During the Grand Depart, thousands of journalists stay at Dutch hotels. Many of them find a 'Bedtime Story' on their pillow. In this second chapter, we tell you the story of the Happy Biking Project.
Even the great est ideas have their start
drawn from the deepest of the heart
When delay & doubt are spiking
how would you imagine
I’m pleased we meet again. I have been awaiting your return, after we briefly got acquainted last night in Chapter I. As the sun is about to settle below our horizon, take a moment to let the imprints of this day settle in as well. When you’re ready to see this hotel room as a point of departure rather than arrival, I’m here to guide you into a new chapter of our story. Right where we left off.
Last night, I asked you to imagine a bike, parked outside this hotel. Is it still there? With this bike, we’ll travel across Utrecht and unravel the true story of the bike as Utrecht’s key to success. Not as a hymn to this city, but –far more important– as a glimpse into the future of many other cities worldwide. While the bike rapidly gains traction in large urban areas all over the globe, no doubt these cities are bound to face the same challenges Utrecht had to conquer already.
This is where today’s story begins. With the rapid –and still ongoing– growth of cyclists in Utrecht, precautions had to be made in order to ensure the safety of all road users. But due to maintenance, traffic diversions, traffic lights and overcrowded streets, the enjoyment of a daily bike ride soon was at stake. Imagine cycling through the streets of Utrecht during rush hour and you might notice the skills it takes to get anywhere safe and sound. Yet 36% of all transportation is done by bike.
In October 2014, Utrecht made global news headlines with a bike traffic jam. It took a particular malfunctioning traffic light unusually long to turn green. This caused a true chaos, resulting in a jam that stretched over 100 meters. City government then asked their citizens which traffic lights they deemed unnecessary. It led to more than 5,000 responses. After careful analysis by experts, the first traffic lights have already been shut down.
Meet Jan-Paul de Beer, owner of innovation agency Springlab (springlab.nl), promoting a more active and healthy lifestyle. Springlab also noticed the increase of frustrated cyclists in Utrecht. Jan-Paul wondered if he could capture those actual moments of frustration, to not only gain an in-depth insight into the causes, but also to exemplify those moments everyone recognizes on a daily basis. In The Happy Biking Project, Springlab rode a bike through Utrecht for days, having a GoPro camera mounted on the front and backside. Doing so, they captured unique footage of human behavior in traffic when obstacles are encountered.
All footage was reduced to five main frustrations of the ordinary cyclist: traffic lights, overcrowded bike lanes, behavior of fellow cyclists, road blocks and diversions caused by construction areas, and –last but not least– cars. More than 1,500 citizens voted on what they saw as the main issue, and many left in-depth comments on how to possibly solve those problems.
With Happy Biking, the whole city got actively involved in recognizing, admitting and solving the problem. The discussion flourished within the media as well, gaining traction from both governmental and private parties. Based on the highest ranked frustrations, several young startups were asked to develop new ideas to reduce the dissatisfaction. Not by long-term, largescale and expensive interventions in the infrastructure, but rather with plain simple solutions to make biking more fun again within the existing possibilities and surroundings.
Take Light Companion for example, a playful idea to improve traffic flow. Here, traffic lights are preceded by rope lights in the pavement. Green dots move lengthwise at a certain speed. Keeping up with the speed of these dots (which may require slowing down or speeding up), the cyclist will arrive at the traffic light exactly when it hits green. Hence, the flow of traffic is greatly enhanced.
Happy Biking is an exemplary approach of how Utrecht has learned to deal with its modern-day challenges. A bottom-up and hands-on initiative, in which citizens are involved/heard and ideas are rather low-key, playful and easy to embed, instead of mainly the result of desk research. Once proven to be effective, citizens, governmental and private parties can work together to increase the scope.
Now slowly squeeze the brakes on the handlebars; you have safely returned to your hotel, right where you started. All exploration ends where you have started; only then we come to understand why we left in the very first place. Park your bike in the racks, you will need it again tomorrow. When you return, I’ll be here with a brand new chapter.