T-Bike and the permanence of bike-sharing stations

January 5, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Surely those of us in Chicago and New York City are getting excited for our bike share systems to launch this spring (hopefully). Residents of Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Paris, La Rochelle, etc… have had the pleasure of these systems in their cities for some time now.

Chicago’s system has been accepting suggestions for station locations for a few months now. I wasn’t able to attend the bike-share meetings near the end of 2012, but I do know that the stations will be easily assembled (in about 2 hours, the website states), wireless, solar-operated, and available year-round. This is a contrast from systems like NiceRide in Minneapolis, which shuts down their system in the winter. Chicago is contemplating doing this as well, but given the relatively mild winter we’ve been having so far, I would like to see heavy consideration placed on when the system would be shut down.

What brought me to talk about bike share today was a post I saw called “Super Smart Bike Sharing” on Yanko Design. The station and bike design, created for Seoul, is quite interesting, and I encourage you to look at the post to learn more about it.

T-bike station design

T-Bike Station design. Credit: Jung Tak/Yanko Design.

The station is designed to fit 32 bikes into a space the size of a parking space for one car. 32 bikes is a large amount, especially by bike sharing station designs. The system in Chicago is expected to have 15-19 bikes per station.

Design of T-bike

Design of the T-Bike. Credit: Jung Tak/Yanko Design.

The computer-aided design of the T-Bike is shown above. I like the idea of folding handlebars. Folding them makes the bike much, much narrower in width and easy to store in small spaces.

I only have one piece of [constructive] criticism: The bikes are stored so that a rider picking up a bike gets the bike at the “end of the rack.” What happens if that bike has a flat or other mechanical issue?

This is a problem in cities like Paris that have a lot (20,000+) bikes on the Vélib’ system. If the bike has an issue in Paris, it is common practice to turn the seat 180° to notify the subsequent users that the bike needs to be fixed and that it should not be used. But what happens when you really have no choice? It would be like a vending machine giving me an empty bottle of soda.

I think the best solution in this scenario would be to offer riders the option of “flagging” the bike as in need of repair. In that case, the bike would be placed back into the station, and a new bike “dispensed.”

These issues aren’t expressed in the post, but that’s partially why they’re posted – to receive feedback on the design.

The design of these stations is quite practical, but dependent on the design of the bike. The T-Bikes are small and appear to be lightweight. If they were larger, heavier, and have accessories like baskets (as bikes on bike share systems often do), then it would be more practical to have the bikes firmly planted on the ground so they can be wheeled away from the station. But what is interesting about the T-Bike station design is its mobility – it can be easily moved. While Chicago’s stations are planned to be assembled/disassembled in 2 hours, Jung Tak thought of the following idea for T-Bike “trucks”:

T-bike truck

T-Bike “truck”. Credit: Jung Tak/Yanko Design.

The idea is useful for a few scenarios I can imagine. Large events like concerts and parades could have quick bike accessibility by simply pulling up and parking in a spot. Subway stations with bike share stations could increase their capacity at certain times, like during a service outage, simply by bringing a truck in.

I actually witnessed scenarios like this: In Fall 2010, when many French workers went on strike over pension reforms, the Métro and RER service was suspended (although a law passed in 2007 requires that there be a “minimum service” during any strikes; there was service, it was just greatly reduced and overcrowded). During the morning rush, commuters found Vélib’ bike share stations near residential centers in Paris empty, and stations near employment centers were overfilled. Trucks were dispatched to pick up and redistribute the bikes.

Velib bike share truck in Paris

Increasing supply in response to demand is a feature of any reliable transportation network – it means operators on the 2 automated subway lines in Paris can increase the supply of trains without having to call in conductors, it means that some freeway lanes in Chicago change the flow direction to accommodate traffic, and in this case, it means bikes can be added to the network quickly and easily.

Creating a mix of permanent stations as well as “pop-up” stations in the form of a truck (or trailer) that can be easily driven to an area with high ephemeral demand is a great idea, and one that should be considered should the need arise. A mix of these stations would provide the permanence necessary for reliability, as well as the assurance that a bike will be available in places that need it most.