How can we make Melbourne bike share succeed?

There’s been a regular trickle of bad press recently about the poor take up of the Melbourne bike share system – most recently this article and video in The Age

As a cyclist I’m a bit sad to see our scheme floundering – and yet I don’t use it. I often think about these bikes when I walk past them each day and ponder why I don’t use them more. I really want it to succeed and to see Melbourne’s CBD streets awash with happy upright cyclists in suits and heels. But there are so many small inhibiting factors at play which all add up and are preventing it from being a totally convenient system – and this is where the success of other systems around the world lies – convenience! 

Although we’re both regular cyclists and we work in the CBD, we’ve found it to be fairly inconvenient and have only used it on two occasions in its first year. For me, it’s a combination of 3 things; the helmet factor, the scattered location of the stations, and the lack of good bike lanes in the CBD. 

When I’m out walking at lunch time – I often pass a station and think “I should ride there… a bike would be quicker than waiting for the next tram or walking 3-4 blocks during the busy lunch peak”. But I never have a helmet with me, (and if I do, I have my own bike!) I could buy one of their cheap helmets and leave it as a spare at work, but where do I buy them from again?   Where’s the nearest…. oh never mind here’s the tram.

The bike racks outside the Arts Centre are constantly full of private bikes and there are bikes locked to every tree, parking pole and street chair around. Yet there’s no bike share station to be seen at this busy St Kilda Rd hub. The nearest stations are located 10 minutes walk in either direction. If you have to walk 10 minutes to pick up or park the bike – you may as well just walk the whole way because anywhere in the CBD is 15-20 minutes away.

And as for the Cycling infrastructure in the CBD?  Well there’s half a lane in the gutter on Collins Street which is probably not even wide enough for the blue bike’s wide handle bars. You can take your chances in the gap between the parked taxis, trucks and trams on Swanston (my preferred option), or you can take up a whole lane of traffic on Exhibition/Russell/Elizabeth and await the wrath of impatient motorists. Lets just say if you’re not a regular or experienced cyclist its hardly going to encourage you to start riding (Docklands or the Yarra Trail would be you’re best place to get the hang of things if you’re new to city riding).

I’m sure this has all been said before – but the things that would make me ride a blue bike much more often are; 

1. A pickup and drop off helmet machine at every bike station.  Hygene issues can easily be solved by providing paper helmet liners.   

2. A Station on every CBD corner, and a few more in places just outside the CBD – places like Port Melbourne, St Kilda, Brunswick and Smith Streets, North Fitzroy, North Melbourne, Prahran and along the main bike paths. These places are quicker and more convenient to get to by bicycle than by tram.

3. I’m very excited that work has finally begun on Swanston Street redevelopment. But there are still very few bike lanes through the CBD – the Littles/Lanes are great places to ride when going east west, but there aren’t enough north-south routes through the CBD. (In fact while Swanston St works are underway – I think there may even be none!) All those fantastic bike lanes that funnel people into the CBD along St Kilda Rd, Swanston, Rathdowne, Cardigan and Exhibition streets are unfinished business as they come to a dead stop and dump you in the heaviest traffic right when you need it most.

Sounds ungrateful, I know – I’m very happy our beautiful city has bike share, and that its generally so bicycle friendly. But if the idea is to encourage people to want to ride, then improvements need to be made rather than leave the scheme hovering in limbo – the half hearted implementation has made it half useful, half convenient for a few people, sometimes.

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