Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Philly Is Biking This Week: The Commuter Race

The Bicycle Coalition ran its 7th annual Commuter Race this morning, between a bicyclist, a SEPTA rider, and a motorist.  This year the race started at South Philly's Mifflin Square and ended just over 3 miles away at City Hall.

For the sixth consecutive year, the bicyclist won.  Following all the rules of the road, the cyclist covered the 3.15 mile commute in 18:35, 6 minutes better than both the driver (24:50) and the transit rider (25:15).

The Commuter Race remains a simple illustration of the benefits of bicycle commuting.  Consider the costs involved in the three modes of transportation involved:
  • Yearly cost of a bicycle: $250
  • Yearly cost of SEPTA: $996 for twelve monthly TransPasses
  • Yearly cost of a car: $7,630 for a small sedan driving 10,000 miles a year (source: AAA

All three methods of transportation have their benefits and drawbacks.  But nearly 50% of the US working population commutes five miles or less to work.  A 15-minute bicycle commute each way meets the CDC's minimum recommendation of 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical exercise.  With the summer upon us, it is a wonderful time to join your fellow Philadelphians and give bicycle commuting a try.

Many thanks to Zipcar for providing the car and driver.  The Bicycle Coalition's Commuter Race is part of Bike Month.  For other Bike Month events, check out our events page.  For a more colorful account of the Commuter Race itself, see below (click post title to read further):

The four commuters gathered on the sidewalk across from Mifflin Square at 7:45 am this morning.

They greeted each other warmly, but in idle moments, they sized up their competition.

Two bicyclists, one Zipcar driver, and one SEPTA passenger, standing on the sidewalk at Mifflin Square.  Their goal: to get to the Municipal Services Building across from City Hall as fast as legally possible.  The prize?  Glory for self and glory for their mode of transport.

Caroline, our official timekeeper, shouted "Go!" and the four took off.
Our bike riders peel out.
The Zipcar heads towards open road.
The SEPTA rider, stylish commuter's hat secure, makes for the bus stop.
The bicyclists were Pat Cunnane, President of Advanced Sports International (located in Philly), and the Bicycle Coalition's own Jill Minick.  The pair took 5th Street north to Christian St., then wound their way towards City Hall.  They stopped at every stop sign and stop light, neither track standing nor riding on the sidewalk.  But every Mini Cooper that drove by quickened their pulse and their pedals.

The driver was Zipcar general manager Peter Bruvik.  Peter selected a silver Mini Cooper convertible from the Zipcar fleet, braving rain-threatening clouds to let South Philly breezes ripple his hair on his way up Broad Street.

The SEPTA commuter was the Bicycle Coalition's own Cy Maramangalam.  He queried Google (an American company which offers free transportation advice) for the best public transportation route.  Google's Map Department advised Cy to take the 79 bus down Snyder to Broad Street, and connect to the Broad Street Line.  Cy read the Metro and admired his hat in the reflection off the murky subway car windows.

Meanwhile, a rowdy band of transportation enthusiasts waited in front of the Municipal Services Building with a nifty generator-powered race clock.  The crowd hummed with chatter about commutes and signal timing and traffic flow algorithms.  Then, suddenly, the innocent voice of a child pierced the air: "Look!"

There was Pat, pedaling triumphantly down Broad Street in his suit jacket.  Jill arrived shortly thereafter.  Commute Race finished.  The bicycle had taken the day, covering 3+ miles of rush hour road in a swift time of 18:35. 

The race for second place was tight.  The Zipcar pulled up to the curb at 24:50.
No sooner had Peter emerged from the car than Cy crossed the street (at the crosswalk) and strolled in.  His time: 25:15.

The public transit option was nearly as fast as driving a car, but both took more than 30% longer than a law-abiding cyclist commuter.

Pat and Jill celebrated their victory on the sidewalk and accepted Peter and Cy's congratulations.  Then the boisterous crowd of transportation enthusiasts briefly hoisted the bicycle, the Zipcar, and Cy on their shoulders before departing for their day jobs.


Anonymous said...

“They stopped at every stop sign and stop light, neither track standing nor riding on the sidewalk. “

I’m curious to know what the issue is with “track standing” is if you come to a complete stop then proceed on through the stop sign?

Anonymous said...

There's no issue with track standing if you're not doing it mid-intersection against the light.

Chris Bujak said...

Nicholas, I think they mentioned the track stand because there is a slight time loss when you stop, put your foot down and then proceed. After a few stop signs or lights this track stand advantage would grow.
In this case it could be considered the car equivalent of the 'rolling stop' that most Philadelphia drivers perform when encountering a stop sign.

Personally as long as your vehicle (whether bike or car) comes to a complete stop it is the same in the eyes of the law. (though not necessarily in the eyes of the police officer watching you)

Unknown said...

The SEPTA rider had someone else drive, a seat on a warm dry bus/subway, and a chance to read the newspaper. I think I'll stick to the train.

Anonymous said...

Point well taken, George. ;^)

Josh said...

Chris got it right. The PA vehicle code requires all vehicles (including cyclists) to stop forward motion at a stop sign. Contrary to what some police might tell you, there is not two second rule or foot down rule for bicyclists. Track stands are okay as long as you are behind the stop sign.

Anonymous said...

I agree, just wanted to make sure there really wasn't some sort of foot down law.

“The SEPTA rider had someone else drive, a seat on a warm dry bus/subway, and a chance to read the newspaper. I think I'll stick to the train.”

Yep, taking SEPTA will keep you from the elements or doing physical activity. But enjoying the outdoors and moving my legs both seem like pluses to me when I’m stuck sitting inside for 9+ hours a day at work.