Bikeshare systems compared, at scale

Similar to the 2004 “Subway systems at the same scale“, from Neil Freeman, now David Yanofsky, at Quartz, goes even further with bikeshare systems and maps 29 of the worlds’ systems, again at scale.

Being point data rather than line data, it’s even harder now to imagine the background topographies that underlie these patterns of dispersion. But it does illustrate some of the key qualities that different systems can exhibit:

Size: Paris leads here, unsurprisingly. As Matt Yglesias recently emphasized, this is key to attractiveness of the system, hence the big starting scale for New York.

Density: Mexico City seems to have highest concentration of bike stations. It’s not clear to me that density of stations matters that much. Density of stalls certainly does, since that’s the essential unique commodity for share-cyclists who are trying to leave off the bike. But does it matter whether there’s one rack with 20 spaces, or two racks of 10 spaces only a block away from each other? When making that decision, street environment issues probably dominate.

Fragmentation: Seoul and several Chinese cities lead here. Without knowing the topographical constrains, this certainly seem as it would threaten the vitality of a bikeshare system. Isolated pockets of bike stations can probably only be justified if they’re near an extremely popular destination that is compatible with bicycling over a distance where no stations are available; and worth taking the risk that there are no mechanical problems along the way, while crossing the sea of no stations.

What I’d really like to see visualized for bikeshare systems is elevation. This, in my own experience, seems to explain many of the problems of bicycle drift that leaves some stands completely full and others completely empty. Different systems have different ways of addressing (or ignoring) this, such as Vélib’s bonus time for those who are willing to pedal up Montmartre to leave the bike. It would be interesting to compare different cities in terms of what elevation challenges they face.

Why I never lived on Queen Anne Hill

In 2007, when I returned to Seattle after 6 months of guest doctoral studies, my tastes in apartments had changed, influenced by the higher density and smaller living areas in Stockholm, as well as hardwood floors and other features of “older” construction. This basically narrowed the neighborhoods down to Capitol Hill, Ballard, the U District, and Lower Queen Anne.

In the end, I didn’t live in any of these. The reasons are many, of course, but one of the main ones was that bicycling to the University was complicated by the hills, bridges, and other obstacles, and I was dead set on bicycling.

Now Sightline Institute has just followed up their popular WalkScore online tool with a BikeScore tool, which displays both a sort of “generalized bikeability” map of a city, or a destination-specific range of bikeability, indeed taking into account network connectivity and hills. The figure at right shows the 20-minute bicycling range from the University. Indeed, Ballard is well out to the west and Capitol Hill is mostly out to the south. Most interestingly, Lower Queen Anne, which has some quite interesting old apartment buildings, sits right there in the dark corner to the southwest. This matches my mental map of the area, in that Queen Anne — although not so far as the crow flies — is rather inaccessible by bicycle, due to a combination of lake, hill, and Highway 99. Well done, Sightline, you’ve validated my eventual decision to live in Wallingford.

Stockholm’s New (Draft) Bicycle Master Plan

Stockholm has released a draft Cykelplan, describing a set of strategies for further developing the city’s infrastructure to support cycling, with the ultimate goals of improving safety and of increasing the bicycling mode share. I had a chance to hear a bit more about it in detail at a workshop in Kulturhuset, Monday morning.

I’m impressed at the center-right government’s turnabout with regard to certain transport-related policies, both at the municipal and national levels. At the municipal level, this has led to an express commitment to expanding the local bikeway network. Indeed, the draft plan shows an impressive map of the future network, reflecting some serious ambition among city staff.

But reading the document, I became concerned. Perhaps most importantly, there’s surprisingly little in the way of an existing conditions analysis — no maps of land uses, estimated cycle traffic volumes, accidents, key locations for connecting modes of travel, etc. This means that the proposed future network stands out as being either arbitrary or based on implicit knowledge of the city and its cycling problems. Furthermore, there was no inventory of the existing bicycle facilities in neighboring municipalities (the suburban cities). This is quite dangerous for the success of the plan: without providing an adequate motivation for the proposed network in terms of such factors as activities, land use, and the broader transport system, it will be all too easy for future staff and policy-makers to deviate from the plan, potentially sacrificing an important link because they did not understand what made that link important in the first place.

The draft plan seems to be a typical example of planning for a mode of travel in isolation, despite the staff’s valiant efforts to think holistically. I’m still formulating these thoughts into some comments in Swedish, but I’m worried that my real advice for this proposal is that they should take a step back and reflect on how this document is meant to be used, and then ensure that they have included everything that it will need in order to be an effective planning tool.