Connecting Cyclists to Local Government
Across the United States, a growing number of people are choosing cycling as their primary form of transportation to work— a 62% increase over the past decade— making it the fastest-growing method of commuting in America. Unfortunately, bicycle infrastructure isn't keeping up. HUB is paired mobile application and wearable that connects cyclists and small business owners with local government to move bicycle infrastructure forward.
Role: UX & UI Design, UX Research
Platforms: Mobile, Web
Tools: Photoshop, Illustrator, Proto.io
Timeline: Fall 2015
In 2014, 98 crashes in Washtenaw County, Michigan involved a bicyclist, one of which was fatal. In the Fall of 2015, two cyclists in Ann Arbor were killed by cars. Many more have likely been injured in minor accidents that go unreported. Local government needs to improve conditions for the growing number of cyclists on the road, but currently has no way of knowing where improvements to infrastructure are most needed. Though cyclists could easily provide that information, the current process is cumbersome and often fruitless.
HUB is concept for a paired mobile application and wearable device that connects cyclists with local government. My final design is a system that tracks cyclists' routes and allows users to tag pain points in order to generate a heat map of road usage over time. This data could help city officials place bicycle infrastructure where cyclists are already riding– and already feel safe– and encourage more users to ride safely. To facilitate data plotting while riding, I designed a pressure-sensing glove that drops a pin anytime a rider grips the handlebar tightly, mimicking the reflex response to danger of gripping the handlebars.
I conducted interviews and surveys of cyclists with varying degrees of experience in DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, and Austin. Out of 165 respondents, 85% already felt safe riding in the roads, but that poor road infrastructure was the leading cause of stress and accidents. 96% of respondents said that, if given an easy way to report unsafe conditions to local government with the goal of improving the roads for cyclists, they would do it. My findings revealed three key takeaways:
Cyclists tend to ride on the roads that feel the safest and most comfortable, regardless of whether infrastructure exists. Bicycle lanes and signage should therefore be placed where people are already riding, not where city planners deem it most convenient.
The buddy system helps make some cyclists feel more comfortable, but most cyclists find the idea of group commuting to be too restricting.
The vast majority of cyclists surveyed feel threatened by aggressive drivers, and want a way to make their voices heard.
I developed three distinct personas to help focus my brainstorming and ensure that my final outcome meets the needs of my target users. Because I hoped to reach both new and experienced cyclists, the two primary personas included a first-time cyclist and a seasoned bicycle commuter. I also created a negative persona of a weekend mountain-biker, as the system is intended primarily for users commuting on city streets.
Brainstorming & Storyboarding
My initial goal for this project was to help cyclists in Ann Arbor feel safer riding in the streets. To explore this idea, I sketched out a number of different impediments to riding a bike, including bicycle purchasing and repair issues, not knowing how to properly report accidents, and a lack of appropriate infrastructure. After getting feedback from peer critiques, I decided to focus my design on improving infrastructure.
Using my user research as a guide, I sketched out lo-fi wireframes depicting three different ways of solving the infrastructure problem, including a community board to link bicyclists, a crowd-sourced map, and a game-like social map. These wireframes allowed me to play around with how information might be best presented on the screen, and I tested each design approach with a peer group to determine which made the most sense in terms of work-flow and user experience.
Based on user feedback, I created a lo-fi paper prototype to test different ways of gathering information from users in real-time. The most daunting challenge was designing an interface that would make it easy to add data points while riding a bicycle, but that would discourage cyclists from endangering their lives by pulling their phones out while riding. I tested a number of options with users– including a button on the handlebars and a bicycle-mounted sensor that would monitor bumps in the road– and ultimately found that the best approach was a pressure-sensitive glove that would link to the app, allowing riders to drop data points on their map by simply squeezing their hand against the handlebars. This would mimic the body's natural response to potholes, close calls, and other dangerous situations while remaining intuitive enough to be performed consciously. You can view a video demo of the paper prototype here.
High Fidelity Prototype
Next, I created a high-fidelity digital prototype to further refine the app and perform additional user testing. You can view the working prototype here.
From the outset, I wanted users to understand that this app's primary purpose was to improve cycling infrastructure. I came up with the tagline, "Let's make biking better," as a call to action to motivate users and remind them of HUB's mission. To keep things simple, I opted for a 4-step process with breadcrumbing to show progress. Once users have successfully signed up, they are directed to a home screen with four clear options. (Click images to expand).
TRACKING RIDES AND ADDING DATA POINTS
The key to HUB's functionality is the pressure-sensing glove. When users choose "Begin Ride" from the home screen, they are directed to a page reminding them to turn on their glove and put their phone away until the ride is completed, squeezing the glove to drop pins along the way. As they ride, the app tracks their movement to generate a route. I created custom icons to allow users to tag data points on the map, incorporating color, imagery, and text for increased accessibility. User research suggested that people love systems like Strava that monitor their progress, so I chose to direct users to their profile page once all pins had been tagged so that they could view their stats or revisit previous rides. Each page has a fixed bottom navigation for ease of use.
INCENTIVIZING USE THROUGH COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
One major challenge with an app that asks users to compile data is incentivizing use. In addition to aggregating ride data over time for city officials, I created a public map with local weather and road conditions to help riders plan their route. Users can click on icons to see user-generated notes, such as icy bike lanes or new construction that may obstruct the bike lane. I also created an incentive system to connect cyclists with local businesses willing to offer small rewards for using the app. This has two main benefits:
Daily bicycle commuters are rewarded for going about their normal activities, so the only behavior change required is downloading the app and opening it before leaving the house. With one mile being equivalent to one point, it does not take long to earn benefits.
By riding to local businesses to collect rewards, cyclists include that business in their tracked ride, increasing traffic to that place and increasing the likelihood that city officials will improve bicycle infrastructure in that location through bicycle lanes or racks.
HUB EMPOWERS CYCLISTS TO IMPROVE THEIR CITY WHILE BUILDING COMMUNITY
HUB combines activism with commuting to bring people together while giving them an easy way to engage in improving local infrastructure. The system is intended to challenge the notion that roads belong exclusively to motorists and ensure that infrastructure adequately supports the different vehicles that use it. HUB aims to use data to show policymakers and city planners exactly where people are riding the most, and where the most urgent paint points are. On a more personal level, the system also builds community among cyclists by giving them a way to share information with one another and thereby promote safer rides. By reminding users to be conscious of things that might present potential hazards to others, HUB promotes an awareness that could potentially lead to better cycling behavior, or to increased community engagement as people realize the challenges that need to be addressed.