Fighting for bike safety is no walk in the park.
Some context to frame my fascination and obsession with this design problem: I’ve been biking for seven years now, and have been competing in triathlons since I was eighteen. I commute to class and work every day, and average 6–10 miles ridden daily. I used to be pretty lax about bike visibility and safety, but last year I got a rude awakening that has completely shifted the way I bike. One of my good friends was biking home from work down Main Street, when it was just beginning to get dark out. As she was biking through an intersection, a driver was trying to make a right turn, failed to see my friend, and cut her off, which caused her to completely slam into the side of his car. Amazingly, she is still alive, but she sustained significant injuries that prevented her from going back to work immediately. She experienced severe road rash and a concussion. Here’s the thing: even though she was wearing a helmet, she didn’t have lights on her bike, which may have saved her from the accident. Before this incident, I used to do the whole “ninja bike” thing when you bike at night without lights, but her story totally scared me into riding with lights.
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, as a driver, I definitely notice a lot of bikers not using lights or reflective gear at night, and it worries me. I find that because I bike, I definitely look out for bikers as I am driving, but someone coming from a less urban area may not be as aware. Furthermore, after our research and interviews, our group chose to focus on biker visibility as a large pain point that needs to be solved.
Our team went out into the real world to interview real bikers and students who bike to analyze their biggest issues or complaints with biking. We talked to a wide range of bikers, from casual student riders to full-time bike mechanics and city commuters.
Additionally, we sent out a survey with similar questions and received 94 responses from bikers, pedestrians, and drivers. Out of all these interviews, 78% of bikers had felt unsafe before while riding, and 81% of those who answered yes had felt unsafe while riding at night.
Respondents mentioned that they had experienced instances of which drivers were not aware of biker rights, bike laws, bike hand signals, passing too closely, tailgating aggressively, not being aware of bikers on the road, and general misconduct. There were many accidents and crashes reported in the survey. Drivers also mentioned that bikers did not always respect road rules/stop signs/red lights or were not visible.
One of the biggest issues we found in the biking visibility theme was that many bikers either did not bike with lights or that the lights they did have were not noticeable to drivers or pedestrians. Furthermore, we decided to focus on this as our main problem within the cycling community.
This realization motivated us to do more research by taking a look at bike light laws in VA and found on VDOT’s website that:
- Every bicycle ridden between sunset and sunrise must have at least one white headlamp with the light being visible at least 500 feet to the front. The bicycle must have a red reflector on the rear visible at least 600 feet to the rear. On roads posted with speed limit of 35 mph or greater, the bicyclist must additionally be equipped with at least one red tail light visible from 500 feet to the rear. Taillights may be steady or blinking, are allowed under all conditions, and may be attached to the cycle or rider.
Often, most car crashes (1 in 5 to be specific, not including car-bike crashes) are due to distracted driving (texting while driving, looking at everything but the road).
We modified some of our interviewee’s names and personal information to utilize as user stories to contextualize our findings.
“As a bike commuter, I want to be able to be seen in the early mornings and at dusk during rush hour traffic, especially when other drivers may be stressed and possibly driving recklessly. My wife is concerned with my visibility because I was hit by a car last year.”
“As a bike mechanic, I need something to educate clients who may not know as much about bike lighting and about how important it is to be visible while biking.”
“As a college student, I use my bike occasionally between classes at going to the grocery store. I chose not to use a bike helmet because it’s cumbersome to carry between classes.”
From the research that we gathered, we were able to reach a mutual conclusion. Our proposed idea for this solution is a new, farther reaching and more comprehensive full-frame LED light system with a paired digital application that would allow for maximum customization for regular cyclists, commuters, and road bikers. This light system would remind cyclists to use their lights to stay as safe as possible on the roads.
We have 3 key features within the physical aspect of this project that distinguish the product from others.
- The LED light system covers the entire bike frame, which will improve biker visibility to the entire road environment, drivers, pedestrians, and other bikers.
- In one of our interviews with a bike mechanic, we learned that drivers inherently look for headlights, and because bike lights are not quite as bright, there could be a higher probability of a driver not seeing a bike. Our light system will cover the back of the seat stays (the back bars of the bike that connect the top tube and the rear cassette,) which is important because it will simulate car tail lights.
- In our research, we found that the ability to personalize a light system to match specific preferences would be highly valued by customers as there is such a high premium placed on product personality. This, along with the GPS tracking functionality, will be fully integrated with the companion app.
Research and Iterations of Digital App
After taking in the physical research interviews and surveys, we went out again into the real world to talk to bikers and mechanics to see what people would want in a digital application companion unit.
We interviewed 32 bikers in person. Many emphasized their wish for the ability to customize their bike light color palette, light flashing speeds and brightness, as well as some sort of timed component in which you could have lights turn on or off as soon as the time of day changed.
We took these interviews into account when planning out how our app would look and function. We started our research by looking at other apps out there with a similar purpose to ours — biking apps, running apps, mile counters — to get some visual inspiration for our own app.
We wanted our layout to be simple, easy to understand, and as user-friendly as possible. Since we wanted to keep the home screen simple, our group decided on a circle motif modeled after our LYTE logo we had come up with at the beginning of this process.
Each member of the group did research on his or her own, looked at various app designs, and did sketches of what we thought the app should look like. Once we were done, we came back together and compiled our separate ideas into one cohesive design. We made a design with 5 circles with the large middle circle being for changing the color of the lights and the smaller circles taking you to the other functions of the app.
After that, we worked to decide what colors to use while still keeping the design as simple as possible. We ended up deciding on a black, white, and yellow color scheme because yellow is typically a hazard or warning color and we felt that went best with the bike safety we are promoting here. After some feedback from our mentors and the second round of user design interviews, we revisited the design and dropped the icon for road laws and hand signals from the home screen since our main function for the app is being able to customize your lights. We then tested our different colored iterations in another small focus group. The yellow design went through to the final round.
Final App Interface
Throughout this project, we experienced a couple of logistical problems that we had to solve conceptually. These problems included how we would secure our LED light system to avoid robbery. We solved this issue by including a microchip to track the lights if they were stolen. Additionally, we were having issues figuring out how ethical our solution was, as we did not want to encourage people to use the app while biking. This would defeat the purpose of our proposed solution. We propose to solve this issue by including daily safety tips and a notification similar to the Waze app, where individuals can choose to have their phone set to unusable while riding and be able to continue to use while at a stop.
There is an astounding disparity between the levels of knowledge/familiarity among bikers, drivers, and pedestrians regarding the rules of the road and general safety. According to our survey questions, many responders expressed dissatisfaction with the current relationship between bikers and drivers, and in many of their answers, they mentioned visibility, education, and infrastructure as key crisis spots. Through our user research and application creation, we believe we have begun to target some significant safety issues within the biking community. Inherently, a product like Lyte cannot substitute for critical infrastructural changes to the roads (such as bike lanes or more rigorous laws) as there is a huge bureaucracy around those systems, but through its use, bikers can become more physically visible and hopefully reduce the number of accidents in the area.