Bikes (4) Cycle sharing in India and China

Hangzhou bike sharing system

In 2011 the India Government decided to launch a National Public Bicycle Scheme to promote cycling as the last mile connectivity in 10 cities. On average, 43,7% of indian households had a bicycle in 2001, a figure that rose to 46% in urban areas. The National Government issued a draft toolkit for public cycle sharing systems that studies such systems in other countries, mainly Europe and China.

The context in India is quite different from that in western countries; most cities have no dedicated bike lanes, and the cost of all the items that are used to set up such a system are different, as can be easily understood comparing the purchasing power of the average citizen. China has different situation as investment on capital infrastructures has been stronger, but shares some similaritudes with India (relatively low purchasing power but high tech local firms able to set up advanced control systems). According to the India Public Cycle Sharing Toolkit, the capital costs including all the systems from bike stations to control center and the bikes themselves are as follows:

  • Hanghzhou: Rs 64.000 per bicycle (891 euros)
  • Guangzhou: Rs 58.000 per bicycle (808 euros)
  • Pune (Cycle Chalao estimates 2012): Rs 54.000 per bicycle (752 euros)
  • Ahmedabad (IDTP estimate): Rs 77.000 per bicycle (1.073 euros)

Yearly operating costs per cycle are estimated as follows:

  • Hanghzhou: Rs 9.900 per bicycle (137 euros)
  • Guangzhou: Rs 13.600 per bicycle (184 euros)
  • Pune (Cycle Chalao estimates 2012): Rs 24.000 per bicycle (334 euros) (costs are higher as the system is not fully automated).

The usage fee structure proposed in the toolkit is:

  • Less than 30 minutes: free
  • 30 minutes- 1 hour: Rs 5 (7 euro cents)
  • 1-2 hours: Rs 10 (14 euro cents)
  • More than two hours: Rs 15 (21 euro cents)

According to the toolkit, a high quality cycle sharing system with 5.000 cycles can be established in an indian city for Rs 40 crore (5,5 million euros). Just in order to compare costs, Velib, the Parisian system, started in 2007 with 7.000 bikes and start-up cost estimated at 140 million euros (paid by the firm that got the external advertisement concession for the whole city, not the public administration); a 1 hour ride costs 1 euro.

A bicycle from Cycle Chalao!, a bike sharing system set up in Mumbai and Pune in 2010 that has ceased to exist since, but has provided an interesting local experience.

Some numbers about Madrid (3)

What is the use for an automobile? This seemingly simple question, whose answer seems evident, lies at the base of a relevant part of the debate on urban planning in many countries, even if it is almost never asked in those terms.

We own a car, used essentially for out of city travel; I am lucky to live near the center of Madrid, at just half an hour’s walk from my job, so I walk nearly all days. It’s faster and way cheaper than to use a car or even public transit (which is common for such short distances). Sometimes we use our car to go to peripheral big box retailers, but most of our food is bought in the neighborhood, and for more specialized items we usually at least browse the central Madrid stores, a convenient collateral of working in the area.

Sometimes I use my car to get to working meetings in places in which there is no convenient public transportation link, but I usually prefer to take a train or a bus, because travel time is better and I can work during the journey, something quite useful to manage my working time.

But not everyone does things as I do. The car is quite used in metropolitan Madrid. A sprawling growth pattern for housing and jobs contributes to that. Even if the classical planning theory says that there should be a balance between jobs and working age population in all municipalities, this goal is hard to attain when contracts are not kept for long times, a growing issue these days. Besides, shopping systematically in big box peripheral retail centers also increases the car traffic. On the other side, a sizeable group of citizens prefers their cars to public transit to avoid lengthy transfer times, or simply to avoid “smelling the sweat” of other travelers.

Madrid municipal statistics show that in 2010 there were 2.541.000 vehicles on the street on an average day (a bit more in june, but 25% less in august). Most of this traffic (nearly 20%) concentrates between the M30/Calle 30 Beltway and the inner avenues subject to traffic lights. The average speed is on the whole 24,16 km/h (less than half in the older part of the city, up to 67 km/h on beltways).

Average daily intensity of traffic in central Madrid, by streets

Average daily speed in Madrid, by street

Vehicles paying local taxes in 2010 were some 1.740.000 in Madrid (some 2 citizens per car), 78% of which were cars. Using cadastral data there are 0,93 cars per housing unit as a municipal average, with lesser values in the scope of the Proyecto Madrid Centro, while in 2005 New York (but for central Manhattan) had 0,59 cars per dwelling, and París’s 2006 figure was 0,47.

Cars by 1000 habitants in Madrid and the surrounding municipalities in 2010

Cars per household in the parisian region in 2006

Cars in all existing housing in New York (excluding central Manhattan)

During that year 865.000 cars used public parking. In the streets subject to park meters the average parking spot was used by two cars a day, each staying less than an hour.

In 2010 road accidents killed 34 and injured 11.744 in Madrid.

Also in 2010, municipal buses moved 439 million people, and the subway moved 632 million. Long and mid distance train stations were used by 21 million, and 300 million metropolitan train stations (nearly half used Atocha station). Some 50 million used Barajas Airport.

The relation with the car varies from country to country, but essential issues defining it include urban pattern, availability of alternative transportation, available income and normative framework. Cities in emerging countries as Mumbai have car ownership rates much lower than in Europe or North America, but they are growing; and even with such low car ownership rates vehicles can be a nuisance, as the citizen group Casablaklaxoon shows in Casablanca (Morocco).

The requirement for parking inside buildings is still enforced in central Madrid, while in central Manhattan there is a less straining specific rule since 1982.

How do you use your car?

Some links:

Madrid municipal statistics on mobility:–Transportes-y-Comunicaciones?vgnextfmt=detNavegacion&vgnextchannel=f205c6bfec025210VgnVCM2000000c205a0aRCRD

New York Residential parking study:

Paris car ownership study:


Some numbers about Madrid (2)

Madrid has a dense public transportation network. An essential element is the metro (rapid transit) network, opened in 1919 and counting today 12 lines, 296 km of track and 238 stations. The network is managed by the Regional Government, and is integrated in a Regional Transportation Consortium that has a unified fare system.  In 2010 metro sold 630 million tickets, the highest figure among the elements of the transportation system.

As in most rapid transit systems, it is focused on core- periphery relations; the network extensions have reinforced the nodal role of the historical city core through the links among confluent lines. Not having a fixed limit for the core center, and taking as a reference the limit of the scope of the Proyecto Madrid Centro, 48% of that area is at less than 300 m of a metro station. That figure is similaire to that in Paris; Manhattan seems to present a similar figure. Mumbai, a city that plans to introduce a rapid transit system in the next years, uses the rail network as the backbone of its public transportation system, with a less dense coverage. Buenos Aires combines a low density rapid transit network with the railroads. The following maps show the described networks of those cities at the same scale, as well as the 300 m radius from the stations.

The network finds its best efficiency through its exchanges with other public and private transportations modes. The city is served by several high speed and conventional rail lines, long distance buses and the Barajas airport; the metropolitan scale transportation rests on the suburban rail network, along conventional rail tracks, and some recent extensions of the metro network.

Line 12 (also known as Metrosur) (A) is noteworthy among these extensions. It is a circle line linking the southern metropolitan municipalities (historically those less favored in economical terms). It is linked to the rest of the network through the suburban trains and a single connection to a metro line.

Three tram lines have been added recently to the network. One covers the new residential developments on the northern part of the Madrid municipality (B), and the two others cover the low density developments to the southwest (C,D); a still reduced occupation rate at the northern housing areas and low densities on the southwest make for a complex economic management.

Some references:


Explaining an architectural or urban proposal requires transmitting its aims and the context in which they will be deployed. To that end it is common to use a set of numbers than, in the end, are aimed to compare. It is common to state that a building has a surface of x sq ft, or a new neighborhood will occupy x acres, or even that it will have a certain number of dwellings. These figures have a sense only if they can be compared to other known magnitudes, but this part is often omitted, specifically in technical articles.

In this time in which numbers have a great relevance and their management must take into account their real meaning, it seems relevant to talk millions. A million square meters (10,763 million sq ft) are 100 hectares, and the Spanish press often equates that to a 100 soccer fields; it is also common to see references to sports fields in other countries. But the size of a soccer field can go from 45×90 m (less than half an hectare) to 120×90 m (1,08 hectare). This surface encloses the turf area, not taking into account the athletics racetrack around it common in many stadiums, or the stands. A mid-sized stadium can be easily over 3 hectares, and the ancillary parking spaces can add large dimensions.Image

Madrid’s Retiro Park is slightly over 1 million sq m (1.092.395 sq m without the built up areas), which is almost a third of New York’s Central Park (3.399.322 sq m, including the 56 buildings) (in both cases land registry data). In both cases the perception of the dimension of these spaces is related to the landscape design of the parks, and to the visibility of the buildings around the park.


The Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid occupies a 43.688 sq m lot, in which the gross floor area (including annex retail elements) is 114.105 sq m. The Riazor Stadium at La Coruña occupies a 42.828 sq m lot, with a gross floor area of 40.499 sq m (in both cases, land registry data).


The Alberto J. Armando stadium in Buenos Aires (also known as La Bombonera) occupies a lot of some 23.000 sq m.

Large stadiums for other sports also have different space requirements. The Sydney Cricket Ground occupies some 50.000 sq m, while Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium is in the 31.000 sq m category. The new (2009) Yankee Stadium in New York is in a 314.000 sq m lot, with a gross floor area of 261.312 sq m (data from the environmental assessment).




A million square meters is a large dimension, difficult to see “piled up” in a building. Beyond large stadiums, big box retail venues, and industrial or logistic buildings sometimes reach quite large dimensions with low heights; this is the case of some asian malls and of FloraHolland in Aalsmeer, the largest auction hall for flowers in the Netherlands, with a gross floor area of 990.000 sq m (one of the largest buildings in the world).Image

Reaching the million sq m category in other building typologies is difficult, as regulations and quality requirements usually favor a division of volumes. The Cuatro Torres Business Center in Madrid concentrates the four highest towers in the city, with a combined 486.159 sq m gross floor area on 30.000 sq m (four lots). But there is no need to articulate towers to design a huge surface building. The mixed use (retail and offices) L’Illa Diagonal in Barcelona (Architect Rafael Moneo) sits on a 20.352 sq m lot with a gross floor area of 199.246 m2 (land registry data), with only eight floors above ground.



On a similar height range, but on a larger lot (116.223 sq m), the New Ministries in Madrid have a 184.396 sq m gross floor area (land registry data). The Louvre Museum in Paris has a 200.000 sq m gross floor area (according to its greenhouse gas emission control plan).



New York illustrates high densities: Macy’s East department store sits on a 12.483 sq m lot, with a 194.361 sq m gross floor area, resulting in a floor-area ratio of 15,6, and the Empire State Building sits on a 8.486 sq m lot with a gross floor area of 261.312 sq m (land registry data in both cases), resulting in a floor-area ratio  (FAR) of 30,7. These FAR are possible with land uses with limited demands for natural lighting and ventilation, as in department stores or, in the second case, offices conceived according to what today are dated standards.


The FAR concept itself cannot be compared without knowledge of the context: in Madrid’s four towers the FAR (measured on lot) is similar to that of Macy’s East, but in the first case towers have 50 levels and sit on a common basis, while in the second the building façade is aligned with the lot line with a maximal height of 19 levels.

Urban freeways (4 and final)

Management systems and operational budgets in projects concerning the creation or substitution of urban freeways vary according to local conditions and to the ideological orientation of government officials in place.

Comparing the economics of this kind of projects in different countries and cities is utterly complex: exchange rates, differences in the materials and labor costs, accounting principles and technical requirements diverging, debt payment terms, inflation… Dividing the project in tranches and packages makes it even more complex, and unified data is scarce.

Anyway, some conclusions from the three cases seen and some other.

  • The cost of works in Europe is substantially higher than in emerging countries, as much for environmental or safety requirements as by the cost structure. According to a 2007 report of the Comptroller and General Auditor of India, the Bandra- Worli new construction project (5,8 km) had an estimated  cost of 13,06 billion Roupies (about 200 million Euros). According to Paris city documents the covering of 10.000 sq m of freeway at the Porte de Vanves for less than 500 m of length had a cost of 58 million Euros. Nevertheless, taking into acount the average disposable income of  local citizens, the situation is the opposite.
  • Urban integration and underground works in Europe are on a similar cost scale per km. The higher technical complexity of the M30 tunnels in Madrid was compensated by a greater freedom in traffic diversion schemes layout during works, while the Boulevard Peripherique projects had to be executed with much less margin and over a functioning original right of way; the tunnel security rules create an increased cost, having to monitor a series of small tunnels instead of a long single one.
  • The debt burden caused by these works varies. In Mumbai the Bandra- Worli Sea Link, a project of the State of Maharashtra, has been defined as a 30 years concession contract with a toll which should allow it to self-finance. Paris counts its costs in its general budget, without a separate chapter, and benefits from a strong participation by the central State and the Region Ile de France. In Madrid the city alone bears the cost, having constituted a public- private partnership; Madrid Calle 30 (80% municipal) has a separate accounting scheme, showing that the debt caused by the project is slightly larger than half the added remainder of the municipal debts.
  •   The budget problems are not an exclusive of the right or the left; Boston’s Big Dig (similar in many instances to Madrid Calle 30) was an initiative supported by official from the Democratic Party, and in Mumbai the city and the State of Maharashtra have different governments.

Some links:

Economic and Financial Plan of the Madrid City Council for 2012-2016, with data regarding the Madrid Calle 30 debt:

2004 Report by the Comptroller and General Auditor of India, including references to the Bandra- Worli Sea Link:

Paris City budget for 2012:

Urban freeways (2)

Mumbai (the city formerly named Bombay) is presented as the economic capital of India, with a metropolitan population over 19 millions. It is a city I don’t know in person, so these notes are based on secondary sources.

Historic Mumbai results from the union of several islands, creating a complex seashore. After a northward growth for the previous century the state of Maharastra begins the development of Navi Mumbai. A new town is so configured on 344 sq km on the continent, east of Thane Creek, as a part of an eastward movement reinforced by the opening of Vashi bridge and the new Jawaharlal Nerhu Port Trust. The aims of these projects are to absorb rural immigration that otherwise would congest insular Mumbai, to control growth and to balance business locations in a context of improved quality of live.

Growth previsions for Navi Mumbai have not been met, partly for a reason often critized in India: the shortcomings sincronizing urban growth with capital investment in infrastructure, as well for basic networks (water, sewage and sanitation, waste processing, energy) as for transportation. Maharastra State has a current investment program set to develop a transportation scheme including freeways, subways and monorail.

In this context Mumbai has plans, dating from the 1960s, to create a freeways network including a new 22 km bridge linking central Mumbai to Navi Mumbai and the port, as well as a coastal beltway on the western shore. This beltway is defined as a set of bridges aligned in parallel to the coastline, whose exit ramps are linked in perpendicular to the existing shore road.

The Bandra- Worli Sea Link (also known as Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link) is the first element in this western freeway. Composed of two parallel roads adding up eight traffic lanes, over a structure with concrete viaducts with a part cable stayed over Mahim bay, it configures a toll section of 5,6 km. It is today the southern extreme of the Western Express Highway, connecting Chhatrapati Shivaji airport to Worli, one of the main business districts in Mumbai.

The Indian web scene concerning the project shows an intense debate on the issues raised by the Bandra- Worli project, as well as on the whole sea link freeways project. On one side some inscribe the project on an economic development vision and as a solution to the urban car congestion. On the other side critics address the environmental impact, the radical change in the landscape implied by a permanent structure on the skyline, and the high construction costs. Some voices propose an alternative for shouthbound parts of the project, defining an configuration as a freeway on the shore, with a much reduced cost, without a definitive solution on sight.

The Bandra- Worli link was open to the public on june 30, 2009, presented a reduction in travel time between the two access points from close to 60 minutes in peak hours to 6 minutes. The configuration of the southern exist seems especially prone to congestion.

The freeway network project includes linking the Worli exit to the Navi Mumbai bridge through a future elevated freeway to Sewri, a 4 km section over one of the busiest parts of Mumbai.

Some references:

  1. Conference Urban Age Mumbai 2007
  2. An article on city infrastructure on the Business Line section of The Hindu newspaper
  3. Vedula, Aparna, “Blueprint and reality: Navi Mumbai, the city of the 21st century”
  4.  Pradhan, Bawesh, et alt, “Evolution of Navi Mumbai”
  5.  A presentation criticizing the environmental management of the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link project

Large Metropolitan Areas

Large metropolitan areas are the most complex stage of the urban phenomenon. When these cities are also the political and/or economic capitals of their countries, their functions become even more complex.

The overlay of highway infrastructures is the most present layer of the future configuration of public spaces and the visibility of the urban landscape, regardless of its qualities. Public transportation using often tunnels, the urban freeways create the true face of the metropolis.

The urban insertion of these road systems can be done with different degrees of success. Cutting traffic on the riverside embankments of Paris seems a simple solution; reclaiming the Manzanares embankment in Madrid by burying the M30 traffic means a huge cost, but brings back a quality public space that has become a clear public success. The Mumbai sea link proposed roads seem similar in concept to what was the M30 beltway in Madrid five decades ago: relocating an infrastructure problem in a public domain, solving the mobility flux with a strong impact on the environment and the landscape.

The urban quality of these spaces comes also from their ability to integrate open spaces and landscape features : rivers, large parks, sea shores, beaches… the presence of several uses on the elements that by themselves are transit ways is one of the main issues.

The hierarchic structure of the city is also relevant in metropolitan areas. The territory is never isotropic, and even if the urban theory is always devising polycentric structures that can often work, the most usual is to see a strong central core. The experience of many American cities, where this core has been depleted over time by the translation of functions to the suburbs, shows that urban quality can suffer when the center cannot hold. The historical cores that where almost the whole city a century ago are today just a small part of the population and a shrinking proportion of economic activity, but they still have a strong symbolic role.

The dynamics of the urban core, even if it keeps a relevant strength, can have a negative impact on population. The role of the core as a symbol can increase the presence of large public facilities or corporate headquarters, usually reducing the local scale public facilities and services for the area inhabitants, that can feel they have better chances in the suburbs.