The Common Mistake That Undermines American Bike-Share Systems

One of the leading architects of New York City’s bike-share system, NYC DOT alum Jon Orcutt, is on a mission to show how the design of bike-share networks affects their success.

Orcutt created this animation warning against a fairly common practice in smaller American cities: splitting the bike-share network up into separate clusters of stations. On his Tumblr, he elaborates on why a divided system won’t work well:

Plans to launch bike share systems in separate geographical areas or nodes are almost certainly a recipe for low usage (unless each node is very large and essentially its own system).

Small bike share systems are generally low performers. Breaking a finite amount of bike share resources into smaller pieces needlessly sacrifices the utility and productivity of stations/bicycles.

The video breaks it all down.

For more advice from Orcutt, check out our November interview where he discusses why high station density is such a critical factor in designing bike-share systems that people will want to use.

14 thoughts on The Common Mistake That Undermines American Bike-Share Systems

  1. Is this Miami/Miami Beach? Bikes look different. I suspect they are not interchangeable, but could be wrong about that.

  2. So how do you account for geographic equity? Poorer areas of the City need this service too, and not after the more affluent bike riders get it.

  3. One of the conclusions here seems to be that the network in poorer areas of the city needs to be contiguous with the whole system, or else it won’t be much use to the people in those areas.

  4. However! The idea with BABS is that people could use the bikes with CalTrain so not so many people will need to take their bikes ON CalTrain. I agree however that each one of the cities that has BABS could use A LOT more stations and bikes.

  5. Each node functions as a tiny, independent system. None have seen much use at all except for the larger system in SF proper. Even that one is quite small.

  6. If that’s the issue, then the solution is easy – start with the poorer areas of the city and then later expand to more affluent areas.

    But the better solution is probably to just start with the densest areas that are easiest to bike around, and then gradually expand from there, regardless of income levels.

  7. Good application of Metcalfe’s law to non-telecom networks (the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system)

  8. As a response to the editors note, LA’s regional bike share Pasadena and DTLA, they are essentially two different systems. They are two large areas with high populations both residential and commercial. Both need first/last mile solution to help support the transit that is already in those areas and both cities will be paying a portion for the stations in their cities, primarily the maintenance of the station. Would there be more accessibility in one location if you have all of them located in one geographically area, yes but will that mean more people will benefit I don’t know. Also that’s the issue when an MPO is operator they have to have a balance to service their different regions. Pasadena is the largest CBD in the SGV/tri-cities region and with the foothill extension it will allow a whole new group of people to use transit and bike multi-modal trips.

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