City planners and design professionals have long known that the way in which physical space is constructed affects human behaviour. Walkways, doorways and lighting direct people for strategic reasons, colours and textures impact our sensory experiences and the size and flow of space affects our social interaction.

Physical space is also important in designing transportation infrastructure where entry and exit points direct the flow of traffic, ticketing affects efficiency and roadways shape the speed and orientation of traffic.

As one architect puts it, “Designers often aspire to do more than simply create buildings that are new, functional and attractive—they promise that a new environment will change behaviours and attitudes.”

Consumers consider these aspects when they decide how to travel in a process known as translation, in which they consider personal benefits and costs of a product. In this case, people may ask themselves, ‘I know a new bus line is available, but will it save me money or time?’ or ‘I can ride my bike, but will it be safe?’  The process is complex, and occurs over time and through repeated interactions.

In order to put design to good use in changing attitudes and behaviors, the city of Bogotá immersed itself in the lives of its residents and created solutions to tackle the heavy congestion and lack of safety that were common on the city’s streets. They used the economics of nudge, paired with design principles, to increase public use of bicycles and buses.

The city constructed a network of bike and bus routes that connect the city with a set of pathways that run along major thoroughfares with supplementary services that connect the peripheries and less densely populated areas. The project consisted of the Bogotá bike path network, known as Cicloruta and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, known as TransMilenio.

What made these two infrastructure projects different is the way in which they operated in tandem—a design that integrates public transportation across the city and provides greater choice for its residents. TransMilenio incorporates several Cicloruta routes along its lines, and the Cicloruta also works as a feeder system to the bus system, with guarded bike parking facilities installed at some bus stations.

It is estimated that for every 25 people who ride bikes to a bus terminal, one less ‘feeder bus’ is needed to run through neighbourhoods. Riding the feeder buses is also free – another reason the city is eager to encourage bicycling with bike parking facilities. The ‘one system’ model encourages people to bike, when possible, and to transfer within the system – decreasing the attraction of motorized vehicles that are not guaranteed parking facilities and reducing the time it takes to move within the public transport system.

Another central design component was the designation of physical space for both bike and bus lanes. Bicycle paths were constructed with dedicated space next to streets or pedestrian paths, and the bus system received dedicated space on the roads. These improvements reduced travel times by 32%.

Passengers also board buses via elevated platforms and pay fares at ticket machines before boarding, reducing traffic hazards and safety issues associated with boarding on the street and decreasing boarding times that can become protracted when passengers pay as they board.  These two issues – time and safety – are common reasons to avoid public transport, but by redirecting the flow of people with designated lanes, ticketing machines and raised platforms, the design of the system acknowledged the process of translation that people undertake and actually nudged people towards greater efficiency and security.

Similarly positive results were achieved when other cities implemented similar programs. Ciclovia has inspired 67 documented initiatives in North America. Mexico City and Istanbul implemented BRT lines. In Mexico City, car accidents on streets in which buses operate have been reduced by up to 80%, and approximately 2,000 days of lost work due to illness resulting from air pollution have been prevented. Like Mexico City, the streets in which Istanbul’s BRT operate have seen accidents fall by 30% to 40%, and from just the first phase of implementation car traffic has decreased, helping remove 600 tons of carbon emissions.

Cicloruta was supplemented with the Ciclovia program, a special event held every Sunday and on holidays in designated parts of the city, where some city streets are closed to car traffic, allowing residents to walk, bike and skate through the area without the risk of cars. The Ciclovia program is popular and has been nicknamed “the beach” of Bogotá , with 600,000 to 1,400,000  people attending. The event further assimilates a culture of non-motorized transportation and use of open space.

As a social program, Ciclovia represents the reality that an individual’s interactions with friends, families and coworkers affect the way he/she makes decisions.  Transforming streets previously used by cars into a public space for gathering, where people want ‘to see and be seen,’ Ciclovia also makes bicycling a social good.

The Cicloruta and TransMilenio projects empowered citizens with greater mobility and less expensive transportation options. Their popularity in Bogotá demonstrates something very powerful for the field of behaviour change: the importance of design. The incentives for use were built into the product as the ease of access, efficiency of use and free transfers made TransMilenio and Cicolrutas superior options for residents. The raised platforms, bike parking facilities, and designated lanes increased the safety of taking buses or riding bikes and enabled residents to choose the travel option that suited them best.  This eliminated many of the pitfalls and excuses that people often give for not taking public transport.  The social aspects of Ciclovia reinforced the adoption of non-motorized transportation through social integration. The product itself inspired the desired behaviour change.

Published in collaboration with The World Bank Blog.

Author: Roxanne Bauer is a consultant to the World Bank’s External and Corporate Relations, Operational Communications department (ECROC).

Image: People ride their bicycles during “No Car Day” in Bogota, February 7, 2013. REUTERS/John Vizcaino.