There are now more than 1,000 public bike hire schemes. Why are they so popular?

Montreal's Bixi hire scheme. Image: Getty.

As urbanisation and modernisation reach unprecedented levels, road congestion has become a modern day menace. Heavy traffic is associated with air pollution, safety risks, and losses in terms of accessibility, economic competitiveness, sustainable growth and social cohesion. If we are determined to make our cities attractive and sustainable, we must respond to these challenges.

There are a number of measures available to address this problem; either by restricting conventional car use, or providing viable alternatives. None of these solutions is more up-and-coming and marketable right now than the shared use of mobility resources – for example, car sharing. And none of them more environmentally friendly than cycling, which more and more people see as a realistic way of making shorter trips.

Put these two together, and you get bike sharing: an innovation that combines the best qualities of both solutions, while extending the reach and scope of public transport. 

The benefits 

Bike sharing schemes have many benefits: transport flexibility, reductions to vehicle emissions, health benefits, reduced congestion and fuel consumption, and financial savings for individuals.

But the most special quality of public bicycles is the idea of sharing. By sharing with others through a publicly available scheme, individuals can use bicycles on an “as-needed” basis, without the costs and responsibilities associated with ownership. In doing so, these schemes allow people who may not otherwise use bicycles, to enjoy the benefits of cycling; whether they’re tourists or locals.

Coming through! Image: Sama093/Flickr/creative commons.

Bike sharing schemes can also act as a door opener for increased bicycle use, by making a strong visual statement that bicycles do belong on a city’s streets. My own research has found that commuters using on-road transport can see bike sharing as a powerful on-street “cycling promotion campaign”.

What’s more, other studies report that cycling increased in cities which implemented bike sharing schemes, noting that these results reflect the combined impact of improvements to cycling facilities, as well as the provision of bike sharing schemes. Some go even further by suggesting that the introduction of bike sharing systems can cause cycling to be seen as a safe and normal mode of transport, in contexts where it’s not common.


Origins

Bike sharing is a concept originating back to the 1960s. However, it was slow to catch on until better technology was developed, which could provide real-time information about the scheme, track the bikes and help safeguard against theft.

Now, bike sharing is booming at an unprecedented rate, largely due to the reasonably low cost of the schemes, and how easy they are to implement compared with other transport infrastructure. And it’s an easy win for governments and urban societies, which can boost their green credentials by embracing such an environmentally friendly design.

In 2004, only 11 cities had adopted bike sharing. Today, more than 1,000 public bicycle schemes of varying sizes and specifications run in more than 50 countries, across five continents.

Europe’s biggest scheme is the Paris Vélib', with 1,800 stations and more than 20,000 bikes. Hangzhou, China hosts the world’s largest system – three times bigger than Vélib' – which is set to expand to 175,000 bikes by 2020. Perhaps the most sophisticated scheme is Copenhagen’s Bycyklen, which has a fleet of electric bicycles featuring weather resistant tablets with GPS.

So fancy. Image:  Tony Webster/Flickr/creative commons.

According to recent research into Gothenburg’s Styr & Ställ scheme, if bike sharing is properly promoted, the general population of the city feels that such schemes offer a pro-environmental, inexpensive and healthy mode of transport. In particular, they were seen to complement the city’s public transport services, and give the city a more human-friendly feel.


Getting it right

But research and experience tell us that there can be problems with bike sharing. For example, although the usage rate of these schemes tends to vary globally between three and eight trips per bicycle per day, some facilitate as few as 0.3 trips per bicycle per day.

Apart from under use, schemes can also prove slow to expand, or come up against sluggish and complicated planning procedures. They can create political friction, too, if local authorities are unwilling to forsake street parking spaces for bike stations. Strict cycling regulations can also be a roadblock: in both Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia, compulsory helmets were found to deter many potential riders. Safety concerns and a lack of cycling infrastructure – such as bike lanes – were also found to affect uptake.

Despite these difficulties, bike sharing schemes are, on the whole, a win for everyone. Rebranding something as conventional as urban cycling in a way that embraces the philosophy of shared resource economies and is well accepted by the public, is a timely investment for actively promoting sustainable transportation. Cities that come up with strong and coherent plans will find that recognisable bike sharing schemes can form a powerful and positive part of their image. Meanwhile, civilians of all stripes stand to benefit from clearer roads and cleaner air – whether they cycle or not.The Conversation

Alexandros Nikitas is senior lecturer in transport at the University of Huddersfield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.