Cities are different in many aspects: the perception of cycling is not the same whether you are in San Francisco or Chicago for example. Factors such as the weather conditions (temperature, rain), the land topography and the culture must be taken into account to understand bicycle use. Most of these data are qualitative and almost immutable.
Our presentation will tackle the challenging task of trying to understand what connects and what distinguishes the use of bike-share systems worldwide.
At Qucit, we’ve been working to improve bike-share systems for the last 4 years and we have in the process collected real-time availability data on hundreds of systems. In this article we’ll use data from schemes where open data is available, resampled with a 15 minute period.
For this presentation, we picked 12 major bike-share systems, covering 6 cities in America (New York, Mexico City, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Portland) and 6 in Europe (London, Barcelona, Antwerp, Bordeaux, Warsaw, Nice).
This study will tell you more about the patterns of bike-share systems use emerging in the different cities studied. We also hereby detail whether the weather conditions can significantly influence the networks’ use and to what extent the steep slopes inside cities are a constraint for the development of bicycle-sharing systems.
Go to work by bike, a good way to start your day
Behaviors are different over a day but, for most of the monitored cities, there is a general pattern: many users commute by bicycle.
Go to work (between 7am and 9am)
8am represents the peak hour in numerous bike-share systems, like in Mexico City, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona and London.
Lunch break (between 12am and 2pm)
Coming back home (between 5pm and 7pm)
5pm is the bike-share service peaking hour in Chicago, Toronto, Portland, Antwerp, Bordeaux and Nice.
At a time of ecological transition, cycling is a credible alternative to the car in city centres. Cities favour this mode of transport by restricting the car use. The number of bicycle paths is increasing, as is the number of bicycle-sharing systems.
Urban people benefit from the many advantages of cycling: no more time wasted looking for a parking space, no more anxiety in traffic jams, better physical health, reduced costs, etc.
Some cities are well ahead in the development of cycling. In Antwerp, cycling accounts for almost 30% of urban mobility. The modal share of cycling rises up to 15% in Bordeaux. However, some cities are still lagging behind despite the efforts made. Only 1% of urban travel occurs by bike in Chicago and Toronto.
Bike to discover the city in a different way
Over the weekend, the number of recorded bike trips drops significantly, by up to 50% in Mexico City, but this is not true everywhere : in Nice and Bordeaux the number of bicycle trips is maintained during the weekend and during leisure hours (weekday 7pm to 6am). In Warsaw and Portland, the bike-share use during the weekend is even greater than during the week ! On average 57% of the weekly trips take place during leisure hours in Mexico City, Bordeaux and Nice. In Portland, weekly trips during leisure hours represent 53%.
What does these cities all have in common? A very strong appeal! Their uniqueness, their positioning, their history or their culture attract many tourists.
Bordeaux has been elected best destination in the world by Lonely Planet in 2017. A beautiful recognition for a city that has long relied on its culture and traditions around the red wine.
Nice enjoys an ideal location on the famous French Riviera. Proof of its attractiveness, its airport is the third national in terms of passenger traffic.
Portland is also well-known as green city in the United States. Crossed by the Willamette river and surrounded by mountains, the city seduces by its quality of life and its generous nature.
Warsaw is a city in full expansion. Successfully combining tradition and modernity, the city is recognised as one of the most beautiful capitals of the old continent.
For visitors, the bicycle is the ideal mode of transport to discover all the riches of a city. It offers a complete immersion in the city’s atmosphere by stepping into the shoes of its inhabitants. It’s a great experience that tourists really appreciate.
Rain and cold, the biker’s main enemies?
Few cities display a quasi-constant activity throughout the year, notably Barcelona, Mexico City and Antwerp. The explanations are quite different:
- Barcelona and Mexico City enjoy a favourable climate all year round that still promotes cycling in winter.
- Barcelona’s student population loves biking, and represents a large share of the city population. During summer, the incoming tourists only compensate for the number of students who left.
- Antwerp is not known for its exceptional level of sunshine. But the strong cycling culture in this city predominates over the aversion to biking in the rain among users.
Weather is an important factor to take into account when measuring cycling practice. Sunny cities with a temperate climate are understandably favoured. But the example of Antwerp is there to remind us that the weather is not an immutable impediments to cycling. The heavy rainfall and cloudy weather in the Belgian city does not discourage many cyclists (as we have seen above, the modal share of cycling is almost 30% in Antwerp).
It’s the same with temperatures. The average annual temperature in Antwerp is 10°C when it is 16°C in Barcelona and Mexico City. We see here that cycling is not only practiced during summer temperatures.
In contrast, cities that endure harsh winters show a decline in winter bicycle use. This is the case in our analysis with Warsaw, New York, Chicago and especially Toronto.
Despite all the good will in the world, snow remains a big hurdle for cycling. It is almost impossible to practice cycling during snowy episodes. In Toronto, the number of bike trips is almost divided by three between July-September and January-March (from three to one hundred thousand trips). Canadian winter is tough for cycling.
Are we ready to climb summits by bike?
For an equivalent number of stations per inhabitant, cycling practice in Nice compares with the one in Bordeaux. The people of Nice will tell you that, except for the downtown and the coast with the famous promenade des Anglais, the city is not flat. They have very steeps slopes when one ventures too far inland, slopes that could discourage more than one, and yet not. The same goes for San Francisco where the bike occupies an important place. The modal share of cycling is even higher than in New York, a flatter city.
The topography is not an immutable hindrance to the development of the biking activities. Electric bikes are a very good example of an alternative way that solves the problem. Otherwise, a city that favours cycling with equipped lanes, protected cycle paths and developed bike-sharing systems puts all the chances on its side to encourage the practice of cycling. And this even if the city is not flat.
Is there any increase in bike-sharing?
Over the last 3 years, there has been an increase in the number of cyclists in Antwerp and Toronto. This increase is directly related to the development of networks in both cities. However, during the same period, there was no significant increase in attendance for the other observed cities.
If we have a look at the organization of the bike-share systems, we see that some networks are very dense and very well operated. This is the case for Barcelona and Mexico City. But the reverse is also true. In Bordeaux and Warsaw the stations are relatively distant from each over, but that doesn’t stop users from using the bike-sharing system. In order to be efficient, the positioning of the stations within the network must be studied first. The stations must satisfy a demand if we want them to be well exploited.
Could the bike-sharing model be reaching its limit? Are efforts to encourage cycling sufficient? Can the car be replaced by the bike in urban areas? Difficult to provide answers. But through our analysis we could see that the topography and the weather are not immutable obstacles contrary to what one could think. Finally, the bike is used for commuting to work just as much as for leisure. The uses are there, but we still have to succeed in changing the habits of city dwellers to reach the new paradigm: the Reverse Traffic Pyramid.
Raphaël, our CEO & founder, was at the annual NABSA (North American Bike Share Association) event from September 4-7 in Portland! He had the opportunity to present how our BikePredict Redistribution software can help you optimize your rebalancing operations thanks to Machine Learning.