Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2018


folded Tern bicycle

There’s much change happening about transportation. In urban areas, the technology which has fueled the hockey-stick like acquisition of smartphones, has upended ride-hailing, personal, and public transportation options. In the macro-industry view, advances in automation are challenging everything from where autos are sold, to the repetitive tasks (and resulting health concerns) of those who put those autos together. More than simply responding to oil versus electric, there’s just a shift happening in and around transportation which could be looked at as part of the same shift which started with steam, bicycles, and industry in the late 1800s.

Help me get there

Mobility can be looked at in such a simple phrase. “Get there” could be as simple as “get my presence there” (which describes the advances in radio/telephone which birthed movies, TV, and the Internet). It could be as expansive as putting someone to work, at the best rate for both the employer and employee — and as detailed as when the employee chooses one transit option, the employer gains or loses the flexibility for them to get to another place economically. Mobility is termed a noun, but it it’s really more transitional. It describes a transaction of time and space, enacted personally and impersonally.

To take from the start of one part of this shift: bicycles. Bicycles still rank as probably one of the most ingenious of humanity’s inventions. Such a simple set of simple machines comes together to enable an economy of movement of which it seems no other land or air animal can match (sorry, the sea is a different category). The bicycle spurred the development of rubber in various directions (tire, road compound, sealant, clothing, etc.). It enabled women and other social groups to travel-and-create their own spaces away from the dominant voices of their times; while also speaking to the inability or extra-ability of groups of people to transform sections of their cities. One could argue, the bicycle is the social movement we’ve not yet shifted down from. In its expression of mobility, the bicycle transposed time and space for the individual, and for the environments which allowed those trails to be taken.

What’s most clear about mobility as we go forward within this century, is that mobility will be empowered, or curtailed, through environmental, political, and cultural factors. Social mobility for some groups will be like a bicycle which has gained gears. For others, the gears they have gained now need to become internalized, become less resistant to external elements, and maybe even use a different chain in order to continue moving. Environmental mobility will ask that we look not just at where we want to travel, but what we might be leaving behind as some groups become consumers before they are asked to think about the wastefulness and efficiencies of what they consume. Sharper attention will be paid to cultural mobility — some groups deserve the agency to get onto their own bicycles, and not be limited by those who have been riding nearly-unimpeded for ages.

In a sense, “help us get there” is less a motto, and more the oil in the chains. Where we travel next might need a bit more tuning to the chain than what we’ve been doing to date.

Image: Tern Verge D9, taken at Contee Bikes DC