Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
About 13,000 people were out riding shared bicycles across the globe this afternoon.
As of this moment – this moment being mid-afternoon on the U.S. East Coast – about 13,000 people were out riding bikes they'd checked out from 85 of the world's largest bike-share systems. Mexico City's network was the busiest. The young New York City system was finding its balance, with six bikes still on offer at the East 14th Street and Avenue B dock in Manhattan. Most of the systems in China, in the middle of the night, were quiet.
If you use a bike-share system, you likely rely on an app that gives you a real-time distribution of the bikes and empty docks in your area. Oliver O'Brien, a researcher with the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at the University College London, has built a map that does this same thing, simultaneously, for bike-shares all over the world.
These 85 systems, with more to come, are among the largest in the world to provide real-time data on riders and bikes as they navigate the city (in all, there are now about 500 bike-share systems in the world, 300 of them releasing such data). For these 85 systems, that's about 210,000 docks and 95,000 bikes. O'Brien's map, which he unveiled this week at the Velo-City conference in Vienna, tracks each system for its real-time share of bikes in use, by dock. The data is automatically updated every two to 10 minutes from the operators.
Here is Europe (mid-evening local time), with the largest systems (by number of docks) shown in bigger circles. Blue systems have fewer bikes in use, red systems have up to 20 percent of the bikes in use:
Meanwhile, across the ocean, here's the system in Montreal, with empty docks in blue and full ones in red (again, they're scaled for size):
Zoom in at an even higher resolution, and you can track the 24-hour usage chart of a single dock in Minneapolis, or animate the entire city's system as it twinkles over a single day:
Some of the "in use" bikes are in the midst of getting rebalanced, as operators drive them around town to replenish empty stations. For the most part, though, these dots represent thousands of people in very different cities all over the world commuting or joy-riding by bike-share. Click back during rush hour for a different perspective.
All images via Oliver O'Brien's Bike Share Map.