A reporter for the Guardian asked me about a story the reporter was writing, but my comments were never included in the final story, so here they are, for posterity.
I’m currently working on a story about a new electric-bike sharing service coming to Melbourne early this March and I would love to include your professional opinion in the article.
The company, owned by Uber, claim to be a sustainable transport service that is good for the environment as well as an efficient and good way of travelling in the City of Melbourne. The bikes will also come to the City of Yarra and the City of Port Phillip.
Based on previous negative responses to bike sharing services, what are your thoughts on a new service coming into Melbourne, and will it actually be received well by residents of the city?
What’s to prevent these bikes from being treated with the same attitudes as previous attempts?
I appreciate the time taken to respond to this email, and I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Comments to The Guardian:
Electric bike-sharing differs from non-e-bike sharing in a few ways.
Because they are e-bikes, they are faster and more useful (can reach more places with less physical effort in a given time). So they should attract more users if they are not too expensive.
Note also that e-bikes are heavier. It will be harder to throw them in a tree or in a river or down a ravine, it will require more effort on the part of the vandal. In Sydney LimeBikes (which are e-bikes that have been around for just over a year) have not suffered the same vandalism problem as previous shared bikes.
The problem of where to store them remains. Ideally cities would have local geo-fenced bike storage areas (maybe every block) so the parked bikes don’t block the footpaths, with appropriate signage and information on the apps so users know where and how to appropriately park the shared bikes.
Also there is the problem of helmets – they often get separated from the shared bikes, but helmet law enforcement is perceived as onerous by many bike users.
I am pleased to see Sydney hopes to be a more bicycle friendly place. However the plan as laid out is insufficiently ambitious. So much more can and should be done. Sydney should be one of the world leaders in bicycling, but it remains a laggard, stuck in the mid-20th century.A 10% target in 2030 (3-4x as many bicyclists as today) is good (better than today’s baseline), but the network doesn’t support that, it is not 3-4x as large.
To start, think about the network: Every major street (say a street that warrants a traffic signals) which also has on-street parking has demonstrated space for separated bike lanes.What is more important, storing cars 23 hours a day or moving people? The value of the network increases non-linearly with its connectivity. Even most streets without on-street parking have space for bike lanes.
Among these which I am familiar with should be included Regent St/Gibbons St/Wyndham St and Abercrombie/Wattle, but there are undoubtedly more. The separated bike lane network should be as dense and complete as the arterial street network.*
Similarly, every block that has on-street parking should dedicate at least one parking space to bicycle parking, particularly for shared bikes. Action 1.5 is especially lagging. Bike parking is cheap to install and signals priorities and should lead rather than follow.
Bikesharing is neglected from this plan.
Regulation is still hostile to bicyclists, including heavy fines and futile helmet laws. Helmets are indicator of danger. Biking should be normalised as in Europe.
A strategy for promoting and regulating eBikes would be good. Also promoting and regulating scooters, skateboards, and other wheeled vehicles (micro-mobility).
A strategy for promoting bike and ride to train and metro stations would be good.
A strategy for promoting biking to school (and Uni) would be good. Schools are at least mentioned, but it seems mostly an afterthought.
Bikes should be counted continuously at intersections (not just 2 times a year), just as cars are. There are technologies to do this, and RMS can be called on to do it. Electronic signs displaying bike counts on key routes is also a good marketing tool.
*Note: The base map p. 17 locates the Metro stations in the wrong place. The map does not distinguish between shared paths and separated bike lanes, which is a way of claiming credit for something that doesn’t actually exist.
`Of course, it is easier to take a photo of 1,000 discarded bicycles than 60 million rides a day. I asked David Levinson, a professor of transportation [sic, he meant `transport’] at the University of Sydney, whether dock-less bike share was a VC-funded bubble or the future of short-distance transportation.
“Yes,” he wrote back. “It’s like the internet in 1999.”’
A good overview of the issue. I think cities will need to develop bike drop off areas on each blockface, somewhere in verge (boulevard, grassy strip). Bikeshare companies will need to geofence more accurately to ensure bikes are dropped there. This will resolve much of the problem.
Since I have moved to Sydney, which is to say, very recently, Sydney has seen the emergence of stationless bike sharing. I saw this in China in May, and now it is here. Technology deploys very quickly these days. I signed up for the first entrant, Reddy Go quickly, and gave them a deposit, but didn’t get around to trying to use it til last week. I also registered for oBike this weekend, after getting a 10 free rider voucher (Voucher Code SHARE) for signing up.
Not Reddy, No Go.
I said “trying to use it” as I was not successful. My first attempt was during the week. I had a breakfast appointment on Kensington Street and was in Chippendale, a nice residential area. It seemed like this would be a good opportunity to use the service without running into too much vehicle traffic, which makes long distance cycling very dangerous. Now biking in Sydney (NSW) is officially discouraged through helmet laws and lack of facilities (and shrinking at that) and heavy fines, though it is officially encouraged by words on plans. I wouldn’t let my kids ride in traffic, as the car drivers are more aggressive than in the US. But Chippendale is mostly traffic calmed.
I pulled out the app, scanned the bar code, and was told via the app, that sorry, this bike cannot be used. I don’t know why. I retried it a couple of times and walked to my destination.
Yesterday, my oldest son saw a Reddy Go, in Alexandria Park, and tried to climb it and ride, but it was locked. Fortunately I had the app. I tried again just to see if it worked, since the kids had been bikeless for a few months. It would not unlock. I subsequently noticed it was vandalized, and the spokes on the back wheel were bent out of shape (not accidentally). I reported this via the app.
O, a Bike.
Well, I signed up for oBike as well, having obtained a coupon card. In Alexandria Park, I saw an oBike, maybe I will try that. It was filthy, as if someone had taken it dirt-bike riding. Unlikely. I saw another oBike. Someone had piled dirt (I hope it was dirt) on the seat. Pass. Finally I saw a clean oBike, tried to unlock that. It actually worked. oReka.
My oldest son put on the helmet (I hope no lice) (probably violating terms of service), and rode around the park. Then my younger son tried it, but his legs were too short. I tried it. I adjusted the seat (which was easy, as these are fairly new bikes, not rusted out yet), put on the helmet, and rode. It rode fine, a bit heavy, with no obvious gears (but a bell, where the gears should be), so it tired my legs more than it should have. After a few minutes I ended the ride. Now how to lock it. I eventually discovered this is a physical mechanism. I put the helmet back somewhere (this is not at all clear where it should go). And left it. I hope it was properly checked out. I have not received a nasty-gram, so I assume I am fine.
So this vandalism thing is a problem. In Minnesota, the bike shares were all station-based, so everything was tidy, and it seemed vandalism was a minimum. Perhaps it is something in the Australian (or Sydney) character that leads to the additional vandalism compared with Minnesota? Perhaps it is just because they are randomly placed and not station-based. There have been news stories lately about bikes in the rivers. Perhaps Sydney-siders or Australians just dislike bikes, the way they dislike immigration by boat. Despite the massive number of shared bikes in China, it didn’t seem to be much of an issue there. Perhaps because of higher utilization, or it is more of a a biking culture, or perhaps because the communist Chinese are more respectful of property than capitalist Australia?
The next steps are probably mostly steps rather than rides. I may ask for a refund from Reddy Go, still debating whether to give them another chance. I will test oBike a few more times, but the protected bike lane network is Sydney is not terribly useful to me. (The walk to work wouldn’t be a bad ride, iffy in a few places, mostly around Redfern where there are many pedestrians, but it’s not a bad walk either).
We hear complaints that bike lanes are underutilized.
This might be true, or it might appear to be true and not be true.
Let’s think about the traffic physics of this.
Imagine there is a lane of traffic full of cars, say a flow (Q) of 500 vehicles per hour, going very slowly, an average speed (V) say 5 km/h because of congestion, traffic signals, unloading trucks, and the like. The lane will appear full, because the density is high. Density (K) is vehicles per km, and the relationship between flow, density, and speed is given by Q=KV or K=Q/V. In this example, the density is 100 vehicles per km, or about 10 vehicles every 100 m, or 10 m between vehicles, which is a pretty high density. Not quite jam density (minimum vehicle spacing, maximum vehicles per km, on the order of 150), but close.
Imagine there is a parallel lane for bicycles. They are traveling at 20 km/h. The spacing is one bicycle every 40 m, or a density of 25 bicycles per km. Yet the flow is an identical 500 vehicles per hour (Q=KV). The lane looks one fourth as full (even less, because bicycles take up much less space than cars), but serves just as many vehicles as the crowded lane.
Now of course the bike lane is narrower than the car lane, so if we were to look at bicycles per square meter, accounting for a car lane of 3 m (typically 3.65m, but narrower in cities) and a bike lane of 1.5 m, we only need a density of one bicycle every 80 m to get the same flux (flux is flow accounting for the width of the lanes and vehicles). One bicycle every 80 m is about 1 bicyclist per block at a given time. In contrast that congested lane of cars has at least 8 vehicles in it for the same length block.
(I realize I should evaluate person throughput rather than vehicle throughput. For illustration, I am assuming 1 person per motor vehicle, which is a bit pessimistic, in practice it is closer to 1.1 for work trips and 1.5 all day).
Now, I am not saying the bike lane has 500 bicyclists per bike lane per hour (or the road has 500 vehicles per lane per hour). Most have fewer. Your kilometerage may vary. It doesn’t have to. The alternative use of the lane may have been storing cars. They have a speed of zero and a flow of 0, and a pretty high density (roughly 150 vehicles/km) for being unproductive.
Furthermore performance in terms of flow (or flux) isn’t the only question at hand. Safety is important too, and bike lanes are typically safer for bicyclists than riding in traffic, and sure feel safer.