Incredibly poor design – what did we win that UNESCO award for anyways?

BIXI parking across Phillips' Square - work of the auhor, May 19th 2011

Many thanks to Isabelle and Nelson for reminding me of this God forsaken travesty of urban design.

So apparently BIXI and the City agree that Phillips’ Square is an ideal location for a high concentration of docks. Last year, I remember seeing docks doubled up along the eastern edge of the Square, and on occasion, a large quantity of bikes kept in reserve for a daily rush. Clearly, the demand from this particular point was fairly high. That being said, this year I discovered the solution to such high demand – the construction of a ‘dock-barrier’ which cuts the Square in two parts, as you can see above.

Aside from dividing the space, this set-up provides an obstacle for anyone wishing to cross through the Square – which is what it’s designed to facilitate. Moreover, there are still parking spaces along the edge of the Square which could be easily converted to spaces for docks. In fact, based on my observations last night, they’d probably be able to fit about twice as many bikes by using those spaces as opposed to running one long dock across the Square.

Another problem – the vendors along St-Catherine’s are further isolated from existing traffic patterns. I spoke with some of them a while ago – they we’re incredulous at how silly this arrangement is, and how anyone in City Hall could have approved of the decision.

This space deserves better.



This space does in fact deserve better – and it got better.

Having recently moved into the neighbourhood I was eager to see whether the city had in fact removed the offending bike racks. Turns out that yes, indeed, they were permanently removed.

Getting the opportunity to pass through the urban square with some regularity, I can say that it seems to be very well used. It is an unlikely meeting place for very small protests and demonstration, such as the ultra-orthodox Chasidim protesting the existence of Israel to the Kurds protesting joint Turko-American suppression of the Kurds. It’s always lively and seems to be a preferred location for bums and retailers alike to take their lunch breaks, and frames the buildings surrounding the square. It is often well photographed by passing tourists who touch the foot of King Edward VII, rubbing it as if for luck. Others just drop their jaw to a publicly-acceptable degree of awe. I doubt too many people know anything about the guy, but fuck if it isn’t a neat statue, read whichever way you like.

What I find curious is how the vendor kiosks are lined up facing Ste-Catherine’s, essentially forming a continuance of sorts to the store fronts along the rest of the street. If they were redistributed across the square, optimally with a kiosk at each of the corners, they might prevent the weird pedestrian bottleneck that happens along the edge of the square on Ste-Catherine’s.

Further – has anyone else noticed that despite all the docks, there are frequently times in which there isn’t a single bike at the entirety of the square? And not even at peak hours either – quite bizarre.

In any event, if you have never visited Phillips Square I highly recommend taking a little walk from McGill or Square-Victoria Métro stations and seeing the sites. There’s plenty to do, but if you prefer photography to shopping then I highly recommend bringing your camera. There’s plenty to see and watch throughout the day, and the square provides interesting vantage points on Christ Church Cathedral, the Birks and New Birks buildings, the Bay, the Canada Cement Building and what’s left of the neighbourhood once known as Little Dublin. Enjoy the terraces along the eastern side of the square while they’re up, or if you’re feeling mighty posh and have some coin burning a hole in your pocket, try the Café Birks and let me know what you think.

BIXI responds!

Fuck it! We'll do it live! - thankfully, I had nothing to do with this shill, I mean still

The following is the full text of a message sent to registered BIXI users yesterday, May 19th, in response to recent news about a $108 million ‘bailout’ recently authorized by the City of Montreal. Many thanks to The Frek for bringing this to my attention. I think I was pulled in to the outrage without knowing all the details, and for this I’m regretful. That being said, my personal position vis-a-vis BIXI is that it should continue to operate regardless of the cost, but that it’s relationship to Stationnement de Montréal may cause a conflict of interest. Ultimately, I doubt the project can survive, or even turn a profit, unless ridership is steadily increased moving forward. This will require a few key steps:

1. Building more isolated bike paths
2. Converting more streets to pedestrian/cyclist only (ie – getting more cars out of the city)
3. A massive increase to the number of available bikes and stations – Island-wide service seems to be an ideal objective worth working towards
4. Perhaps a strategic relocation of BIXI into a new umbrella group of city and region transit authorities. I’ve been arguing this point for a while, we need one transit agency for the entire region, operating a myriad of different systems. Better co-operation between BIXI and the STM and AMT may help to ‘legitimize’ BIXI in the eyes of those who still consider it somewhat of a novelty.

In any event – here’s the letter; you can compare it to my earlier article on the ‘bailout’ and the Gazette article linked therein.

Letter to members and BIXI users:

In the past days, much has been said about BIXI that does not correspond to the reality. Therefore it seems essential to restore the facts, particularly now that the plan proposed by the City was finally well-received by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs after more than five months of delay and waiting. The following serves as a clarification regarding some of the allegations which have been circulating in the media.

“BIXI is a financial disaster and is not profitable”: FALSE. BIXI experienced a liquidity problem which was the direct result of a five-month wait for the approval by the Municipal Affairs Minister of its agreement with the City of Montreal. BIXI is a company which experienced rapid growth and realized, after only 2 years, volumes of some $50 million. BIXI also posted results that were 40% greater than the projected budget, thanks in large part to the successful expansion of its system internationally. BIXI does not have a profitability problem nor is BIXI a financial disaster in any way.

“The Montreal operation of BIXI is not profitable”: TRUE. From the beginning, the business plan projected that the Montreal operation of the system would not derive profits in the first years of operation. The plan also indicated that operational costs would be covered once BIXI reached 50,000 members and with the involvement of sponsorship. Proud of the 30,000 members at the end of 2010, we have currently exceeded the level of 40,000 members after only one month of operation in our new 2011 season.

“Montreal is absorbing the BIXI debt”: FALSE. The City gives no money to BIXI. Montreal advanced a loan to BIXI. The initial loan to BIXI in the amount of $37 million is repayable with interest. This loan was accorded to cover conceptualization costs of the system, the patents, the manufacturing and delivery of the components (bikes and stations), the operation losses of the first years as well as the start up costs. This loan is presently owed to Stationnement de Montréal.

“The city is giving $108 million to BIXI”: FALSE. Let us take the time to properly understand the numbers that make up the whole. $37 million : this amount is a loan to BIXI repayable with interest. The remaining $71 million, guaranteed by the City of Montreal, is comprised of a financing package negotiated with the National Bank subsequent to a tender notice.

It consists of a revolving line of credit of $6 million, as is standard for all businesses; a letter of credit facility up to $5 million for deposit guarantees for all public offerings which is a standard practice with the guarantees rescinded after the process.

A factoring facility up to $60 million offered by the Bank to finance accounts receivable which allows for the necessary liquidity to pay our suppliers while waiting for the cities with whom we do business to effect the payment of our invoices. This facility can only be used when a contract is signed by a city in good and due form.

“Montrealers are financing the export of the BIXI system to other markets”: FALSE. It is, in fact, the contrary. Montrealers fully benefit from the export of the BIXI system to other markets. Last year, it is the successes of the sales of BIXI ($8.5 million) on the international scale that covered the operational deficit of Montreal ($7 million). In this way, we were able to achieve a surplus of $1.5 million and offer a quality system to Montrealers.

“We have a luxurious bike costing $7,400 compared to Barcelona with a bike costing $75”: FALSE. BIXI does not cost $7,000, no more than it costs $3,500, heard on television. The Barcelona bike does not cost $75. The Barcelona bike costs more than 600 €, basically the same cost of our bike. How could we sell with such success on three continents if the bike costs so much? The Montreal bike is likely the most solid and best conceived bike in the world. Its reliability is greater than the bikes currently used in other cities.

“BIXI employs 450 people”: FALSE. BIXI employs 50 people and has created more than 400 employees at different suppliers everywhere in the region for the manufacturing of the diverse components of the system. Our business plan is clear. It has been presented publically. We remain in line with the business plan and once again count on respecting these objectives again this year. The plan outlines clearly that the system will cost nothing to Montrealers. This is our commitment.