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Do These Bike Gadgets Keep You Safer Or Just Re-Enforce The Idea That You’re Intruding In Cars’ Space?

Routes that take you away from cars and tech that warns you when you’re in a blind spot is good–but they assume that cars rule the road.

As bike use grows and car use dwindles, in urban areas at least, will we see a growth in distracting accessories for bikes? Kind of the equivalent to cup holders, GPS, and DVD players, only targeted at the laziness and anxieties of a commuting cyclist instead of coddling slothful drivers?

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This bike project says yes. It’s called the Connected Streets, and the various prototypes connect HUDs (Heads Up Display) and other on-bike displays to sensors throughout the city, as well as a network of information about the roads.

courtesy Connected Streets

First up is routing. A helmet will guide you through the city based on the air quality over the roads. “Nudging cyclists onto the back-street network could be healthier and potentially safer,” says Claire Mookerjee, project lead for urbanism at Future Cities Catapult, the team behind the project.

For instance, your HUD might tell you that “Straight on is quickest—but the air is cleaner if you turn left.” This is a little like the puzzle that asks whether you should run or walk in a rainstorm: running gets you wetter, but you’re in the rain for less time, while walking achieves the opposite.

Nudging cyclists off main roads also clears the way for cars, which is a common argument against bike lanes. It’s clear that roads are still primarily designed for the convenience of cars, and not pedestrians or cyclists, and another of the Connected Streets ideas accepts this privileged status of motor vehicles: the blind-spot visualizer.

This concept puts laser projectors onto trucks and buses which “detect and projects the outline of their blind spots into the path of oncoming cyclists.” Drivers can carry on with their old bad habits, ignoring other road users, while vulnerable cyclists scurry away from danger.

courtesy Connected Streets

Now, when a driver right-hooks a bike, the common excuse of “I didn’t see you,” will turn into the accusation “You were riding in my blind spot.”

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The handiest idea in the lineup is the simplest. Made for users of urban bike-sharing schemes, its a little widget that clips onto the handlebars and points the direction to your destination. The routing widget could be an accessory you buy and clip onto the bike yourself (which would make it useful for people using their own bikes), or it could be built into the bike, although this has problems of power, security and connectivity.

Better might be a smartphone mount on these these municipal bikes, but the idea of a simple directional display is a good one, and fits one of the project’s considerations.

On a bike, we particularly need cyclists to develop a heads-up stance, looking at the environment around them, rather than down at a phone.

The problem for urban cyclists is the dominance of cars, and the attitude of some drivers that the roads exist only for them. The fix for this is getting more cyclists on those same roads. Folks will argue about bike lanes, helmets and the like, but anything that makes people feel safer will, by extension, get more people on bikes, eventually beating the cars into submission.

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About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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