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‘Best way to get the Bluesfest’: How Bike Park got so big



‘Best way to get the Bluesfest’: How Bike Park got so big

“It’s the best way to get to Bluesfest. It doesn’t make any sense to drive in.”

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This summer, as hundreds of thousands flock to LeBreton Flats to take in Ottawa’s biggest summer music festival, thousands of bikes will sit safely guarded, but unlocked, at Bike Park.

Since 2006, volunteers with Bike Ottawa have run the Bike Park at Bluesfest. Last year, they hit a milestone and parked their 100,000th bike, Charles Akben-Marchand, Bike Park’s co-ordinator, said in an interview Monday.

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“It’s a very efficient service,” he said. “We really emphasize for volunteers to do everything, optimize everything, so they can get their bike as fast as possible at the end of the night.”

Festival-goers can leave their bags and accessories with their bike, too, he added, no lock required. The bikes stay in a secure area, under the close eye of a volunteer team, who park and tag the bikes for patrons, and retrieve the bikes quickly and conveniently after the show.

During Bike Park’s inaugural year, when Bluesfest was held at city hall, the team parked a total of 1,206 bikes, Akben-Marchand said. Now, they have the capacity for between 1,200 and 1,300 bikes per night.

Akben-Marchand says temperamental weather and rain have meant that Bike Park “definitely hasn’t hit capacity” so far this year. He estimates volunteers have been looking after between 800 and 900 bikes per night.

“We haven’t tested our full capacity yet,” he said.

But Akben-Marchand uses one key litmus test to determine Bike Park’s success:

“We’re competing with the fencepost people can just walk up to and lock their bike,” he said. “And we’re competing well with that.”

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Bike Park Bluesfest
The Bike Park area at Bluesfest on Tuesday. Photo by JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

Bike Ottawa president Dave Robertson credits convenience for Bike Park’s success and growth over the years.

“It’s the best way to get to Bluesfest,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to drive in. By taking public transport or coming by bike, the whole process of checking your bike in is so simple, and there’s no wait, no risk of your bike getting stolen.”

Robertson said that, even during the end-of-night rush, at most, people wait about five to 10 minutes to retrieve their bikes.

“It just solves all those problems. You show up, hand off your bike, take a ticket and you’re gone. And your bike is taken care of.”

At a time when the City of Ottawa intends to reduce its bike parking budget by 25 per cent, Robertson said the city should consider providing bike valets at other busy events.

It’s such a cost-effective way for people to start using their bikes, because it’s convenient, and it removes the barrier of people fearing their bike being stolen or things being stolen off their bike,” he said.

Bike Park volunteers accept donations for Bike Ottawa and for the Blues in the Schools program, a long-running initiative that brings musicians into Ottawa-area schools for two weeks every spring to teach the fundamentals of the blues. 

Bluesfest is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and runs until July 14, with upcoming main stage headliners including the Zac Brown Band, The Offspring, Tyler Childers, Mötley Crüe and more.

READ MORE: Bluesfest 2024: An insider’s guide to Ottawa’s biggest music festival

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