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User Experience Manifested in Street Designs

Updated: Oct 25, 2023


As a starting point for making the connection between user experience for people riding bikes and the design of streets, you can think about feelings.


Let's start with a very basic example, that you can test while reading this through a short visualization. Close your eyes, and think through the following scenario. You have been asked to ride an upright bicycle to work in the morning. You are asked to ride on a highway with multiple lanes of cars and trucks passing by you at 100km/hr. Visualize this in your head. Hear the sounds of the vehicles passing by you. Smell the gas in the air. Think about if you would like to stay on this road.


Now, picture a different street environment: a path weaving through a park and around neighborhoods. Picture the green surroundings and hear the sound of trees swaying in the wind. Things feel slower; you notice bugs hovering around some bushes, and hear a mix of sounds around you, contrasted with moments of silence.


Photo by Yiwen on Unsplash


Close your eyes. Take in the different cycling environments, one by one...

...

...

...


So, how do you feel in the first scenario? How do you feel in the second scenario?


With this basic illustration you can consider how (in this case, quite drastic) differences in street design/structure result in a different elicitation of feelings and a varying user experience.


Observation for rudimentary assessment


Can certain street designs elicit positive emotions and make biking an attractive, practical, convenient activity? The above example gives you a clear "bad/good" comparison. But there is a spectrum of feelings that people experience. We now ask you to consider some of these.


We want you to make the connection between how what you feel about a street environment can make cycling there an "attractive" or "convenient" (consider also other adjectives) way to move around.


One rudimentary way of assessing this is basic observation: what you notice through a quick look. By going on a street and observing cues: such as people's posture, body language, clothing and riding style, you can make (for the purposes of your own learning, an illustrative judgement) a general idea of if someone is stressed, relaxed, happy, etc. Since you are reading this mini lesson, we give examples of different street/path designs in photo form. Look at the photos in the collage below and consider what feelings you think each case of people might be experiencing.

Photos by author; captions are illustrative and rudimentary assessments by author


Here is thought process I went through to brainstorm the captions for the picture on the bottom right. There are three boys riding together to what seems to be a sports practice; they are able ride together, talk and make eye contact. They are riding in relaxed positions with casual facial expressions. One is leaning back and only needs one hand on the handlebars and another is relaxing and leaning on his handlebars while holding sport equipment.


Compare the above photos to the ones below. Above, people have a much smoother, more pleasant experience than on the streets below where the user experience of cycling was not prioritized.

Photos by author (Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City)


Now that you've made it to the end... how do you feel riding on streets and bike infrastructure in your town/city? And how does the design relate to it?

 

Want to really know what people are feeling on a street? Take a look at user-centered methods to do your own research! Want to do it with us? We offer a variety of online and in-person courses. We also offer pathways for organizations to do this in their own cities.

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