The Chinese cities of Wuhan and Hangzhou are leading the recent boom in urban bike sharing.
Cities all over the world are increasingly turning to bikes as an efficient substitute for automobiles. Bike-sharing networks typically work like this: the cyclist gets a set of codes or a key to unlock bikes from stations across the city. The first hour or half-hour you ride are usually free, though participation requires a fee, depending on which city you live in.
The popularity of these programs is rising rapidly. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, there are now bike-sharing networks in over 600 cities in 52 countries, and 68 of them have been introduced this year alone, at a rate of two per week.
Although the phenomenon started in France, Asia has now overtaken Europe as the world’s leader in bicycle sharing. The first Chinese network opened in the port city of Hangzhou in 2008 with 2,800 bikes, each with fixed gears to control vandalism and theft. Today, that number has increased to 78,000. Wuhan boasts even more — about 90,000.
The program’s massive success may have historical roots. Biking was once so popular in China that the country was once called the Kingdom of the Bicycles. In the 1980s, however, the country replaced bicycles with automobiles in the interest of economic expansion. Now the country has returned to bikes to fight the traffic and pollution plaguing today’s cities.
Part of the success may also be strategic as well. India, another massively populous Asian country, has failed to get its bike-sharing programs off the ground. According to Russell Meddin, a biking enthusiast who maintains the Bike-Sharing World Map, India’s failure resulted from its small, tentative trials of bike-sharing networks.
“I call it the big bang,” he said. “You have to go big right away and not waste your time trying to test it out first on a small scale. That just doesn’t work.”
image credit: juan manuel caicedo carvajal