Jul 14, 2016

Peddling innovation



Milos Prokic

The Municipality of Amsterdam design-thinks urban mobility in a city where bikes rule

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It’s not exactly a war zone, but not far from it,” said Willem van Heijningen, a railway officer responsible for bicycle parking in the area surrounding Amsterdam Central Station.

He pointed to a pair of bicycles chained to a nearby lamppost, and several more, attached to a bench. Municipal workers would have to hacksaw them free, he said. But that’s only another drop in the bucket — every year, more than 70,000 illegally parked bikes are removed from the streets of Amsterdam, at a taxpayer cost of approximately €5 million.

It would seem, then, that the city is overrun. There are more than 881,000 bicycles in Amsterdam — nearly 100,000 more than people. But such ubiquity is also indicative of the bicycle’s importance: 63 percent of Amsterdam residents use a bicycle every day, according to the city’s “Long-term Bicycle Plan” for 2012–2016. And that reliance is only increasing. The number of bicycle trips has increased 40 percent in the last 20 years, and experts estimate 32 percent of all trips in the city are made by bike, compared to 22 percent by car.

A public servant from the Municipality of Amsterdam posts an Insight from the field captured during the ‘Wild Safari’ mission, which occurs in the Sensing phase of the innovation process.

A public servant from the Municipality of Amsterdam posts an Insight from the field captured during the ‘Wild Safari’ mission, which occurs in the Sensing phase of the innovation process.

“The problem,” according to the report, “is not the huge number of cyclists — after all this should be regarded as a victory for the city — but the shortage of a good cycling infrastructure.”

In addition to issues concerning bicycle paths being too narrow — and the subsequent safety issues that ride along with them — the report cites a lack of parking around Central Station as a pressing and potentially dire situation.

“If we do not intervene, the way bicycles are parked will cause serious accessibility problems,” the report reads.

Seeking a practical solution in line with the vision and image of Amsterdam as a world leader in urban innovation, the Municipality of Amsterdam partnered with Next to launch the Amsterdam Bike Innovation Lab.

“We wanted to go beyond the idea of just adding more parking spaces,” said Iris van der Horst, senior program manager for infrastructure, traffic, and mobility at the Municipality of Amsterdam, who was tasked with implementing the city’s multiyear bike plan.

Using Next’s software, which ushers teams through the innovation process, from a project’s initial insights to a fully fledged venture, municipality workers began cultivating potential solutions to the problem using the best practices of design thinking. Next’s in-app dashboards, featuring a variety of Canvases, missions, and data-rooted analytics, gave teams and the city executives managing them real-time access to a step-by-step guide through the innovation process.

Prototypes produced by project teams during the Amsterdam Bike Innovation Lab.

“One can keep talking and meeting about innovation, or one can decide to start doing it”, says Luuk Appelman, policy advisor for urban planning at the Municipality of Amsterdam and a Bike Lab participant.

New bike parking signage conceptualized during the Amsterdam Bike Lab, now being rolled out at scale across the city.

One outcome of the Bike Lab was the rethinking of signage, which is often placed high, away from pedestrians’ line of sight, and thus potentially going unnoticed. Chasing this observation, one Bike Lab team developed a concept to provide ground-level visual feedback outlining approved bike parking areas, similar to the way streets are marked for vehicle parking. Successful prototypes led the way to massive scaling of the approach, which is now visible and utilized in public areas in Amsterdam. Effective, clever, and relatively low-cost, the signage strategy saves the Municipality millions of euros per year in bicycle removal costs — and eliminates pedestrian frustration at potentially having bicycles removed due to unnoticed signage.

“Amsterdam is on the cutting edge of innovation, in addition to mobility rethinking public health, citizen services, business ecosystem, and tourism infrastructure” said Moodi Mahmoudi, Collaborne CEO. “We’re delighted to be contributing to Municipality of Amsterdam’s vision to innovate a smarter, happier, healthier, and safer city for everyone.”

Contributing editor: Adam Kohut