Sunday 17 October 2010

Learning from bike hire visualisations - cheers for Dublin, jeers for Melbourne

Municipal bike hire schemes are increasingly popular around the world, and here in London our own version seems to be bedding in pretty well. One of the most interesting side-effects of the new scheme has been the number of innovative visualisations popping up, of which probably the best looking is Oliver O'Brien's. It shows the location of each docking station, the number of bikes available, which stations are completely empty or completely full, and the total number of bikes in use, along with various statistics comparing usage over time. You can even run a very cool animation of the pattern of usage over the last 48 hours.

Now Oliver has outdone himself by creating similar interactive maps for 14 other city bike hire schemes from around the world (select them from the drop-down list on the main map page). They differ not just in terms of scale (from Paris's vast Velib to Girona's tiny scheme) but also in patterns of usage, with some looking more monocentric than others.

On top of the maps, there is now also a neat set of gauges allowing you to instantly compare scheme usage (and 'imbalance' between docking stations) across all 15 bike schemes. As well as being fascinating there is a lot of potential here for other cities thinking of setting up schemes of their own to learn what works and what doesn't. As an example, Mikael at ran a sort-of scientific comparison of usage at 8am across the European cities in the sample. I was pleasantly surprised to see my home town of Dublin coming out with the highest usage, with 20% of bikes in use. Surprisingly Paris had relatively low usage at 4.3%, though of course a scheme that starts out concentrating on a small but very busy part of town is likely to see higher average usage than one which tries to cover a huge part of the city.

Looking outside Europe, Mikael notes that Melbourne's scheme looks distinctly unpopular. In what is probably not a coincidence, it is also the only one with a law making helmets mandatory for all cyclists. There's a lesson there ...

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