Cycling Still Offers Quickest City Commute


To the surprise of no one — with the possible exception of Bike Snob NYC — bike commuter and social worker Jamie Favaro won Transportation Alternatives’ 7th Annual Great NYC Commuter Race this morning, completing the 4.5-mile route between Fort Greene and Union Square in 16.5 minutes. Driver Emmanuel Fuentebella came in second at 22 minutes, and transit rider April Greene made the trip in 29 minutes. Writes T.A.:

According to 2000 Census figures, New Yorkers have the longest average
commute in the country, about 45 minutes. However, the average bicycle
commute in New York City only takes 30 minutes. And with 75% of driving
commutes in NYC under 5 miles (the distance of today’s challenge), there
is great potential to shift driving trips to bicycling.

Congratulations to Jamie. Stay tuned for full coverage of the race from Streetfilms.

Photo: Transportation Alternatives

  • guest

    Gotta ask — did Jamie obey traffic laws on this ride? Was she running red lights?

  • Jamie

    No red lights were run. Pretty lucky.

  • gecko

    This win is deceptive since it probably doesn’t take in account how much time is spent get to and waiting for mass transit or the personal time required for an individual to work to pay for the large expense of owning a car all of which would make cycling even a lot faster.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Okay so Jamie’s bars are “only” 3 inches lower than her saddle but she’s still pushing big gears.

    Completing the 4.5 mile course in 16.5 minutes means she was averaging a gross 16.4 mph which is a pretty swift pace on two human powered wheels and not something most average people could do. And don’t forget, this is gross average speed. If you take into account that she had to stop at red lights, stop signs, etc. she was actually going even faster! She must have been pretty sweaty after such a feat despite this morning’s cool weather. There is no way around that physiological fact!

    Now I ride 2.25 miles to my job/school here in Jersey and do it in around 11 minutes (absolute max) on my 3-speed in “office casual” cloths. I keep my speed relaxed and don’t break a sweat. I could easily do double the distance in twice the time also without breaking a sweat. So that means I would have probably at least tied the second place contestant on my 3-speed and would have done it in style, while staying relaxed and sweat free.

    If TA had at least tried this with second style of cyclist, proving that this can be done by “mere mortals” then you would have proven something.

  • d

    I think that’s definitely something to think about. How about two people in each category? One cyclist like the one who one today and one commuter on a hybrid, for example. Also, starting sets of people in different neighborhoods would give a great sense of how biking/subway/driving compares from boro to boro and neighborhood to neighborhood.

  • Rob

    Let’s also engineer these transportation competitors from birth so that we can control and account for all variables. Then, once they’re old enough, we can race them on the streets and subways in order to find out which mode is fastest. We could bet on them too.

    The alternative is to survey a broad selection of cyclists about their commute times. We could compare that to motorist responses. I don’t think that’s been done before. ever.

  • Josh

    Is it wildly inappropriate of me to say that Jamie and April are cute?

    Oh well, too late.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    That oversize Metrocard sure is a handy prop!

  • @ Gecko:

    No, this win is not deceptive because it PROBABLY doesn’t take into account “variables” that make no sense to put in. I think it’s generally well-known that it takes a lot of work to afford a car, and I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t that much thought put into the race to pause the clock when somebody began waiting for a bus, only to start it again when the bus moved. . . . seems a little crazy to me. more than likely what happened was they both started at a starting line, started a clock when both got running, and then stopped the clock at a finish line. Seems like the simple way to do it?

    but enough speculation. . . instead of immediately bashing the results, Brad– how DID the race get judged?

  • gecko

    zach @ Pennywise, The results weren’t bashed, they were amplified!

    Cycling is way faster any way you look at it since it is both distributed and on-demand –eliminating wait times — and faster through city streets making the average speed way above cars and transit in a practical sense that provides considerable advantage.

  • Fendergal

    Why is sweat bad? It’s not like you don’t sweat standing on a sweltering train platform in August.

    The time-efficiency aspect is only one reason I prefer bike commuting. Saving money and reducing stress are two other very big advantages.

  • Vroomfondel

    Am I the only one who’s uncomfortable with the figures that T.A. quotes (average commute of 45 minutes vs average bike commute of 30 minutes)? I guess they’re trying to make the point that biking is faster than other modes, but I have the nagging suspicion that the average bike commute takes less time because most people won’t even try biking unless their commute is rather short to begin with.

    I totally agree that biking is frequently superior to other modes (for my own commute, I figure 25 minutes by bike and at least 30 minutes by subway), but questionable use of statistics will only provide fodder for the detractors.

  • Gargamel Traflaz

    How about if we raced clones against each other? That way we could be sure there was no trickery…

  • Nick

    Vroomfondel, I don’t think those stats require a caveat. They are averages, which are generalizations by nature.

    You might be interested to read the latest bike commuter survey —

  • gecko

    Just like that ad for the remake of Godzilla, size matters. Cities are built to solve the transportation problem by bringing everthing close together. Cars and and current transit vehicles are too large for cities which is why they are so slow.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Forget the quibbling. Congratulations to TA on the shameless self promotion.

    Sometimes it seems to be the only ability that matters in our society, and it’s good that someone other than the car companies had it. The race was out on the AP.

    And so what if the race was at the right distance and location (with a congested crossing) to favor the cyclist. In our society, everything else is rigged to a far even greater extent. Otherwise, car commercials would feature obese people suffering a bout of road rage.

  • texas cyclist

    I think she should be commended for bravery if nothing else to attempt to commute via bicycle on urban city streets. I commute in Fort Worth, TX 3 days a week, approximately 14 miles one way (average commute time door to door — 40 min.), but we have various bike trails to avoid some of the road rage/anti-cyclist attitudes and I’m able to utilize shower facilities at work. Work out the logistics and it beats paying $4.00 per gallon of gas quite so often.

  • One Cyclist

    Yo Texas, 130,000 people ride everyday in New York City. Some are brave, many are not. The whole point is that the average person can jump on a bike and get to where they want to go without Lance Armstrong skills. You see more kids and older people riding with every passing year. Still a long way to go, but we’re getting there.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I said this on the earlier thread related to this topic.

    Most people buy a cup of joe as they head to work. Next time require the participants to buy a bagel and a cup of coffee along the way with receipts to prove the time of purchase. You could give the driver a 10 minute head start and he still would be beat by everyone else. THAT would prove something!

  • Spud Spudly

    You got that right Larry. So what if they brought in a fast rider and forced the metrocard chick to take a bus? It’s their event, and if there’s one thing TA’s good at it’s promotions. What should they do, invite all the TV cameras and then take a chance that the MTA rider might catch a fast train? (I say this in serious admiration of TA’s public relations, not as a shot against the event itself.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    If it was completely rigged, the driver would have finished third. Why not have everyone head up to Midtown at say, 5th and 44th, and have the driver try to find free parking and walk from it? He’d still be looking, unless he had a placard.

  • I think the event was a fabulous promotion for cycling. The only unfortunate message it may have sent is that mass transit is slow (and a less desirable mode than driving). As Larry said, if the driver had been forced to look for parking, and the transit rider hadn’t been forced to do a switch from bus to train, perhaps the transit rider would have come in second (or even first) place? And time is not the only reason to choose a transit mode. The cyclist gets fresh air, views, and exercise, the transit rider gets to read, work, or relax, while the driver has to pay for gas, look for parking, etc.

    Also, let’s not forget about the joys of walking.

  • JT

    fort greene to union square in 16.5 minutes is unBELIEVABLY fast. where exactly in fort greene did it start?

  • gecko

    22. Urbanis, That’s right, transit is slow and inconvenient and could be done a lot better to more closely meet the needs of many of the people who use cars.

  • @Gecko #24: I completely agree. Even just having more express routes with fewer stops AND running the trains at higher speeds between stops on all routes would make a big difference.

  • gecko

    25. Urbanis, Trains with more express routes, fewer stops at higher speeds might help but, it seems that infrastructures required by trains are inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive mainly because trains are much too large being far beyond human scale.

    It seems that the best transit system would be based on human-scale vehicles leveraging off the significant advantages of bicycles as demonstrated by this race. Of course, the disadvantages of bicycles would have to minimized.

  • Hi Gecko (#26), your point sounds interesting, but I’m not sure I understand it. In what way is a train not a human-scale vehicle? I think they accommodate people quite nicely. Also, the infrastructure required by cars and bicycles (paved streets and roads) is enormous and expensive. Can you elaborate on that (and the disadvantages you see with bicycles)?

  • Vroomfondel

    Thanks for pointing me to the bike commuter survey — lots of valuable information!

    The results of the survey confirm my initial suspicion, though. The maps showing origins and destinations of bike commutes suggest that bike commuters mostly live in the Upper West Side or in Park Slope and work in the Central Business District (I’m oversimplifying, of course).

    The survey doesn’t show any bike commuters from remote parts of Brooklyn and Queens, so that those areas don’t affect the average length of a bike commute. People from those parts do take the subway, however, which skews average times in favor of bike commutes without actually proving that bikes are faster.

    It might be better to compare modes according to average speed. For my own commute, I estimate 12mph by bike and 10mph by subway/foot. That’s not a big difference, but biking has another, much neglected advantage: Consistency. When I hop on my bike, I know I’ll be in my office 25 minutes later. When I take the subway, I allow for delays and service interruptions and still suffer the occasional surprise. Driving would be a complete lottery, with open-ended delays due to traffic.

  • gecko

    27. Urbanis, Trains are not human-scale vehicles. They are designed to deal with humans in bulk and being 1000s of times heavier than humans must be supported by rather inflexible infrastructures ill-suited to change, adaptation, and a broad diversity of ad hoc and ongoing transportation needs. They are not distributed and on-demand and depend on commuters come to them unlike cars and bicycles.

    Cars at about a ton are 10 times human scale and are extremely destructive, impractical, and inconvenient especially, in urban environments.

    Bicycles at 25 pounds are less than human scale and do not require any where near the infrastructure of cars.

    Having minimal protection, bicycles are dangerous even without the serious harm that can be caused by cars, as they can be ridden off roads and cliffs, into trees, other bikes, pedestrians, etc. They also depend entirely on human skills: human power, reflexes, a certain amount of athletic ability, to name a few which also means that not everyone can or is willing to use them.

    Many years ago, a major software manufacturer had some good advice to its software designers: If a user says that a program or application that a designer has built is difficult to use, the user is correct. A designer is not correct ignoring the objections of users. The same goes with transportation vehicles.

  • kelly

    Thinking about biking to work now that I won’t have to be in the Bronx at 8 am. Wondering if there is anything like hopstop for bicyclists… you know, take the maps of bike routes, paths, etc. and put them into a searchable route-finding format… you know what I mean? various options could be available… shortest route, most bike laned route, etc. apologies if this already exists and/or has been posted about recently.

  • Jamie says in the video that she can get from the LES to Washington Heights in 45 minutes while it takes her an hour by subway. I think next year’s race should involve a similar route; say, from Broadway and Dyckman in Inwood to Union Square. There are plenty of uptown commuters to the CBD–why focus on Brooklyn all the time?

  • Or perhaps it should be from Broadway and Dyckman to City Hall, so the transit rider doesn’t have to do a mode switch.

  • Kelly:

    It’s not exactly the same thing but I think these guys are trying to get Google Maps to include a “Bike There” feature:

  • Old Reliable

    For a lot of commuters the bike wins big over months and years because of reliability, not a one time speed advantage. My bike trip always takes 30 minutes door to door. Whereas my subway trip might take 25 minutes or might take 40 minutes. Subway day mean leaving home fifteen minutes earlier if I absolutely have to be on time.

  • Another interesting race that T.A. should consider is having one contestant do a combined bicycle/transit ride vs. a contestant driving a car. I think an important message to promote is that bicycle and mass transit combined is competitive with driving for longer distances–i.e., cycling can be part of a suburban commute as well! I know a few people who ride Metro-North from upstate locations to Grand Central and then bicycle to work. Indeed, on Sunday, I rode my bike 2 miles from Inwood to the Fordham Metro-North station in the Bronx to take the train to Bronxville.

  • Cacofonix

    I am a former New Yorker who occasionally commuted 2.2 miles to midtown and now lives in the San Francisco Bay area and now commutes by bike 6-plus miles to and from the train. I find the discussion fascinating. Out here, while bicyclists and motorists complain about each other, bikes have become small but generally respected part of the daily transportation network. “Share the Road” signs are ubiquitous. Every commuter train between SF and SJ has a dedicated bike car; they are full in the spring, summer and fall.

    So anti-bike prejudice is neither inevitable nor destined to last forever. But I sure encountered more of it in NYC than I do in northern California.

    (PS: I’m in my 50s; my commuting pace, in casual work clothes on a hybrid, averages about 17mph in the morning (downhill) and 9-10 mph in the evening (uphill). Sweat happens, but mostly on the way home.)

  • gecko

    36. Cacofonix, There’s definitely alot to be said in favor of a high quality of life. Apparently, the people here on the East Coast like to do things the hard way.

  • Did Jamie take any shortcuts? Sidewalks? One-way streets?

  • Chelsea

    who cares?


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