Analyzing Cyclist Behavior with Velo'v Bike Share

Earlier this month, an interesting preliminary study was released from France detailing cyclist behavior with data collected from the Velo’v bike share system in Lyon, France. The Velo’v bike sharing system is a very extensive system with approximately 4000 bicycles available at 343 stations around the city of Lyon. For the most part, the Velo’v system has bike stations located within every 300 meter buffer zone throughout the city. The extensive coverage, reasonable rental and subscription fees, and high-tech access and locking systems have made Velo’v one of the most famous bike sharing systems in the world, and one after which many other systems are modeled.

Velo'v MapThe extensive coverage of Velo’v has also provided a unique opportunity to collect information and data about the behavior of bike share users. The advertising company JC Decaux, which operates Velo’v, has been collecting data about the use of their bicycles since the system was implemented in May of 2005. JC Decaux provided a data set of Velo’v bicycle use from May 2005 to December 2007 to a group of researchers in France. The data set yielded some potentially interesting results about the behaviors of urban cyclists, which could in turn help urban planners best decide how and where to add bicycle infrastructure.

The study looked at 11.6 million trips over the course of the two and half year period. Each record in the dataset gives information about the location and time of the beginning and end of each trip, as well as the trip distance. The data set indicated that the average trip distance is 2.49 km (1.55 mi) and that each trip takes an average of 14.7 minutes. The Physics arXiv Blog summarizes many of the other results, so I will not repeat them all here, but in general, the data set and the initial paper show some very interesting trends in the use of Velo’v bicycles, especially trends that show peak Velo’v use throughout the week, as well as peak use hours throughout the days of the week.

Bike use graphThe data set also revealed some rather odd results, including an increase in average speeds on Wednesdays, an increase in speeds during rush hour that outpace average car speeds during rush hour, and shorter distances for bicyclists than car drivers between two points indicating the use of shortcuts.

Notably, Lyon has few bike lanes, so Jensen et. al. who wrote the initial paper suggest that Velo’v users are riding on sidewalks, the wrong way, and more. Jensen et. al. also suggest that the higher speeds on Wednesdays are a result of higher proportion of men riding on Wednesdays, as women tend to stay at home to watch children on that particular day of the week in France.

In general, I think there is a lot of opportunity to learn about cyclist behavior from the Velo’v dataset, despite some of the problematic assumptions made by Jensen et. al. about gender, shortcuts, and more.

Additionally, it is important to note (and I can’t seem to find this in the Jensen et. al. paper) that this study is not really representative of urban bicyclist behavior in Lyon (or elsewhere, for that matter), as it does not have any information about people who own their own bicycles and do not use the Velo’v bikes. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to see that this type of research is being conducted and hopefully there is more to come, either from other cities, bike share systems, and other types of studies. There have been calls of late in the U.S. for more hard numbers and data on bicycle use. But it is also important to realize that drawing conclusions from narrow datasets (such as the Velo’v dataset) can be problematic if they are used to make broad, sweeping generalizations about bicyclist behavior.

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3 thoughts on “Analyzing Cyclist Behavior with Velo'v Bike Share”

  1. trailsnet says:

    Thanks for this info., & I agree with you that, “it is encouraging to see that this type of research is being conducted.”
    I would love to see more data on the impact of dedicated bike/pedestrian trails on the rate of bicycle users, pedestrian accidents, community fitness, air pollution, etc.
    It’s one thing to have lots of bikes available through programs like Lyon’s Velo’v, but the availability of bikes alone doesn’t promote cycling. A safe, simple biking infrastructure is also needed.
    Personally, I’d like to see cities start by developing an infrastructure of bike paths and then add the bike sharing program.

  2. Joe Betz says:

    The data for the program is inspiring though limited. The fact that so many people are using the system is an obvious positive, but the need for safer cycling infrastructure (for pedestrians and cyclists, both) is an issue city planners must address.

    For this academic year I am living and working in the city of Nancy, France, where there is a smaller bicycle sharing program called VeloStan (“Stan” coming from, I believe, the name Stanislas, the main square and former duke of Lorraine and Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth king if you are into history!)

    The issue of cyclist riding on sidewalks and also the tramlines, and then being occasionally severely fined, has created a “Velolution” here with one protest calling for better cycling infrastructure to protect riders from the small, quick and deadly diesel cars buzzing all over.

  3. @trailsnet there is definitely a need for data that is focused specifically on bike/pedestrian trails and more. I agree that a bike share alone is enough to promote cycling and that good infrastructure is necessary as well. One of the cool things about collecting this data in Lyons is that it may help to improve planning for future infrastructure.

    But, as Joe also mentions, the data is very limited, so it is hard to imagine that it can contribute substantially to the planning process or what the impact of its contribution might be due to its limitations.

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