After the big announcement about a new, city-wide public bicycle sharing system last year, we have seen very little about the news about the system. Now stations for the public bike sharing system were set up and it is going to be run a trial from September 19 to October 14. The official opening of the service to the public is October 15.
Thanks to Philip for the tip about the sudden appearance of stations! He posted pictures about the new system in the Kojects Forum and gave me many helpful information. It made me curious and so I begun to work on this post and visited Sinchon to get a sneak peek at the new public bike sharing system in Seoul.
The Initial Plan
To summarize the previous blog post, Seoul announced last year that they intend to reform their public bike-sharing system. The changes include:
- new system with a new name and new fare structure
- more bicycles (from 340 before to 2,000 in 2015, 10,000 in 2017 and 20,000 bicycles until 2020)
- more stations at more locations (beginning with Yeouido, Sinchon, Seongsu-dong, CBD and Sangnamdong)
- construction of infrastructure in combination with road diets
From a small system that just operated at a couple of locations it will grow to a large system. At first the public bicycle sharing stations will be set up at the five areas mentioned above. Slowly, it will expand to other areas and then cover the whole city in 2020.
What happened since last year?
After the official announcement it was quiet for a couple of months. Planning a bike sharing system in a ten-million city isn’t easy.
Public participation was done in a nice way. By giving citizens the chance to actively participate in the process Seoul is able to promote the policy and get more believers for the bicycle system. In addition, it saves the city many money because they didn’t have to hire an expensive branding company to get an unsatisfying result.
From February 27 to March 12 Seoul gave citizens the opportunity to submit names for the new bicycle sharing system. The winner was “따릉이” (Ddareungi). It can’t be translated easily into English. It’s the sound that the bicycle bell makes, so it would be ‘ring, ring’.
A design for the bicycles was chosen:
Here is the initial design for the stations that was also selected through public participation:
The station is simple and light. It doesn’t have any impact on the built environment at all. It won’t be a large obstacle on the sidewalk for pedestrians. In Sincheon I could see the new stations before the opening:
The stations differ from the final design just slightly. The bike racks are round and bigger than first planned.
As said before, the station is vey simple. It can be easily removed or moved to another location. Installing a bike sharing station is simpler than assembling an IKEA shelf. The only negative point is that the bike racks don’t have a roof. Korea’a harsh weather is going to destroy the bicycles fast.
A very unique feature is that there are no terminals. A member card, mobile phone or a transport card is enough to borrow a bike.
The bikes are connected to the bike rack through a cable that has a plug for the front of the bike.
The adapter is plugged in to the right side of the bicycle console.
At first I didn’t understand what it means. Now at home, looking at the pictures, I see that this is some kind of lock. Users can secure their borrowed bicycles with this lock by plugging it into the same spot where you put in the bicycle rack adapter.
The bicycles are produced by Alton, a Korean bicycle company. It is a good move to support a local bike manufacturer even though the majority of Alton bicycles are also getting manufactured in China. 2,000 bicycles will be introduced in the beginning.
Though it means that the bicycles have a drum brake on the rear wheel. It’s a very typical feature of Alton bikes. A drum brake lives longer than a rim brake. But if it gets broken, then repair is difficult. The bike has only three speeds through an internal-gear hub.
The city published in August a 585-page master plan about the bicycle infrastructure. I knew that the bicycle department of Seoul was very busy but 585 pages, wow! It begins with an examination of the existing bicycle infrastructure and introduces then all details of the bicycle plan.
Currently, there are a total of 733.4km bike lanes. 124.4km are bike-only lanes and the large majority (600.2km) are shared paths between cyclists and pedestrians. This map shows the quality of the bicycle path in Seoul:
The best quality (1등 급) is indicated in blue. Mainly the bicycle trails along the rivers and streams received the highest score. The bike paths in Songpa-gu and Yeouido scored well, too. The worst quality is shown in orange or red. Seoul plans to invest 13 billion KRW ($11.3 million USD) in the next five years to preserve and improve the existing bicycle infrastructure. The investment will go into the improvement of bike lane surface, road markings and maintenance. Additional 23.7 billion KRW ($20 million USD) are going to be spent for new infrastructure. The goal is to build 172km new bike paths in Seoul. The infrastructure is going to expand and go through urban areas. Here you can see how Seoul will look like in 2020:
When Seoul introduced the measure, they showed the following concept for a road diet and bicycle infrastructure:
A couple of days ago I visited Jonggak Station area and I couldn’t see anything. There isn’t any construction to see there yet. In Sinchon there was actually some change.
There is paint on the street and signs were installed.
Next to the road from Sogang University to Sinchon Station I spotted this sign:
It says that it is a bicycle-priority road. This road is shared between cars and cyclists BUT then it says in red letters that cyclists have to ride on the right edge of the road. The sign is really small. I wonder for who this sign is made? It’s too small to be readable by car drivers and even cyclists will have a hard time to read it.
They also had some bigger signs with the same message:
So that’s the current situation. The bike master plan promises real bicycle infrastructure: The bike path is going to be 1.5m wide and on sidewalk height. They are going to be between the sidewalk and the road. Seoul plans to gradually introduce new infrastructure. They can’t expect a large ridership without high-quality infrastructure. Nobody would drive a car if the roads would be disconnected with a bad surface and no signs.
I just wonder if they are going to do road diets and take away some space of the road or if they are going to separate the existing sidewalks. In many areas around the city the sidewalk isn’t wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Seoul wants to have at least a 3m wide sidewalk for pedestrians. The bike paths as a buffer between the road and sidewalk will improve the walking environment.
The bicycle master plan shows the infrastructure is going to help avoid conflicts between cyclists and buses. There are four design solutions for the bus stops:
The bike infrastructure construction is going to begin next year and be completed by 2020.
The fare is 1,000 KRW for a day. For a week it costs 3,000 KRW, a month for 5,000 KRW, 6 months for 15,000 KRW and a year for 30,000 KRW. It’s really cheap! Philip told us that the system will charge users if they keep the bicycle for too long. There is a surcharge after an hour, which is going to be 1,000 KRW for every 30 minutes, with a maximum of four hours and 6,000 KRW. I read that the system is going to work round-the-clock and without holidays but it won’t be possible to get a bike between 1 and 5am at night. But also throughout the whole year?
The bikes can be borrowed through the official website or an app. Through the app a user can select the location of the station and I suppose that it then works through NFC. Better is to use the homepage and register the personal transport card that you use for subway and bus. With the registered transport card the user can then get a bicycle by tapping the card on the bicycle.
The website exists currently only in Korean but it seems that English, Japanese and Chinese versions of the website are in preparation. The instructions are very vague to this point.
The bicycles at Sinchon Station were sponsored by a Korean bank. That reminds me of the Citi Bikes and Barclays. But I’m not sure if all bicycles are sponsored by the bank or maybe, as it was done for the public bike scheme in Changwon, several sponsors finance a certain amount of bicycles. I have no idea how much the operation of the system is going to cost or how much budget the city prepared to the service.
Citizens were able to apply to test the system from September until December. It isn’t yet possible to register for the service through the website. An app doesn’t yet show up in the app stores. Sincheon and Yeouido will test the system from September 19 until October 14. One of the stations had also this neighborhood map:
You can see where the other stations are and how they can be reached the best on a bicycle. The goal of Seoul’s bike system is to connect citizens to public transport. All routes lead to Sinchon Station.
The other areas (CBD, Sangam-dong and Seongsu-dong) will install the stations soon and begin operation on the official opening date. In these areas you can spot this sign:
It says that they will set up a bike sharing station here between August and September. A bike station for ten bicycles doesn’t require more than 12 square meter of place. The new website offers a map of all stations. There will be an interactive map about the availability of Seoul’s public bicycles.
Korea builds new infrastructure very fast but I wonder if in this case they should have taken more time to construct the infrastructure before opening the system. In New York it was somehow similar: The Citi Bikes were introduced first and later New York City constructed bike paths and lowered the urban speed limit.
There are still many open questions and probably a couple of system-related issues will change after the test period. The key for the success is the infrastructure. It isn’t about how much paths Seoul will build, it’s more about the quality of the bike paths. The bicycle-priority lanes are a nice idea but I doubt that cyclists will be safe. A network with dedicated lanes is the safest way to promote bicycle usage.