Opinion: It’s time to expand the city’s East End Bike Share network

One day last summer, an out-of-town friend and I decided to ride bikes to catch a rugby game at the Tubs and Gee Gage field over on Eastern Avenue.

Visiting from Vancouver, my friend didn’t have a bike of his own. But no matter. Because city Bike Share stations abound, he could affordably rent a two-wheeler near his place in the West End. A quick app download, online payment, and he was good to go. From Bloor West to Harbord, down Sherbourne to Dundas, through Leslieville towards the Beach we rode, taking in the different neighbourhoods until making it to the field about 40 minutes later, game in progress.

Eager to take our seats, I looked around for a place to lock up my bike. My friend opened the app on his phone.

“OK I’m just going to find the nearest station for me to park this,” he said. “It’ll be expensive for me to keep this… Oh.”

“Oh, what?”

“The closest station is way up there – or way back there,” he said, gesturing up towards the Danforth and back towards Leslieville. I thought back – he was right. At the start of our route, the stations appeared frequent, but as we moved east they thinned out, until disappearing altogether.

RELATED: East Toronto cycling network shows room for growth

We figured we had two options, both expensive and inconvenient.

We could keep the bike for the duration of the game at a penalized cost (after 30 minutes, the cost rises exponentially until the bike is docked – the company does this to encourage short trips and ensure bikes are available along the network) or ride the bike back to a docking station and walk/run back in time for the second half.

In fact, he opted for a third ridiculous option, which was to ride to the “closest” station and swap the bike out for a new one, thus restarting the 30-minute window and saving a few dollars.

While we didn’t waste much time complaining about the situation (we could have checked the bike share map and rules before we left), my friend did express his astonishment that it was such a chore to bring a downtown bike into the East End.

It nagged at me that the area was underserviced in this way, with literally zero Bike Share docks east of Leslie Street near the waterfront. There are so few Bike Share stations in the East End south of the Danforth it looks like an error on the company’s online map.

(The company website says it is working on expanding its network. But how about a longer ride option until that network is improved?)

I bring all of this up because the city is looking for a private company to run a bike rental concession – separate from Bike Share – out of Ashbridges Bay. This is a smart idea that will further animate our waterfront and, if my experience navigating the Stanley Park portion of Vancouver’s seawall is any indication, should entice tourists and others to cruise the area.

But for now, those tourists will likely arrive at the bike rental kiosk via car or transit. Wouldn’t it be great if they could arrive via bike – and spend the money they save and satiate the appetite they’ve gained at shops and restaurants in our neighbourhood? And what about East End residents south of the Danforth who would like to use the service to get downtown?

Any plans to install a bike concession in Ashbridges Bay should go hand in hand with docking and rental stations for city bikes. Anything else is a false connection on what is beginning to be a dynamic city-wide bike network.

I often hear people speculating about what could be done to attract more people to the area. Improving the East End Bike Share situation could help.

Anna Killen is the editor of Beach Metro News. Send her an email: editor@beachmetro.com

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