Reimagining bicycle parking at UC Davis campus.
In order to understand user needs and potential design opportunities around bicycle parking on campus, I conducted about eleven interviews with friends, friends of friends and strangers on campus. A wide variety of issues ranging from wear and tear of bicycles during parking, to not having enough parking spots on campus, surfaced during these interviews. However, one of these issues resonated the most to me. It was about the problem of abandoned bikes taking up potential parking spots. I took an interest to this issue because I realised that most people did not perceive it as a problem because they accept it as a way of life and learn to live with it rather than trying to do something about it.
One interesting account from an interviewee
"There are too many abandoned bikes on the parking lots that take up spots"
Sandeep, my friend and a graduate student on campus brought up this issue of bikes being abandoned. Sandeep is a regular biker on campus. He is an organized person and one of his key traits is that he is super-observant by nature. This explains why abandoned bikes always caught his attention when he toiled hard to find a free spot, building up his frustration all the more. He spends most of his time around the gym, Kemper Hall and the Silo, which are always crowded on campus, for the most part. He almost always has a hard time finding a free spot and he explained how he has been continuously seeing the same abandoned bike taking up space in the parking lot for many academic quarters now.
After my round of interviews, I generated empathy maps to further understand the psychology and needs of my user. With respect to Sandeep’s interview excerpt, after much introspection, I realized how it makes sense that only regular bikers who routinely park their bikes at certain lots notice abandoned bikes because they are familiar with the space, the layout of the lot and will definitely know if a particular bike has been sitting in a particular spot at all times of the day throughout the quarter/ year. I also realized how frustrating and agonizing it must be, to see the abandoned bikes not being removed. A good metaphorical analogy to what Sandeep felt like, looking at abandoned bikes is like looking at food rotting in the refrigerator.
To the left is an empathy map that helped me narrow down on Sandeep’s emotions of feeling frustrated and helpless when he saw an abandoned bike taking up a spot that could have been his.
To understand the issue better, let’s imagine a scenario: Student A who owns a second hand bike suddenly decides to stop using the bike because he gets comfortable using the bus service on campus. He doesn’t have any value attachment to his bike because it is second-hand and didn’t cost him ‘much’. Therefore, he decides to just leave it locked in a certain parking spot and forgets about it.
There are many such students on campus who abandon their bikes due to various reasons and do not care enough to relocate it because they have their own problems and stress to deal with. Transportation And Parking Services UC Davis (TAPS) does a great job trying to impound these bikes but they have not been successful in efficiently removing every last abandoned bike on campus. A phone call with them helped understand their problem better. TAPS has a small team of bike coordinators that inspect parking lots for abandoned bikes. They post warning notes on these bikes because they want to give students an opportunity to take their bikes back if they wanted to.
The problem, however, is that TAPS cant help but feel unsure as to whether the bikes may actually be in use. This is so because it is not physically possible for them to observe a certain parking lot every single day to make sure a bike is ‘truly abandoned’. Also, TAPS is unable to keep up with the increasing number of bike users and cases of abandoned bikes on campus, which is understandable.
This results in inefficiency and a large number of abandoned bikes are left unmoved only to the frustration of regular bikers like Sandeep. This, in turn results in a feeling of helplessness and loss of trust in the system, for students like Sandeep. I’d like to point out that there are two kinds of feelings here namely, frustration and helplessness. My initial prototype was aimed at addressing the frustration but it later on, evolved to address the feeling of helplessness, which I feel is more appropriate and effective.
My starting point for ideation was based on how might we make the experience of seeing an abandoned bike, less frustrating for Sandeep?
Through a series of mind-mapping techniques, I figured that the best way to approach this problem was to give utility to the abandoned bikes thereby, giving it a new purpose other than just being a frustration-inducing piece of metal waiting to rust and decompose in the parking lot. At the same time, I wanted to call people’s attention to the problem of abandoned bikes. It is because, right now, only a few regular bikers like Sandeep are observant enough to notice this. I felt that getting many people to realize the intensity of this problem might create a movement thereby; urging people to take an action towards removing abandoned bikes, while in collaboration with TAPS in someway.
Not everyone notices abandoned bikes. Even if they do, they lack the motivation to do anything about it. Let's take a look at one parking lot. 4 out of 20 bikes in this parking lot were found to be abandoned.
Let's zoom out and take a look at multiple parking lots. Imagine all those free spots made available once abandoned bikes are cleared.
Let's zoom out more and take a look at the entire campus.
I wanted to make a statement about these abandoned bikes by creating visual interest around some of them, in order to gain people’s attention to this problem.
I intended to do this through flagging these bikes as ‘abandoned’.
Imagine seeing a bunch of flagged abandoned bikes in a parking lot. It would definitely help people visualise how many potential parking spots are being taken up by abandoned bikes.
Therefore, I came up with the idea of attaching makeshift desk-like units to abandoned bikes.
1) To call attention 2) Makeshift desk for a quick scribble or to temporarily hold books and coffee.
prototyping, testing and feedback
My initial prototype was a makeshift desk that can be attached to an abandoned bike. The desk had the words ‘no longer a bike-in-use but a desk-for-your-use’ written on it. By doing so, the idea was to attract people’s attention to the abandoned bike in a witty manner while at the same time, allowing them to interact with and use the abandoned bike in a different way: in this case, as a makeshift desk for a quick scribble. I figured this idea of repurposing might also reduce the frustration for users like Sandeep because it is at least putting the bikes to use in some way.
I made three prototypes and attached them to abandoned bikes on three different locations on campus namely, Silo, CoHo and Cruess Hall.
My first round of user testing confimed some of my hypothesis while it also proved contradictory to some other hypothesis. From the tests, I realized that it caught every passerby’s attention. Some people mentioned that they didn’t even know abandoned bikes existed on campus, until then. Most people thought it was ‘a weird but a cool idea’. Some people expressed how they might actually not use a desk in the parking lot.
Taking a look at the positive outcomes of the prototype testing, I realized an important point: that the abandoned bike with the attachment caught everyone’s attention. Therefore, I wanted to channel this important insight towards improving the prototype. How about using this quick moment of attention to encourage people to drop a text message to TAPS with the exact location and bike type so it would populate a database for TAPS to refer to? That’s when I came up with the idea of typing a bold message on the desk saying, ‘This spot could have been yours. If you see another abandoned bike text <location><bike type> to 1-800-TAPS.
Another phone call with TAPS confirmed that this system would benefit them a lot as it would definitely be easier for them to collaborate with students towards an efficient removal of abandoned bikes.
So, how does it all relate to Sandeep, the frustrated regular bike user?
Though my process started out wide and abstract, I feel like I have converged to the point of addressing Sandeep’s need of feeling both frustrated and helpless. This system of reporting abandoned bikes that I just proposed gives the opportunity to
Sandeep for directly reporting to TAPS with just a single text message. It is way easier than going out of the way for visiting the TAPS office to inform them. This act of reporting would give him a feeling of content in taking that one step of action and removes the feeling of helplessness. It also promotes a healthy collaboration between TAPS and regular bike users (like Sandeep) and is a win-win situation where TAPS gets a heads up about abandoned bikes and regular bikers get the assurance that the abandoned bike will be removed because they just reported it.
This solution comes with the added advantage of letting everyone know about the problem of abandoned bikes now that the prototype would catch everyone’s attention as opposed to just the few observant bike users like Sandeep. On the whole, the more the people willing to report abandoned bikes, the more efficient the process of removing them!