150 participants from 23 countries gathered on November 30th in Rotterdam to attend the VeloCittà bikesharing conference, which was held in conjunction with the annual POLIS conference (450 participants, according to the organizers). While the VeloCittà conference was exclusively dedicated to bikesharing, the POLIS conference offered a broader perspective on sustainable transport. I was in Rotterdam primarily for the POLIS conference because I had a presentation, but it was also a great opportunity to get an impressive update of recent bikesharing practice and research. Lot’s of what I’ve learned can be directly linked to our current involvement in the planning of a bikesharing system in Salzburg, Austria.
All presentations of both conferences can be found on the respective websites. Thus, I will focus only on two topics I’ve found especially relevant for our research and project work.
Success factors for bikesharing systems
In a very interesting session at the POLIS conference on sharing systems, Sebastian Schlebusch from Nextbike gave some insights into the company’s history. Several years they were treated quite harshly by public transit operators who feared for their business. However the break through of bikesharing systems (BSS) came. In accordance with Sebastian’s talk the following success factors occurred in various presentations at both conferences:
- Political support. Obviously this seems to be the most decisive factor for successful BSSs in any country.
- Integrated systems. An increasing number of cities regard bikesharing systems as an element of public transit services. This is reflected in the planning of the network, pricing and promotion. Cologne’s BSS is a good example for a large, integrated system.
- Robust business models. This factor becomes important when initial subsidies fade out. Alberto Castro , one of the keynote speakers at VeloCittà, demonstrated how fast BSSs without sound financial (and operational) basis disappear .
- Appropriate planning. Nicole Freedman, keynote speaker at VeloCittà, made a compelling case for the importance of realistic projections and tailored BSS design. Cities are comparable only to a certain degree and thus, BSSs cannot be simply transferred. Specific (mobility) characteristics of cities, from PT service level to topography, need to be taken into account.
- User-tailored, easy solutions. The needs and expectations of users must be addressed in every aspect: from intuitive interfaces for initial registration to the ease of handling the hardware.
To know and consider people’s reasons for not using BSSs is especially valueable when systems should be improved. In many cases the barriers for BSS usage can be lowered or removed with small adaptions.
- Visibility in public space. In order to raise awareness for bikesharing it is necessary that the system is visible in public space. This visibility can be achieved by an appropriate station design, but also with art in public space.
- Make it beautiful. Directly associated to the latter point Nicole Freedman strongly argued for aesthetically pleasing, beautiful bikes and infrastructure. Way too often BSSs are shaped by technicians and technology. With a good design of hard- and software people can be made curious; once they are attracted to the system, the possibility is high for turning prospective into active users.
At both conferences lots of case studies were presented. At least two of them were really remarkable:
Krakow (~ 760,000 inhabitants) initially launched a system with 30 stations and 300 bikes, which turned out to be not that successful. Thus, the city relaunched the entire system under a new name (Wavelo ) and with 1,500 bikes at 150 stations, which is above the average bikes per people ratio in Europe (ref. OBIS handbook)!
A much smaller, but very successful BSS can be found in Pisa (CICLOPI ). Marco Bertini presented the city’s strategy to make people in Pisa love their bikesharing system: “Bikesharing is note a service for citizens, but part of the community.” With this approach Pisa achieved impressive key figures: 5-8 rides per bike and day, virtually no vandalism and not a single bike stolen in 4 years.
More people are killed in road crashes than by malaria or tuberculosis, according to a recent OECD report that calls for a paradigm shift in road safety. Before this background and with a special focus on the role of large cities the International Transport Forum (ITF ) launched the Safer City Streets project, which was presented by Alexandre Santacreu. The aim of this project is to provide an environment for exchange of data, experience and knowledge. What I regard as an asset of this project is the drive to publish data as OGD.
Alex pointed to the difficulty of comparing data from various sources, especially when crashes of vulnerable road users are investigated (different reporting procedures, classification, under-reporting etc.). Of course, this is nothing new, but my impression is that the limited comparability of data is mostly neglected in analyses of global data (I’ve demonstrated an aspect of this in this post ).
While the Safer City Streets project operates on the global scale, the Netherlands have launched a national project where cities can learn from each other with respect to crash prevention and safety measures. Charlotte Bax from SWOV presented this benchmarking project that is built upon the three elements comparing – learning – improving. Two aspects caught my attention: (1) None of the data are made public because the involved city administrations fear the pressure that might be put on them after publishing crash details. (2) Even in the Netherlands’ city administrations struggle to make use of their data; Charlotte referred to cases where responsible departments were not able to tell how many kilometers of bicycle infrastructure they had.
Benchmarking on the very local level was at the core of Eric de Kievit’s presentation on the development of a compound road safety assessment. For this, two approaches were combined. Firstly, a network safety index, which consists of an enormously detailed description of the road space (every 25 meters the road profile was investigated based on street view photos). And secondly, a safety performance indicator that focuses on road user’s behavior. Both perspectives are then used as basis for targeted infrastructure measures, law enforcement, education and communication campaigns.
My own contribution to the session on road safety was about spatial analysis of bicycle crashes on the local scale level. The presentation was a synthesis of two of my latest journal papers (JTRG and Safety ):
In both conferences it became evident that there are lots of innovative and creative solutions for promoting sustainable mobility in urban environments. However, there is no philosopher’s stone that solves all problems immediately, but cities all over Europe have to work hard to make progress.
I have the strong impression that the discussion and collaboration across domains and institutions is a key for sustainable solutions for cities. Urban environments are complex and thus require multifaceted strategies. In any way, we are ready to contribute spatial expertise for the good of our cities and their citizens.