Transport Comparisons

Who would win in a race between a car, a pedestrian and a bike? Some may remember a Brazilian race of a similar style, which I posted about a few months ago. Since I don’t have the ability to organize a proper race, I tried to figure this out with some simple math and Google maps.

For the fake race, I chose one of the longest roads in Somerville to use as a preliminary example – Broadway. From Teele Square in Somerville, down broadway, and then continuing into Charlestown has got to be one of the longest stretches of road in the whole Cambridge-Somerville-Charlestown area. Yes, there is Mass ave, and Beacon St. and Somerville Ave, but they’re not quite as long. Mass ave from rt 16 to memorial drive is a curvy 4.2 miles, while Broadway from Teele Square to the Charlestown navy yard is about 4.5 miles – and almost a straight shot.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Teele Square to Charlestown Navy Yard
View Larger Map

Most car rides are under 4 miles, and this also happens to be the maximum length you can really travel and stay within the boundaries of route 16 and the mystic river. So, this seems like an appropriate length to race a car vs. a bike. Pedestrians can be eliminated at the start, since google maps says it will take an hour and change to walk this length, and 40 minutes by bus (assuming you catch the bus – NOW).

So, it comes down to the car and the bike, by which I mean:


This is tough, because google maps doesn’t have a “bike” function and cyclists vary quite a bit in their speeds. If you’re a casual cyclist, maybe you ride between 5 to 10 mph, meanwhile some others might have trouble biking in a straight line at those speeds. People faster than me claim to ride at 25 to 35 mph, but to be honest I doubt that they maintain those speeds for very long. Personally, I cruise around 15 mph, but thanks to a low gear ratio I spin out around 20-25 mph.

For cars, this obviously isn’t an issue. Google maps put the expected time for this trip at 13 minutes. This seems reasonable, until we refer to other trip times (like route 16 to the mass ave bridge through harvard square taking 10 minutes), it becomes clear that traffic is not directly included in the google algorithm.

However, we can gauge the current traffic, but using google’s traffic indicator.

Traffic Screen Shot

For reference, google has only recently begun recording traffic for Broadway, so there wasn’t enough data for them to figure out what the traffic will look like on Monday at 9am. The above screen capture, with the red lines all over the street, is for Sunday at 11am, which I would presume is less than Monday commuter traffic.

So, you may ask yourself, “What does RED mean?” – good question.

Red basically means LESS THAN 25 MPH. Although another poster claims it to be between 10 MPH and 25 MPH.

So, cars. It seems that the playing field is even.

Personally, I can get from Teele Square to the Navy yard, riding comfortably and stopping at necessary lights, in about 20 minutes. When I am bookin’ it, I can be there in a sweaty and panting 15 minutes. This means that I am moving between an averaged 13.5 MPH and 18 MPH, respectively.

Has anyone else made this trip? I’d be interested in hearing what the time is by both bike and car. I don’t know how average my personal times are, and I’d be curious to see how much of an impediment the traffic and red lights really are.

I know you’re all excited about cryptic clue fest day 4 (or 5 or whatever), and Rachel Uchitel, but c’mon – today is a beautiful day to test a hypothesis.

3 Responses to “Transport Comparisons”

  1. Aaron
    November 29th, 2009 | 7:12 pm

    There are a few significant slow-downs here for cars where a bike would gain a lot of ground (by rolling by a line). Powderhouse Square, for example, always has several cars waiting at Broadway to get into the rotary. The lights at Magoun, on the east side of Winter Hill and at McGrath also usually all have lines of cars at rush hour.

    Then there’s Sullivan Square. I don’t personally like biking through it, but at rush hour cars are lined up there back beyond the 93 overpass almost every day. You may very well die, but you can get through it a lot faster than a car.

    Cars will make their gains through Charlestown, I guess, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to beat a competent city cyclist.

    I’ve done a test from my house in S. Medford to Dali in Cambridge. My wife and I leave our house at the same time. I beat her easily at rush-hour. She was ahead until we hit the light at Mossland and Somerville Avenue, then I never saw her again until she pulled up at Dali.

  2. cyclostat
    November 29th, 2009 | 8:46 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Aaron. I’m glad to know that other people are testing this bike > car hypothesis with their own routes.

    And yes, I’m very scared of dying as I go through both the Powder House Death Rotary and the Sullivan Square Ring of Death. But, it’s nice because I have two opportunities per trip, where I can attain some sort of Heideggerian realization of my impending mortality.

    Charlestown traffic is pretty light and there is a straightaway right after Sullivan square. But I feel that the time saved for the cyclist, during the previous 3 miles should be enough leeway.

  3. April 8th, 2010 | 4:45 pm

    I live over there and I’d be happy to participate in an actual timed “race”… I can either bike, drive, OR walk! That said, I completely hate biking on Broadway in general (I kind of hate driving on Broadway, too). Not enough space, too many potholes, too many stoplights, too much traffic. Ugggh.

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