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Downtown bike valet service has successful pilot, to return in 2024

To call the success of the Calgary Downtown Association’s bike valet service a surprise would be a misnomer, but for the association, the summer pilot indicated that there is demand for the service.

Mark Garner, Executive Director for the CDA, said that the project which allowed cyclists to securely store their bikes while visiting the downtown core met a previously untapped demand.

“We heard that we need to have a bike valet for all the festivals and events that are in the downtown core, as part of an add on value, and to allow more access to festivals and events,” he said.

“People are looking for alternatives.”

He said that the bike valet service built upon the city’s active transportation strategy, which already has over 1,500 km of bike paths in the city.

“This just seems to be a natural fit, and I think part of the CDA’s focus is to improve that access and allow more of these types of services,” Garner said.

The maximum capacity at any one time for the service was 200 bikes, and while Garner said they never quite reached that capacity, during major events they often saw more than half that capacity being used.

Over the nine weeks of the pilot, they saw more than 300 people take advantage of the service. On a weekly basis, they saw 27 non-electric bikes being stored by the valets, versus nine electric bikes.

Giving people peace of mind when they bike to the downtown

Safety of more expensive bikes is part of the reason why the CDA was monitoring the types of bikes being stored, said Garner.

“Those bikes are not cheap. You don’t want to bring them down and find your tire missing or something else missing off your bike when you come out of events. I think it is a bit of a deterrent for people coming downtown,” Garner said.

“I think having a bike valet encourages cycling, but then you also have that peace of mind.”

Addressing that dual aspect of concerns over the safety of bikes, and the accessibility using bikes to access downtown locations was top of mind.

Among survey respondents polled by the CDA, the number one reason for using the bike valet was so that they could visit a downtown restaurant, followed by attending an event, then being able to shop in the downtown core.

Part of the response to that feedback will be to install additional bike racks in the downtown core in addition to a bike valet service.

Funding needed to support program in 2024

The response from local businesses to the pilot program was positive said Garner.

“Our members were very supportive, and I think we’ll do it bigger and will incentivize it more.”

Those incentives could include getting discounts or being entered for prizes for using the service, which Garner said the CDA is exploring as an option for other aspects of the downtown core visitor experience.

As for 2024, he said that the pilot indicated that there was a need to get a service up and running sooner than the July start this year, meeting demand for cyclist visits in June and extending the program into a warmer shoulder season in September.

“We’ll get this up and running much earlier in the season. I think the go forward for us is to basically have a bike valet in various locations, and then look at a mobile bike valets to support the various festivals and events like Folk Fest, Sled Island, and even during Stampede,” Garner said.

The next steps, he said, would be refining a funding model for the service with the City of Calgary and stakeholders.

“We’re working through our budget issues right now to see how do we execute this because it’s very labor intensive to be able to provide the service. But also it’s there’s rental fees for use of space, vacant space that we have downtown.”