More on the “LightLane” Concept

Many of you have probably read about the “LightLane” concept dreamed up by the fertile minds at Altitude, Inc. of Somerville, Massachusetts. The concept has been covered on a wide variety of cycling and design blogs, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information included.


As a professional librarian, the quest for more information is near and dear to my heart, so I sent the designers, Evan Gant and Alex Tee, an email. Here’s what Evan had to say about the concept:

Thank you for showing interest in our LightLane concept. We are extremely excited about the response it has been receiving, which has spurred us to continue down the development path. The origin of the idea was purely conceptual, as Alex and I had entered a design competition to promote commuting by bicycle (editor’s note: the design competition was Bicycle Design’s excellent “Commuter Bike for the Masses” contest). Having witnessed several friends be hit by cars while in traffic, we felt the intimidation of sharing the road was one of the bigger barriers to commuting by bicycle.

However, we also noticed that our personal comfort on roads with bicycle lanes was much improved so we set out to understand what the differences were between these two situations. Clearly one of the biggest benefits of bicycle lanes is that there is an established common boundary that both drivers and riders respect and must stay within. However, this requires a great deal of resources and planning to implement, so we decided to focus on the fact that the bicycle lane establishes a safety buffer outside of the bicycle’s footprint.

After experimenting with physical ways of increasing the perceived size of the bicycle, we quickly realized all of these would compromise the rider’s safety by increasing the probability of accidental clipping. It was at this point that we decided to project a visual boundary onto the adjacent pavement using a laser. Although it doesn’t establish a clear and predictable path for a rider to follow, it does encourage a driver to provide the rider with a wider berth by capturing their attention in a different way.

Currently we are building a beta prototype where we will be experimenting with different laser colors and orientations. Once the optimal laser configuration has been established and validated, we will quickly develop a fully functional unit where we will focus our efforts on several aspects of usability including theft prevention, cleanability and corrosion resistance. Concurrently we will be looking for manufacturing and distribution partners.

It’s been truly remarkable to see the excitement that this concept has generated, especially considering it was just a fun quirky idea to begin with. What’s been equally interesting in my opinion is to see how the product has pushed the debate of who owns the roads. This well established debate has been a common point of discussion within my own family, and clearly the LightLane, nor any product, will solve it. Instead we hope that it connects with people in a new and fun way.

Thanks, Evan, for responding — there have been lots of great comments on the various sites that covered this concept, including different laser colors (green lasers for more daytime visibility) and even aiming the lasers into following motorists’ eyes (not such a good idea). Let’s hope this concept reaches a prototype soon, as the idea behind it is full of possibility!


  1. Foraker January 22, 2009 8:01 am 

    That raises an interesting interim possibility for further investigation, at least with respect to night-time driving. What about mounting a flashlight to shine down on the roadway to the left of the cyclist — would cars be more likely to give the cyclist more room when passing? Someone try it and report back!

  2. Bike Jax January 22, 2009 11:26 am 

    Hi Jack and thanks for taking the time to find out more about this. I have reserved any comments or even posting on Bike Jax I had until I had more information about the concept and product.

    I’m still torn on a thumbs up or down on this idea. Part of me likes it and would like to see it on the market.

    But then I have these scenarios that I play out in my head from a drivers point of view. I see the potential for drivers to be distracted by the laser imprinted bike lanes and not notice what else is going on around them. And for anyone that has been riding a bike more than a week, knows you tend to steer where you look. Which also holds true for drivers of motor vehicles and could potentially put riders at more risk than if they rode without the laser bike lane.

    I also wonder what will happen when a rider projecting the bike lane changes lanes? Will this confuse drivers on a dark road that are accustomed to bike lanes being on the right side of the roadway now pulling alongside of a cyclist and noticing that they are now on the left of a bike lane? Or how will drivers react when they see this projected bike lane suddenly move from right to left as a cyclist changes lanes to make a left hand turn?

  3. Ghost Rider January 22, 2009 11:35 am 

    Matt, that’s exactly why we hadn’t covered the concept until now…every other site just rehashed the press release in one form or another, so I figured that contacting the designer could get me some more goodies (like if there was actually a prototype or just a fancy Photoshopped picture).

    Luckily, the designer was VERY gracious and provided the above without any arm-twisting on my part!

    You raise some excellent points — as for the first, the same could be said of extremely bright or wildly flashing rear blinkies or other bike-lighting devices…the same phenomenon that causes motorists to crash into law enforcment vehicles with their lightbars on (appropriately termed “the moth effect”). In practice, though, this is a somewhat minor concern.

    As for the second point, you may really be onto something there…I think that in order for this concept to work in real life, it shouldn’t project too far behind (20 feet? 30?) the cyclist in order to minimize those kinds of confusions. Or perhaps some sort of handlebar-mounted switch that creates a turn signal or “lane shift” effect to let an overtaking motorist know more about what is going on?

    Let’s hope the designers glean some useful information out of these and the many other comments posted elsewhere and make a device like this happen!

  4. Gabriel January 22, 2009 6:10 pm 

    Thanks for chasing this one down, Jack! It pays to know a good librarian…

  5. Mike Myers January 22, 2009 6:35 pm 

    Nice tech, but nothing creates space for a cyclist like a physical object. I use a Flash Flag. This site has reviewed another side-mounted flag. And Jack has a three foot stake that says “Move the F— Over”. All of those are more useful than this laser bike lane thing. And a whole lot cheaper.

  6. Ghost Rider January 22, 2009 7:07 pm 

    Mike, the designers had given that aspect some consideration:
    “After experimenting with physical ways of increasing the perceived size of the bicycle, we quickly realized all of these would compromise the rider’s safety by increasing the probability of accidental clipping.”

    As a tester of the safety flag, I cannot tell you the number of times I clipped things with it. Hell, I broke my “move the f— over” yardstick on the second or third trip around town! And, towing a trailer, I miscalculated the wideness of it plenty of times and hit it against objects. What I’m saying is that “growing” the physical size or perception of the bike is not for the faint-hearted.

    A breakaway or bendable arm that has a light like a Flash Flag is certainly worth doing, but you’ve got to admit that there’s a certain elegance in projecting a virtual marker rather than a physical barrier!

    @Gabriel — thanks, man. I can’t rest until I’ve wrung the last drop of information out of an idea…and we sure didn’t want to rehash what the other 200 covering sites had to offer.

  7. Lock Master (Jeff) January 24, 2009 3:03 pm 

    What about “object fixation”? Drivers might be subconsciously ( or even consciously) drawn toward the bike. I wonder if they would make a version w/ a skull and crossbones?

  8. Henry January 25, 2009 12:50 am 

    I take issue with the premise that several of their friend were hit by the car and the conclusion that they must be hit from behind. Was that really true? According to studies quoted in John Forrester’s Effective Cyclist that only 9.5% of all car-bike collisions are from motorist overtaking cyclist. While I don’t doubt that this technology will help, but unsafe cycling behavior will not. I would encourage everyone to seek out good bicycle safety education class!

  9. Om cykelbanor « MiljöBloggAktuellt January 26, 2009 2:48 am 

    […] safety into their own hands, rather than leaving it to the city.” Bloggen Bike Commuters har haft kontakt med killarna som kommit på idén. Och visst, kommentarstrådarna innehåller en hel del kritiska […]

  10. Patent Baristas » Patent Law: Global Economic Slowdown Edition January 27, 2009 9:59 am 

    […] concerns, distance, and smelliness(?) were the key barriers.  Of course, you could always try creating your own bike lane.  (via World of Work) Posted January 27th, 2009 by Stephen Albainy-Jenei in IP Management, Legal […]

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