Bringing bike sharing to Waterloo region

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A student-run group, the Active and Community Transportation (ACT) initiative from the University of Waterloo (UW), is working to implement a bike share program in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

Bike share programs try to offer affordable and sustainable means of transportation and have already been successfully implemented in cities such as Toronto and Montreal.

Heading this project is fourth-year UW student Joshua Joseph. This past summer Joseph visited various cities across Europe where biking has already been successfully integrated in community transportation; he cites these experiences as his inspiration for the project.

“After being in the Netherlands and Denmark, I really saw what it meant,” he said. “Going to Europe, this is reality for those people. The wind in your hair, you’re breathing outside, you’re talking to people. It builds a kind of sense of community that you really don’t get in automobile sector communities.”

ACT itself is a subset of the University of Waterloo’s Sustainability Project (UWSP); the project is also largely centred on the fact that biking is a sustainable method of transportation. “The reality is bicycles don’t admit greenhouse gas emissions. Not only do cars use oil, they also pollute our air,” said Joseph. “To me, it’s kind of a no-brainer. You’re using your human energy instead to get around.”

Joseph stated that one of the most important aspects of the bike share system is that it gives people the option to travel affordably, whereas other forms of transportation may be too costly. In Toronto, a TTC Metro pass costs over 100 dollars a month. He claims that bike share systems cost only a fraction of that.
Canadian geography is much different than that of Europe; this is one of the primary challenges to bringing bike share systems here. However, Joseph believes that through the integration of various forms of public transportation these challenges can be met.

“Our communities are shaped around the automobile. One city I was in in Europe had a population of over a million and 70 per cent of them lived within a kilometre of the city center,” said Joseph.

“What we need to focus on in Canada is integration of transportation. Someone might not bike from Waterloo to Cambridge, but they could bike to the LRT station, take the train to Cambridge, and then hop on a bike there to get around. It’s really meant to be that mid-way trip to get to transit.”

This model of integration alleviates the concern that a bike share system in the K-W region could take away funding and focus from pre-existing public transportation services. In reality, Joseph believes they aren’t mutually exclusive and can benefit one another.

Aside from physical geography, the Canadian climate also poses an obstacle to bike sharing. People are less likely to bike during winter months due to unsafe road conditions and cold temperatures.

The K-W bike share system, Joseph suggested, could be modeled on other successful programs in Canadian cities. In Montreal, bike share systems have portable stations that are boarded up during the winter months.
“I’m not anti-driving at all. Driving isn’t bad, that’s not the problem,” he said. “We’ve focused too heavily on cars and we need to give the other forms of transportation a shot.”

The greatest obstacle for the group presently is funding, and one that is being actively discussed. “Essentially how bike share systems work is that it comes from a variety of funding sources,” he said. “A chunk of it comes from user fees, a chunk from sponsorship, a chunk from municipalities and from private funders.”

“This project is cool because it’s really student driven,” he said. “We’re not getting paid to develop this plan; we just really want to see it happen. We’ve gotten people talking about bike sharing. In that sense, we’ve already been very successful.”


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