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A pedestrian walks past hundreds of BIXI bikes parked outside the Sheraton Wall Centre for delegates of the Velo-city Global 2012 conference to use in Vancouver on June 25, 2012.

The Globe and Mail

Vancouver has approved a public bike-share system at last. Now comes the hard part: a heated debate over a new section of bike route through the city's expensive seaside neighbourhoods.

In a week dominated by Vancouver's efforts to boost local cycling aggressively, there was relatively little debate Tuesday – a mere four hours – over a bike-share system that will get $6-million as a start-up subsidy from the city.

That was the prelude to what promises to be a much more contentious discussion about extending the bike network to Vancouver's Kitsilano and Point Grey neighbourhoods on the west side. That issue has attracted nearly 200 vehement supporters and opponents to the council meeting, only a few of whom got to speak Tuesday evening.

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Poll: Will you use the new bike-sharing program?

Dozens of them sat patiently through the decision about the bike-share system. The new system, to be operated by Alta Bicycle Share Inc. from Oregon with Montreal's Bixi bikes, is due to launch a test phase in the fall and be fully operational with 1,500 bikes by the spring. The company has to come up with $7.5-million as its share for the system launch. That is likely to be partly covered by sponsorships, which have not yet been announced.

Some speakers and a couple of councillors raised questions – about the cost to the city, the legality of giving a private company city money, the impact on existing bike-rental companies, and the way the province's helmet law may limit chances for success – but most were positive.

The motion was supported by Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr, as well as all of the city's ruling Vision party councillors.

"I have a lot of confidence in our city to make this the best public bike-share system it can be," Mayor Gregor Robertson said. "I believe this is a very good investment of our public dollars. It has every chance to succeed and provide a new way for people to get around affordably."

The two Non-Partisan Association council members voted against it.

"I do think it will put us at risk financially," Councillor George Affleck said. "It's likely to fail or cost us even more than what it says here."

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He said there is so much information missing from the city's report about the future contract with Alta that it's difficult to know how it will work financially.

Most of the 10 speakers at council were enthusiastic about Vancouver finally getting a system, five years after it was first proposed for the city.

"This is a unique opportunity for Vancouver to be one of the last green cities to implement bike share," said Tanya Paz, who is on the city's active transportation policy council. She said Vancouver could also show the way for others with its unique system for distributing helmets along with the bikes.

A University of British Columbia transportation researcher, Kay Teschke, supported the council move, saying that cycling produces noticeable health benefits. She also noted that Vancouver, far from being a leader, is far behind others in its cycling infrastructure.

"Since 2009, Vancouver has added six kilometres of separated bike lanes," she said. By contrast, Seville in Spain has built 120 kilometres of separated bike lanes in the last five years to complement its recently started bike-share system.

Those comments set the stage for what promises to be one of the most contentious council issues of the last decade: the Kitsilano-Point Grey bike route, which includes closing one part of the road for seven blocks to all cars except for local traffic.

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The debate is likely to extend into what is normally down time next week for Vancouver City Council, with some speakers preparing to argue that the road closure is a traffic disaster, a favour to the wealthy residents of Point Grey Road, and an unreasonable expense. Others will make the case that the narrow road is unworkable as both a car-commuter route and a safe place to cycle and walk.

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