Bike share data: Bikes are faster in-city than cars

EDITOR’S NOTE: While I am in majestic St. Louis, Missouri, for the holidays, I will be posting interesting bike links and urging discussion. I’ll still be writing, but at a reduced rate. Feel free to comment on this link or treat this page like an open thread to discuss whatever is on your Seattle biking mind.

Even without counting time to find parking, people using the bike sharing system in Lyons, France, had faster rush hour average speeds than people driving cars. This data comes from an analysis of the city’s bike share system’s GPS. Interestingly, they also found that biking speeds were higher on Wednesdays than any other day.

The data may turn out slightly differently in American cities, but I bet it would be comparable. American cities are designed around the automobile, and quite often it truly is faster to drive for intracity trips (though not as often as you would think). For example, driving from Greenwood to Georgetown is undeniably faster by car than any other means (barring a crash on 99 or something). But a trip from Capitol Hill to the University of Washington or downtown is likely faster by bike than any other means (when you count time finding parking and walking from there to the destination).

And getting from anywhere to Capitol Hill (or any other high density area with full parking)? Well, that’s purely a matter of luck. If you drive where you are going and there happens to be a parking space open, then congratulations! But you could also spend forever circling around looking, then parking really far away, thereby losing all the advantages you gained by driving. You will also clog the streets and make them less safe for everyone else while you hopelessly drive in circles for ten minutes.

Anyway, back to the bike sharing data. Interesting stuff. More help to encourage people to try using their bikes for routine trips. People used to driving everywhere start to think using a bike would take forever. It’s always good to remind people that bikes are fast, too. Sometimes faster.

One other benefit of the bike share data is that it gives city planners a clear look at where people ride. So if a lot of people are taking a sidewalk or riding against traffic on a one-way street, for example, then that may be a great place for a bike facility.

From the Australian ABC:

The bicycles in Lyon are fitted with onboard computers and accessed via smartcards. Between May 2005 and Dec 2007, data was collected from 11.6 million bicycle trips.

The study by Pablo Jensen and colleagues at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon and published on the pre-press website arXiv.org, found during peak hour in the city, bicycles travelled about 15 kilometres per hour – up to 50% faster than cars.

Travel time for cars would be even slower, they say, if the time taken searching for a parking space was taken into account.

“What’s interesting is that drivers do tend to underestimate how long it will take to get to a place by car, and overestimate how long it will take to get there by bicycle,” says Elliot Fishman, director of the Institute for Sensible Transport in Melbourne.

“There’s a perception that the car is fast and convenient, whereas a bicycle is only used if you don’t have the means to travel by car.

“But what a lot of new cyclists say is how surprised they were at how quick it was to get to work.”

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6 Responses to Bike share data: Bikes are faster in-city than cars

  1. Christine says:

    It was exciting to read about the bike share program in Washington, D.C. I would love to see a similar program adopted in Seattle.

  2. subrookie says:

    The #1 reason I started riding a bike was that it was faster for me to go from magnolia to eastgate with a bus/bike commute. Several times I’ve biked from downtown or REI to fremont and made it home before my spouse did in her car. There are many examples of this in the Seattle area. My commute home now is from the Overlake area to Fremont and I’m convinced doing it on a bike saves me at least 30 min a day, if not more.

    I’m not sure that many people think about bikes being faster here. The general opinion is that they aren’t as safe, or don’t fit in someone’s daily routine. Also, although I don’t mind riding home in the rain we’ve had over the past couple weeks, many others would rather not.

  3. biliruben says:

    No doubt. I road today purely because I knew I was going from downtown to Fremont for a meeting. Thinking about parking and navigating traffic in both places gave me the shivers. I’m sure I saved 15 minutes and about 3 forehead wrinkles of stress.

    Even coming from the hinterlands of Lake City, even though the 11 miles takes between 5 and 20 minutes longer by bike depending on traffic, the exercise and psychological differences make it no comparison.

  4. Steve A says:

    I think John Allen pointed out that bike commuters ride faster during rush hour than cyclists at other times.

  5. Russ Finley says:

    Biking is usually faster for me within a five mile radius of my house. That fact and the parking issue motivate me to get on the bike more.

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