When the German city of Wiesbaden was voted the worst city for cycling in the country by a bike organization, a local creative agency decided to help change that with a new app called Radwende: As cyclists ride down city streets, the app traces each route and adds it to a giant crowdsourced map of suggested bike paths in the city.
Designers at Scholz and Volkmer saw it as a way to bring new digital approach to a problem that was a struggle for government and advocacy organizations.
"We believe in change, because a lot of people in City Hall as well as citizens want it to happen," says agency founder Michael Volkmer, who was the driving force behind the project. "But it's a chicken-and-egg problem: The city doesn't invest if people don't cycle. People do not cycle because it's not safe. We believe that design and technology can fix that."
Since late May, local cyclists have captured data from nearly 3,000 rides. A robot processes the data from each day and traces the routes, one by one, out onto a map, so viewers can watch as the most popular routes get thicker and thicker—showing exactly where a new bike lane might be most helpful.
The robot and map just finished a run on display at an art museum. "The results were open to the public from the very beginning on the Radwende website," says Volkmer. "It was just that the art world picked it up quicker than the politicians—that's why we got the chance to build the machine in the museum."
The city government has been closely watching the results; the mayor was one of the first people to get a printed version of the map, and members of city council have attended riding events.
Now that the exhibit is over, the designers will continue to build the map. "The exhibit was a six-week window, producing one piece of art every day," Volkmer says. "But the process of getting safer bike lanes is much longer. We will collaborate with other organizations in the city to get more and more people to ride, use the app, and get more and better data."
The designers are also experimenting with other approaches. In a recent group ride, cyclists rode bikes with built-in chalk that drew guerrilla lanes on the street as they went along. They're also interested in the idea of using riding as currency.
"For every X amount of kilometers that people cycle, the city could build one kilometer of safe bike lanes," Volkmer explains. "Shops in areas with parking problems could give discounts for people getting there by bike. Companies could grant extra vacations days for employees taking the bike to work—we already do that ourselves. This gamification approach would solve the chicken-egg-problem: You want bike lanes? Cycle to get them!"
The agency also hopes to share the technology with other cities. "We focus on Wiesbaden right now, because it's where we live and work," Volkmer says. "But we would be glad if other cities pick it up. A few cities already approached us, and we are also talking to large mobility-suppliers, who would like to integrate the app in their ecosystem."