InTrans / Oct 17, 2016

‘Green’ transportation innovations: Solar bike paths

Go! Magazine

Starry nightposted on October 17, 2016

When you think about the different ways transportation will evolve in the future, is it industrial—with smog in the air and gas-fueled vehicles lining the streets—or more “green?”

We’ve covered a lot of innovative transportation so far: solar-powered boats, trains that can “run on the wind,” and even battery-powered airplanes. We can only hope to see more of these innovations in the future, and with inventions like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, there’s a lot to look forward to when it comes to the future of green transportation.

But what about on a smaller scale? How can more “everyday” contraptions—like cars and bicycles—be greener? How can they contribute more positively to the environment? First, let’s take a look at bikes and a couple of ways that bikes and bike paths have been designed to utilize and give back to Mother Nature.

Bioluminescent bike riding

First, we’re going to Poland to check out its brand new bioluminescent bike path.

This bike path, which glows bright blue at night, is illuminated by phosphor—a synthetic material that gets its energy from the sun. This self-sufficient bike path collects all the energy it needs during the day, allowing it to glow more than 10 hours at night.

Its main purpose is to improve safety conditions for bike riding in the dark, though it does more than just light the way. The phosphor used in the solar-charged lane makes cycling easier on cyclists’ eyes, joints, and “noggins,” thus further improving the safety of nighttime bike riding.

The path is roughly 6 feet wide, 330 feet long—just slightly longer than the average American football field—and cost about $31,000 to build. Although the technology is quite different, Poland’s bike path was inspired by the “Starry Night” bike path in the Netherlands.

Starry, starry night

When it comes to adopting innovative technology for transportation, the Netherlands seem to be setting the pace lately.

First, they blew us away with their wind-powered trains, which infiltrated into their Dutch railway system. Then, in a Dutch town called Eindhoven, there’s a solar-powered glowing bike path!

Starry Night bike path, Eindhoven, Netherlands
Starry Night bike path, Eindhoven, Netherlands. Photo from Vimeo.

Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde created the path to pay homage to the town’s most famous resident: Vincent van Gogh. This glowing bike path runs on solar-powered LED lights, which are meant to resemble van Gogh’s classic painting The Starry Night.

The path covers about half a mile and was opened in 2014 to mark the 125th anniversary of van Gogh’s death. The artist, who lived in Eindhoven in the 19th century, notably used the town as a backdrop for his paintings.

Starry Night bike path from above
Starry Night bike path from above. Photo courtesy of Studio Roosegaarde.

Ride the SolaRoad

But the Starry Night bike path isn’t the only way that the Dutch are setting a good example.

Roughly two years ago, the Netherlands opened up a high-tech bike path to its travelers dubbed “SolaRoad,” since one of its two lanes has solar panels!

Riding the SolaRoad, Netherlands
Riding the SolaRoad, Netherlands. Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Blueknight.

These solar panels can actually feed energy back into the national energy grid. In its first six months of operation, the path attracted more than 150,000 riders and generated more than enough energy to power a home in the Netherlands for a whole year!

After one year, researchers were able to say that SolaRoad was “everything green-minded people hoped it would be,” and engineers have said that riders hardly seem to notice a difference when riding the SolaRoad versus any other bike path.

Pick the right path

So, which bike path would you ride on?

Better yet, will more of these environment-friendly bike paths make their way into our towns, cities, countries, and continents? Will trying them out become a reality? It’s hard to say, because some countries rely less on bike travel than others. For example, in the United States, only one percent of trips are taken via bicycle.1

Additionally, things like SolaRoad are slow to be adopted because, firstly, they’re expensive. On top of that, there can be challenges to finding the right materials that can tolerate certain climates. Still, many people believe this is only the beginning.

And if you live in California, keep your eyes peeled!

This spring, the Netherlands and California agreed to collaborate on energy-efficient projects like electric car charging stations and zero emission public transit solutions. Then, California may even have their very own SolaRoad!

So for those of us in the U.S., we may see some Dutch influence in the coming years!

Related links

Poland’s bioluminescent bike path:

Starry Night bike path, Netherlands:


By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer

Go! Magazine Article Index