Home > Policy > Why not bicycle at bicycle speeds, instead of driving at bicycle speeds?

Why not bicycle at bicycle speeds, instead of driving at bicycle speeds?

How fast do you drive? I don’t mean to ask how fast have you driven, or how fast you wish (or think) you drive, or what the speed limit is. Instead, I want to ask how fast you drive, door-to-door, on the drives the make up your daily life.

My car has a computer that tells me my average speed for every trip. A trip starts when I start the car, and stops when I turn it off. I wonder if people would think differently about driving if all cars had a computer like this.

Friday afternoon commute   Monday morning commute.

These photos are from my car’s dashboard. The photo on the left shows my commute on one Friday afternoon when I left my office at 4PM and drove the usual route home, about ten miles. It took me about sixty-two minutes; I averaged about ten miles-per-hour. The photo on the right shows a more spritely commute, the following Monday morning going the opposite way, when I was able to average about fourteen miles-per-hour. These times and speeds are normal, in customary city traffic between Century City and Silverlake.

(And yes, my car is a fuel hog. Most big cars you see around town are.)

I asked my girlfriend awhile back how fast she thinks she drives on city streets. She said she drives the speed limit, about thirty-five miles-per-hour. When we actually calculated her average speed from drive time and distance, we ended up with something closer to my computer readouts.

The fact is that when we drive in town, we mostly drive at bicycle speeds (on average). Most of us don’t have this fact staring in our faces everyday. But maybe more people would rethink cycling if they realized they are almost always driving at bicycle speeds already. If you’re already going at bicycle speeds, why not make it formal, get out of the car, get some fresh air and exercise, and bicycle instead?

The powers behind Los Angeles’s new Mobility Plan probably weren’t making this calculus explicitly. However, the constant predictions of city growth, combined with the hard facts that we have no more space for new streets, should make anyone with some sense of the inevitable look around for viable alternatives for using our streets more efficiently. Predictions of doom and gloom coming from short-sighted detractors miss the point: our traffic is already driving at bicycle speeds. We can’t really slow it down much more than it already is. Safe bicycle lanes just facilitate different kinds of traffic at the same average speeds at the rest of it, and bring lots of other benefits beyond.

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  1. Eric Fraga
    September 14, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    To quote from http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Traffic.htm:

    “In London traffic congestion has probably been a problem ever since the city was founded – for example average traffic speeds are known to be similar today to what they were in Victorian times when it was predominantly horse drawn.”

  2. September 16, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    Another consideration is – is your journey really door to door or is some additional walking required? I ride my bike from my front door to the front door of my office building, where I fold it (it’s a Brompton) and stow it under my desk. It takes a very reliable 30-35 minutes to cover a journey of 5.5 miles, depending on traffic and lights, and perhaps another 15 minutes tops if I have a puncture – which happens less than twice a year.

    In central London apart from a few cherished and highly ranked employees whose companies provide them with a basement parking space (only sometimes free), everyone else needs to consider sky high parking charges in addition to the week-day congestion charge – the latter is currently $18 a day – before jumping behind the wheel. And like LA, the average motor traffic speed here is low – London’s transport authority estimated 8.98 mph for central London in 2011/2012 and 19.33 mph on major roads.

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