Special Report: Cycling

Council Approves Bike Share

Council gave its final approval to the Social Bicycles proposal for a bike share in Hamilton. The program is scheduled to start this coming Spring.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 12, 2013

Almost overlooked at last night's landmark Council meeting is Council's approval of the bike share proposal for Hamilton.

Council gave its final approval to the proposal submitted by Social Bicycles (SoBi) for a next-generation bike share in which the technology is self-contained in the bicycles themselves.

Read more:

The remaining details of the plan, like membership and usage pricing, station locations and seasonal availability, still need to be finalized but that work will commence now that Council has approved the proposal. The program is set to commence this coming Spring.

City staff have released a revised map of the bike share service area, developed using a combination of market research, expert input and statistical data on potential ridership. Note that the map has not yet been finalized with the service provider.

Hamilton Bike Share Zones
Hamilton Bike Share Zones

Peter Topalovic, public works manager in charge of transportation demand management projects and the point person on the bike share plan, notes that the core service area (highlighted in red) "will receive the highest level of service with the most station density."

The secondary service area (highlighted in yellow) "may not necessarily have full coverage and instead may include areas of dense coverage in certain key locations," for example around Mohawk College.

The area highlighted in blue is slated for potential future coverage if and when the bike share is expanded.

The staff report also notes that the bikes themselves can be ridden outside the service areas - they can be ridden anywhere in the city. The boundaries indicate the area where stations will be located.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:31:12

Will last night be remembered as the day Hamilton Council turned the ship around?

Great news all around! 13-12-11 for the win!

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:32:31 in reply to Comment 95848


Countdown to awesomeness? Let's hope so

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:45:21

(xiv) Bike Lanes-4041417124
That the budget request be reduced from $300,000 to $200,000 in
the 2014 Capital Budget to reduce the 2014 Tax Levy Impact and
to allow staff an opportunity to keep pace with prior years' budget


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 10:59:30 in reply to Comment 95851

This is ridiculous. The bike network plan is written, projects waiting to go forward, money ready to be spent, but Public Works won't prioritize implementation, so the projects sit waiting. Then the alternative transpo department gets penalized??

It's always too cold or too wet to implement bike lanes, and all summer the bike projects get delayed because of other projects with higher priority.

The solution is not to reduce the budget, it's to increase the priority.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 12:50:06 in reply to Comment 95854

Yeah, I was none too happy with this, but I talked to Councillors about it and it's less of a big deal than I originally thought, but there's still some things about it that piss me off.

It's understood that it's only a one-time reduction in the budget, and it's specifically the budget for new cycling infrastructure projects only - so only for a project like Dundurn between York and King where there was no resurfacing or anything done - it was 100% a cycling project. The funding levels will be returned to regular levels in 2015.

The main reason why the reduction is happening is because there's an understanding that even if the extra $100k was there, staff likely wouldn't be able to spend it. They're going to be busy building the Hunter Street lanes which got delayed to the point of not getting done this year (primarily because the ONE staffer in charge of cycling infrastructure was put on the bus lane file because, you know, the city can't afford to move a traffic engineer onto that file...), building the Cannon St. Cycle Track and dealing with bike share and the other planned projects, so they'll be plenty busy.

What this shows, however, is how terribly under-staffed the active transportation file in general, and the cycling file in particular, is at the City. I've been using this as an opportunity to highlight the low staffing levels and ask for new resources, but that's always a particularly tricky ask.

The other part of this that pisses me off is the whole issue of Councillor veto. There's been a couple projects that were designed, planned and ready to be implemented only to be vetoed at the 11th hour by the local Councillor. Since they're vetoed so late in the process, it's not like the one staff person has time to go and design a whole new project to spend that infrastructure funding on, and then the money carries over and council cries foul because it's not being spent.

Main point: vetoes have to go, and we need another staffer on this file to help out the one who's there.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 12:59:20 in reply to Comment 95866

ANd that other staffer should be..... you? Just sayin' :-)

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:00:15 in reply to Comment 95869

TO clarify I'm saying you'd be perfect for the job.

I just realized that might have come off as me saying you are trying to create yourself one out of self interest or something which is not what I meant!

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 11:31:52

Annual Memberships

Student/Senior: $60 Adult: $80

Day Pass All users: $5

User Fees 1st Hour: Free

Each additional hour: $4

This fee structure is subject to change.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 12:54:42 in reply to Comment 95860

If this is indeed the fee structure, it's extremely reasonable. And the 1 hour free (versus Bixi's 1/2 hour) extends your range and gives you a lot more options. Plus the fact that you can lock them anywhere means you can go do your shopping even in an area without a station and still easily make it back before your hour is up. That's a very large service area, which is really exciting. It will be interesting to see how the balancing of bikes works, but I know with SoBi in other jurisdictions if you take a bike from a location of lower demand and leave it in a higher demand location, you get a credit on your account, so there's incentives for the system to self-balance, which is pretty neat.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:03:32 in reply to Comment 95867

Exactly - I was also going to say that those rates sound appropriate - they are within a range comparable to other systems and actually more affordable than bixi.

I don't think that the exact pricing is really that important to know right now. I think that we can be fairly certain that the yearly fee will be less than $100 and the daily fee somewhere near $5, with some intermediate rates thrown in for good measure. That seems to be the pricing structure that most bikeshares use.

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By Jim Street (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 12:32:00

MAW - you hate Hamilton. Admit it.

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By Henry (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 19:40:06 in reply to Comment 95865

Yeah, he sounds like the old Hamilton. Negative, can't dot this, can't so that. It'll never work here, blah,blah, blah. Thank goodness for this newer generation! (I'm 54)

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:05:53

This is good news, but if the city doesn't quickly implement a safe and continuous bike network, I fear the program might not be as successful as hoped.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 13:12:11 in reply to Comment 95872

Hamilton is actually a pretty nice city to ride in. The hope is that the usage of this system will speed up the implementation of our network. Part of the beauty of this is that it's a very low commitment way to try cycling, so people are more likely to give it a go and realize that it really is viable here.

The city has started a multi use trail link along Burlington Street, They built a great connection from aberdeen to ainslie woods, we finally got the completion of the king/403 lane all the way into westdale, new(ish) bridges over the qew and linc, lanes on woodward.... and with cannon in the works we are getting much closer to true cross town cycling infrastructure.

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-12-12 13:12:33

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted December 18, 2013 at 11:41:45 in reply to Comment 95874

It is a good city to ride in overall, particularly within neighborhoods. Intra-neighborhood riding is more of a challenge, especially getting between the West end and downtown. I lived here many years before I tried riding much, because I'm not a super-committed cyclist (I prefer walking when practical) but once I took it up, I found it way better than I thought I would!

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 14:22:56 in reply to Comment 95874

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By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 10:23:47 in reply to Comment 95889

I do not understand the source of your anger and contempt.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2013 at 17:29:27 in reply to Comment 95889

haha... well, no one says you have to ride in the cold... but as your observations show, there are people who do (and more who will as we make it easier)

Comment edited by seancb on 2013-12-12 17:29:43

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By Foolishness (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2013 at 23:53:41 in reply to Comment 95902

I can't wait to bike on my rental from here to Toronto, where I work.

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By wittle baby (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 14:31:13 in reply to Comment 95889

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By Downtownham (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 19:05:10 in reply to Comment 95892

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By LedPencilPusher (registered) | Posted December 12, 2013 at 15:13:23

Looking at the bike share map, I'm quite shocked to see my community of Paramount/Heritage Green on Stoney Creek Mountain included as part of the secondary service area. I didn't think the planners would actually consider the area, given its relative distance from the core. Pleasantly surprised and very nice to see!

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 11:32:37

I could go through the exercise of estimating the population in the proposed service area. Then calculating the number of bicycles required to meet the minimum standard of 10-30 bikes per 1,000 people required to avoid system failure. Then comparing that number with the 650 bikes in the Hamilton plan. Then drawing the conclusion that there needs to be about 12 times as many bikes to avoid complete system failure.

But really, just eyeballing the map, I can save a lot of time. It is roughly the same as the previous ward-based estimates. So we've got about 275,000 people in the service area sharing 650 bikes.

Anyone seriously believe that a bike will be reliably available every time they need one?

Don't get me wrong. I support bike share. It has the potential to be a game-changer and make Hamilton a much better city for all its people. But to do that it has to be done right.

The cost of doing it right with a proper implementation with the right number of bikes is also very cheap. The cost of a good implementation will be so low as to be insignificant compared to any of the car infrastructure projects that Hamilton has thrown tens of millions of dollars at without blinking an eye.

It is not just me. These numbers for success come from the industry experts who put together the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy's "Bike Share Planning Guide."

This may be found at:


See also the excellent video explaining the Guide at:


This really is a RTFM issue. Unfortunately, Hamilton is setting itself up for failure by putting too few bikes into the service area.

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By AP (registered) | Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:29:29 in reply to Comment 95953

@KevinLove: Really appreciate the commentary on bicycles per 1000 people and the best practices links - every bit of guidance and impetus for us to do it really right is not just welcome but essential. In terms of your 275,000 person calculation based on Wards, does that cover just the orange (core service area) on the map or does it include yellow (secondary service area) and blue (future service area) too? Important for the 650 to be calculated against just the orange for now, in my understanding, as that's the primary program rollout (pun unintended, but happily enjoyed) zone.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:31:34 in reply to Comment 96005

If we assume all of wards 1, 2 and 3 as "phase one", we'd need about 1000 bikes to reach 10 bikes per thousand citizens.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 14, 2013 at 17:43:32 in reply to Comment 96006

Sean, 10 bikes per 1,000 citizens is minimum standard. I am sick and tired of Hamilton cheaping out and going for the minimum standard with the predictable result of minimum performance. In this case, we are going for so much less than minimum standard that failure is inevitable.

Montreal has 23 bikes per 1,000 citizens in the service area. Why should Hamilton have less?

My vision of Hamilton is that we really are the audacious city. Audacity does not mean minimum standard.

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By Pessy_Misti (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2013 at 17:53:18 in reply to Comment 96011

Nothing is ever good enough in Hamilton. Let's all move to Brantford.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 14, 2013 at 17:39:14 in reply to Comment 96006

AP, if we look at the Hamilton Bike Share Zone Map, the initial "phase one" rollout is in the orange and yellow areas. That includes Wards 1-4, 6-9 and 13.

Rather disturbing is the exclusion of the industrial employment zone in Wards 3 and 4. Equally disturbing is the inclusion of a non-contiguous zone along the Lakeshore Trail. This sends a not-so-subtle message of "bike-share is for recreation, not transportation." Kiss of death!

A transportation system should have as one of its primary emphases getting people to work. This is important for political buy-in and to set proper performance standards. My boss expects me to reliably arrive to work on-time every day. Bike-share needs to be reliably available to enable me to do that.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2013-12-14 17:44:47

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2013 at 13:33:56 in reply to Comment 96010

Kevin - I talked to some of the people behind it, their idea for having a few bikes available at the Lakeshore is for recreational purposes, you're right, but that's simply being put there to cater to a demand that isn't being met (there's no place to rent bikes out that way) and as a potential income generator for the organization.

As far as the number of bikes, while I appreciate the value of the ITDP report, it's also important to consider the context of where we're at. Even in the primary service areas (the orange ones, which are where the highest density of bikes will be, and where balancing will be most important), Hamilton has about 1.5% mode share for cyclists. So the idea of having at least 10 bikes per 1,000 residents in the entire service area (secondary areas having MUCH lower density of bikes and much less resources dedicated to balancing bike locations from what I understand), is a bit far-fetched right now. We have an opportunity to have a great, made-in-Hamilton solution to this - the contract is designed in such a way that if the program is successful, SoBi Hamilton will put all the money into improving the system - aka more bikes, more stations, better coverage. Yes it would be great to see a $15 Million investment in Bike Share in Hamilton, but for now we have to take the opportunity to put something in and work hard to prove the nay-sayers wrong, and to do that we need to get our mode share up, then we can really start making the case to make Hamilton a better place for all road users.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 13:14:55 in reply to Comment 95953

The ITDP report assumes a bixi-style system where there's no flexibility of bike locations, which is not the case. The 10-30 bikes/1000 residents number is also somewhat questionable since cities like Paris, which are often cited as a model of bikeshare globally, doesn't even meet that ratio.

As well, we don't have $15.7 million to spend on a bikeshare program- we have to work within our resources. If there is as much demand as you think, then it's an easier case to show we need to increase investment in the system and then do it.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 13, 2013 at 22:13:57 in reply to Comment 95964

Paris has about 8 bikes per 1,000 residents in the service area. This is far too low, and is dragging Paris down, as may be seen on the graph on Figure 4 on page 46 at:


The redeeming feature in Paris is the large service area, as may be seen on the scatter map on page 43 of the same source. Paris therefore has the largest non-Chinese system, with 16,500 bicycles in service. See Appendix B, same source.

Montreal, with 23 bikes per 1,000 population in the service area, has almost three times the proportion of the population using bike share use as Paris. That is to say, three times the market penetration in Montreal vs. Paris. So much for Paris being a global model!

The bike-share system in Paris is actually a rather poor performer, due to the inadequate number of bicycles in the service area. Still, even at the inadequate Paris rate of only 8 bicycles per 1,000 people, this would translate into 2,200 bicycles in the proposed Hamilton service area.

I believe that basic common sense suggests that 275,000 people in Hamilton are just simply not going to be able to share 650 bicycles. A bike will not be reliably available whenever it is needed. Public transit must be reliable or it is no good.

As to not having $15.7 million, that is peanuts compared to what has been routinely spent in Hamilton on car infrastructure projects. Do I really have to put up a list of car infrastructure projects and what was spent on them?

Even if we only look at the 275,000 population in the service area and assume a 10-year average bike life span, this works out to a not-so-whopping annual cost of $5.71 per person.

Yes, we can afford to change our city for the better for all its people. For a fairly low cost.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2013 at 08:23:29

It will be interesting to see how many people pay and sign up. This will tell the tale. Look at car-share, another non-profit charity. It has a small number of cars, which don't get used very much, one was seen at the line 9 protest. I hope this bike rental system works as promised for the seasonal service they will deploy, with help from the city. Personally, I will never use it as I just bought a new car, and can afford that convenience in my retirement years. Owning a car is not evil. I have no problem sharing the road with any other users, it's just that I don't encounter too many bicycle riders in the dead of winter. In good weather this bike rental program might do well, as we have thousands and thousands of students who may want to use them, instead of buying their own bikes. Plus I'm sure all the readers here on RTH will join and use them too, even if they already own bicycles and are free to use them whenever they want, all year long.

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By MAW HUNGRY (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2013 at 09:14:14 in reply to Comment 96027

1. What does this have to do with car share?
2. What does this have to do with line 9?
3. It's not a "bike rental system".
4. No one's making you use it and your desire to use it or otherwise has no bearing on its success.
5. No one said owning a car is evil. 5.1. Lots of people who own cars will use bikeshare too.
6. The number of cyclists that one guy sees as he drives around the city in the dead of winter is not statistically significant data.
7. Bikeshare is not meant to replace bike ownership.
8. "all the readers here on RTH" includes you.

It must suck to hate everything. Maybe your new car will bring you great joy (unlikely)

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By AP (registered) | Posted December 16, 2013 at 09:00:10 in reply to Comment 96027

As a Hamilton car share user, my sense is that the co-op has been doing quite well. New cars are added to the fleet as user and booked trip numbers grow, and though I don't pay that much attention (beyond booking a car and using it), I know there's 4 or so new cars to choose from within a 1/2 km of my house compared to when I first joined.

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By The world according to MAW sounds awful (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2013 at 09:17:22 in reply to Comment 96028

Not to mention that the only thing that bike share and car share have in common is the word "share". Bike share is an intermediate transit solution for trips too far to walk but too short to bus, and is meant to complement other modes including driving. Car share is meant to replace car ownership - either to replace your primary car or a second car or whatever. Not to mention the pricing is nowhere near comparable. I guess now that MAW can afford the luxurious comfort of his new car retirement, access to transportation across all demographics doesn't matter to him.

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