Starting today, Ottawa can look forward to some colourful new additions on its roadways in the west end of town. The Causeway Work Centre launched its newest community program — a bike share in Wellington West called RightBike — this morning. RightBike is a social enterprise that uses donated bicycles to create employment for disadvantaged members of the community, all while reducing pollution, fostering healthy lifestyles, and encouraging street-level interaction, said Don Palmer, president of Causeway.
The goal was to create a transportation solution with the community’s existing resources, instead of bringing in an outside program, said RightBike’s “godfathers,” Dick Stewart and Bill Shields, of SLOWest (Sustainable Living Ottawa West). Large-scale bike share initiatives like Bixi can be too expensive for many communities, said Shields.
“I think Bixi stole your idea, and not the other way around,” joked Mayor Jim Watson at this morning’s launch at RightBike’s new headquarters on McCormick Street. Watson talked about the many environmental and health benefits of creating a bike-friendly city. “It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.
In addition to support from the city, the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Sherrell Franklin announced a three-year, $200,000 provincial grant for the program.
If you want to try the service for yourself, memberships are $10 per month or $40 for the season, plus a $60 refundable deposit. To keep the program accessible, Somerset West Community Health Centre will be offering free memberships to low-income members of the community.
To learn more about the back story behind the program, Ottawa Magazine’s Emma Paling caught up with Shane Norris, one of RightBike’s organizers from Causeway, before the launch to get the scoop on the two-wheelers.
How does the program work?
RightBike aims to put out 40 refurbished bicycles, all painted purple and easily recognizable, for member use. We are a member-based service, like a video rental store or a library. When you purchase a membership, you get a card with a barcode just like a library card. Walk into one of the participating businesses (Mountain Equipment Co-op, Cyclelogik, or Causeway’s main office). Show your membership card and you’ll receive a set of keys for a bike lock. Ride it around and return it. It’s a familiar access program. This is nothing new, nothing that requires a learning curve.
Who was involved in bringing this project to fruition?
This is a cross-sectoral, multi-partner project. It deals with the municipal government, for-profit businesses, a not-for-profit social service agency, and grassroots community groups. All these people were involved with making this project realizable. It went through a two-year planning process where we engaged the community. We really wanted its thoughts on cycling and how this service could be of best use.
Why this neighbourhood?
RightBike is a collaborative project that combines many partners, including the Wellington West BIA, as well as Causeway, which is situated in Wellington West. Really, it’s the neighbourhood that we’re a part of and we wanted to bring something to the neighbourhood in which we operate.
Why does Ottawa West need a bike share program?
Ottawa West is a unique part of town. It’s faced with challenges that are similar to congested urban areas, like running out of parking and dealing with congestion on the roads. Ottawa West also went through a community design program with the City of Ottawa where they went through various meetings and town halls with residents. The residents clearly stated that they wanted their neighbourhood to develop in an auto-independent manner.
How can a bike share program contribute to a community?
A bike share contributes to a community in so many ways. One, it definitely reduces greenhouse gases, which is pretty obvious to anyone who rides a bicycle. Two, it gets our community members talking to one another. A bicycle is a very unique form of transportation because it slows down your pace a lot and allows you to interact with other community members on a street level, which you wouldn’t be able to do in a car. That’s the beauty of bicycles.
Your website says you’d like to provide a bike share model for other communities. Where do you see this spreading?
We are a small-scale community project. We’re not trying to be city-wide. We use bicycles that are donated from the community and provide employment to people of Causeway, who are individuals faced with barriers to employment, mainly mental illness or physical disability. We also run a bike refurbishing business called Cycle Salvation in Centretown.
Why should someone join a bike share instead of buying his or her own bicycle?
Bike shares are not a new thing. They’ve been around for quite some time. They’re all started for various different reasons — some to reduce bicycle theft, some to add another alternative means of transportation to the neighbourhood. Mostly though, bike sharing allows the regular resident to adopt cycling without the up-front cost of owning your own bike, or having to learn how to maintain and fix your bike. It really acts as a door-opener at a reduced cost for the consumer to give it a try. Also, our community access adds to the spontaneous nature of cycling. Cycling and transportation requires planning, and planning requires time. Spontaneity is something that happens right away. Even if you had your own bicycle but were walking on our main street and thought a bike ride would be nice, with a membership there will be a bike right there you can use.