Canada’s greenest city is about to push forward on a new bike share system.
The City of Vancouver already invests millions of dollars in bike lanes and car-free transit initiatives.
Bike share has been an idea in Vancouver for almost 20 years, said Scott Edwards, who is part of the Greenways and Neighbourhood Transportation team. The city plans to make a public announcement on the venture early next year.
In B.C., making the program work within the existing provincial and municipal helmet law is posing a challenge.
“I think it’s a problem. I’m not certain that we can’t find a solution, staff are optimistic that we can,” city Councillor Geoff Meggs said.
Neil Salmond, a cyclist who recently moved to Vancouver from the UK, said helmets are a deterrent to the bike share system because the scheme is meant for spontaneous trips.
He said that cycling in B.C. struck him mainly as a sport, whereas in most European cities it’s “walking with wheels.”
“The bike share means cycling is a part of transit,” Salmond said. “If you’ve got to carry a [helmet] everywhere that’s not going to work.”
Meggs suggested there may be a liability waiver to address the helmet issue and likened it to what a skier would sign at a ski resort.
“We need a financial plan that works and a legal framework and we have neither,” Meggs said.
At the minimum a public bike share would cost $5 million to implement, according to a 2008 TransLink report. The preferred bike share network would cost between $18.5 million and $34.5 million that includes 3,800 bikes and 250 docking stations in the network.
Helmet law debate
The movement to repeal mandatory helmet laws has been growing in response to bike share systems.
Melbourne is the only city to install a public bike share with mandatory helmet laws in place. So far, the system has suffered from lack of use.
An Australian newspaper reported that the $5.5 million dollar project has been sorely underused when compared to other cities with public bike share, blaming it on the helmet law.
The City of Melbourne recently installed helmet vending machines to address the issue.
Located next to 7-Eleven stores, they dispense helmets for $5 a piece. Users can get $3 back if they return the helmet to the convenience store.
Elsewhere, Mexico City repealed its compulsory helmet laws this past year to make room for its own bike share system called Ecobici.
In 1996, British Columbia passed legislation requiring cyclists to wear a helmet, known as the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act. Cyclists riding without helmets can be fined up to $100.
“I think a part of it is a lack of people understanding the education, there’s a lack of enforcement for sure,” said a parking enforcement officer whose badge is #245. A city representative said they do not give out parking officers’ names citing the threat of harassment.
“I don’t know anything about the helmet laws,” said Ericka Hunter, a college-age downtown vendor, “that’s not why I wear a helmet.”
She then explained a bad accident prompted her to pick one up a few years ago.
According to reports, police handed out more than 3000 tickets to cyclists not wearing their helmets in 2009.
“They [the police] invite all the media to come look so that it gets coverage and say ‘hey, we’re enforcing this stuff,’ and they do enforce it,” David Fleming said, a cyclist who was not wearing a helmet on Commercial Drive. “But I don’t think there’s a huge push on enforcement.”
Dominick Froom, a downtown bicycle courier since 1994, said he wears a bicycle helmet.
“I think it’s a sign of maturity when someone chooses to wear a helmet.”
The initiative to install a public bike system in Vancouver is part of the city’s “Greenest City Team” action plan and is listed as a high priority project.
About 80% of people said they would use a public bike share system in Vancouver, according to a survey done online and in-person by the city.
They work best when there is a good cycling infrastructure in place, but there is still more work to do.
Referring to the Dunsmuir separated bike lane, Parking Enforcement Officer, Badge #338, who was patrolling by bike said “we don’t feel like there’s enough people that actually use it.”
The city approved a $25 million, 10-year cycling master plan earlier this year to develop a comprehensive bicycle network and increase bike trips. Currently, about four per cent of daily commuters travel by bike.
Edwards said the number of bike trips are increasing every year. Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in the city.
Vancouver is determined to find a way to make the bike share exist within the law.
Edwards said changing the helmet law in Vancouver to accommodate the expensive venture is not on the table.“We’re not actively pursuing changes, not asking for relaxation of the law.”
More on Vancouver’s bike laws
- No cyclist should ride on any sidewalk except where posted with signs
- If you’re riding a bike on the street, it must have a bell
- Must not ride other than on or astride a bicycle saddle, meaning legs on both sides of the seat
- Must signal by using arm motions when turning left, right or stopping
The sit-up and cycle movement
Section 184.3 of the British Columbia Motor Vehicle Act states persons are exempt from wearing a helmet when: “a person for whom the wearing of a helmet would interfere with an essential religious practice.”
This loophole has prompted a Vancouver pro-choice helmet activist to create the Church of Sit-Up Cycling headed by Reverend Two-wheeler. According to their Facebook page they advocate: “the freedom to choose headwear – which may or may not include plastic – is an essential religious practice.”
Before Melbourne incorporated their Bixi-style bike share, Mike Rubbo had offered his own solution to work with the existing helmet law.