bike share

New York City crowd-sources bike share station location

London bike share New York City has always been seen as a trend-setter. This time they’re jumping on the backs of two big trends: bike sharing and crowd sourcing. New York City Department of Transportation has collaborated with OpenPlans, a non-profit focus on open government and transportation, to develop software that collects public input for bike sharing stations.

The software, to be called CivicWorks, is behind NYCDOT’s bike share suggestion engine. It is an open source tool that eventually will allow any group to open their own suggestion engine for the placement of anything on a map – street trees, parks, bike parking, new development. It takes a standard, “analog” public participation interaction exercise (involving Legos and printed maps) and brings it into the 21st Century.

At first glance, the crowd-collected data on NYC’s map seems to be rather useless. How much information can you gather about preferences if there is no variation in them? The whole city seems to be covered in dots. But as Neil Freeman of NYCDOT explained, there actually is a fair amount of variation in the data.

Each dot represents a location where one person requested a station, but also embedded in the dot are several votes from other community members. This variation enabled the DOT to produce “heat maps” of station location preferences, highlighting the need to focus first in Manhattan’s southern core, but also a desire to expand into further reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

The data have also been used to perform “proximity tests,” where planners compare the hottest locations with practical measures like the width of the sidewalk or ownership of the land where it would be placed.

The information collected through this online platform will be augmented with feedback collected at many in-person public meetings across the City throughout the year in order to determine the placement of the City’s first bike share stations.

-          Terra Curtis

Bike Share Apps for Capital BikeShare and Others

I’m going to piggyback on a post from the Greater Greater Washington (GGW) blog, which presents several apps (mobile and web) designed to make the use, operation, or analysis of DC’s Capital Bikeshare (or CaBi) system easier.  All of these apps are enabled by open data and showcase how bikeshare operators can benefit from the work of private developers.  Their own website includes a dashboard, which includes system-wide (default view) and individual station (requires some digging) data. Mobile examples include:

  iFindBikes Web examples include:

One astute comment on the GGW post posits the data, as displayed in an app like SpotCycle, could be used as part of an incentivization scheme whereby users are credited with minutes or money to use on the system if they return their bike to an empty or low-inventory bike station.  This would help automate the redistribution operation, which could cost on the order of 20-30 percent of the total cost of the system.  This means incentive credits offered to users could be quite high and still offer a net gain to the operator.

I’m not sure why they haven’t done this yet, but I could also see this data integrated into DC’s (or other city’s) online trip planner.  Currently, DC’s system offers the choice of using bus, rail, or both when searching for a transit trip – why not include bike share?  Why not include it as a result in the search as an alternative by default?  This would be a less direct way of encouraging the use of the system, a way of raising awareness cheaply by leveraging the established use of the trip planner software.  (Side note: it’s not even included in their listing of “alternate transportation” or the “bike n’ ride” link.  Seems like a no brainer to me.)

It might also be interesting to put practical graphics (like the one below) on physical screens in local businesses near to the bike stations, similar to information displays on bus stops.  Imagine if, leaving your hotel, you were first greeted with a bike rather than a cab stand – a quicker, cheaper, and funner travel mode that you might just be convinced to try.

- Terra Curtis


CityRyde wants your Input

CityRyde are self-proclaimed bike sharing experts, helping clients pitch, implement, and operate bike sharing systems.  Since 2007, the company has been advising clients, and in 2009 released Spark, “the world’s first off-the-shelf software to manage bike shares.”  Today, they’re investigating the potential usefulness of a smartphone app that would pay you to do socially good or green-conscious actions, like riding your bike.  They’ve invited all interested parties to take a survey on the topic. CityRyde already has some interesting case studies, and I suspect they will have even more when they figure out a way to leverage financial incentives to increase bike riding.  (They’ve just hired a web and mobile app developer to aid in the creation of the app).  They currently offer three tech solutions: Spark (mentioned above), Inspire (carbon credit management software), and Ride Off Carbon (a mobile carbon footprint tracker).

Currently, CityRyde is working with two municipalities and six other clients.  Cornell University, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and The Related Companies LP have all recently adopted part of their solution.  Cornell will use Spark as part of its new campus bike share system.  Pottsdam is providing a bike share less focused on commuting and more on touring local historical sites, and Related Companies will utilize Spark for bike shares at apartment complexes worldwide.

- Terra Curtis


Interview with Anette Scheibe of Kista Science City: from Fossil Fuels to Intelligent Transport Solutions ‘the Stockholm Way’

Interview with Anette Scheibe of Kista Science City: from Fossil Fuels to Intelligent Transport Solutions ‘the Stockholm Way’.This entry is the first in a series of interviews conducted by Cluster in collaboration with Living Labs Global (LLG) in occasion of the second edition of the second edition of Living Labs Global Award, an international technology award for digital services that add high value to users in cities around the world. 8 global cities partnered with LLG to search for solutions to their most pressing local problems in a global context.

Brussels flexes its Data Muscles

Special thanks to John Van Parys of Where’s My Villo? who stumbled upon our bike share data blog posts and wrote to us concerning his open data project in Brussels.  In Brussels, the bike share system exists because of a public-private partnership between the City of Brussels and JCDecaux who is allowed to advertise on the system in return for managing its use.  JCDecaux makes system data available on its servers, which Where’s My Villo? exploits, to allow users to see where bikes are available. Where’s My Villo? is an advocate for better bike sharing.  Mr. Van Parys and his friends are Villo! users who are somewhat frustrated with its management and want improvements.  So, they built a website to publish live data (updated every 5 minutes), reporting the worst stations for finding or locking a bike every day.  They’ve also created functionality for users to report their own issues.

It appears that their service has received a fair amount of attention.  The City of Brussels is even using it to monitor their partner’s performance. They’ve also been successful: according to Van Parys, JCDecaux reports they will be allocating more resources to reshuffling the bikes.

What is meant to be highlighted here is the power of open data to bring about transparency and change.  As we noted before, there are several websites now leveraging bike share data (for example, see London, Paris, and this other site from Brussels).  Imagine if this type of transparency were brought to other types of public-private partnerships, particularly in health and transport.

-Terra Curtis

Lyon Bike Share Data

Not long after I posted the last blog about various sources of bike share data, I came across this article, which highlights this type of data’s use in Lyon, France – one of the first cities to adopt a bike sharing system in 2005.

One interesting kernel they found was that the average speed of bicycles on Wednesdays is faster than that of other days.  Why?  It turns out that women tend to stay home to care for children on Wednesdays in France.  Secondly, during rush hour, bicycle travel speeds were systematically higher than those of automobiles (around 15 km/hr) – an encouraging fact for anyone trying to promote a bike sharing scheme.  One other (perhaps obvious, but still) important finding was that speeds peak around 7:45 and 8:45 in the morning, trending with the start of the workday. Now that bike sharing systems are becoming more and more popular, and their systems ever more technologically advanced, I think we can expect to see more data gathering, more analysis, and quicker responses to needed improvements in the systems.  We’ve highlighted many of the piloted systems in our Showcase, including SoBi, iBike, and BikePark, and have also noted a few on our blog.  Now that data gathering is easy through the ubiquitous use of mobile communications technologies, the challenge will be to slice and dice it in the most useful ways for proactive change in global cities.

-Terra Curtis

Visualising Biking

This morning I opened up my email to find the December 2010 World Carfree Newsletter.  The World Carfree Network is a global organization promoting alternative transportation advocating for quality of life improvements for all.  Every month, they send out a newsletter that is chock-full of news from around the world relating to the “carfree movement” – moving towards more mixed use, denser environments that de-emphasize the private automobile and encourage bicycling, walking, and public transit use. This morning I clicked a link that led me to the Slideshare presentation embedded below.  The presentation itself it somewhat dry, but it contains a wealth of information and links regarding some really amazing bike share data visualization projects.  I wanted to share a few of the highlights here.

First, the Bike-o-Meter.  This project comes out of the University College of London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.  It’s beauty is really in its simplicity – it takes data from bike share systems in 16 world cities and displays the current percentage of the fleet that is currently in use, along with the local time in that city.  The point-in-time snapshot may not be that useful (time trend data is available here), but still it is interesting and can provide some insight.  For instance, at 7:38 AM on a Saturday morning, 50 percent of the bikes in Rio de Janeiro are checked out; in Montreal it’s close to 60 percent!

The second one to call out is the Bike Share Map.  This app overlays bike availability data on a map of a city (London is the default).  Twenty-one cities are available.  I can imagine a 24-hour capture of this visualization being really useful for the bike share companies who are responsible for bike redistribution throughout the day.

More projects are available here and here.  Enjoy!

-Terra Curtis



On the theme of bike sharing, I thought I would share the news of a program developed by the students of North Carolina State University.  It's called Wolfwheels, and it was rolled out in the Spring of 2010 for students, faculty, and staff of the university.

It's like many other bike sharing schemes we've seen, however it is tailored specifically to meet the needs of the unique university setting: bikes are rented for a day ($3), weekend ($6), week ($18), or entire semester ($150); they are maintenanced on campus with the students' help (providing for some practical education); and, they can be rented in groups by dorms, clubs, or other campus groups to coordinate group rides, social events, or field trips. 
When I spoke with Timur Ender, one of the program's student founders, he told me that only one bike and one wheel had been stolen since the program's inception in late March of this year.  As he says, "pretty small hiccup if you look at the grand picture."  In order insure against theft, the check out of bikes is linked with your campus ID card, so if it is not returned, you can be held (financially) responsible.  However, due to this security feature, bikes are currently unavailable to guests of the university -- a clear opportunity for improvement in my view, especially seeing as though universities are home to incredible amounts of guests every year.
Though this program is not yet engaging with social media or other technological facets of bike sharing, I wanted to share it as inspiration to other university students or small communities where a similar program could work.  As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
-Terra Curtis


SoBi is the first public bike share system to rely entirely on wireless technology for tracking, locating and unlocking bikes,” reports Mashable. SoBi stands for “Social Bicycles,” a start-up that plans its first pilot run in New York City this fall.  SoBi has a fleet of bikes equipped with a GPS and cellular device, powered by a dynamo engaged with the rear wheel of the bikes.  GPS technology will allow potential users with online access (either through their computers, mobile phones, or one of several kiosks throughout the city) to locate an available bicycle.  SoBi also tracks the routes bicycles take, allowing administrators to create or redistribute hubs and users to track distance traveled, calories burned, and emissions saved.  It’s also got an element of FourSquare, allowing bikers to see their nearby biking friends.

SoBi also makes the claim that their system will be much cheaper to deploy than other bike sharing systems currently in place.  Part of this efficiency is due to financial incentives they offer the user to return the bike to a lower-density hub (minimizing the need for crews to go out and physically redistribute bikes themselves).  This, in turn, also makes the solution potentially cheaper for users as well.  If you return your bike to one of these locations, you could be rewarded with refunds toward membership fees or gift certificates from sponsors.  A win-win!

-Terra Curtis