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Vancouver bike share plan rolls on in spite of helmet laws

Vancouver council yesterday unveiled its plan to launch a bike share program in the city by spring 2013, despite the acknowledgment that helmet laws will impact ridership and cost.

At the city council presentation, director of transportation Jerry Dobrovolny explained there is "no successful integrated helmet system worldwide."

For example, ridership has remained low in Melbourne, the only city aside from Brisbane that has maintained a share system despite a helmet law. To date, Melbourne has invested $2 million subsidizing helmet sales at local 7-Eleven stores.

In Melbourne, getting a bike helmet is a two-step process, but Vancouver will try to "integrate the process," said Vision councillor Heather Deal.

The presentation put before council did not reveal any details on the helmet plan, though several options were put forward including vending machines and return depots at bike stops, and on-bike carriers that hold rental helmets.

In Montreal and Toronto, which have bike share programs, riders are not required by law to wear helmets. Deal maintains that Vancouver will not seek an exemption for the helmet law.

"We are focusing on coming up with a system that has an integrated plan for Metro Vancouver and that will hopefully be one that is picked up around the world," said Deal.

The current proposal would start with 1,500 bicycles at 125 stations throughout the downtown core and along the Broadway corridor from Main to Arbutus Streets. The City is in negotiation with Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share to operate the system, working with the Montreal company Bixi as a subcontractor to provide the infrastructure.

In the fall, council will hear a more detailed plan for approval.

Dobrovolny said the City estimates it will invest $1.9 million per year over the next 10 years to subsidize Alta's costs, but negotiations are ongoing so the exact amount the company would need to operate is unclear. The proposed funding model would adopt the same pricing scheme as Toronto, with daily passes at $5 and annual passes for $95.

The city also announced this week that the two-year trial period separated bike lanes downtown will now become permanent.

The proposed system will place Vancouver among more than 300 cities with bike share programs.

Ariel Fournier is a freelance reporter based in Vancouver.

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