We believe that the bicycle is the future of urban mobility, and that having better bike parkings is a great way of promoting the bike culture in our cities. This project intends to push forward the discussion of what are good bike parkings, at the same time we collect data about the presence and evolution of this kind of structure in the cities of Brazil.
The collaborative aspect allows the active participation of citizens, fostering a positive reinforcement that encourages more people commute with their bikes. On top of that the reviews and our bike parking guide bring information about best practices in a friendly way that educates about safety and encourages better structures to be installed.
This has been a great project to put in practice so many tools and concepts I’ve been learning in the past years about web development, UX Design and Analytics. Working in bike de boa I’ve learned how important it is to go beyond aesthetics and Usability to create a great product. And, most of all, beyond just improving hard skills, this has been a project with a social purpose.
Everything started as a simple project at a local hackathon, held in Isobar IWS, the place where I worked at that time. The theme of that year was “improving people’s lives with technology”. A few friendly people joined me trying to make come true an old idea of creating this platform to map bike parkings. We felt in love with it and extended the project much further than those 24h.
The team also grew a lot, and we ended up creating an independent collective of people from diverse backgrounds that were interested in promoting the bicycle culture in Brazil with this project.
I wanted to contribute in some way to foster the local culture of urban biking. Analyzing the many problems people face when commuting with bicycles I identified a big one that I felt could be addressed in an efficient and innovative way using technology: where to park my bike safely?
Most cicling apps at that time seemed to focus too much either on cicling as a sport or in routing. But how can even the most advanced pathplanning algorithms help you if you happen to live in a city with few to no cyclable paths and traffic is chaotic and super dangerous? This is a cultural problem, and probably no app can fix that. Most of our western cities are “carcentric” by design, and drivers think they have the streets all to themselves and their noisy, air-polluting, stress-inducing machines.
Bike racks, as they call structures to park bicycles, are made to offer confort and safety to ciclists and even work as some kind of subliminar marketing for the daily ciclist. There is even research that say they can boost local economy by increasing customers and sales.
Many places already offered good structures to their clients to park their bikes, but people didn’t seem to know about them. Also there are big misconceptions on what it means to safely park a bike, so there was a big opportunity to reach people and educate them.
We back all our decisions with user interviews and extensive research for content on bike safety and urban guidelines from around the world. I started getting really active on online biking communities to reach all kinds of opinions. With that we designed a system that gives a voice for people to say how safe they feel at places and also educates them with good practices from experts.
The idea of mapping safe places to park wasn’t that new at all. We found out there were actually several collaborative maps throughout Brazil with this objective, which proved many others had also though it was a good idea. However as designers and developers we though we could drastically improve this by building a custom platform with our users needs in mind.
The main issues we found with the actual collaborative maps can be divided into 4 topics:
Building native apps, although they offer the best performance, are very cost-intensive. Using web technologies we found a way to have one single code base while offering a cross-platform and cross-device experience. An emerging technology called PWA caught our attention as a way to bridge the native app experience with the accessibility of the Web.
We use web technology because it’s the most democratic platform ever. We’ve been using modern tools and concepts like Progressive Web Apps to offer great experiences from low-end to high-end Mobile and Desktop devices while still being free of friction.
Since then dozens of people have passed by this project, contributing as they could. As part of a small group of contributors I was responsible for a little bit of everything. Most of the time however has been invested in the UX research and design and front-end development.
Using simple project management and communication tools such as Trello, GitHub and Slack proved to be essential to enable so many people to contribute asynchronously. Making this project Open Source was also a natural choice.
Education is an important part of this project. Concepts are explained in more details with contextualized tooltips.
We leveraged as much as possible the flexibility of Google Maps for customizing everything in the map, cutting out all information that wasn’t strictly necessary and fine-tuning colors to match the visual identiy.
Like our source code all the project data is also open, and we created a simple dashboard for users to easily browser, search and filter through data. Using our data for research or other applications is as easy as clicking the download button, which exports all our data in convenient file format such as CSV or XLS.
I also designed a simple dashboard on Google Data Studio, which is automatically synced with our Google Analytics and shows the most important data about any given month activity on the platform.
We made some effort to have a decent social media presence as well, both on Facebook and Instagram. Digital Marketing was not the expertise of any of us in the team, so there was a steep learning curve that I’m not sure we ever conquered.
Our hypothesis was that the main use of the app would be on Mobile, with the user in the streets either looking for a safe place to park or trying to map and review some place he/she found. This led us to use a mobile-first strategy, both for UX and Front-end development, making sure this was the main touchpoint we invested our energies.
It’s interesting to note however that his hypothesis was never totally validated through our Analytics data. Today the access is still well split between Desktop and Mobile, with the latter overpassing the first for just a little.
We’re very happy that all the work has had good results. We’ve managed to burst the bubble and expand to all the country, and the engagement numbers are quite good for a project with zero marketing budget.
We also were featured in many places: