You Don't Have to Reinvent the Wheel, Just Everything Else

A bike can be an instrument change, but we must be the fuel.

Bicycles are a design wonder. They are the most efficient human-powered means of transportation and fill me with joy when I ride. I live in two cities: LA and Amsterdam. There are many differences, but one of the most striking is the mode of transportation. In LA, the percentage of people who bike daily is less than 1 percent. In Amsterdam, over 50 percent of all trips are done by bike.

It wasn’t always like this. Despite Amsterdam’s long history of biking and urban planning, the city was not immune to the impacts of population growth and urban sprawl. From 1955 to 1970, the bicycle’s share of all trips taken by Amsterdam residents fell from as high as 75 percent all the way to a low of 25 percent. Even after paving over many of the city’s canals, road congestion and traffic jams continued to get worse. Then people organized, voted and acted, making the city increasingly friendly to bikes and more difficult and costly to navigate by car.

LA’s tale is almost the inverse. It was an early pioneer in public transport that included a 9-mile (15 km) dedicated bike pathway connecting LA and Pasadena and had electric lights the entire way—in 1897. They made it into a freeway in 1940. Similar fates followed for initiatives in Hollywood and Santa Monica. The percent of surface area in Los Angeles dedicated to automobiles (roads, parking, gas stations, etc.) is more than 70 percent. Percentage devoted to parks and open spaces is a mere 5 percent. Is your city designed for you, or for your car?

Seemingly small choices you make, like riding a bike, can shape a city. Automobile infrastructure is so dominant that it is difficult to imagine how we can affect change. But I think we can, and I propose a challenge. Instead of forcing infrastructural change, what if we rethink the bicycle? Let’s deconstruct the bike, rethink everything, and as we redesign, we can reflect on the entire idea of transportation. We should do this in an open and collaborative way, tapping open design movements and exploring new communication and fabrication technologies.

Bicycle design has remained relatively unchanged for 120 years, but technology has given us tools unimaginable a century ago. The “Maker Movement” is taking advantage of 3D printers and cloud manufacturing and we have a new industrial revolution. There are over 1 billion bikes in the world—let’s start hacking.

A bike can be an instrument of change, but we must be the fuel. Check out some inspiring work underway in this space:

The cardboard bicycle

Peer-to-peer bike sharing

Open design collaborations for common goals

Image via (cc) flickr user lenscapbob

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

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