The city of Wiesbaden was proclaimed the least bike friendly city in all of Germany by the country's cyclist club. In response, the Wiesbaden-based creative agency Scholz & Volkmer—along with artists Manfred Kraft and Tom Kresin—created a drawing robot called Radwende that would trace the paths of bike riders, creating a map of a more bike-friendly city.
"It's a beautiful and rich city, with lot's of large SUVs and luxury cars, but riding a bike is only for the fearless, there is no culture of respect to cyclists," explains Scholz & Volkmer CEO Michael Volkmer. "The machine and art piece is a new way to promote biking locally."
The robot is hanging inside Wiesbaden’s Museum of Fine Art at this very moment. Each day, it draws a new portrait by tracking one bike rider in the city through a connected iPhone app. The app can track everyone who'd like to use it in real time. But the robot traces the path of just one person, drawing his or her journey down the city streets, with lines growing thicker and thicker where people ride the most. The robot may be making art, but it also creates a very clear diagram of just where in the city bike lanes are most necessary.
"The nice thing is, every drawing looks different and has small stories to tell," Volkmer explains. "People actually find their own specific tour within the layers of lines."
These prints are for sale. They start at 150 euros, and with each kilometer the related biking app measures—by anyone and everyone who’d like to use the app that day—the print gets 1 euro cheaper. It’s an incentivizing system to get people on bikes. (Scholz & Volkmer has used a version of this biking app on its own employees, and those who bike to work 77 times a year, rather than driving a car, get a free day off.)
The art project is a fascinating mix of environmentalism, activism, capitalism, and good old urban planning. It also prompts the question: How much could big cities learn about their citizens if they enabled opt-in GPS tracking, allowing citizens to share their daily commutes and recreational trips?
Of course, there’s probably an even more efficient way to learn where bike lanes are needed the most: Mapping where bikers get hit most often by cars.
* This article has been updated with the proper company credit.