Statistics show that chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are somewhere in a city – maybe you are sitting in traffic on the 110, waiting for the T, or sipping a cold iced coffee at Starbucks, trying to stay cool in this ridiculous Los Angeles heat wave. In 2008, half the world lived in an urban environment. By 2050, it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities and that urban growth will occur most in less developed countries. It seems inevitable that cities will continue to grow, both geographically and in population. But how will they change structurally and idealistically? Designers, entrepreneurs, and passionate environmentalists are already paving the way to think creatively about approaches to reorganize, rethink, and restructure our city landscapes. This blog will aim to think critically about the reasons, implications, needs, and challenges of such innovative, and often odd, inventions.
To begin – I give you the Fliz. The Fliz is a German engineered “bike” modeled after the original ‘hobby horse’ or rocking horse. Named after the German word ‘to dash’ (“flitzen”), this unique form of transportation makes the rider and bike one. Without pedals or a seat, the rider hangs suspended in a harness from the top of the bike frame and uses legs to propel forward and gain momentum. When going down hills or by gaining enough speed, the rider can rest his legs on the back wheel and cruise down narrow streets.
The two inventors, Tom Hombrock and Juri Spetter, explain that their goal was to create a more environmentally friendly transport for crowded urban settings. Although not more environmentally friendly than a normal bicycle, their hope is that this re-modeling of an old machine will get people excited about commuting differently. The Fliz has gained notoriety as a finalist for the James Dyson Award, which encourages design engineers to create innovative solutions to challenging problems.
The problem the Fliz would solve is overcrowding in cities, as well as air pollution. While the Fliz may work well in more compact cities such as Berlin, Boston or Chicago, Los Angeles is an anomaly because of its sheer size. Although not practical in all urban environments, I think this concept is a step in the right direction. How can we make clean urban transportation (or any urban invention for that matter) fun, cool, and popular? How can we make it catch on? An eye-catching design and enjoyment are two steps in this direction.
While I can’t seem to get the image out of my mind of Fliz riders colliding and flipped over like beetles, I think the Fliz would be more successful if it supported a system like the Velib’ in Paris (a portmanteau word of vélo – bicycle and liberté – freedom). Currently, over 20,000 bikes are shared and used throughout Paris; riders sign up with their credit card for a low fee and are able to take a bike from one bike rake to another Velib’ station in any of the 20 arrondissements.
Ultimate verdict: Interesting but not so practical. While I would love to see more Fliz’s on the streets around USC simply for entertainment, I can’t imagine the Fliz expanding on a large scale. However, I do appreciate its innovativeness and appeal to the kid in all of us who just want to go fast down big hills.
I leave you with a riddle: what is green, the size of a car, and costs $.25 an hour? Find out next week!
By: Megan Rilkoff