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In London, Bike Sharing Just Got Even More Efficient
Screenshot of the Barclay Bikes iphone app.

Screenshot of the Barclay Cycle Hire iPhone app.

City University London’s School of Informatics uses Geographic Information System (GIS) to map in real-time the city’s new shared bike system, Barclays Cycle Hire, to help predict and document bike usage and availability at each of the system’s 400 planned docking stations that are designed to house more than 6,000 bikes. Currently, the map includes data for more than 300 docking stations throughout London, showing when bikes are in high use and other general patterns at each station.


Researchers developed an application that includes graphs of London’s bike availability over the past 24 hours (orange line) compared to average bike usage from the week before (gray line.) Data are updated in real time, showing the actual status of each station, revealing the dynamics of biking and travel at specific sites in the city over the span of a typical day.

Image of graphs representing Barclay bike usage at different London docking station. Photo by City University of London GeoInformatics Department.

Graphs show Barclays bike usage at different docking stations. Photo by City University of London giCentre.

The students also used an information visualization system, known as treemaps, that uses hierarchical categories of rectangles within sub-branches to show the information in context around the city. The size of the  rectangles are proportional to the capacity of bikes at the station.  The color of the station correlates with the number of bikes at the station — the darker the color, the more bikes are available.  (Try holding your mouse button down and pressing the indicated letters above the map to use the interactive feature to see a “grid view” of the status of each docking station more clearly.  In this view, the proportion of bikes at each station is indicated by the height of the blue bar.  Also, very full or very empty stations are shown with a lighter or darker border.)

The usage at the different stations varies widely.

Map visualizing the data in the graphs above using treemaps design. Photo by City University of London's GiCentre.

Maps visualize data using treemaps design. Photo by City University of London's giCentre.

  • The availability of bikes at nearly all stations dips between noon and 5:00 p.m.
  • Hardwick Street, Clerkenwell, in downtown central London, had almost no available bikes between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.
  • A number of stations experience peak usage between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. — and others experience very little usage (or none at all) during that same time period.
  • A few stations experienced very high usage as late as 8:00 p.m.
  • For the most part, the graphs showing data from the past 24 hours are similar to the averages gathered from the past week, but there were some anomalies.

More focus on information visualization

The city is also working on creating a new bike map of cycling routes in the city (there is currently no single uniform map) comparable to the London Tube system map.  One pro-cycling magazine is even leading a campaign for a better cycle map, advocating for something along the lines of this map created by Simon Parker:

Cycle map created by Simon Parker. Image via Cycle Lifestyle magazine.

Cycle map created by Simon Parker. Image via Cycle Lifestyle magazine.

Mobile app developer FIPLAB Ltd. also created an iPhone app, London Cycle: Maps & Routes, that shows real-time availability at bike stations around the city, maps specific locations, shows safe biking routes and  alerts users when it’s time to return a bike.

It will be exciting to obtain user feedback on these new technologies and track whether these systems increase usage of the bike share system, especially among people who might have found the systems inconvenient without these technologies.

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  • Martin

    You can checkout Spotcycle for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry ( which works for all cities that using Montreal’s BIXI system (Montreal, London, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Melbourne) The latest version adds support for displaying bike paths on the map. The feature is only available for Montreal right now but will be rolling out in more cities soon.

  • Luke Jonas

    It woudl be really great if there was something I could download for my blackberry that would overlay on my google maps. The only problem I face is when I can’t find a docking station to drop off if I havn’t fully pre planned my journey. I find the availability on my route to and from work (Hoxton/Aldgate East) to be 95%.

  • In theory, similar applications (at least for the bike availability metering) are possible on any Bixi-based system. For now, though, bike availability at different hours should be of greater concern to the system’s management than to its users — ideally, users shouldn’t encounter any availability problems.

    As for the bike route map, I have never quite understood why some cities insist on giving specific routes different colors or names. Isn’t the existing street network, particularly in London of all places, complex enough without layering another set of names atop it? I’d much rather see colors assigned to show how bike-friendly a street is, rather than some predetermined “route.”

  • I like the public access to the data. It would be great to see where bikes are checked in and out as well to visualize the flow throughout the day. I wonder if d. would support similar applications.