If you’re interested in travel, sustainability, and getting a killer workout-- solar bike paths are the newest way to cycle in style. There aren’t many around right now, but some cyclist-friendly communities around the world are pushing to creatively implement solar technology into their commuter infrastructure.
Here’s a dazzling highlight of the world’s first five solar bike paths!
The Netherlands has been a frontrunner in the creation of solar bike paths, which is not surprising because cycling is very popular in the Netherlands and they have invested in an impressive bike infrastructure. The country is just over 16,000 square miles but holds over 22,000 miles of bike path, according to SunWorksUSA.
The Netherlands opened its 250-foot-long SolaRoad solar bike path to riders in 2015. It runs through the town of Krommenie in North Holland. One of the path’s two lanes is covered with mass-produced solar panels, which are in turn covered with a variety of protective materials including concrete, glass and silicon rubber. Unfortunately, though the path materials were thoroughly tested, after being open a month, a section of the top layer broke off and had to be repaired. Resistance to wear and weather are ongoing concerns that bring the use of these solar panel materials for heavier-vehicle roads into question.
The path is now fully operational and in the midst of a three-year trial. Over 150,000 cyclists have used the path. Cyclists seem happy with its performance, Triple Pundit reported.
Because these solar panels don’t rotate with the sun, they produce less energy than typical roof panels. But, the path’s power generation was celebrated when after six months, it produced enough power to run a home for a year, or about 3,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Critics of the project are unimpressed, noting that for the $3.7 million spent on this path, the Netherlands could have bought 520,000 kW of solar energy and powered 173 homes.
Starry Night Bike Lane, Netherlands
The Netherlands also opened a “Starry Night” solar bike lane in 2015, which glows for night cycling. This path was built by artist Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure in the city of Nuenen where Van Gogh once lived. On the 0.6-mile-long path, 50,000 solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark stones luminesce softly to recreate Van Gogh’s trademark spiral imagery.
"You have people who are interested in technology to make landscapes which are energy neutral," the artist told NPR, when discussing the allure of this path. "You have people interested in cultural history and experiencing it in a contemporary way. You have boys and girls who have a first date and want to take their date to a special place."
While these pioneering projects in the Netherlands are still in the early stages of development, they instill hope for the future uses of solar beneath our feet and wheels. They are also cited as an inspiration for Polish and American solar bike lanes mentioned below.
Lidzbark Warminski Solar Bike Path, Poland
In the fall of 2016, glowing solar bike paths opened in Poland and the U.S. Poland, which is known to be very bike-friendly, now runs a solar bike path through its Mazury region. The 328-foot path was built by TPA Instytut Badan Technicznych (TPA). This path uses blue luminophores, luminescent particles, to absorb sunlight during the day and to glow at night for up to 10 hours, Next Nature Network reported. This solar bike lane is more expensive than a conventional one, so TPA is working to reduce the cost of production.
“The color blue was chosen for the path because the engineers thought it would best suit the scenic Mazury landscape,” according to EcoWatch. The path takes cyclists through the beautiful northern region of Kraina Tysiąca Jezior or, "land of a thousand lakes."
Texas A&M Green Bike Lanes, U.S.A.
A similar glowing path that caters to bikers can now be found at Texas A&M University at the notoriously busy Bizzell and Ross intersection. The lane is bright green and hidden in the paint is luminescent material that glows at night, increasing night cycling safety on campus.
As well as integrating a path that glows at night, this intersection emulates the Dutch style because it does not use lights. Co.Exist reports that this is the first intersection of its kind in the U.S. Cyclists are protected by a curb surrounding the bike lane as well as islands placed at the corner of each intersection. Cars stop further back than usual in a U.S. Intersection in order to allow for better visibility of cyclists and pedestrians. Clear green markings exist to lead bikes through the intersection. Previously, “there was a lot of conflict and interaction at that point," which was very busy when classes were changing, Robert Brydia, senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, told Co.Exist.
Texas A&M is the first university to receive Federal Highway Administration approval for the use of this special solar paint. The school is now in the process of studying the path and surveying public opinion as a means of deciding whether or not to use it elsewhere on school grounds.
Biking, in general, is much less common in the U.S.—the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “only 1 percent of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle.” The same report states that bike safety is a serious concern in the U.S. and Triple Pundit explains “that there is often confusion about bike laws” here. Also, bike lanes seem sparse in the U.S. when compared to a country like the Netherlands; SunWorksUSA shares that the U.S. has less than 50,000 miles of cycling paths in its 3.8 million square miles.
Daejeon-Sejong Bike Highway, Korea
Another incredible solar bike path to consider is the 20-mile Korean solar bike path, instituted in 2015. This path, which travels between the cities of Daejeon to Sejong, is situated in the middle (median) of a six-lane highway. The path is intended to be used for functional commutes between the urban areas. Daejeon is South Korea's fifth-largest metropolis and Sejong is a smaller city that is home to the base of the South Korean government. The energy produced by the solar path contributes to powering the highway’s lights and electric car chargers.
Tech Times explained that cyclists can access this path through underground thruways. While the path is protected by barriers, factors such as the danger of collision and inhalation of fumes have both been raised as concerns. Like in the U.S., bike-use is not a daily choice for most Koreans. The Korean Herald reported that while “seven in 10 Koreans own a bicycle and more half of the population cycled at least once a month,” only 25 percent of Koreans use bikes for non-recreational trips such as work commutes or running errands. So, it is yet to be seen if this path designed for commuters will have a long-term appeal.
The last few years have also seen the introduction of other creative and useful applications of solar technology, like solar powered bikes and solar glitter. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy shared that the solar energy industry created more jobs than nuclear, oil, gas and coal combined. Even with some predictable “bumps in the road” and the persistent need to lower costs, which is typical with emerging technologies, it’s clear that solar energy is alive, well and continuously evolving.