When I recently headed out to Montreal, one of my plans included getting a Siphon coffee from Myriade Cafe (more on that later) and to take a spin on the popular bike sharing service, Bixi, across town (more on that now).
The system itself is pretty simple, you swipe your credit card and you get a ticket with a code on in. You punch that code into one of the keypads where a bike is attached to a rack, and after unlocking it, you ride around. When you are done, you take the bike back to any station, and lock it in. It’s not too expensive (5 bucks for 24 hours of access, with a 250 dollar hold on your credit card).
Because of the system’s success in Montreal (seriously, there’s Bixi locations everywhere), they’re trying to launch it here in Toronto. Sounds great right? Get people out of their cars, off the over-packed TTC streetcars and onto Bixis to get around Toronto.
Except Bixi has a number of drawbacks, that in Montreal are relatively forgivable, but absolutely won’t fly in Toronto Besides the fact that two out of four stations I visited in Montreal were “out of service” at the time, the main issue I have with the Bixi program is that lack of safety measures.
Strike one: When you rent a Bixi, you don’t rent a helmet, which is the biggest must any bicyclist should have on the roads. Strike two: No bells/horns. Strike three: The brakes are total crap. Of the Bixis that I rented, all of them seriously lacked in stopping power, and if I wasn’t cruising lightly, I could imagine myself getting into hairy situations pretty fast.
Now in Montreal, you’re likely to overlook most of these safety faults because of the wonderful efforts their city has made in terms of constructing a bicycle network downtown, highlighted by generous bike-only lanes that are totally separated from traffic. So even though you don’t have a helmet or other things you need to ride safe, the separated bike lanes more than compensate for those problems.
But compared to Montreal, I wouldn’t advise anyone to jump on a bicycle without a helmet or any other safety measures in Toronto… we don’t have anything like Montreal’s separate bike lanes downtown, so bikers here always battle with traffic, people cutting too close, parked cars with opening doors and vehicles swerving into the bike lanes when they do exist. Even the existing bike lanes tend to be in such decrepit shape (I’m looking at you in particular Sherbourne bike lane), that it’s hazardous just riding on some of these bike lanes by yourself.
Regardless, I doubt that we’ll see much traction from Toronto’s city hall even if the Bixi is moderately successful here: I don’t know why people think that a city so unwilling to give up space for bike lanes will give up parking spaces for Bixi lots.
Here’s a better idea: take all of those bikes that Igor Kenk stockpiled, take them out of storage, melt them down, and build some bike-only lane barricades. Let’s protect our existing population of riders before finding new ways to get casual bikers on the street.