What started out as a popular phenomenon in progressive Western cities (Amsterdam started the trend in the '60s and Portland, Ore., was the first city to catch on in the U.S. in 1994) has now been adopted by the developing world.
Hangzhou, a city of 6.77 million people in southeastern China, started a program by which bikes are made available for shared use to people who don't own them in 2008 — with 2,800 bikes spread out at 61 locations around the city.
By 2011, the number of bikes had mushroomed to 51,500 at 2,050 different spots, according to Elizabeth Press at Streetfilms.org.
For a city with 1.5 million fewer people than New York City, Press wrote, Hangzhou's bike-share program "blows all other bike-shares off the map."
Good magazine gives that statement teeth: "Montreal, Mexico City, Washington D.C., London and Paris, all of which are regularly lauded for their systems, all have between 1,000 and 10,000 bikes."
To be fair, the Washington Post put Paris' program closer to 20,000 bikes by 2008.
But any way you cut it, Hangzhou outshines all other European and American contenders.
China's bike culture surely helped Hangzhou along, but the program's success is largely due to how integrated it is into the transportation network of the city. Drop-off/pick-up locations — near bus stops, parking lots and water taxi stations — are less than a quarter mile from one another in the city center.
Check out Streetfilms short doc on the matter: The Biggest, Baddest Bike-Share in the World: Hangzhou China
And here's a map of bike-sharing programs worldwide.