"Een fiets is iets maar bijna niets" (a bicycle is something but almost nothing) said Dutch artist Robert Jasper Grootveld. What does this mean for our streets? Our cities? Our transportation system?
Better yet, how do we design for something that is almost nothing? What is the best way to leverage this tool that can be had for about the same price as a smartphone? If we design cities right, then what is the future potential of this remarkable and evolving tool - the bicycle?
- Technology. E-bikes. 45 km/h. 30 kg. 50 km range. 2000 Euros. These are the numbers representing the current state of technological possibility, all within the form factor of a standard bicycle. Think of how these numbers can change just ten years into the future. Faster? Lighter? Further? Cheaper? Still room for ten bikes to a parking space. Same amount of physical space, packed with more potential.
- Multi-modality. Bike-train. How far is the nearest rapid transit station to your house? I'm not talking about local transit that stops every 200 meters, crawling along at 15 km/h. I mean transit that will actually be faster than riding your (e-)bike and is competitive with driving. We all want rapid transit at our front door, but there is a fundamental tension between speed and stop spacing. For fast transit service that stops every 10 km, you need a way to get there that is faster than walking. Unless you want to transform your train station into a giant parking lot, there are a few options. Cycling could be the answer.
- Infrastructure. Bicycle highways. In dense urban settings, steady and easy cycling at 15 km/h will outpace almost any car journey that contends with traffic lights, traffic, and parking garages. With a combination of e-bikes and bicycle highways, cycling becomes attractive for even longer trips, for all ages and abilities. But let's be careful to design bicycle highways with care, with attention to creating a beautiful, pleasant, and attractive surroundings. Perhaps the Dutch "snelfietsroutes" (fast bicycle routes) is a better name?
- Sharing. Bike share. You arrive somewhere and you did not bring your bike with you. Your destination is too far to walk, and you haven't quite figured out the public transport network yet. Better yet, you just want the freedom to explore the city without hassle. Bike share is more than a transport option. It is a new way of experiencing the city as a visitor.
Let's say you are a long distance commuter who works in a city that is 40 km away from your house. You have always owned two cars in the household so both you and your partner drive to work. You want to keep the house but get rid of your car. Is there an alternative?
Perhaps. Your city has just invested in a new bicycle highway that will link your suburban neighbourhood to the central train station that is 6 km away. For you, that is a bit far on a normal bicycle but the distance can now be covered in 15 minutes on a fast e-bike. There is frequent intercity train service to the city where you work. You like the 15 minute walk from your destination train station to your workplace, but sometimes you run late for a meeting because of a delayed train. In that case, it is good to know that you can grab a bike share and get to work in 5 minutes, so you are just on time to start your day.
The real beauty in something that is almost nothing is its incredible flexibility. If we choose to design our cities to be flexible, then it will at the same time be resilient through change. I don't plan my life around cycling. Cycling makes my life possible. I hope the future of cycling innovations unlocks the potential of life for more people in cities around the world.