Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces


May 18, 2014 at 12:31 PM

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Big Ideas for the City: Public Bike Share

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Barclay Cycle Hire in London. 
Image by Jason Paris

Barclay Cycle Hire in London. Image by Jason Paris

There are now over 500 public bike share programs throughout the world offering very short term bike rental from a network of affordable self service stations typically located in urban centres. Many people have heard of the larger programs like the “Boris Bikes” in London, the original large scale Velib’ in Paris, the recent and popular Citibike system in New York and the infamous Canadian pioineer, Bixibikes in Montreal. The success of many of these programs has brought attention to the respective city (mostly good, but in the case of Bixi in Montreal …Mon dieu!) and reported large increases in cycling. The global proliferation of Public Bike Share programs leaves many locals asking – where is Vancouver’s Public Bike Share program?

In anticipation of next week’s HUB Bike to Work Week, we’ve compiled a short history of the development of a public bike share program that identifies issues and challenges to getting the program rolling in Vancouver.

Early in 2009, the City of Vancouver started the “procurement process” to get more bikes on the street, encourage more people to cycle and use the growing cycle infrastructure network. Four years later there are still many questions on when or how the system will be implemented and operate.

There are some details on the scope of the proposed Vancouver system that is based on a TransLink feasibility study. For example, it is proposed that 1,500 bikes will be distributed at 125 stations in the downtown area, east to Main Street and north of 12th Avenue to Arbutus Street. The target market is local commuters and get them to buy monthly or yearly passes for the system but daily and weekly passes will inevitably entice tourists too.

In July 2013, a City of Vancouver staff report noted that the implementation of the first phase of bikes and stations was to take place in early 2014. It is understood that this timeline will not happen due to several challenges and issues.


Helmets - make the Vancouver system unique, the added challenge to abide by the provincial motor vehicle act which dictates that all bike riders on city streets must wear a helmet. Vending machines at each rental station are required – adding to the cost and footprint of the stations and reducing the convenience and simplicity that makes the other public bike share programs successful.

Operator – The City has an agreement with an owner/operator. However, Bixi, the company that was to supply the infrastructure including bikes has gone bankrupt.

Financing or sponsorship – the owner/operator has not yet secured financing or sponsorship to pay for the supply and operation of the system.

Equitable access – for residents, and visitors too!


One of the challenges for Vancouver has been securing a PBS operator.
Bixi in Old Montreal, image by Adam Fagen.

There has been some groundwork laid by the city as it has changed a number of by-laws to allow for this type of program to operate on City property. The Vancouver Park Board has also allowed stations and bikes on Vancouver Parks Board lands. Preliminary sites have been identified for stations with most located every 300-400m (approximately 2-3 blocks) on the street and the remaining stations will be located on the sidewalk or other City-owned property and privately owned lands.

This ground work has raised a number of issues relating to who will be using the program, how people will use it, advertising and locating stations.

Bike rental shops, particularly the ones concentrated near Stanley Park, are nervous and worry about the negative impacts of a public bike share would impose on their business.

People worry about the safety concerns that the potential large amount of people jumping on bikes who have little or no knowledge and experience of riding in the city.

The minimum station size is approximately the length of 3 parking spaces, the largest size station estimated to be 7 parking spaces. Where will all these stations go? Generally people freak out when they lose access to parking – as the VPSN found when highlighting issues and recommendations based in our 2008 Bicycle Count – and with the majority of stations to be located on the street this could lead to a lot of unhappy people. Finding space for all these bikes will be a challenge and impact the public realm. Will large areas within local parks be taken over? Will people literally “stumble over” these bike stations in crowed areas? Where will the new stations be located and who will or won’t have access?

Many point to Vancouver’s lack of a public bike share program; on the other hand, it was one of the first cities in North America to create a low-cost, low-impact network of bikeways along residential streets with light traffic volumes, making Vancouver an international leader in increasing the number of cycling trips in some parts of the city. If only Vancouver could apply this same low-barrier access to the bike share program, efforts would go a long way to increasing PBS usage, and in turn, cycling trips and number of cyclists in the city.

Distributing stations across Vancouver’s diverse communities will be a challenge for making public bike share accessible. Consider the bikeways network, the areas of the city it does currently serve and the impacts of not having “safe streets” nearby, on which to ride a bicycle. At least one urban planning graduate student has tackled this very question; Darren Buck’s thesis brainstorms solutions to providing PBS access for low-income communities, and minority groups disproportionately underrepresented in bicycling.

Further to accessibility, the solution to providing every user with a bike helmet is the inclusion of a helmet dispensing machine the size of a soda vending machine at every station. These machines will require space and have plenty of surfaces to affix advertising. This has the potential to dramatically increase in-your-face billboard/advertising across the 125 stations.

Vancouverites – don’t try this at home!
Image by Sharyn Morrow


We offer suggestions to overcome some of the challenges and issues and implement the Vancouver public bike share program:

  • Work with local business to locate stations and support existing bike rental shops.
  • Build the network of PBS with a view to increasing access for those who currently do not, cannot or choose not to cycle for lack of access to infrastructure.
  • Implement a comprehensive and overarching education campaign and wayfinding system to ensure that folks who use the system will stay off sidewalks and understand how to get to their destination (and bicycle station) in a safe manner.
  • Limit the size and scope of corporate advertising on the bike stations within the public realm. Use the space available to educate visitors and system users so that it is a positive experience for everyone.

The Vancouver Public Space Network supports the implementation of the public bike share system in Vancouver. The challenges can be overcome and we hope it is very soon! A public bike share program will support and complement existing transportation options and offers an affordable amenity to residents and visitors.

The Big Ideas are 12 Priority Areas we see as an early release of the VPSN Manifesto on public space policy. We’ve made online access to the Routemap 2012-2014 and the original Manifesto 2008-2011.To learn more about this initiative and to get involved, please write us an email.

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