Intercontinental: bike-sharing programs the world over

This is the last instalment of the bike-sharing trilogy for Living Green Magazine.

My first bicycle article looked at three world cities that have successfully implemented popular bike-sharing programs. The second article reviewed cities in the U.S. and Latin America that have notable biking infrastructure. This third and final article in the series looks at programs in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa.

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EUROPE

European cities are the pioneers of the movement, and there are numerous successful and popular programs across the continent, and in every major city in Germany and France, each with a unique arrangement.

Copenhagen, Denmark, the epitome of a bike-friendly city, has the largest bike network in the world. Almost everything in the city is geared towards bike safety and raising eco-consciousness of residents and visitors, thus encouraging cycling.

Although, according to the European Green City Index, only 36% of Copenhagen citizens use the bike as primary means of transportation, the city is planned for cyclists: well-designed and managed cycling tracks, even, dense but compact urban terrain, well-balanced residential, commercial and business areas, and an attractive biking culture.

The diminishing use of other mass public transit methods, and especially private car use, and the related infrastructure, are important indicators of bike’s increased popularity.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands has the highest percentage of population pedalling – 83%, out of which 40% use it as the only means of getting around! As soon as you arrive at the Central Station you can find the proof in the adjacent huge, 3-storey biking lot which can fit more than half a million bikes!

Some reasons for so much love for biking here include: the compactness of the city, which makes biking the easiest and fastest way to get around, planning – dense, narrow neighborhoods get clogged with too much traffic, and the restrictions on parking. City planning officials purposely made it more bike-friendly and safe, while making it increasingly difficult, stressful and costly for cars to get around. Cheeky!

Its bike sharing plan is, curiously enough, nation-wide. That means that the bikes can, technically, be ridden anywhere outside the cities and sub-urban areas, and returned elsewhere. But the purpose of this was to make the sharing program cohesive and uniform throughout the country. The docks are placed adjacent to train stations, serving primarily out-of-towners, commuters, and visitors.

In fact, the earliest known bike-sharing program in the world, called the White Bicycle Plan, was launched here in 1965. It did not succeed, partly because the concept was still a novelty and people used it to their advantage. Ironically, the whole scheme was brought up to discourage private bicycle theft.

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AUSTRALIA

Down under, helmet use is mandatory, which is seen as a discouragement elsewhere, as it is unpractical, and one of the reasons why European programs haven’t adopted this law. And possibly the main reason why cycling is not as popular in Melbourne and Brisbane, despite their favourable climate and topography.

But another reason why European programs don’t advocate helmet use is because they made cycling safe – with designated and divided lanes, slow traffic and driver awareness, unlike in North America and Australia, where biking is simply roadside, along with the rest of the motorized, prioritized, traffic.

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ASIA

Hangzhou, China.  With over 60,000 bicycles at 2,400 stations (at every 300 ft!), it is the largest bike-sharing program in Asia. It’s really no wonder it’s in China, which has historically relied on bicycle for personal and commercial transportation needs.

The disciplined residents of Hangzhou take great care of the program, not steeling, damaging or vandalizing any bicycles or posts, probably realizing the program’s value to them and the city’s network efficiency.

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Shanghai, China.  Launched in time for the 2012 World Expo, the scheme implemented a points-system for riders, depending on the frequency of usage and distance. However, it is not nearly as popular as its neighbouring Hangzhou.

Beijing also launched a program last year, and it is looking to expand.

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Tokyo, Japan.  The most populous city in the world, surrounded by a number of large, dense satellite cities, is no stranger to traffic woes. Just read Murakami and you’ll understand. Its plans are currently in the experimentation phase.

It would be a great idea because the Japanese are so orderly and they have the most astonishing gadgets (even, ahem.. fancy toilets) that it would be very interesting to see what ingenious creation they’ll come up with.

Even with all the car traffic, Tokyo is never unruly or unsafe: the drivers are very law-abiding, which is why this populous city functions so well. However, it would certainly make the riders more safe if some biking infrastructure was incorporated, as it is very common, and acceptable, for the cyclists to take over the sidewalks.

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Kyoto, Japan would also be the perfect city for a bike-sharing program, as it is smaller and less dense. And it already has an excellent biking culture and good cycling paths that lead from the central Gion district to the quaint Higashiyama and Sakyo-ku, home to the famous opulent temples.

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Tel Aviv, Israel.  Ever the rule breaker, it is the first city in the Middle East to implement a bike sharing scheme. Inspired and modelled after the Parisian Velib, it offers a timed subscription, after which it is free for the first 1/2h. For visitors the plan’s website also recommends a bike tour guide, as an option for exploring the city and three surroundings.

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AFRICA

No known bike sharing programs are operative on the African continent. However, Cape Town, wanting to join the rank of world cities that are already showcasing all the intended benefits of programs, is considering putting one into action.

Cities in Africa are facing very different challenges than those on other continents. And even the most rudimentary bicycle programs in most African countries are still tackling basic development issues, harsh conditions, demographics, and infrastructure.

After all, so far, only advanced developed cities were able to successfully implement the schemes, after many failed attempts, errors, and the public’s general unpreparedness or the lack of support.

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World Bicycle Relief is promoting the idea of a bike as “an engine for economic and cultural empowerment” in the region. It is collecting donations and fundraising to help meet basic livelihood needs by making commuting more efficient and safe. Even a simple scheme could probably greatly improve the educational, healthcare and social relief platforms.

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I met a very inspiring duo who are currently cycling Mexico to Bolivia to raise awareness and funds through a WBR program. For more information and to participate check out Velosophics and betterplace.org, a benefit for African communities which help bring bikes to those in need.

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4 thoughts on “Intercontinental: bike-sharing programs the world over

  1. After going through a number of the articles on your site, I can honestly say that I like your style.

    Take a look at my website as well and let me know if you find anything of use.

    Best!

  2. First i have to say that i adore the picture. I can see on it someone close to my heart.

    The whole concept around bicycling is hurting automobile industry all over the world, and there will always, always be some people who will never support it. Like for anything else….

    However, it seems that certain parts of the world, or their respectful corners, would give in for the bicycling lifestyle easier than others, since they have always been prone to it.

    And I think you are touching that, trying to depict comparison of “who is in” , “more in” , “less in” and “who is not” , and may never be…..

  3. hi beauty,

    This sharing program is a great example for WARP and should go on the site as a do item for concerned people everywhere.

    The only thing more sinister than the automobile and all its connotations is the war machine and its attendant industry…..

    looking forward to working with you – about to roll out here in the next few days and will keep in touch, thanks, ashley

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