Hire bikes faster than cars in Lyon, France

But is this because riders break the law?

On the day that London's Barclays Cycle Hire scheme opens to non-members, some interesting data has been released about a similar project that's been operating in the French city of Lyon since 2005.

The Velo'v system has proved hugely successful, with its bikes being used for an average of 16,000 trips a day. This figure doubles when public transport workers go on strike.

As in London, the scheme is run with a commercial partner, in this case the advertising company JCDecaux, in order to keep rental charges and costs to local government low.

Some 4,000 bikes are available from 343 docking stations. Users must pay a subscription (€1/day, €3/week, €15/year) and then €0.75-€2 per half-hour, depending on subscription type, but the first 30 minutes of each rental is free.

The bikes are fitted with computers which record details of where they've been docked, how long it took to get there, and how far they've travelled. Data captured between May 25 2005 and December 12 2007 has now been released as part of a study called Characterizing the speed and paths of shared bicycles in Lyon.

The authors, from local higher education institutions, conclude that hire bikes are faster than cars in downtown Lyon, especially during rush hour, when average speed rises from around 10km/h (in line with European figures for motor traffic) to as high as 14.5km/h.

However, they admit this is partly because riders don't follow the rules of the road. The data shows they take shorter routes between docking stations than would be possible by car. "This suggests that, as specific bicycle tracks were virtually unknown in Lyon at that time, most bikers use sidewalks, drive [sic] the wrong way up one-way streets or use bus/tramway lanes," the study says.

The average trip distance in Lyon is 2.49km and the average trip time is 14.7 minutes, meaning that most journeys incur no rental charges, just subscription fees. During the study period, 11.6 million journeys were made by hire bike.

Speeds are highest early in the morning on weekdays, when traffic is light – they peak at 6am, with an average of 14.5km/h. By 9am that's dropped to 13km/h. Speeds are lowest at 4pm on weekends (10.3km/h), with the weekday low occurring an hour earlier (11.3km.h). Speeds are generally faster in winter than in summer.

Wednesday morning speeds are higher than any other day, but this phenomenon is easily explained. The study's authors say: "We speculate that this higher speed might be related to a higher proportion of male bikers, since a significant fraction of women stay home to care for children on Wednesdays." Many French schools close on Wednesdays and have Saturday morning classes instead.

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