The Future of Biking, and How Good Design Can Help

Here it is, the shameless plug: A group of bike/design nerds started a company called Sparse. You should support it. Here's why. Your country is...

Your country is changing under your feet. Policies enacted early in the first Obama administration are quietly ushering in a new era of efficient use of our infrastructure.* Federal funding for biking/walking has increased astronomically since 1990: nearly 5,000 percent. (Highway funding in the same period, only 130 percent).
Participation follows infrastructure. Infrastructural growth, along with ridership, is increasing at triple digit rates. The number of bike commuters in the U.S. rose 674 percent from 1990 to 2006, and the bike share of all commuters rose from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent.* More new bike lanes are rolling out all the time. As the commute becomes easy and safe, biking becomes a rational decision for more and more average Joes. Just like us.**
The secondary effects are coming, too. Bicycling gets safer with increased participation. The more riders on the road, the less bike-related injuries and fatalities.*** Riding is not egalitarian now. It soon will be. Women only account for 23 percent of total riders and ethnic minorities are vastly under-represented. This will change.****

Here is where my team and I come in. The shameless plug: A group of bike/design nerds started a company called Sparse. You should support it. Here's why.


We are convinced that biking makes for better cities. We've seen neighborhoods change, traffic slow down, and the resurgence of mom-and-pop shops along cycling routes. We don't see a downside. We're doing what we can to nudge the needle to cycling participation. We're working to take away all the negatives associated with cycling: mess, hassle, visibility, security. And we're working hard to make the rides of those already engaged in that daily grind to be that much more joyful and safe.


Specifically, we've just rolled out a set of lights on Kickstarter that integrate onto the bike. They're sleek, bright, robust and a lot more difficult for someone to steal. It's important to us that the lights are pretty, too. More important, though, is that the lights (and all that we do) make your whole bike, your whole trip, your whole routine better. Stay tuned, we've got lots more on the way.


*"This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." Transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood, 2010.
**Cities ahead of the curve on infrastructural improvements have already experienced profound changes in citizen behavior. New York has added 345 miles of bike paths in the last 10 years with plans for an additional 463 miles and 6000 bike racks in the next 10. New York has seen a doubling in their bicycling participation since 2000. Chicago which maintained a similar modal conversion rate in 1990 has surpassed New York via bike path development in addition to integration into existing transit. Chicago now doubles New York’s participation rate at 1.2 percent of all commutes. Portland, OR, the city with the most comprehensive bicycle infrastructure implementation has seen a 6-fold increase in participation since 1990. Today, 18 percent of the city’s population uses bikes as the primary or secondary mode of transportation (Pucher and Buehler Bicycling Trends and Policies in Large North American Cities).
***Despite a 64% increase in U.S. cycling participation from 1990 to 2006, traffic fatalities fell by 21 percent and serious injuries by 40 percent.
****Several studies have shown that women are more sensitive to the dangers of cycling than men. As such, they are vastly under-represented in cycling participation. We can expect a surge of female riders following infrastructural improvements and ridership increases. Canada which boasts a safer riding environment has seen corresponding increases in female participation. Minority groups are still under-represented (Pucher and Buehler, 2011).
Images via Sparse.