How might a Bicycle User Experience (BUX) look in practice? The BUX Blog will be exploring 7 pieces of existing infrastructure that represent user experience and usability principles. So far, we have looked at The Hovenring and a Disco Tunnel. Up third, the UC Davis Campus.
On the campus of UC Davis, a large public research university in Northern California, masses of people ride bikes down a grid of stress-free streets where motor vehicle traffic is limited. Mature tree canopies cover and bicycle roundabouts connect many of the streets. During peak periods between classes (10-15 minutes), about 1,000 people on bikes pass through roundabouts. The bike is the quickest, most convenient and most popular way to get around here.
How does the campus measure up to usability principles? Is it intuitive for the everyday person to navigate? Are people of all backgrounds able to meet their needs and easily integrate the bike into their lives here?
Video: a roundabout on the UC Davis campus during rush hour
A heuristic evaluation can help us explore these questions. It allows us to systematically examine an interface (e.g. the street) to judge its compliance with recognized usability principles (the “heuristics"). These usability principles describe how easy and pleasant something is for human beings to use (is it "usable"?).
The UC Davis campus stands out most in the cost-benefit principle. When one compares the costs and benefits of riding a bike around the campus to other modes of transportation, the bike is a clear-cut choice. Motor vehicle traffic is limited, and riding a bike will get people to their destination in the most direct, quickest, enjoyable, and practical way possible.
The campus also excels in other areas: the physical and visual experience with the user interface (e.g. streets and bike paths) is consistent and visibility is high. Navigating the campus is straightforward and intuitive and people do not need to worry about what will happen to them around the corner or be uncertain about if they will encounter stress on the next block. If there are any doubts about where someone needs to go and how they will get there, it is easy to stop assess and the situation without repercussions.
There are also elements of the campus where the user experience could be improved, such as the roundabouts at major intersections that can be overwhelming to new users. Especially during peak times, it can feel like there is less user control here. With that said, the roundabouts are still generally forgiving: people can be shaky or accidentally make a wrong turn without consequences such as being run over by a car or getting honked at.
Overall, the UC Davis campus is a wonderful example of a Bicycle User Experience (BUX). We can learn from both its strengths and weaknesses and apply these insights to make other places simple, practical and enjoyable to ride a bike in. For the campus to continue to reap the benefits of everyday biking and make it easy and accessible to even more people, it should examine the use of service vehicles and the roundabouts on campus through human-centered design methods.
Next, we will examine part of the Bronx River Greenway, a riverfront path in the northernmost borough of New York City.
Aggie Roundabout: https://localwiki.org/davis/Aggie_Roundabout
Platinum award adds to campus's bike friendly status: https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/platinum-award-adds-campuss-bike-friendly-status/
UC Davis: A Leading Bicycle-Friendly Campus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK5cLlRkeu8