Elise Stolte: Year of the Bike? I’ll bet bike share could change the game in Edmonton

Give me two minutes to consider bike share on this blustery winter day.

It’s worth it. Because I’m betting this will finally come to Edmonton this year and make a bigger difference than one might think.

This isn’t for that mythical fanatic who bikes through a blizzard. It’s for the rest of us.

It’s for the 40-year-old woman who hasn’t ridden in decades but wants to try using LRT and cycling to the Old Strathcona Farmers market. It’s for the business man who wants to zip across downtown for lunch on a sunny day; for the conference-going tourist who wants to check out Whyte Avenue or the river valley on a free afternoon.

Cheap, easy, bike share can make the millions Edmonton invested in bikes lanes a benefit to the masses — people who don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to buy their own bike. That, in turn, could shift public opinion, at least a little bit, to support various transportation options.

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It could happen this summer, at no cost to the city, if officials move on it. Council’s urban planning committee is scheduled to debate it Jan. 15.

Three-season bike share is not incredibly new or difficult. Short-term bike rental programs used to cost cities millions in infrastructure for the heavy locking and tracking mechanism. Now it doesn’t. The new generation of bikes are inexpensive and privately-funded. They use light-weight GPS systems to track the bikes, an app to unlock, and can be programmed to require users to leave bikes only in designated parking havens.

They can even include incentives for neatness — financially rewarding users who move wayward bikes to the right parking spot. They can be stored for the winter.

Cycling activists say three bike share companies have already visited Edmonton, offering to set something up. All Edmonton needs to do is write the rules. It seems easy, a no brainer. And Edmonton is now the largest Canadian city not to have it.

Last month, a group of residents hosted a panel discussion on bike share, hoping to rally support before the issue comes to council. The Downtown Business Association’s Ian O’Donnell argued in favour, saying he could easily use it three times a week and gets frequent calls from tourists struggling to find a place to rent bikes.

Cherie Klassen, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said the whole central core of the city needs this. It’s a great way to get over and through the river valley, connecting two of Edmonton’s major cultural destinations.

Tyler Golly, western lead for the planning consultant Toole Design, said they’ve done 40 feasibility studies for bike share in different municipalities and Edmonton has what it takes. It’s pretty flat, has major destinations with a high density of retail and jobs, has bike lanes and a significant population interested in alternate ways of commuting. “It’s ripe for opportunity.”

It also complements transit use, giving people an easy way to get to and from major transit centres, said Isabell Hubert, with the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board. And once Smart cards for transit roll out in 2020, the same payment system could be used for both. Convenient and cheaper than buying a bike, because “you only pay what you use.”

Twitter @Jeff_Bath: I just got back from Vancouver where I used their shared bike program (Mobi) to tour downtown with my teenaged sons. Loved it! Bike share in #yeg would be great for tourism too!

What struck me is that Edmonton is really in the driver’s seat here. This isn’t like when Uber came to town — forcing the city to play by its rules.

Companies want to come but so far, they’re waiting to see what requirements Edmonton sets. The city can require companies to share location data for the bikes so the city knows the most popular cycling routes. It could require equal service in low-income neighbourhoods and around suburban LRT stations as in the gentrified core.

Perhaps it could request that companies partner with a social enterprise for the bike repair, putting some of Edmonton’s high-risk youth (some very skilled at dismantling and rebuilding bikes) back to better work.

All we need is the will to experiment.

I know there’s been backlash against bike lanes, but perhaps some of that is because it feels like money spent on a small fringe group of do-gooders. Bike share can change that: make biking fun and hassle-free for people who want to try it once or twice. And since bike lanes already took over traffic lanes and parking spots, why not?

estolte@postmedia.com

twitter.com/estolte

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