Bicycle fatalities make up 6.5 percent of the total number of road-related deaths in the European Union, but one Polish town is hoping that new technology can drastically bring down that rate in the next decade and keep nighttime cyclists safer.
In Olsztyn, a city with a population and area roughly the size of Rochester, a local company is building a bike path made of luminescent particles along the river. The particles collect energy from the sun, which they then use at night to light up the bright blue bike path. The particles consist of phosphor, a chemical substance that’s traditionally used in plasma displays (like your phone) and cathode ray tubes. Because of the particles’ sustained emissions, just a few hours of sunlight can charge the path for up to 10 hours, which means cyclists and pedestrians can be seen more easily without having to rely on personal lights and reflectors. In the United States, the CDC recommends that cyclists wear reflective clothing and have a light — especially at night.
While protected bike lanes might seem like a more practical solution in highly trafficked, better lit areas, a glow-in-the-dark lane could have a huge impact on safety in more isolated, rural areas. A widened bike lane might fix congestion in urban areas, but bike lane size isn’t going to help cyclists whose primary concern is visibility after dark.
“We hope that the glowing bicycle path will help prevent bicycle and pedestrian accidents at night,” Igor Ruttmar of Instytut Badan Technicznych, the company building the path, told ABC News. “It’s a problem here in Poland, especially in the areas farther from the cities that are darker and more invisible in the night.”
The path in Olsztyn drew inspiration from a “Smart Highway” outside of Nuenen in the Netherlands, which uses LED lights to create a pattern like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on the path. Unlike the Olsztyn path, the LED path isn’t self-sustaining.
Right now, Olsztyn’s path is only about 328 feet long, but Ruttman says his company would like to build more after testing the existing surface.