As cycling and bike sharing become increasingly popular in the United States and around the world, tensions between cyclists and motorists are rising. Efforts to redesign the shared physical environment, in the form of bike lanes, ‘sharrows’ and the like, might actually increase the flow of traffic despite the decrease in street space for cars. Beyond changes in the physical space, there is new potential for changes in the virtual environment that might help cyclists and motorist more peacefully coexist.

From the perspective of the cyclist, selecting a route involves greater challenges that those faced by motorists. Receiving route guidance on a bicycle is one of those challenges. Between holding the handles, shifting, and braking, cyclists rarely have a hand free. NYCycle is one solution.

NYCycle is the first [Google] Glass app for New York City’s Citi Bike program, and it was built by a team led by Marc Maleh, group director of interactive agency R/GA’s Prototype Studio. Not only is the app hopping on two of the hottest trends in tech right now–wearables and bike sharing–it’s actually surprisingly useful, tapping into Citi Bike’s real-time data to help bikers find open bike ports, navigate to landmarks, and remember to return their bikes on time.

Another solution is Hammerhead. Mounted on the handlebars, the device sends quick signals to the rider through flashes of light, indicating which way to go. The device provides additional information to the rider such as distance to the destination and upcoming tough climbs.

With the integration of additional data sources such as real-time traffic and route ratings from fellow cyclists, these navigation aids could provide even greater benefit to riders. I can imagine these systems providing personalized routes to help increase safety. Cyclists could avoid streets without bike lanes, steer clear of road surfaces that are poorly suited for those skinny bike tires, and find routes with less and slower moving traffic.

From the perspective of the motorist, one of the greatest challenges is seeing a cyclist. Known as inattentional blindness, drivers will sometimes “look but fail to see”. Many distractions exist within the car, from changing the radio station to entering a destination into a route-guidance system. There are some systems both inside and outside the car, however, that will make cyclists more visible. BLAZE illuminates a large bicycle icon on the pavement in front of the cyclist, making nighttime riding safer. Volvo introduced a feature that detects cyclists and automatically slows the car in anticipation of a collision. These systems are designed to support the driver in detecting cyclists and avoid collisions.

Future motorists will have even more information to help them safely share the road. Systems could indicate when it is safe to pass a cyclist and encourage the motorist to provide plenty of space between the car and rider. Additionally, bikes lanes could be made more apparent to motorists, particularly bike lanes that are not separated from the roadway. When bikes and cars must share a lane, augmented overlays displayed on the windshield could make clearer the portion of the lane where bicycles are to be expected.

Many cities are recognizing the importance of and demand for safer cycling. Increased ridership places yet an additional demand on already distracted motorists. Through the use of data collection and information sharing, we are poised to more efficiently use our limited street surfaces. Cyclists can be guided to more bike-friendly routes and motorists can be alerted to nearby cyclists to avoid collisions. Inclusion of more data sources will lead to better sharing and increased safety for all.


Image credit: Dragon Innovation

(This article first appeared in 2013; updated in 2018.)