Monday 14 February 2011

It's quicker by bike

A few days ago, a campaigner from the UK sent me a document to review. Amongst other things, it said: "Many existing cyclists want to continue to cycle on road because of speed and convenience. They see a segregated system as slow – although modern cycle routes in Europe can be as fast-moving as cycling on the road."

This is yet another of those myths about cycle infrastructure - that it must always be secondary to roads, leading to slower journeys than a cyclist could make on the road, and only at it's best being "as fast-moving" as cycling on the road.

This is not actually true. Cycling infrastructure at its best can lead to quicker journeys than using the road. And that's what we have here: traffic lights which default to green for bikes, others which allow only cyclists to make a right turn on red, which give cyclists green lights twice as often as drivers, a growing network of intercity bicycle superhighways for long distance commuters, routes for cyclists which avoid the traffic lights so that you don't have to slow down or stop, and many other things which make cycling more convenient than driving. If cyclists had to use the roads, then they'd not be able to take advantage of this and cycling would be neither so efficient nor so attractive as it is.

The graph shows relative speeds by bike or by car for distances. Note that these are not cherry picked, but are an average for the whole country, and an average for all cyclists. In the Netherlands, that means the whole population. The average speed for all is slowed down somewhat by the very much wider demographic of cyclists here vs. other countries. Primary school children, meandering teenagers and pensioners are slower than enthusiastic cyclists of working age. Faster cyclists have an advantage over a considerably longer distance.

Nevertheless, "In the city, cyclists on average reach their destinations 5% quicker than drivers, and in the bigger cities (>100000 residents) usually more than 10% quicker. For distances of up to 3 km, the bike always wins. From 4 km, mostly not.".

In the Netherlands, there are many ways in which cycling has been made faster than driving. The extensive unravelling of cycling routes from driving routes makes this possible to a far greater extent than if cyclists are restricted to the routes of drivers.

The graph comes from The Fietsersbond.


Klaus Mohn said...

Thanks, David, nice post. I'm not so good with graphs and I miss the labels here; can you specify what they would be?

David Hembrow said...

Klaus: The numbers up the left hand side are relative times. i.e. at 1.0, both modes take the same time. At 0.8, a bicycle journey takes 80% as long as a car journey, while at 1.1, the car is ten percent quicker than the bike. The distances are along the bottom.

The summary at the bottom of the post in italics describes it.

Anneke said...

This is one that is invariably true in Doetinchem. Especially in the centre, and about 1km around it. I'm not sure how to include maps, but the Terborgseweg is a prima example. At one of the roundabouts drivers have to left, cross train tracks get past three sets of traffic lights, and then turn right twice, to get to the same location as a cyclist who only has to go straight ahead on the roundabout, and cycle for 10m. The difference must be at least a few minutes. More possibly, if it is very busy. And this is hardly the only case.

Unknown said...

This very true. Youre so much lighter and smaller making cycling much more flexible. Making a U-turn for instance is very easily done on bike in case you run into a traffic jam or accidentally make a wrong turn. You can also change modes very quickly from cycling to walking if confronted with long lines behind stoplights and going with the pedestrians is a faster way to cross an intersection. You can even ride on the sidewalk! If that isnt a car drivers fantasy in urban traffic I dont know what is. Taking back roads or making short cuts through alleyways avoiding traffic lights is also very easy. Anyway you slice it, cycling is just faster (in an urban setting)