• 01.19.17

This Simple Design Could Keep Streetcar Tracks From Destroying Bikers

If you bike in a city with light rail, you know the dangers of getting your tire stuck: a sudden trip over the handlebars. This new idea lets cities easily and cheaply retrofit their tracks to make a safer ride.

This Simple Design Could Keep Streetcar Tracks From Destroying Bikers

It’s one of the lesser-known hazards of riding a bike in a city: along with irate drivers and delivery trucks parked in bike lanes, cyclists also often have to worry about getting stuck in streetcar tracks. When a tire sticks, it can knock the bike over, potentially vaulting the rider onto the pavement or, even worse, into the path of an oncoming car.


Engineering students in the Netherlands are testing one possible solution–a simple insert that fills the empty space. If a streetcar passes, it pushes the material down, and the tram can still operate normally. But when a bike wheel rolls over, it stays up, providing a level surface.

“We, as typical Dutch citizens, use our bikes every day,” say students Roderick Buijs and Ward Kuiters. “We noticed that in our living area, the city center of The Hague, there are a lot of roads which are shared by streetcars, and cars and cyclists leading to dangerous situations. Unexpected moves from cyclists can surprise other traffic, and for the cyclist themselves, there is a risk of getting stuck in the streetcar tracks.”

The students researched existing alternatives–including an expensive test of an entirely new type of streetcar track in Zurich–and realized that a simpler solution was possible.

By reducing the risk of crashes, the product, called SafeRails, could both protect cyclists and improve traffic flow; drivers could worry less that the person on a bike in front of them was about to cross a track and wipe out.

The design is still a prototype, but part of a local competition called The Hague Innovators Challenge. “This contest can help us accelerate the prototype engineering and testing phase, bringing this much-anticipated concept closer to reality,” say Buijs and Kuiters.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.