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Tackling Societal Challenges With A Simple Tool

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

In this mini-lesson we zoom out and give background context on the broader relevance of designing a Bicycle User Experience.


Everyday Cycling


Increasingly more cities look to make everyday cycling possible because of its varied benefits: health, social, environmental, and economic. Hundreds of local, regional, and national governments invest in plans and guidelines to orient their staff towards a vision where cycling is safe, convenient, and easy.


The challenges driving these initiatives are diverse. Governments are strapped for money, public health crises are growing, social tension is leading to conflict, and our living environments are getting more crowded and polluted.


Cities need to find a way to address these challenges, without sacrificing the standard of living and quality of life that their economic development is intended for. There is a complex web of interconnected issues at play. Where cycling offers special opportunity is in its multi-dimensional nature to address these issues.


As a conduit for social interaction, public health, and environmental sustainability, while remaining a remarkably cost-effective investment, the bicycle is a simple yet quite underutilized tool that is already sitting right in front of us.



Bicycle User Experience (BUX)


There are over a billion bicycles in the world, but in too many places it is challenging, inconvenient, and uncomfortable to ride a bike.


In order to get people from all walks of life to ride bikes and for our society to reap the benefits, we need to make riding a bike an attractive, comfortable and convenient way to get around.


By studying people of all ages and backgrounds, and diving deep into their experiences, a user-centered methodology enables us to fit the bicycle into these peoples' lives, instead of the other way around (e.g. asking people to adapt to car-oriented streets that are unpleasant and unsafe to ride on). Bicycle User Experience (BUX) applies user experience methodology to urban planning to empower urban design professionals and advocates to do this.


For several years already, classic UX design has worked in other domains such as information technology to study "users" in order to create a targeted "product" that works for those people. BUX transforms this approach for a social purpose: to enable everyday cycling. "User" becomes the different types of everyday people that may ride a bike on the street, and "product" (in our case a "service") becomes the experience of riding a bike. The street is the "user interface".

Graphic by author


What is distinctive about this approach in the cycling domain is that it is adaptable across contexts because it is based on understanding the underlying needs of the end users. Urban planners often apply- with good intention- bicycle infrastructure templates ("standards") from design manuals. These design manuals largely neglect the user experience and are based on the approach of traffic engineering, which is oriented towards solely optimizing the flow of vehicles. By neglecting the human experience, the result in many jurisdictions is bicycle infrastructure that has been built but is unsafe and not well-used.


Bicycle User Experience (BUX) gives a process - an approach that consists of people-centered methods and principles - to give professionals and other street stakeholders the knowledge needed to make appropriate choices when building bicycle infrastructure, based on the local experiences of everyday people in their community.



While economic, social, and environmental challenges grow, we can address these concurrently with a simple tool: the bicycle. By getting people of all ages and backgrounds to ride a bike, we can make our cities and towns more healthy, social, clean, and economically sound. We can improve our quality of life and create a livable environment for our children. It starts with studying everyday people, and fitting the bicycle into their lives.

 

Want practical tools to study people and make cycling work for them in your city? Check out our online and in-person courses. Is your organization interested in utilizing this approach? See what we offer to help you make the transformation.

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