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Bixi: Condo developers contribute $1 million to Toronto bike-share expansion

If, one day, the Bixi bicycle-sharing program finally arrives in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, it may come courtesy of a downtown councillor and downtown developers.

Playing infrastructure Santa Claus, the councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has persuaded three companies planning highrise condos in booming Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, to put a total of $1 million toward the expansion Bixi says is desperately needed. The city now has 80 Bixi stations; the $1 million could pay for about 20 more.

“In a short period of time we will have allocated a million dollars. And that’s just this tiny little ward,” Wong-Tam said. “If everybody else used this, and there was a consistent policy across the city, we could probably bring Bixi into North York, into Scarborough, into Etobicoke. It could be everywhere.”

Wong-Tam’s model could help secure Bixi’s future. At present, it plods along on unsteady ground: the Toronto operation is saddled with a $3.9 million debt, Bixi can’t afford to make the service payments, and Mayor Rob Ford says the program is “a failure” that should be allowed to vanish.

Taxpayers are on the hook for the debt in any case, and the transportation department has confidentially recommended that council approve a city takeover. Bixi’s executives believe the program could be self-sustaining if it were bigger — if it offered 3,000 bikes rather than the current 1,000.

According to city cycling manager Daniel Egan, Bixi launched in 2011 on the understanding that the city would invest in expansion at some point. There was no investment plan until now.

“I don’t want to fund the entire Bixi program on the back of Ward 27, because that’s obviously not fair; there’s development everywhere. But I did want to point out that it can be done,” Wong-Tam said. “One of the biggest obstacles in terms of financial viability is expansion of infrastructure. Well, here you go.”

The developers — major players Canderel, DiamondCorp and Lanterra — agreed to contribute to Bixi in exchange for permission to create fewer parking spaces than city rules require.

The city sometimes releases developers from parking requirements without demanding anything in return. Wong-Tam said she decided that she would attempt this time to insist on the Bixi contribution. The developers, she said, put up “no resistance whatsoever,” since they will spend far less than they would have had to spend to build parking they can’t sell.

Lanterra chief executive Barry Fenton said he never thought of the agreement as a cost-saver: he believes his company would have persuaded Wong-Tam to relax the requirements even without the Bixi payment. Citing a “fantastic” bike journey he took in Stockholm, he said investing in urban cycling “just really, really, really makes a lot of sense.”

“Because you are reducing parking, that’s fair: patrons and purchasers in the building will require sharing of cars, will require bicycle opportunities,” he said. If Wong-Tam asks, he said, he will “wholeheartedly” approve additional contributions to Bixi from future projects.

The first $1 million is composed of $500,000 from Canderel, from a project at Yonge and College Sts., $200,000 from DiamondCorp’s 159 Wellesley St. E. project, and $300,000 from Lanterra’s transformation of Sutton Place.

Egan was tight-lipped Friday, saying there is a report in the works on options for Bixi. But he said Wong-Tam’s model “certainly has potential” to be a significant contributor to an expansion plan.

“We’re looking at a menu of options for maintaining and expanding the program, and that’s one of the pieces,” he said.

Because council doesn’t yet have a formal parking-for-Bixi policy, the three improvised agreements had to be funneled through the “Section 37” pacts that allow developers to build taller or denser condos if they fund certain improvements to the nearby community.

Section 37 money can’t be spent directly on Bixi stations far from the new towers. Wong-Tam’s solution: uproot her ward’s existing stations and install them elsewhere, then use the $1 million to erect shiny new stations where they had stood.

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National Post

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