Tout le monde en becyk

Tout le monde en becyk
Ahhhh, Paris. Photo by Frédéric Barriol / Unsplash

My friend and colleague, the scintillating Bruce Deachman, challenged us to come up with new and improved mottoes for Ottawa and you know me when someone puts a dare in front of my face. This.

I’ve lived in this town for nearly 24 years and while there are many things I appreciate, I can’t get over how much better we could be if we only gave a shit and tried. Nowhere is this more true than with bike-share programs. I’ve seen bike-share programs in just about every city I’ve visited, including the Motor City itself and my beloved Huntsville, Alabama. Ottawa repeatedly almost came close to trying it but for some reason has proved utterly unable to figure out how to make bicycles available to humans.

When you get your ass whupped by a small Alabama town nobody’s heard of unless they’re space nerds or faithful readers of mine, you know you’re doing something very wrong.

One thing I half-regret not trying while I was exploring Paris with Eldest during that whirlwind of a long-weekend visit in April is a bicycle. There are so many to rent, and beautiful places to ride them. Alas the places we were visiting were either too far from each other to bike or too close to one another. We metroed and walked instead.

What I do like about the Paris bike-share program is how popular it is. Numbers recently published (source at the link in the above paragraph) show more people bike than drive in Paris. Not a development any smart person would have predicted ten years ago. And yet.

What makes bike-sharing programs successful is enough bikes on offer when and where people need them, and affordable rates. In Paris there are nearly 20,000 bikes available (mechanical or electric) and – famously – a docking station every 300 metres. No wonder they see millions of bike trips every month. Yes, millions. In the plural.

Vélib (lovely contraction of vélo and liberté) is a pioneer in bike-share services. They started operating in 2007. Paris today has a population of 2.1 million or so (over 11 million for the metro area), which is a lot more than that of Quebec City (a little under 600,000 for the city, a bit over 800,000 for the metro area), which started its own bike-share service, àVélo, in 2022. The 2024 season just opened on May 1 with 1,300 electric bikes and 115 stations, and already by May 6 the service had recorded over 18,000 trips. I was in Quebec City during those first few days in May and I can assure you the weather was thoroughly shit. It was raining ice pellets sideways it was so bad. Yet people biked. Fun fact, the Quebec City program only uses e-bikes that are made in Quebec.

Montreal’s BIXI has been in operation since 2014 and they boast over 10,000 bikes (both electric and old-fashioned) and 900 stations across the metro area. It’s not like they really need to get the word out anymore to be popular. Yet earlier this month they offered a day of free rides to mark the opening of the summer season.

Ah yes because for the first time in 2023 Bixi continued to operate year-round in this city of 1.8ish million people (over 4 million for the metro area). In the winter, I mean. When it’s cold and gross and there’s snow. People keep biking and I know you’re dying to get numbers and who am I to deny you. In January 54,548 trips were made, 70,274 in February and 117,652 in March. In April, with the return of less dreadful weather, there were 732,854 rides. Not too shabby.

There are many people in Ottawa who know what we need to do to be the city we can be. A place that’s made for people, that is accessible and clean, pleasant to visit (not just drive through) and where humans flourish and thrive. We just need to give a shit and try.