Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Wasn't Amsterdam First?

With all of the happenings of bike-sharing around the world, Amsterdam has been noticeably quiet. How could this be? Amsterdam, afterall, is one of the most bikeable cities on Earth with nearly 40% of its population using bikes daily. Wouldn't a bike-sharing program be well used there?

Well, not necessarily because the residents of Amsterdam already bike.

A good analogy is dropping a large stone into a small pond makes a bigger splash than a small stone into a large pond. With the former, the large stone would produce a large splash. This is what happened in Paris. The large stone in this analogy is Velib' with its 20,600 bikes and the small pond was the bike mode share in Paris before Velib' at about 1%. The relative increase of bike mode share due to Velib' has been tremendous and it has totally changed Paris's bike culture. While not near Amsterdam's 40%, Paris will likely have a significant increase of up to 10% and Velib' hasn't even been around for one year.

Bike-sharing in this sense is the most significant thing a jurisdiction can do to rapidly increase bike mode share. But remember too that Paris has also spent a good sum of money creating the bike facilities that would be used by the bike-sharers, with bike lanes, cycle tracks, and bike parking. They didn't simply drop bike-sharing onto a foreign landscape only made for motor vehicles.

Amsterdam's future bike-sharing program would be following the latter portion of this analogy with the small stone into a large pond as their bike mode share is already so high there that the stone would need to be even larger to attempt to create the same ripple effect. This isn't to say, however, that bike-sharing is pointless in Amsterdam. While 40% is high, it's not 50%. For a city extending itself to reach that next goal of bicycle-friendliness, getting that next 10% for Amsterdam will be much more difficult than for Paris to go from 1 to 11%. Had Velib' been launched in Amsterdam instead of Paris, I'm sure that it wouldn't have garned as much attention because the bike culture already exists.

Amsterdam is in many ways beyond the need of bike-sharing for its residents because they "are unlikely to give up their own bicycle when a rental scheme is introduced," reports News from Amsterdam. However, Amsterdam is considering a high-tech 3rd generation program for other populations which include out-of-town commuters and tourists. Copenhagen realized this fact as well with its Bycyklen which has a large tourist component. Everyone should experience Amsterdam and Copenhagen as the locals do - by bike. Now the same can be true for Paris.

And, regarding the title of this post, "Why Wasn't Amsterdam First?" Amsterdam actually was the first to have bike-sharing back in 1968. Of course their White Bikes didn't have smart cards and wifi of today's bike-sharing technologies, so the bikes were stolen immediately. However, Amsterdam's 2nd attempt with bike-sharing will surely go much better.


Unknown said...

The white bike program was a political stunt that was a bike share program at the same time. It was thought up by a Dutch counter-culture movement in Amsterdam called the Provos (i.e., to provoke).


The white bike plan was, not unlike the Velib model, aiming for 20,000 bicycles to be left around the center of a car-free Amsterdam, all donated and all painted white.

As they say, bicycling has a great past ahead of it.


Anonymous said...

Even more surprising, none of the many Dutch cities that are even more bicycle-friendly than Amsterdam (where unaccustomed tourists stepping into bike lanes are a constant hazard) have shown any interest yet.
Considering that the average Dutch person owns 1.12 bicycle there will probably be limited interest among locals.

Vincent Leddy said...

Another consideration is that Holland has a program of cheap and clean bikes available at each train station for rent for the day. We do not need a share program. The only successful share program I know of in Holland is in our National Park. Bikes are painted white and left at the gate to the park. You pick it up to cycle in the park (Kroller Muller, Apeldoorn)

ben said...

While Amsterdam is an awesome cycling city, it would be less cluttered if most people used a bike share. Public space is premium.