Apps, special navigation boxes with extra driving information, dynamic signs and information panels next to the road: the possibilities for route advice when you are traveling by car are endless. In contrast, the cyclist seems to have been excluded in all of this. Since municipalities focus on the importance of a livable city, the bicycle gets more and more attention as a form of transportation. Can smart technology provide an extra impulse?
Article from Objective #25, May 2016
From guest comfort...
The past decades, we were able to do more and more using our cars. Preferably we park close to the shop, museum or restaurant. A little walk or bicycle ride was not common. This was stimulated by the city developments that catered to these needs. Canals were filled in, extra parking spaces were made and with navigational systems you can easily find your way around the city, even if you've never been there before. As a result we take our car to go basically everywhere.
This causes an increase in traffic. In addition to congestion, it also causes air pollution which is a negative influence on the livability of the city. Municipalities are working hard to improve the livability and set the bar high for themselves. For instance, Assen and Leeuwarden are aiming to become CO2 neutral in 2020 and the Danish city of Copenhagen is aiming for 2025. An important factor is the movement of people within the city. A market gap is the most environmentally friendly form of transport: the bicycle!
... to living space for the resident
Where for the past decades, the car was allowed to fulfill an increasingly more important role in traffic, we can see that a slow demise has set in over the past few years. In many cities, you can only park with a license and the car-free zones are expanding. In addition to this, the dynamic designs of the cities spaces are also becoming more interesting. In Copenhagen, they are researching whether parking spaces used at nighttime for parking cars near the venues in the city center can be used for extra tables for restaurants, markets or playing areas for children during the day.
This space can, of course, also be used for creating extra bicycle lanes. For example, a nice tourist route that is also low in traffic. Via an app, you can present this information immediately in the cyclist's home, and even use the notification 'the palace route is open for cyclists'. This way not only the resident can benefit, but you are also more accessible for guests.
Focusing on the cyclist
Of course, the bicycle is not a new notion in traffic management. There are increasingly more bicycle lanes; but then the bicycle has been enjoying privileged settings in the TLCs for a long time now. Tilburg was the first city to roll out a red bicycle lane network, but Delft also had a whole bicycle route network planned out in combination with a low-traffic center. However, smart solutions that provide individual advantages for the cyclist are not yet established. These intelligent transport systems (ITSs) and services are largely available for the car and even for public transport, but there is still a lot we can do for the cyclist.
The city of Utrecht has recently taken the first extra step. That is to launch the first parking support system for cyclists in combination with ultramodern and large bicycle parking facilities. The number of cycling routes, cycling lanes, special parking facilities and now even the parking support systems are steadily increasing. Then this is a great moment to add to that, so the step for non-users can become a little bit smaller.
Route information for the cyclist
Developing a smart app for the cyclist lane or N-road where traffic, clearly separated, are all traveling in the same direction, is of course more easily made than a variation that includes all sorts of side streets, roads that are open or closed depending on time of day and streetcars, buses and pedestrians that are also all over the place.
But it is the cyclist that experiences a lot of time loss as a result of construction in a particular street, a cyclist congestion or by not using the fastest route, and can thus benefit greatly from a smart app. For example: route support which advises you on the fastest route, the safest route or shows where, at that particular moment, there is still parking space available. Not only convenient when you are shopping, but also for daily commuting. You can check your route beforehand or get a notification when there is a change in your daily route.
During the concept project The Tube in Copenhagen it showed that the 'fun factor' played a very important part in the decision for a cyclist to start using the app. And no, it was not a game, but the actual benefit for the user. By using the app, cyclists were offered more green-light-time at junctions. Also they could see on the app whether they needed to hurry up 100 meters before the traffic light to make sure they would catch that particular green light. The Danish cyclists experienced this as a positive thing, as did the Danish cyclists association.
Also the part that allowed users to give feedback on the suggested routes was experienced as very pleasant. This way, they could indicate whether a route was truly safe or enjoyable for a cyclist. If there was anything unpleasant, for example a crooked pole, they could immediately report it. This also helps the rest of the cyclist community.
Using an app while riding a bicycle?
I can hear you thinking: using an app while riding a bicycle? Yes, just like you can use one in the car for personal driving information, a cyclist can also use similar apps. For example: a smartwatch or a standard attached to the handlebars. This is not unusual in rental bicycles with for instance the 'Go-Bike'. These have a tablet to help you navigate through the city. But what if we implemented extra sensors on these rental bicycles? For example to measure the air quality and using that as a decisive factor for the most pleasant route.
Or to use the information of your planned navigation to allow the rest of the traffic participants to anticipate to your route. Currently the telecom provider Vodafone has started a great campaign with the Cyclists association. The ‘SmartJacket’ indicates through small LED lights on your back whether you are turning left or right. There is also a variation of Lumenus or the Kickstarter-purse variation of SEIL Led. This could be expanded on. Cyclists could signal drivers through their mobile phones. For example, when they come out of a side street, the driver will receive a notification in his car that a cyclist is approaching.
But let’s look at what is already available. During the Smart City project in Copenhagen, Technolution will also use, in addition to a smart app, information pillars. These are placed at busy cyclist junctions to provide extra route information for cyclists who do not use the app yet. The city also uses them as a trigger to show the difference in traveling time between taking the car and the bicycle.
Time for change
When you know that 61% of the Dutch population lives within 15 kilometers of his/her work, you would expect that more than the current 25% would take the bicycle to work. In a cyclist city such as Copenhagen, 41% takes the bicycle to work. However, these numbers could be a lot higher. With smart apps, we can improve the safety and traffic flow greatly. And by placing a sensor in the bicycle, the Internet of Things (IoT) can offer the user a lot of immediate benefits. The step toward using the bicycle more frequently cannot be that big anymore, right?