City planning SoBi pilot project in low-income neighbourhoods

After a year and a half of successful growth in Hamilton, the city and bikeshare SoBi Hamilton are proposing to expand into low-income areas in the city.

"This would show that bikeshare truly is for everybody."

As of SoBi’s one-year anniversary in March, about About 10,000 people had signed up for the system. (Tucker Wilson/CBC)

After a year and a half of successful growth of the city's bike share program, the city is looking at expanding the SoBi system in low-income areas of the city.

It's an exercise in "community building," said Peter Topalovic, the city's manager of transportation demand management.

"We're trying to improve accessibility to what people need in the city," he said.

The initiative, which comes to the public works meeting on Oct. 3, includes the purchase of bikes and hubs for the city's "code red" and "neighbourhood action strategy" neighbourhoods, subsidized bike share membership funding, and financing to implement programs to "maximize use" in these areas.

If accepted by council, it would see 75 new bikes, plus seven new stations in the city. "Hopefully this would show that bike share truly is for everybody," Topalovic said.

All bike share systems should provide equity, because it's public transportation.- Peter Topalovic, the city's manager of transportation demand management

It's a $525,000 project, but grants from the Green Municipal Fund and the Hamilton Community Foundation would cover 60 per cent of the endeavour if approved.

The city's contribution would be $126,255 over a three-year period, plus "in-kind contributions," along with about $75,000 from the Barton-Kenilworth Urban Renewal account in 2016.

Other cities are in the middle of making investments in similar areas, Topalovic said, but added it's "early days" still in terms of measuring impacts.

A map of the existing bike share stations, in red circles, and proposed placements in blue to fill in the program's eastern expansion. (City of Hamilton)

According to a baseline study from Temple University that examined bike share in low-income areas in Philadelphia in 2015, 14 per cent of survey respondents in those areas had used bike share a month after it launched, but only 3 per cent were current members.

That said, an additional 73 per cent had reported planning to use the system in the future, and 45 per cent of respondents said they knew someone who had used the system.

The Hamilton project was organized with an eye for the fact that people in low-income areas without a car can feel "trapped," Topalovic said. Having bike share can bridge gaps and combat feelings of isolation, he added.

"And really, all bike share systems should provide equity, because it's public transportation."

As of SoBi's one-year anniversary in March, about 10,000 people had signed up for the system.