Seoul’s New Public Bicycle System

Megacities like Paris, London and New York initiated public bicycle sharing systems with the goal to raise the share of cycling. New York has Citi bikes, London has the Boris bikes (or officially known as Barclays Cycle Hire) and Paris begun in 2007 the world-famous Vélib’. These are all huge systems with thousands of bicycles. Once, we gave an overview of systems in Korea and until now, Seoul offers only two small bike-sharing services with around 340 bicycles. This year the bicycle policy team from Seoul’s transport division was unbelievably busy with setting up a new master plan to overhaul the public bike-sharing system. A new system will be implemented in five areas in Seoul. It is the beginning of a city-wide bike service and the transformation of Seoul’s road infrastructure to a more diverse network.

 

Areas of the New Service

Actually, there are three services in Seoul: The public bicycle systems on Yeouido and Sangam-dong (area of the official World Cup Stadium) are managed by the city. They were established in 2010. Yeouido has 26 stations with 220 bicycles in use and Sangam-dong provides 120 bicycles at 18 stations. In addition, the southern district of Seoul Seocho-gu manages a system with 13 stations with 95 active bicycles since 2011. All of the systems work quite similar: You have to register at the Kiosk for one-time use or online for a long-term membership.

Seoul is going to overhaul the system completely in 2015. Bike-sharing is going to be offered in five areas from September 2015. In addition to Yeouido and Sangam-dong, the city will offer public bicycles in Sinchon, Seongsu-dong and the CBD (the area inside the four gates). I believe that the majority of readers are familiar with Sinchon (the area in front of the Yonsei University) and Seoul’s center, which stretches from Namdaemun to the royal palace Gyeongbokgung and from Seodaemun to Dongdaemun. Seongsu-dong is a semi-industrial area inside Seoul. Maybe some of you have been to the Seoul Forest in Seongsu-dong. So the five areas actually differ quite a lot from each other. The accessibility to public transportation is in average very high in these areas and Yeouido, Sinchon and Seoul’s CBD have a very high work day population because of the daily influx of office workers and students.

 

Next Generation of Bike Sharing?

Currently, we can speak of three generations of bicycle sharing systems (TheCityFix talks about three plus one generation). A good example of a third generation gives us London:

Boris Bike Station in London

You have bike racks with bicycles and a kiosk terminal. The required space is relatively small. The picture on the right shows the current bicycle system on Yeouido, which has the same elements and thus, can be regarded as a third generation, too. Nubija in Changwon looks the same.

Bicycle Station in SeoulThe new system will introduce the next generation of bike-sharing: The stations will only consist of bike racks. There will be no kiosks or terminals. The service has to be accessed by smartphone. Germany already has a similar system. It is operated by the Deutsche Bahn and it’s called “Call a Bike”. The bicycles are spread all over the town because they do not even have a designated station. There are just various recommended return points (usually big intersections). With an app you can find the location of the bicycles and unlock one with your app or by calling the service-hotline.

In the case of Seoul the bicycle has to be picked up and returned at one of the bike racks but the renting service works 100% through your smartphone. The app won’t only give you a bicycle, it will also plan your route to your destination. Details aren’t yet clear but I expect a very convenient system, where you can scan a bicycle or type in a code in order to unlock it. Tourists, who want to use a public bicycle, need to buy a M-Pass and residents in Korea without a smartphone can also simply use their T-Money card.

Clearly that’s the fourth generation of public bike-sharing: docking stations but without any interface, only smartphone or smart-card access, route-planner and other information to your destination by an app. The stations will require less space than the third generation. The new system will be managed by a cloud-service with large servers. The bicycle model will be very simple and look like normal city-bikes. It will be more cost-efficient: Now, Seoul buys new bicycles in a small amount but in the future the large system will reduce the costs because new bicycles will be bought in large quantities.

 

Bicycle Infrastructure

150 stations are going to be built. They are going to be next to subway stations, bus stops, apartment buildings and schools. The construction will cost around 2.8 billion KRW and the purchase of 2,000 bicycles for the first stage is going to cost 600 million KRW.

To guarantee the safety of cyclists, new infrastructure is required. In New York cycle tracks have been created while London still struggles to give cyclists enough space. Paris will double the bicycle infrastructure in the next five years. Regarding Seoul main roads will be equipped with bicycle lanes. Inside the old city gates of Seoul bicycle paths and widened sidewalks will be created (here the example of Jonggak Station):

Seoul Road Diet

(Source: Seoul)

It’s an amazing development. The number of lanes allocated to cars will be reduced. I just hope that there will be a physical barrier between the bicycle path and the car lanes. Otherwise taxis and cars are going to park on the cycle tracks. It will be very important to have a continuous bicycle network and adequate bicycle facilities (like direction signs, traffic lights for cyclists etc.). In addition, Seoul plans to enforce a crackdown on illegal parking.

 

Vision

The goal is to expand the service to the whole city until 2020. In 2015, it begins with a fleet of 2,000 bicycles in five areas. In 2017 the number is expected to grow to 10,000 bicycles and the goal is to have 20,000 vehicles by 2020. That’s twice the number of Boris Bikes and 2,000 more bicycles than the system of Paris. It is expected to grow like this:

Bicycle Sharing Plan for Seoul

(Source: Seoul)

I don’t know on what data this calculations are based on. Population density? Topography? Share of bicycles?  The choice for the first five areas seems to establish a main axis through Seoul. By 2017, the service will expand to surrounding areas and south of the Han to Songpa-gu, Seocho-gu and Gwanak-gu. I’m a little bit surprised that the expected activity in Gangnam is extremely low. Of course, if you look at the topography of Seoul, you will see a lot of hills in that area but Dongjak-gu or Yongsan-gu has also some steep slopes (for an urban area).

Topography of Seoul

(Source: Seoul Institute)

I’ve also expected that Songpa-gu is more integrated in the public bicycle sharing system. That district in the southeastern part is very flat and it has well-developed bicycle infrastructure. Many people in Songpa-gu already use bicycles to reach the subway stations and you can see many bicycles piled up at the entry to the subway station. A bike-share program would reduce the number of parked bicycles.

 

Conclusion of Seoul’s Public Bicycle System

South Korea wants to have a modal share of 10% for cycling until 2020. In Paris the modal split of bicycles grew from 1% to 2.5% after the introduction of the city-wide bike-sharing system. Cycling is a popular sport in Korea and many people cycle along the rivers for recreational purposes. However to commute or do everyday activities by bicycle, Korea still has a long way to go. I believe that the biggest potential for bicycles in Korea is as a supplement to public transportation. A bicycle can increase the catchment area of a subway station. The service has to be convenient and well-connected to public transportation. If the bicycle infrastructure gets built and parking laws are enforced, I expect that the biggest effect will be a reduction in traffic accidents. The safety and convenience of walking will increase.

About This Author

Co-Author of Kojects. Interested in Sustainable Transportation, Urbanism and Korea.

7 Comments

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  • I live in Seoul. bicycle system is very fantastic. thanks information.

    modest_jw 3 years ago Reply


  • Thanks for the good news, Nikola! I like the progressive approach for the network – still hard to avoid a leopard coverage with this lack of urban continuity. Maybe Gangnam is less a priority because many people already own bikes, or because Seoul has to cope with existing local sharing systems.

    stephanemot 3 years ago Reply


    • Hey Stephane,

      thanks for the comment!
      Yeah, that’s really progressive. A high percentage of bike ownership/usage could be the reason.

      Nikola 3 years ago Reply


  • Is my interpretation for the intersection in the Jonggak example correct, that pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross diagonally (Thus allowing for a much faster left-turn)?

    Kevin 3 years ago Reply


    • Hey Kevin,

      Yes! It will be more convenient and faster.

      Nikola 3 years ago Reply


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