop around the Downtown Peninsula.  Eventually, thousands will be biking, blading and walking on this connecting link every day, joining up Gastown, the Downtown East Side, Chinatown and Concord Pacific Place.

Indeed, Concord Pacific has placed the Presentation Centre, where they market their current projects, right next to the Greenway:

Now, if you look carefully (and I have), you’ll notice something very odd: there’s no bike rack.  Regardless of the traffic flowing by on the seawall and already using the greenway, Concord has made no accommodation for cyclists at all.

In fact, the whole lay-out of the Presentation Centre site has been designed purely for drive-in traffic.  There’s no pedestrian entrance on the seawall, and even the berm that surrounds the site on the north side avoids providing a pathway for bikes and peds directly to the entrance. 

The assumption: if you didn’t drive to get there, you don’t count.

Now here’s what I find odd.  Not that they designed the site only for cars, not that they have don’t have a bike rack, not that they’re ignoring the traffic on the seawall.  What I find incomprehensible is that they failed to take advantage of one of the best marketing opportunities available today – one that they paid millions for, and that they could lever to make millions more. 

It was Concord, after all, that paid for the seawall on the North Shore of False Creek; it is Pacific Place that pioneered a more pedestrain-friendly urban design.  Concord already has the brand!

And as I’ve written elsewhere about bike sharing, “green” makes green.  Sustainability is, as any strategic thinker realizes, the wave of the present, not just the future.  Whether it’s peak oil, climate change, smart-growth or resilient planning, any company that has an opportunity to position themselves for the future – when disruption can turn into opportunity – has the opportunity to put money in the bank.  “Gas expensive?  Live without a car.”  “Reduce your carbon footprint – and your weight.  Live in a walking-friendly community”    “Smart growth?  It starts here.”

And Concord, apparently, is oblivious.  Forget ‘good intentions’ or even the city’s bylaws that require bike racks.  To not take advantage of what you’ve already paid for, to fail to market your legitimately green credentials, to ignore your potential customers walking and cycling by, is leaving money on the table. 

That’s what the absense of a bike rack really means. 




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Good feedback on the Vélib’ Price Tags.
Eric Britton passes along this interesting chart of what people use  Vélib’ instead of:

When you take a Vélib’ it’s instead of :

Bus or métro.

65 % (104)

Car or moto.

8 % (13)


5 % (9)


20 % (33)

Andrew Tucker sends along a pic of bic – the Bicing system of Barcelona:

 The Bicing website didn’t have an English component that I could see – but here’s a map of the stations to give some idea of its scale:

Here’s Wikipedia’s summary.

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February 4, 2008

Here’s the unedited version of last week’s Business in Vancouver column:

        Sometime in the last year – while the smart money people in North America were preoccupied with credit default swaps – bike-sharing turned into a billion-dollar industry.
        I may be exaggerating when I say “industry.” But not “billion.”
        “Banks and private equity firms are eyeing a growth market for the bike industry,” reported Bike Europe. “The money involved in such systems is huge. In return for the Paris Vélib system with its 20,600 bikes, JCDecaux obtained the rights to exploit 1,628 billboards in Paris. The company expects to realize € 600 million in advertisement turnover over the course of the 10-year contract.”
        Cities all over the world are now looking seriously at public bike systems, and so are the large corporate entities that had previously dismissed the bicycle as not much more than a well-intentioned toy. Now they realize that JCDecaux could control a market of unknown but potentially staggering size, and they want a piece.

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The B.C. Cycling Coalition has a great idea: a province-wide network of cycling routes, similar to La Route Verte in Quebec.  Working title: Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes.
The Province has said, okay, show us what you have in mind.  So BCCC is working up concepts for three routes, one on southern Vancouver Island, one through the Lower Mainland, and this one for the Okanagan:

Details here – where they’re also asking for your input.  Think wine.

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January 20, 2008

Wendy Waters – whose “All About Cities” blog I just added to my list – responds to a post I did for Planetizen on “A Billion Reasons to Take Cycling Seriously.”
She doesn’t quite agree with my contention that cycling has been turned needlessly into a ‘left-right’ issue:

I think it has more to do with where you work and the dress code there.   I would argue (although have no stats to back this up) that more people who vote right-of-centre politically have jobs that require they wear formal business attire most of the time.  Those who wear their left-leaning political views on their sleeves often work where the dress code is more relaxed and more compatible with cycling.

She then goes on to calculate what it would take to have proper facilities installed in an office building – showers, parking, etc. – and finds that accommodating a bike comes to the same price as parking a car.
Doubtful.  (Anyway, the City has a bylaw that requires the facilities to be built into any new commercial space above a certain size.)
In fact, you don’t need to wear spandex to cycle.  They certainly don’t in Europe.  And the whole point of the bike-sharing systems in places like Paris is to offer an alternative for the short trip (under 30 minutes) where you needn’t break out in a sweat.
As Laura Domela illustrates in her book of Dutch cyclists, Fietsen:

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According to this article in The Tyee, Councillor Peter Ladner would like to introduce bike-sharing a la Velib to Vancouver.

In Paris, a single company is footing the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to the city’s more than 1,600 billboards.

That company is JCDecaux which now goes under the name of CBS Outdoor Media, and has a similar, albeit less lucrative deal with Vancouver involving bus shelters and street furniture.

“I’d love to see it so that we wouldn’t have to spend any public money on it, and it would be entirely self-supporting and somebody would look after it all for us, just like we do with the bus shelters,” said Ladner who has spoken to JCDecaux about expanding their operations in Vancouver to include bicycles.

“They’d love to do it, but they don’t know quite how we’d pay for it. They might come back and say you’re gonna have to let us build this many billboards and then we’d have some pretty tough decisions to make,” he said, pointing out that Vancouver doesn’t have a 1,600-billboard bargaining chip and people might not be so keen on having more giant ads around.

It seems to me we do have a chip: the 1,600 existing billboards.  They make money because they have access to eyes travelling in the public realm.  They make money because of the City’s acceptance of their intrusion.

In fact, most cities in Metro don’t allow billboards.  The City at any point could make them illegal, and put in place a phase-out time after the current leases expire.  Why not, instead, put in place a surcharge to fund the Velib program – a public benefit that justifies the private benefit?

After years of frustrated hopes of bringing bicycle schemes to Vancouver, Ladner has no stated preference for the model the city may adopt. With one stipulation: “I’d like to see something that works.”

 This would.

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Bike-sharing systems are gaining momentum: at least 75 cities have implemented similar systems, with many more cities in various stages of research and development. In July 2007 Paris unveiled the most ambitious system to date and now has 20,600 bicycles at 1451 docking stations – one every 300 meters.
Will it work in Vancouver? 
TransLink has started to do the research, and they’re asking for help.  If you go to this link, you’ll find a spreadsheet with every city involved in bike sharing.  If you’d like to add something, you can sign in or register with Google, get an invitation to contribute, and add comments.  (Seems a bit convoluted to me, but I suppose it helps with quality control.)
Interestingly, TransLink has hopped aboard a blog – here – devoted to bike sharing to get the word out. 

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