Bike, Transit or Car: Which Is the Fastest Commute?

IMG_0314_1.jpgTomorrow Transportation Alternatives will hold the 7th Annual Great NYC Commuter Race. Three contestants — traveling by bike, transit and car — will see who has the quickest commute from Fort Greene in Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Union Square.

Jamie Favaro, a social worker, plans to ride her bike to victory, "Not only does biking save money and keep you fit; I’m going to prove it’s the fastest way between any two points in NYC."

April Green, who works at an art foundation, is counting on the MTA to get her there first. "New York is a transit town, and my bus-subway
combo will get me to Union Square with time to spare."

Emmanuel Fuentebella, a photographer, has a sobering view of his chances as a driver. "I know the car has never won, but since gas is $4.50 a
gallon this year, don’t I deserve a break?"

To cheer on the standard-bearer for your favorite mode, come to Union Square for the 8:00 a.m. finish.

Photo: Cyclist Luci Olewinski, 2007 Great NYC Commuter Race winner

  • Bike will win. That is a good bike commute.

  • Well this is unfair, since he’s a fellow member of the TA Queens Committee I have to root for King Emmanuel and his car. You can do it E! Park on the sidewalk if necessary I’ll give you an “official” TA Queens Committee parking placard.

  • Hans

    Jamie better follows traffic laws in order to get to her destination. Running red lights or going against traffic on one-way streets should disqualify her.

  • Clarence

    We are gonna have at least FOUR cameras out on the route to chart the progress of each!

    Elizabeth will deliver a great Streetfilm on Friday AM. Watch for it. Should be special.

  • Moser

    Go near a bus and you can count on being dead last!

  • LN

    Jamie is the most law abiding citizen of this city I know. But she is also fast, so sure to win!

  • Eric

    Maybe Emmanuel should see if Brooklyn Beep Marty Markowitz will lend him one of those flashing lights to stick up on the dashboard. That could shave a few minutes off the drive.

  • Shemp

    Doesn’t obeying all the traffic signals sacrifice major natural advantage on the part of the cyclist?

  • KOB

    Yeah, that’s alot like saying the transit-bound commuter must follow all crosswalk signs appropriately.

  • Transit Lover

    The bus-subway combo kills it.

    Jamie (the biker) will prevail.

    Anyone want to call odds?

  • Mitch

    Doesn’t obeying all the traffic signals sacrifice major natural advantage on the part of the cyclist?

    Not if the motorist has to obey the speed limit.

  • moocow

    “Not if the motorist has to obey the speed limit.”

    Not sure I have ever seen someone do that, unless they were stuck in traffic.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Yeah, Jamie is fast! Her bars are six inches lower than her saddle and she is already in the big ring on her speed machine.

    How TOTALLY non-representative of an everyday New Yorker who might just be starting to considering cycling! Any lay person who will see this race will just consider her onf of those “bicycle geek freaks” and will simply dismiss this TA “stunt” as total nonsense.

    Now, put someone on a three-speed upright dutch town bike, in normal cloths (you know, the stuff “regular” New Yorkers wear) and give it a whirl. If the cyclist won that race and did so without breaking a sweat, then you would have something to convince the rest of “them”.

    Otherwise, your just spinning your gears!

    And BTW I’m a bike geek too!

  • Andy B, I see your general point, but from the pic above, it looks like she IS wearing regular clothes.

  • Mark Walker

    Trick question. The fastest commutes are enjoyed by home-office workers. I commute from my bedroom to my living room. If I lived in a studio, my commute would be even shorter.

  • T.S.

    Andy- I think the entire point isn’t the race- but to get more people to think about commuting- with ‘bikes are fast’ as one of the main pros… But you’re right, Jamie could beat a taxi or subway commuter on a unicycle.

  • Clarence


    The woman in the photo isn’t the one riding the Commuter Challenge tomorrow….

    And I think you are completely missing the point. Plus, it is one of the biggest news coverage days for T.A. every year which brings home a very positive point regarding bicycling as an alternative.

    I even saw coverage of this in my hometown newspaper last year, a land where the car dominates. I was surprised! And a friend in S.F. saw coverage as well on the same day. Coast to coast.

  • ln

    Jamie aint no geek. She is really a commuter, I pass her most days on our opposite commutes. And until star trek style beaming is offered by the MTA, we are both on the fastest mode of transport in NYC everyday and she’s gonna prove it tomorrow.

  • jayce

    The fact is that their audience is the person who spends 1/4 of their life sitting alone in a car (the majority). If any of this cuts through, success.

  • I’m gonna show up on an upright Dutch town bike and beat Jamie to Union Sq. Just you watch.

  • Chris H

    Where in Fort Greene is the starting line?

  • agree with andy b

    The cyclists usually wins. It is a tired and old pr stunt and garners little effective news ink. Yawn.

  • rachael

    16 minutes! Jamie, you make us all proud. Take that, cars!

  • Larry Littlefield

    (16 minutes! Jamie, you make us all proud. Take that, cars!)

    If that’s was the total time I got to ride each day, I’d be disappointed!

    The bike rider got to be outside and get exercise.

    The subway rider could read.

    The driver?

  • Vroomfondel

    Larry, the driver could listen to NPR, I presume. I actually seem to recall that a lot of car commuters like sitting in traffic jams because it gives them a moment of solitude away from annoying bosses and screaming children. It’s sad on many levels…

  • Johnny P

    Saw footage of Jamie finishing this morning. Did I see clearly? She was apparently not wearing a helmet. If so, that’s not a very good message.

  • Clarence

    It was a fast ride for the cyclist (Jamie). In fact, she got there so fast none of the network camera crews (of course except Streetfilms!) was ready to get her finish, and so she had to go back around the corner and finish so they could get their finishing shot!

    Emmanuell finished second in his car, beating April on transit. I think this may be the first time a car has finished second. He was trying really hard to win!!

    Elizabeth will probably be cutting footage all night to bring you what may end up being one of our finest streetfilms.

  • Jason A

    When I first noticed this race a few years back, I was skeptical. While I’ve always loved TA, I was always suspicious that they would somehow rig this in favor of the bicycle. Now that I’ve been riding in the city for a year or so, it’s obvious the results are legit. No doubt about it, cycling is the fastest way to get around.

    Case in point: last Friday I beat a car of friends from the East Village into Park Slope by a good 5 minutes. I definitely hustled, but I ride upright and I’m certainly no Lance (or Jamie for that matter!)… It was also really late (advantage: cars) – no bridge traffic around Canal, and Flatbush was definitely passable…

    Go bikes!

  • Larry Littlefield

    (No doubt about it, cycling is the fastest way to get around.)

    I think it depends on the distance. Obviously in a cross country race, the car will finish first.

    Both transit and driving face fixed time losses. For transit, time is lost in the walk to and wait for the train or bus, the walk and wait for transfers. For the car, there is getting in and out and finding a parking space.

    The shorter the ride, the more those fixed time losses matter, and the more likely the bike is to win even with a slow rider.

    For a very short trip (say a block), in fact, the need to lock and unlock the bike makes walking faster.

  • iefixie

    A similar race was conducted in London by the BBC show Top Gear. This was a four-way race including a car, boat, bicycle, and public transit (bus and tube). The race was across central London from Kew Garden to City Airport. They arrived as follows:

    1) bicycle
    2) boat
    3) transit
    4) car


  • Andy B from Jersey

    Trust me I meant “bike geek” in the most loving terms but I still feel my point is valid even if the above photo shows last years winner.

    Also I’ve been a daily bike commuter for about 15 years now and use my bike (and transit) for a majority of my other travels.

    In the past 3 years I’ve ditched the fast bikes for my commute and now use a 3-speed, cruise at a relaxed speed and wear regular cloths. When you factor in packing my office cloths in a bag and then getting changed at work, riding my 3-speed was almost 15 minutes faster then the fast bikes!

  • StreetsPariah

    I’m a bit skeptical about the choice of end points for this race. It seems like someone out there picked a path with a bicycle most likely to win. That’s fine, I guess, but I’d like to see other routes tested as well, with possibly more balanced results. (Samples: Park Slope to Williamsburg, Fort Greene to LaGuardia, [anywhere] to Harlem.) I don’t doubt that in some cases it is faster to bike, but that certainly isn’t always the case.

  • moocow

    There is an even greater point here than the speed of bike commuting. I think maybe even the bratty guy from New Jersey gets it; it is always more fun, more freeing to ride. To me, riding in the worst sleet and freezing rain is better than sitting in an idling car. Crap weather makes riding on a day like today even more enjoyable. And in NYC, if you really can’t handle a day’s horrible weather, which sometimes is understandable, there is always a train or a bus to back you up. Maybe we should ask the “racers” who had the most relaxing, most healthy, least frustrating commute?

  • Granted, I’m not the fastest cyclist in the world, but going from Inwood to Soho (about 12.5 miles by bike), it’s definitely faster for me to take the subway (although I love the riverfront ride and choose to do it 2-3 times per week).

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Hey I’m not bratty! I’m just trying to be a critical “devil’s advocate.”

    I think the point this event is trying to prove is lost on most average people. Simply putting a very fit rider on a fast bike and then dressing her in regular cloths doesn’t work. Most people see right through it or simple just don’t believe the results would be true for them.

    Next time try doing the same event but require that the participants buy a bagel and a cup of coffee. You could give the driver a 10 minute head start and he still would be beat by everyone else. THAT would prove something!

    BTW I love to commute by bike despite the homicidal drivers around my parts of Jersey and do so in all weather. I can’t wait to get out of here right now to enjoy the ride home.

  • Ron

    The Neistat brothers made a film (yogurt vs gasoline) where they wanted to see what would win in a race (in Manhatten I think), a bicycle or motorcycle. The bicycle was an old 5-speed. Guess who won?


Go Judy go.

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