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8 Stranger writers race to a bar during rush hour (Spoiler: Bike wins, duh)

Screenshot from The Stranger. Click to read the full story.
Screenshot from The Stranger. Click to read the full story.

Eight writers for The Stranger raced from their Capitol Hill office to a post-work drink in the U District, each taking a different mode of transportation (personal bike, Pronto bike, bus, Lyft, Car2Go, personal car, and feet). Oh, and it was rush hour.

It was a Stranger-style modal race, a fun way to compare travel times, experiences and costs in a real-world setting. Typically all users go at a normal pace and follow all traffic laws. It’s not the participant racing, it’s the mode itself.

Check out how everyone did. I also like how they reviewed their trips, an element that is often left out of modal races like these.

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Of course, Ansel Herz won by taking his own bike on the mostly downhill route, cruising past lines of stopped traffic on the way. In fact, he won by a long shot (15 minutes, which makes me think he did sort of step on it).

But even if you don’t ride fast, bikes are often the fastest way to get around town, especially within a few miles of the city center. This fact seems to surprise a lot of people who have never tried biking as a means of transportation.

One of the most common stories I hear from people who try biking to work for the first time is that they leave home super early, thinking it will take a while to get there. Then they pull up to work, check the time and realize they have a lot of time to kill. People like to think that the speed of a mode is about the top speed it reaches on a straightaway, but the only think that really maters is time elapsed from door-to-door. Searching for parking and waiting in lines of traffic adds up.

This race should definitely be repeated in 2016 when U Link opens. Imagine hopping a Pronto to Capitol Hill Station, taking the train underground, then hopping a Pronto from there to the bar. That might even beat biking all the way if the train timing works out.

Speaking of Pronto, Eli Sanders had a bit of trouble checking one out and getting the seat adjusted, so it didn’t do so hot (32 minutes). But hey, it still beat taking a cab or walking (at least in terms of time, Paul Constant’s 55-minute walk did sound rather pleasant).

As a final note, as with a similar modal race by the Seattle Times earlier this year, the cost estimate for the private car trip is artificially low. Only calculating gas and parking leaves out a ton of car ownership costs, like buying the car itself (or making lease payments) and paying monthly for car insurance and all those car mechanic bills. Cars are hella expensive, but they somehow feel cheap to use. After all, you’ve already sunk all those other costs. It’s a strange and twisted mind game car culture plays on us.

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14 responses to “8 Stranger writers race to a bar during rush hour (Spoiler: Bike wins, duh)”

  1. Ben P

    Yeah, Ansel was racing. He pulled off my late for work timing on that rout. Maybe part of what people like about cars over bikes is the placement of blame for being late. When you go slow because traffic is bad, you say it’s the road or all the other drivers blocking you. When you go slow on a bike, it’s your own legs at fault. That being said, if you are a new cyclist, it just keeps getting better. Once your legs are used to it, beating cars is an immense thrill and a large practical benefit.

    1. ‘Eh, you just need to throw a couple bridges into your commute, then you can blame the boats.

      Also, traffic (whether car, bike, or foot traffic) can definitely affect bike travel times if you’re being safe and polite… but it’s a bit different. When driving you sometimes get “heavy but super fast” and sometimes “heavy and totally stopped”. When biking you often have to slow down in heavy traffic but it’s usually a more consistent slowdown.

  2. Cheif

    No surprise to anyone who has ever gone from the hill to the u district that bike wins out every time. Although regarding the artificially lowering the cost of the car trip by not including the actual cost of the car (a common omission regarding transportation cost; a lot of the time people gripe about the bus being more expensive than driving by comparing the cost of bus fare to the price of gas, which clearly makes no sense), that seems to be the case as well with the stranger’s cost breakdown of the person using their own bike (“free”) without taking into account the cost of the bike, the cost of maintaining a regularly used bike, as well as the cost of food to cover bicycling’s additional caloric requirements.

  3. merlin

    Both the person who drove her own car and the person who rode his own bike should have figured in the costs of ownership. That might have added about 20 cents to the cost of the bike ride, and $50 to the cost of the car trip. Oh, and the guy who walked could have added the cost of his shoes – but then I’m guessing all of the contestants wore shoes.

    1. Cory

      $50 for a trip in a car? That is totally incorrect.

      I did the math for myself. I spent $10k on my car (yay Hyundai) and thus far have put 60k miles on it. That factors to about 17 cents per mile traveled. My insurance and annual maintenance factors out to about 90 cents per mile (annual cost of insurance/repairs/oil over my average mileage). So in total, it is a bit over a dollar a mile for my car.

      The distance traveled in the article is estimated at 3-5 miles, so let’s call it an additional $5 for the car ownership.

      1. Jeremy

        Good thing SDOT is maintaining the Seattle non-arterial roads (not since 1994, besides one lane-mile a year of patch-work) and has arterial repairs well in hand (mind the bridging the gap… mind the bridging the gap… mind the …) and that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is well funded (already bailed out by the general fund and is now once again insolvent, with noise re but little action on the federal gas tax). I believe civil engineering groups in America have made various worried clucking noises about the lack of bridge maintenance and the like, but you know, that costs money, and car driving is apparently cheap…

  4. In the Times article, assuming that all of the contestants own a car, as most people do… The cost of the vehicle and insurance would be moot in determining the cost of the trip. They all pay for the car regardless. However, it certainly should be noted in the article.

    1. Cheif

      Wrong. The cost of the vehicle is factored into every trip taken with that vehicle. You don’t just own a vehicle “because”, you own it to go places with.

  5. Taylor

    My friends know that I will beat them pretty much anywhere in town by bike (they are generally on KCM) and will text me to order food or beer.

    I will eventually convert them all to the way of the bike.

    1. Andres Salomon

      I dunno, that sounds pretty convenient. I might stop biking if I had friends who would arrange for food/beer to be waiting for me when I got to my destination!

  6. Having only bike commuted a year and still not doing it for all things I am still surprised by the ease that I can make it around the city. When I first rode to work and it took me nearly as long as riding the bus I became convinced by the relative quickness of trips. Yet when people find I bike commute I am often asked how far and when I say tell them about 6 miles I get a look of shock. Truth be told the more I bike the smaller Seattle seems. Distances that seemed incredible are shrunk because I am not fighting traffic, hunting for parking, or being diverted as way.

    1. Joel S.

      Anyone who spends any time working out should also consider that they can move some of their cardio time into their bike commute and save even more time.

      1. Allan

        So if you get a 45 minute gym workout in 15 minutes of fast bicycling than it took minus 30 minutes to get there. So therefore the bike can beat a Ferrari or 1500cc motorcycle in traffic. The only thing is that from the U district to Capital Hill might be a bit slower.

  7. […] The Stranger staff race from Capitol Hill to UW. Unsurprisingly, bikes win. […]

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