Reaping the benefits of infrastructure

Yesterday I posted about the new bikers that I see everywhere and how they are important, but annoying.

Today I wanted to share a key observation that I left out: A lot of them are women.

I don’t mean this in the way you assume (ie: women can’t bike, or something awful). I’m saying this because of a recent article about how women are an indicator species (original in Scientific American). This means that an influx on women biking is indicative of an increase in perceived safety. Since This past week was probably their first time on the road, the actual safety rests on the perception and not necessarily the actual safety on the road. Allow me to elaborate.

1) Spring time is when Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville, all reap the rewards of the new infrastructure and PR of the previous year. People look out their bus window and see new bike lanes in November and think, “Enough of this shit: when it gets warm, I’m biking to work” (or the local bakery).

2) This time of year is when the green shoots (see previous post) are generated. If we treat these cyclists right, they’ll be around for years. But they’re fragile and to paraphrase Lance: ‘if one of them gets brushed by a car [or discouraged in any way], they’ll never get on a bike again’.

3) Yes, I know that some people are “thinking of biking”  and might get their act together by mid June, but these people aren’t going to become urban cyclists. At least not until the Spring, when it’s clear that they are interested enough to unlock their bike from Central Square and haul it in to Cambridge Bikes for a lube/ lesson about why not to leave your bike outside all winter.

4) Back to the indicator species: It looks like we really generated enough good-PR to get women out biking. This is fantastic. It means that people are viewing the streets as more safe than they have before. As I implied above, the real test will be whether or not they stick around until September. What will keep these women around until the yearly chilling will be the experience of these new bikers, which is dependent on the actual safety and integrity of the infrastructure. Not just the hype.

Do you think the experience of biking in Boston actually lives up to the hype?

Do we have the infrastructure to keep these new cyclists around? Will we lose the women?

Personally, I’ve felt pretty safe on the roads, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else felt this way. I’m beginning to think that the drivers are getting used to me.

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.