Bixi takes over the Gladstone, last night.
If you’ve paid Montréal a visit lately, you’ve probably seen a Bixi bike. The bulky, vaguely European-looking public cruisers have been gracing the streets of La Belle Ville since last spring, when the program launched to the tune of twenty thousand subscriptions. Last night, hundreds of keen bike enthusiasts hit the Gladstone Hotel for the BIXI Toronto Bash to launch Toronto’s Bixi membership campaign. If one thousand people subscribe for memberships by November, Toronto will get a Bixi fleet to call its own.
According to the Bixi website, the bike’s design reflects its intended purpose “for heavy urban use in a public bike system.” The bikes are sturdy yet relatively lightweight, with a low centre of gravity and built-in lighting. Each bike is also equipped with a chain protector to keep commuter pant legs grease-free, an attention to detail that any cyclist who’s damaged a pair of chinos with a stamp of chain goo will appreciate.
The Bixi program has been wildly successful in Montreal, but as one Bixi Toronto volunteer pointed out to Torontoist last night, “Toronto tends to be slow to adapt.” Another issue is the limited geographical range of Bixi station docks, which will initially be located from Spadina Avenue to Jarvis Street, south of Bloor. Another cause for concern is the time limit on each Bixi rental: any rider who exceeds the allotted thirty minutes on a single rented bike without re-docking will have to pay a late fee. To some Toronto cyclists, these limitations may be deterrents. But since the installation of a bike share program is often a catalyst for further innovation in cycling infrastructure, many see a Bixi Toronto launch as the first ripple in the pond.
Andrea Garcia, Director of Advocacy and Operations for the Toronto Cyclists Union, just finished a master’s thesis on public bicycle systems and can attest to the statistical evidence in favour of bike shares. When the Vélo’v program was launched in Lyon, France, the number of cyclists on city streets skyrocketed, and Paris was quick to follow suit with its own high-profile Vélib model. As Garcia points out, bike share programs are not only beneficial to a city’s residents but to its visitors. “Tourism is a big part of the local economy, and bike shares are a great way to take care of our tourists,” says Garcia.
Cyclists Union board member Roberto Garcia, originally from Montreal, hopes that an increased cyclist presence resulting from Bixi Toronto will push the City of Toronto to create safer bike lanes by “bringing cycling to the masses.” Garcia notes a stark difference between the safety of urban cycling in Toronto and that of his hometown, where bike lanes are physically separated from motorized traffic.
Yvonne Bambrick, Director of Communications and Events at the Cyclists Union, says that “the Bixi service helps us to accomplish our mission” of getting more people on bicycles in Toronto. (To that end, the Cyclists Union did most of the organizing and promotion for the Bixi launch.)
Bixi likely won’t transform Toronto’s streets into a bike sea of Dutch proportions, and it certainly won’t do so overnight, but for bike enthusiasts, it’s a step in the right direction.
Photos by Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda/Torontoist.