My business partner at iContact Ryan sent me the neatest thing in an email tonight. It's called the Eco Cycle. It's an underground bicycle storage solution currently being used in Tokyo, Japan.
It reminds me of those cart dispensers in airports where you can rent a cart to help you move your heavy luggage to and from baggage claim. But this is even better. This system not only accepts your own bike as input but it stores it neatly out of sight underground in a huge stacked cylinder.
The system appears to be a whole lot less space efficient than the common side-by-side bicycle rack you can find on any street in a bicycle friendly city but it has several key advantages. The first advantage is security. Bicycles can be expensive and at the end of the day finding your bike missing is not only a loss of money but also a loss of a ride home that may cost you dearly in a cab or on foot.
The Eco Cycle system is also much more visually appealing as it has a similar visual footprint as an ATM.
I would bet that the system also provides a benefit to the long term maintenance costs of a bicycle by keeping it stored in a dry environment out of the elements and the wear and tear and risk of frequent passers by.
Finally I think the advantage of using underground space instead of above ground space is exceptional. In busy cities where a high percentage of commuters move around via bicycle the space to park those bicycles along a sidewalk is a hindrance to pedestrians who use the sidewalk space to walk.
Considering the moderate failure rate of other automated systems we use every day like parking payment systems and drink vending machines I wonder what you would do if this machine ate your bike. Hopefully there is someone on site with a ladder and access to a hatch in the floor.
The Eco Cycle is a fantastic innovation and I love how it resolves an interesting problem in urban planning with a very creative solution. Has anyone seen one of these in person? It almost seems too good to be true.