The 8 Best Cycling Innovations: From Dockless Bike Shares To Solid Tires
Smart traffic lights, bike paths in high-rises and paying people to cycle are among the trends that stood out at the recent Velo-City 2017 conference
Dockless bike sharing
Bike-sharing has come a long way in the last few years, and we are moving fast into the so-called fifth generation of these systems. Soon we’ll probably see a worldwide explosion of the “dockless” bike-shares that have already taken over in Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. The idea is that you don’t have to return the bike to a set place, but can leave it anywhere – and the city is saturated enough with these bikes that they’re always easy to find. Everything is controlled through GPS sensors in the bikes and an app in the rider’s phone. Cities from Portland to Krakow are introducing these on a small scale, but it’s the arrival of the Chinese giants that will likely change the game. Mobike launched with 1,000 bikes in Manchester on Monday, and Ofo has started a small trial with 20 bikes in Cambridge.
Paying people to cycle
Like the idea of being paid for your commute to work? That’s an increasingly realistic prospect for some cyclists, as companies and local authorities incentivise taking to two wheels. It’s available as a tax break in countries such as Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and even the US – not normally known as a great country for cycling. Even carmaker Tesla has offered to pay its employees to cycle instead of drive.
Since cycling has a net economic benefit to society of 67p per mile travelled compared to driving, it makes sense for governments and companies to encourage it – not to mention the fact that those who commute by bike are more productive and take fewer sick days.
Smart traffic lights
Since Copenhagen first introduced the “green wave” in 2004, timing the phasing of traffic lights to match the speed of cyclists instead of cars, traffic lights have become even cleverer. Some lights sense when there is a large number of cyclists, staying on green for longer to allow more through; while others – such as those in Odense – detect when it’s raining, giving cyclists priority so they spend less time in the inclement weather. Some lights, pioneered in Brabant in the Netherlands and introduced in Copenhagen last week, measure the congestion on bike paths and suggest alternate faster routes for cyclists.
The main way to encourage cyclists on the roads is to reduce the threat from motor vehicles. The road should either be narrow enough that cars can’t pass cyclists, or wide enough that they can pass easily – the middle ground leads to collisions. Some cities are now experimenting with other options: Västra Hamngatan in central Gothenburg has recently introduced a street with smooth tarmac in the middle and cobbles on the sides. This encourages cyclists to take a central position in the road, preventing drivers from attempting dangerous passes, and also slows the cars down.
Park Belle-Vue in Leuven is planning something similar – a track with smooth bike lanes on either side and a raised cobbled section in the middle, meaning any drivers on the street will have one wheel on each section, encouraging them to drive slower and take more care.
Should cyclists be able to go through red lights? It’s a question that always draws a lot of controversy, and it’s becoming a reality in France. Cyclists are already allowed to turn right on red at most junctions, but last year an experiment was tried in 10 intersections in Paris and 20 in the town of Sceaux, just to the south-west of the city. At these junctions a cyclist effectively has a permanent amber light – they must give way to pedestrians and crossing traffic, but may then cross during a red light, getting safely out of the way of accelerating and turning motor vehicles, two of the major causes of crashes.
Meanwhile, last autumn the city of Amsterdam decided to run an experiment on a notorious junction at Alexanderplein, where several tram routes, bike paths and roads intersected. Although some users expressed concern, they decided to remove safety barriers, turn off all the traffic lights at the junction and let the traffic sort itself out. The trial was a success – users of different modes of traffic were more careful when using the junction, and it improved the traffic flow. After the implementation, 60% of junction users said it had improved the junction.
Harnessing user data
The rise of mobile phone apps and the fact we now all carry a GPS sensor everywhere in our pocket has opened up new opportunities for city planners.
Cities including Glasgow, Reykjavik and Brisbane have used data from cycle tracking app Strava, while Austrian startup Bike Citizens both guides riders on the best routes through cities and collects data on routes, speeds and problems which local authorities can then use to inform and improve bicycle networks.
A path for cyclists connecting the ground to the roof of an apartment block.
Bike paths for high-rises
What if it was easier to build high-density housing that encouraged cycling by making it seamless to get from door to street? That’s the aim of the West Village Basis Yard in Chengdu, which was finished last year. Aerial streets connect the levels, and slopes allow cyclists to rise and descend as though they were on a hill.
Getting a puncture is one of the most frustrating things that can happen on a bike, so the rise in the prevalence and quality of solid puncture-proof tyres is welcome. Made from sturdy “mircro-closed polymer resin”, they never burst or even go down, so require minimal maintenance. The tyres can happily roll over nails, glass and potholes, making them ideal for heavy wear and locations with poor road conditions. The only downside is that, although they’re surprisingly light, they’re still much heavier than rubber and air. The technology isn’t quite there yet, but we’re approaching a point at which solid tyres may be a competitive alternative to pneumatic ones.
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Lead Image: We may soon see a global explosion of ‘dockless’ bike-shares, like these in China. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty
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June 20, 2017 at 03:04PM