After a three week’s leave I returned in a city that suddenly seems to be swarmed by shared bikes in different colours. The grey and yellow oBike’s and black and orange FlickBikes are literally found everywhere in Amsterdam. The app-operated shared bikes are a new phenomenon to which the city apparently still has to get used to. After complaints from citizens the city council now threatens to remove the bikes that are not properly parked. The issue calls for a smart design solution.

Amsterdam was the first city in the sixties of the previous century to introduce the idea of shared bicycles. The activist movement Provo proposed a plan to spread free bicycles, painted in white, over the city for everyone to use and leave wherever they wanted. The idea never took off and shared bike programmes only got introduced in several European cities from the turn of the century onwards.

Apps to ride

Now, all of a sudden, thousands of free-floating rental bikes have been dropped in Amsterdam. For 50 eurocents to 1 euro per 30 minutes the bicycles are available for everyone who has installed an app that allows them to find and open the bicycles. Thanks to this technique the bikes can be left anywhere and don’t have to be returned to a docking station or rental point.

One might think that the city council would receive this new sustainable alternative for a clogged transport system with open arms. Instead, the city council announced it will start taking the shared bikes from the streets in September if they are wrongly parked. After receiving complaints about bikes parked in the middle of the streets and on sidewalks, the bright looking bicycles are rather seen as a nuisance than a gain for the city.

Design opportunity

In fact, the success of the bicycle as a means of transportation challenges Amsterdam, one of the world’s bicycle capitals, with the question where to park all the citizens’ bikes properly. Here lies an opportunity for designers with a vision how to redesign public space in order to facilitate the healthiest and most sustainable means of city transport, without denying other city dwellers their space. Drop your ideas at the WDCD Climate Action Challenge and maybe you’ll win the funding and support to actually execute your ideas for real.

Top image: improperly parked oBike


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