Rethinking the Design Vehicle

The new “design vehicle” bicycle planners are using is a 60-year-old woman on a shopping trip.  The thinking behind this is if you design a road that is attractive and safe enough for a woman on a shopping trip, most anyone will feel comfortable using it.  In this way all those slightly more timid people who ride bikes but don’t consider themselves “cyclists” will use their bikes to get around because it is convenient, comfortable and fun.

Needless to say, even many hard-core “cyclists”  left the bikes at home the last couple days because of the winds and the rain.  I did ride both days, and it was super fun, but definitely more of an adventure ride than a normal commute.  Before I started feeling too tough and proud of myself, I saw this woman riding to the bank on Water Street.  Note that she is heading directly into the wind in this shot.  It may be that we bicycle planners need to rethink the new design vehicle.  Perhaps 60-year-old women on shopping trips are a lot more ‘core than we have stereotyped.

You go girl!


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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8 Responses to Rethinking the Design Vehicle

  1. Lance says:

    While she may look like she’s working at it, she also looks happy.

    People drive because that’s what commercials tell them to do, and that’s what “everyone else” is doing. I think what we need is more emphasis on the “feel good” factor of riding and walking, and the “misery” factor of driving.

    Cars and car ads could carry warning labels: “Driving an automobile has been associated with strong feelings of anger, isolation, and helplessness. Physical side effects may include, but are not limited to, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and muscular atrophy.”

    Fact: riding a bike is healthy.
    Fact: driving a car is unhealthy.

  2. TosaGroupie says:

    Awesome post. I have a new hero! May I be her when I grow up….oh, wait, I’m almost there….

  3. d'Andre says:


    ps…..”elderly”? ahem. 60 is the new 40. let’s go with “mature”, or maybe “older” 😉

    • daveschlabowske says:


      I struggled with that “elderly” term. I think it is best to avoid it if possible. But I will try using mature and older and see what sticks with the least negative feedback.

  4. Terry says:

    As a nearing-the-age-of-60 avid biker, let’s loose the words elderly and timid. I regularly don a lime green vest, stuff the scraggly grey hair into a helmet, get on my big-girl bike and GO.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Sorry if I have offended anyone here. FYI, I am within sight of 60 myself. Perhaps it is good to vet these planning concepts with the public. The point is that there are many people who are too timid (cautious if you prefer) to ride in heavy traffic unless they have more attractive, protected places to ride. So we as bike planners need to design facilities for users who want more than just a painted bike lane. The goal is to provide facilities attractive for everyone from eight to eighty and beyond. This has been a recent paradigm shift in traffic engineering/planning. Perhaps we need to re-phrase our design vehicle so as not to offend the assertive at different age levels. Or perhaps planning with the 10-year-old child as the design vehicle is enough.

      • d'Andre says:

        Well, at least there are likely fewer 10 y.o. readers of your blog who will give you prickly responses! I’m teasing you a little, since nobody wants to think they’re thisclose to elderly. But I see the point of the Design Vehicle definition. It’s funny how over and over one gets the “wow, that’s impressive” remark just for the simple act of using a bike to pick up groceries or get around town. It’s clear that for most people it’s a looong jump to finding it “normal” to get on a bike. So the “60 yo woman” test probably is as good as any other to express the idea that we have to go to the extremes of perceived safety, comfort and convenience in order to entice more of the 97% of Milwaukeeans who don’t transpo bike that it’s not “impressive” it’s normal. And way more fun.

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