Jay Walder does not want you to sell your bike. Nor, for that matter, does the CEO of the bike sharing company Motivate plan to replace rail and bus lines.

The former New York City, London, and Hong Kong transit official, who appeared at the CityAge conference in Toronto on Thursday, nevertheless says that bike sharing has the potential to become a major, complementary part of the urban transit infrastructure.

“The power of major transit systems to move enormous numbers of people is beyond doubt,” Walder said. “Bike share fits into that and has attributes that fixed rail will never have.”

Bike Share Toronto station, image by Jack Landau

For political and practical reasons, mass transit must appeal to the needs of the many. However, Walder said, a bike only needs to respond to the needs of its rider. Bikes don’t have pre-determined routes between docking stations. As such, bikes can help address the last mile problem of major transit routes not being able to reach all locations.

The case for bike sharing is not, however, entirely rooted in its convenience or cost.

“The power is not just in numbers but how it makes us feel,” Walder said. “When you ride by things, you look at them in different ways because you’re much closer.”

This more tactile approach to transit has the added benefit of being easier to install than the large-scale projects Walder worked on in New York, Hong Kong, and London.

Interactive map of Toronto's Bike Share network, image courtesy of bikesharetoronto.com

“When you run a transit system you describe time optimistically in decades and realistically in generations,” Walder said. “Bike share is in months.”

As part of New York City’s Citi Bike program, for instance, Motivate was able to add 4,000 bikes in just over a year. Walder said this expedited timeframe created the impression that bike share had appeared overnight, but it also allows bike share operators to rapidly respond to changes in the urban landscape.

Hamilton bike share heat map, image by UrbanToronto Forum member mdrejhon

“The way travel is taking place in urban spaces is increasingly complex,” Walder says. The character of a neighbourhood can change far more quickly than a city’s transit map. The responsiveness of bike share is not a miracle cure for all urban transit problems, but it does provide urbanists with an additional tool for dealing with complexity.

“You can make mistakes and correct them relatively easily,” Walder said. “Our view is we should be trying things and innovating and if they don’t work, that’s okay.”


The CityAge Toronto 2016 event has now wrapped up. A complete event schedule is available in our preview editorial, as well as on the CityAge website, which includes a full itinerary of speakers and discussions. This year, UrbanToronto is CityAge's official media partner, so keep an eye out for our reporting from the conference.