POLAND

Poland lights the way with a solar-powered cycle path

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There are lakes and islands and castles to see in Masuria, an area in north-eastern Poland, close to the Russian border. But all these gorgeous sights aren’t why tourists are checking out a cycle path there. People are actually going to stare at the path itself: that’s because the tarmac glows, thanks to solar-power technology.

The path was opened to users this September 26 and photos of its snaking, blue shape quickly went viral.

Since then, tourists, many of whom saw the pictures on social media, have been arriving in the small town of Lidzbark Warminski, Poland to check out its newest attraction.

But the project that started out with solely an aesthetic aim is also responding to safety needs and inspiring others to think about implementing it in other, useful ways.

Bikers test out the new path (Photo by TPA)

“I had a crazy thought: we could make the road shine, like stars glowing in the night”

Igor Ruttmar is the CEO for Poland at TPA, a centre specialised in tarmac, concrete, earthworks and geotechnical engineering within the construction group STRABAG SE. He worked on designing the cycle path.

A year ago, I happened to meet local transportation officials [Editor's note: Waldemar Krolikowski in Olsztyn and his deputy for road management, Ewa Wojciechowska] from the Warmian-Masurian region at a congress. This region is popular with tourists for its lakes, small hills and beautiful nature. We started talking about how nice it would be if the roads there were prettier. Our first thought was to make the tarmac blue to match the lakes. Then, I had another, crazy thought. I actually said, “We could make the road shine, like stars glowing in the night.”

At first, the director thought it was just science fiction. But I told him we could actually do it. Later, once we had the green light on the project, we started work in a lab. We had to make sure that the path would have enough power to glow all night.

The path uses chemicals called luminophores that absorb sunlight. They can then glow for up to 10 hours.

CEO Ruttmar is a keen runner. He snapped this photo of himself by the new bike path, which also includes a running path. 

We rebuilt a 200m section of the Green Velo bike trail, which is the longest cycling trail in Poland [Editor’s note: It is 2,000km long]. Most of the path isn’t lit at night because it’s too costly.

That creates safety concerns, especially as bike lights often have quite a narrow focus. That is one of the reasons that local officials specifically chose to test out our idea on a part of the trail that is particularly winding.

Right now, we are just testing the project. We want to see how it fares in the winter. But we have already had a lot of interest in it. People have their own ideas of how this technology could be implemented, including airplane airfields and helipad landing places. A sports company contacted us because they want to sponsor a glow-in-the-dark running path in Warsaw. We’ll see, but there are lots of possibilities.

Officials in Lidzbark, who paid an estimated 30,000 euros for the installation, are pleased. Marcin Kuchciński is the Marshal of Warmia and Mazury:

Tourists come every day. We even had some from as far away as Korea! Locals are also starting to use it to commute. We like the technology so much that we are starting to have ideas how to use it in all kinds of ways, including pedestrian crossings.

A cyclist uses the new path (Photo: TPA)