How Old Tires Will Save Cyclists

WeCLAIM aims to redefine how bike lane barriers are made and maintained.

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When most cyclists see old tires in the bike lane, it’s usually shredded debris requiring an evasive (and potentially unsafe) maneuver. But if Caressa Given and Arthur Talayko have their way, old tires will be the very thing that protects cyclists from cars.

Currently, most bike lanes have little more than a line of paint separating cyclists from cars. This requires a lot of trust to be placed in drivers—and, as one recent study confirmed, drivers really shouldn’t be trusted. In 18,500 observed occasions of cars passing bikes on roads, drivers passed cyclists about 1.25 feet closer in painted bike lanes compared to streets with no bike infrastructure at all. 

Paint doesn’t protect cyclists from drivers, but barriers do: protected bike lanes are seven more times effective than painted ones. But bike barriers aren’t high on the list of priorities for traffic engineers, and options have historically been limited to two basic designs: a bulky, expensive, and unslightly concrete wall, or a flimsy plastic pole that rarely stays upright after installation.

Enter the Build a Better Barrier Challenge, a throwdown announced in April 2020 by scooter-share service Spin and its parent company, Ford. By putting out a global call—and $1,750 prize purse—for a safe, inexpensive, durable, and visually appealing bike barrier design, Spin hoped to push protected bike lanes to the forefront of the traffic safety conversation.

The winner was the Milwaukee, Wisconsin team of Caressa Given and Arthur Talayko, who used repurposed vehicle tires to create three different designs: an oval-shaped planter, a rainbow-shaped bump, and a vertical post. The design package, called WeCLAIM, aims to redefine how bike lane barriers are made and maintained.

Bike Barrier
The vertical post design.

The rainbow-shaped bump design.

The oval-shaped planter design.

“We looked at the market of existing bike barriers and noticed most of them don’t engage communities barriers in the making process,” said Talayko. “Many of them use all new materials, not recycled. We set out to develop a concept that would allow communities to make barriers from used tires with common tools.”

Each barrier is made from easily-sourced material: one tire, a handful of bolts, and reflective tape for visibility. This was an intentional choice by the designers, as they didn’t want their design to generate excess waste. Americans throw away 290 million tires each year; an estimated 27 million of those end up in landfills. 

The low cost and easy maintenance of the barrier also allows communities to take ownership in building and maintaining protected bike lanes. “An important aspect missing from most road-related products is the sort of right to repair,” explained Talayko. “Currently, if there is a pothole on a street, communities have to rely on their municipalities to take care of it, which in some places can take far too long. Just like some Americans have taken it upon themselves to fix potholes themselves, our lane delineator concept would allow ordinary people to better maintain their bike lanes.”

Though part of their prize is a collaboration with an industrial design firm to roll out their design on a large scale, the do-it-yourself spirit of WeCLAIM lends itself well to an open-source model as well. Givens and Talayko hope to release a DIY template in the near future for bike safety advocates to implement in their communities. 

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