Thursday, 29 December 2016

How Small Cities can get Big Benefits from Flexible Bikesharing

by Cat Johnson, Shareable:

Big cities, such as New York City, are celebrated for their successful bikesharing programs, with thousands of bikes and hundreds of smart docking stations. For smaller cities and towns, however, this is not a practical model.

Big and small cities have the same need for bikesharing: to fill transportation gaps, reduce traffic and parking congestion, promote sustainability, build a bike a pedestrian culture, promote active lifestyles, and support local business. They differ, however, in the following ways: small cities have lower densities, established driving cultures, and a smaller tax base.

In a recent webinar, bikesharing provider Zagster and the Shared Use Mobility Center, a public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility, spotlighted flexible bikesharing systems, in which the technology necessary to borrow and lock a bike resides in the bikes themselves rather than in expensive, fixed docking stations.

Flexible bikesharing offers an alternative that's more realistic for smaller budgets and ridership. Where traditional bikesharing systems can take millions of dollars and years to implement, flexible bikesharing, which uses lightweight kiosks or even bike racks as hubs, can be quickly and affordably tested and implemented.

The webinar was designed to give those living in cities with less than 50,000 people an overview of flexible bikesharing systems, including the benefits and challenges of launching one. Here are the key takeaways: 

Benefits of Tech-on-bike, Flexible Bikesharing
  • There are fewer “ingredients” with flexible bikesharing. All you need is a bike, though kiosks and racks are helpful.
  • Flexible bikesharing melds into the streetscape as it has a lower profile footprint
  • The hardware is lightweight
  • Data gathered from bikes during demos and pilot programs can inform project planning
  • Riders can access to the bike system via an app
  • Flexible bike sharing is easy and inexpensive to upgrade
  • It’s an investment toward more bike infrastructure in cities
  • It’s easy to install and move

Flexible bikesharing enables cities to diversify their fleet of bikes to include accessible bikes for riders that would otherwise be unable to participate in bikesharing. While flexible bikesharing is generally accessed with a smartphone, a smartphone is not necessary. You can use simple SMS/text messaging or even a code given out at a local library or community center. 


There are various funding models, including nonprofits, businesses, advocacy groups, government organizations, real estate organizations and universities. Fort Collins, Colorado is an interesting case study as its collaborative sponsorship model includes public funding, nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and businesses.

Grant funding sources at the federal level may include Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ), STP Transportation Enhancements, Transportation Investments Generation Economic Recovery (TIGER). Grant funding sources at a local level may include energy and R&D pilot funds, public health grants, parking credits, toll revenues and affordable housing funds. 


Flexible bikesharing allows cities to easily and affordably test pilot programs before scaling. Scaling to more neighborhoods and surrounding municipalities is easier and less expensive than with traditional, docking bikesharing systems. Payment can be integrated with existing public transit payment systems, such as transit cards. 

Challenges of Flexible Bikesharing
  • Flexible bikesharing is not as visible as traditional bikesharing systems with docking stations.
  • It’s still relatively new so there’s limited data about sponsorship and models
  • Long-term and/or high-volume durability is unknown
  • Flexible bikesharing is less friendly for a tourist who may not be interested in downloading app and learning how the bikesharing system works.
  • Small cities have to determine whether they’re targeting their bikesharing system for residents or tourists.
Download the webinar: Making Bike Share Work Outside of the Big City

More bike share resources from Shareable:
Photo: David Marcu (CC-0). 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

'Crime and Punishment' is 150: and its Politics are More Relevant Than Ever

Raskolnikov and Marmeladov from Crime and Puni...
Raskolnikov & Marmeladov, Crime & Punishment (Wikipedia)
by , Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Birmingham, in The Conversation:

It is now 150 years since the publication of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. An incredibly influential novel, Crime and Punishment also has a particularly contemporary political significance.

The plot hinges on how, one summer’s day in St Petersurg, a penniless student, Rodion Raskolnikov, murders an old woman pawnbroker. He does it partly to prove an idea that he has written about: that exceptional people, like Napoleon, can be above the law. Besides, to him the pawnbroker is a “louse” whose murder will be a net benefit to society.

But during the murder, the victim’s kind and vulnerable sister walks in. Raskolnikov kills her, too, without a second thought. The reader sees how Raskonikov has become desensitised and how his ideas (influenced by his reading of Hegel and Bentham) have unintended consequences.

Raskolnikov’s name means “split in two” or “schismatic”. His split personality inspired Stevenson’s story of Jekyll and Hyde. One of the first psychological novels, Crime and Punishment is also deeply political. It reflected a wave of reaction against economic liberalism, not unlike that which has occurred during 2016. Raskolnikov is shown to be a confused hybrid, both reflecting liberal thought and rebelling against it.

Balzac and Dostoevsky

Widespread disillusion with liberalism emerged in France during the July Monarchy (1830-48) of Louis Philippe, for whom liberalism meant the rule of the self-made rich. Liberalism became a convenient scapegoat for social problems, especially if it could be presented as an alien (Anglo-Saxon) import.

Balzac’s novels, especially Le Pere Goriot (1835), portrayed Paris under the July monarchy as mired in corruption, social climbing and materialism. The anti-liberal Balzac became an admirer of Russia. In his Lettre sur Kiew of 1847, he praised Russia’s absolute power and “so-called despotism” as preferable to France’s “mob rule”. Balzac’s influence can be seen in the concepts and characters of Crime and Punishment. And the anti-liberal message is even stronger.

Liberalism in Crime and Punishment is represented by its most negative character, the wealthy businessman, Luzhin (meaning “puddle”). When we meet him, he is arguing the case for what would now be called “trickledown economics”. Luzhin seeks to marry Raskolnikov’s sister, taking advantage of the family’s genteel poverty.

The indignity of this proposal is, in Raskolnikov’s mind, the last straw that propels him towards murder (although the pawnbroker is in no way responsible). Later, Luzhin’s attempt to frame Sonya, Raskolnikov’s saint-like friend, as a thief, provides the dramatic climax of the novel - as if to make quite sure that the reader sees Luzhin, and what he represents, in the worst possible light.

Another powerfully negative character, Svidrigailov - the upper-class predatory libertine who represents the evil amorality of de Sade - is given some redeeming features by Dostoevsky, but Luzhin is given none.

Identity politics

Dostoevsky’s hostility to liberalism may have been irrational but he succeeds in depicting the social and psychological dislocation brought about by rapid economic change. Dostoevsky’s poor are drawn from the downwardly-mobile middle class whose deprivation is compounded by loss of status.

This recalls the fate of many in the years following the the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union but also those “left behind” English Brexiters or Mid-Western Trump voters who lost their livelihoods or social roles through economic globalisation from the 1980s onwards.

Dostoevsky also anticipates how the dislocation brought about by economic change leads to identity politics (whether of the right or left). Raskolnikov is finally redeemed, not by priests, but by Sonya’s preaching. Forced into prostitution by her stepmother, Sonya’s spiritual strength transcends her suffering and she symbolises “rootedness” in the people - pochvennost in Russian.

For Dostoevsky, religion is primarily about identity. Crime and Punishment shows how those, like Raskolnikov, who are alienated or confused by liberal modernisation may take refuge in mystical nationalism or collectivism. It happened in Russia following the reforms of the 1990s and it may explain the upheavals in Western democracies during 2016.

Russian psychology

Crime and Punishment may also provide an insight into the psychology of Russia as a geopolitical player. As with Raskolnikov, there is currently much speculation about Russia’s real motives in its international relations.

The most likely explanation, for both, is wounded pride. Raskolnikov’s state of mind is influenced by his family’s loss of status and reduced circumstances. He sees them as vulnerable to predators like Luzhin and Svidrigailov. This recalls the parlous state of Russia and (for many) the sense of national humiliation during and after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Raskolnikov’s reaction to his humiliation is to step over the line to prove that he is exceptional, like Napoleon. The word for crime in Russian, prestupleniye, means “stepping over”. Whether or not the annexation of Crimea was a “crime”, it was without doubt the moment when Russia “stepped over”, as if reasserting its own version of American exceptionalism.

Dostoevsky would no doubt have approved. His messianic nationalism was, as Freud put it, “the weakness of this great personality … a position which lesser minds have reached with smaller effort”. But his depiction of the tensions between individual, community and modernity in Crime and Punishment cuts across political lines and has lost none of its insight or relevance.