SLOWest and Causeway kick bike sharing plan into high gear

This lonely bike may soon get some company through the SLOWest/Causeway Bike Sharing Project.

Two local organizations are pushing ahead with plans to make West Wellington Ottawa’s first cycling-centred community.

Causeway, a Hintonburg social enterprise hub, and SLOWest, a local advocacy group for sustainable living, are studying the feasibility of a bike sharing project. It would be placed along the Wellington/Richmond corridor from Bayswater to just past Churchill Avenue.

Causeway community projects leader Shane Norris says the bike share would produce a wide variety of positive outcomes.

Norris describes the project as a natural extension of an already existing community start-up, Cycle Salvation. This social enterprise, run by Causeway  refurbishes old bicycles and sells them at affordable prices. Cycle Salvation would provide the Ottawa West’s bike share with mechanic support and may also provide some or all of its bicycle fleet.

According to SLOWest volunteer Brock Carlton, the idea for the community bike share has been percolating for about six months, but really gained momentum in October 2010.

THE PLAN

The bike sharing project would provide access to 30 or 40 bicycles for short trips along West Wellington. The bikes would be available through 3 to 4 hubs stationed along Wellington Street West toward Westboro, says a project proposal written in November 2010.

The proposal outlines several social and economic benefits from the program. It also notes the bike share would help the City of Ottawa reach its goal of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012, by encouraging west-end shoppers to get out of their cars and on to the bikes.

“We think the residential-business mix (and) the presence of the small businesses along (Wellington Street West) make it an ideal location for the kind of street-level activity that we anticipate this program will stimulate,” says Carlton.

WILL THE CITY DO IT FIRST?

The National Capital Commission (NCC) has been working to set up its own larger-scale bike share in partnership with the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. NCC spokesperson Jasmine Leduc says the groups have now settled on a private service provider to operate the program, but they are still working out agreements on cost sharing and responsibilities.

After a promising pilot project in the summer of 2009, this municipal bike sharing initiative was forced to shift into a lower gear due to problems attracting a private program operator. The group hopes to roll out their project sometime this spring, but Leduc says the launch date has not yet been confirmed.

OLD MINDSETS NEED A FRESH ‘SPIN’

Norris and Carlton describe Ottawa West’s community bike sharing project as very different from the one the City has in mind, but Carlton says their smaller-scale initiative will also face some challenges getting off the ground.

“(One) set of challenges,” he says, “will be helping the business community understand the value of this as opposed to the more traditional perspective that cars are the best way to bring (business) into a community.”

The area’s ward councillor Katherine Hobbs (Kitchisippi) echoes Carlton’s statement. As a cyclist and member of Citizens for Safe Cycling, Hobbs says Ottawa needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to transportation.

“Today, cars seem to have the first priority,” says Hobbs, “I think there has to be a big cultural shift in how we feel about cyclists in the city…we have to consider the rights of people that want to use a bicycle as a form of transportation.”

Hobbs, along with the West Wellington BIA, Hintonburg Cycling Champions group and the local Mountain Equipment Co-op have expressed their full support for the bike sharing project.

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