Two wheels good: the rise of city cycle schemes

From easing road congestion to promoting health and wellbeing, urban cycle schemes are real drivers for change and the gauge of a forward-thinking metropolis

The eyes of the sporting world right now might be on the Lycra-clad, high-performance athletes struggling up the mountains of the Tour De France, but much lower down the effort scale, bicycles are becoming the barometer of a forward-thinking city. In London, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme has been used 22 million times since its launch in 2010. In America, New York has just launched Citi Bike, with 6,000 cycles available for use in 330 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn. From Paris to Melbourne, Hangzhou to Rio, pedal power is increasingly important. And last week, the RTA (Roads & Transport Authority) in Dubai announced a revised Dubai Bicycle Master Plan, with over 850km of bikeways due to be completed by 2020.

“I’m not surprised Dubai is committing itself to cycling,” says Nick Aldworth, General Manager of Barclays Cycle Hire in London. “It’s a real driver for change – it shows people that cycling can be done in a big city, that it’s something which can really benefit everyone.”

Aldworth says daily hires in London approach the 40,000 mark if the weather is clement, while Paris’s Velib scheme is even more popular, totalling 110,000 daily hires. Meanwhile, the numbers coming out of bike sharing initiatives in China are staggering: in Hangzhou there are ten times the amount of bikes that New York offers, and Wuhan is the largest scheme in the world, with 90,000 bicycles available for use.

All of which makes London’s 8,000 bikes seem relatively small scale, but it’s been one of the most successful and high-profile cycling initiatives. “What we’ve found and been encouraged by is that it isn’t just the Lycra brigade who have taken it to their hearts,” says Aldworth. “Businesspeople use it to shoot to work, tourists use it to sightsee – at the weekend, our most popular journey is a jaunt around Hyde Park.”

Of course all this not only relieves some of the pressure on the existing transport infrastructure but offers health and wellbeing benefits too. In Dubai, public bike sharing network Nextbike has started small – there are just over 100 bicycles available for hire – but anecdotal evidence suggests a groundswell of support.

“Cycling schemes like ours work on a number of levels,” agrees Aldworth. “Most people say they feel healthier having cycled to their destination. Eighty per cent of our members say they either started to cycle or cycled more often as a result of the scheme being introduced, which obviously offers a fitness benefit. It’s environmentally friendly of course, but what comes up time and time again is that people say they use it because it’s fun. And to hear that as a transport provider is great.”