He's writing about cycling again?

The frequency with which I write about cycling here probably belies my actual interest in the activity. Although I enjoy going out for a spin from time to time, cycling is mostly a utilitarian undertaking for me. But it’s also 30 minutes of guaranteed, uninterrupted empty time every day, and for someone who is easily distracted, that’s probably a good thing. So, it’s fairly inevitable that I often find myself cycling along, mulling things over, being struck by some relatively mundane idea about the act, and typing it up when I get home. I get my shower ideas on the bike.

All of which is a way of saying “here comes more stuff about cycling”.

This time it’s city bike sharing. Via s+c (and in a probably unintentional allusion to 1968), news that Paris’ “paving stones are being ripped” to accommodate hundreds of bike rental stations. You’ve heard of these; bays of bikes available for rent for a couple of hours at a time situated around the city. You grab a bike from one bay and dock it back at another within a reasonable amount of time, all for a couple of Euro. This presentation from the nascent New York project (PDF) outlines some of the existing European systems.

Of course, if you are in any way interested in interaction design (or if you’re Irish), you’re already picturing dozens of brand new bikes at the bottom of the nearest canal. How do you design a system that balances implicit trust and accessibility against overbearing security? Security cameras at every docking station? Mandatory pre-registration for every user? GPS tracking? And what about the payment method; prepay smartcards, supermarket-style coin locks, text message deductions? Credit card swiping is an option, but it renders the system useless to anyone who doesn’t carry plastic (I saw this on a system in Vienna, and it raised the barrier to adoption enough for me to not bother). These are not simple problems to solve, but the NY project linked above outlines the following prerequisites for success:

  • The first half-hour must be free

  • There must be sufficient density of bikes and stations

  • A bike-share program must be independent and flexible

  • Users must be able to render a bike immediately

All of this is to ignore the wider design problems of creating a bicycle-friendly city, and making people actually want to bike around. The topology of somewhere like Amsterdam (where I was lucky enough to enjoy an unforgettable day-long solo bike dérive) intrinsically suits cycling, but Dublin is almost as famous for being a traffic nightmare. Better bike lanes, perhaps more imminent thanks to the fact that two of our ministers bike to the Dáil every day, are probably the first step, but to be honest that’s a topic I’m not even ready to get into at this stage. Suffice to say that any viable solution will have to be as fair and advantageous for our car-driving friends as it might be for cyclists.

Not to be outdone, bike sharing is coming to Dublin too. This report from Dublin City Council (another PDF) outlines what seems to be a remarkably clued-in plan to introduce a 25 station, 500 bike scheme. No doubt some bright spark will think to slap some ads on them, too (the Paris operation is run by omnipresent billboard vendors JC Decaux). Ambulance chasers, this may be an unmissable opportunity to connect directly with your target audience.

— 29 Jul 2007