Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

I’m thrilled that Ottawa’s newest bikeshare program, RightBike, is launching this week.

It’s not so much a bike rental as a membership program that allows you to use a RightBike when you need one. For the price of a $40 seasonal or $10 monthly membership (plus a refundable $60 security deposit), you’ll receive a card that will let you borrow a bike from one of RightBike’s three outlets along Richmond Road and Wellington Street West. The idea is that you can use the bike for short trips to run errands, check out shops or restaurants, tour the neighbourhood or just get from one end of the 3.5 km strip to the other—without needing a car.

RightBike’s creators—Sustainable Living Ottawa West (SLOWest), the Causeway Work Centre, and the Wellington West and Westboro Business Improvement Associations (BIAs)—all saw the potential benefits of a people-oriented bikeshare program. SLOWest wanted to promote sustainable and affordable transportation, while Causeway, an organization that helps people facing employment challenges find work, saw an opportunity to create jobs. The BIAs aimed to encourage people to visit local shops and services, while minimizing traffic and parking congestion. Rather than bringing in a bike rental program, as Bill Shields of SLOWest explained to me, they based the program on the expertise of Causeway and Cycle Salvation, a Causeway social enterprise that repairs and sells used bikes.

The City of Ottawa, the Ottawa Police Service, Habitat for Humanity and other local businesses chipped in with feasibility funding, in-kind support or used bikes. All 40 of the bikes in the new RightBike fleet, freshly painted purple and sporting the RightBike logo, are donated bikes that Cycle Salvation refurbished. The upright, 3-speed bicycles were chosen to enable both experienced and non-experienced cyclists to be comfortable riding them.

Causeway’s Shane Norris explained to me that besides providing bikes and creating jobs, RightBike will get people outside and interacting with each other. For example, you won’t scan your card into a machine to borrow a bike; you’ll get the bike from a real live person at one of the participating retailers which include Cyclelogik and Mountain Equipment Co-op. You might even meet one of Rightbike’s “mobile mechanics” as they cycle between participating outlets to provide minor repairs.

Bill Shields says that basing RightBike in a small geographic area was intentional: the program’s scale is more manageable, and takes advantage of other neighbourhood features including relatively high population density, the existence of a main street, and few hills. But RightBike’s designers say the program could conceivably be replicated in other Ottawa neighbourhoods.

Let’s hope it works, and spreads. As both Bill and Shane point out, cycling not only has environmental and health benefits; it helps people be more connected, which makes for great, liveable communities.

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You can check out RightBike at the Hintonburg Tulip Festival at the Parkdale Market on Saturday, May 12 between noon and 3 p.m., or at the MEC Bike Fest at Lebreton Flats on Sunday May 13 from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. You can even take one for a spin if you take part in SLOWest’s Solar Bike Hike, a guided tour of solar panels at area homes, on Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m.-noon.

RightBike will officially launch on Thursday, May 17 at 11:00 a.m., with an open house at RightBike’s new headquarters at 1A McCormick Street (one block north of Wellington St. West and one block east of Parkdale Avenue) from noon until 2 p.m. Check the RightBike website for other upcoming events.

And if you’re tempted, you can purchase a membership online at http://rightbike.org/ride-with-us/become-a-member/ or at RightBike’s headquarters at 1A McCormick St.

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