Walk, Bike, or Bus?

When I saw Visualmotive’s “Walk or Bus?” chart, I was fascinated. I love stuff like this! It answers the question of “If I have to be somewhere, is it going to be faster to wait for a bus, or just start hiking?”

I am a multi-mode commuter. I often use the bus to get myself downtown. Sometimes, I also need to get around the city. I almost always do this on my bike. Still, I felt compelled to create a chart that included bicycling.

To work this out, I wrote a program in PHP.

The following chart (click it to enlarge) shows whether it’d technically be faster to Walk, ride, or wait for the next bus. Of course, I’d recommend walking or riding if it’s practical, even if it’s not the fastest way.

The top header is how long you’ll have to wait for the next bus to arrive. Down the side is the distance you need to travel. In many cities, one mile is about 8 city blocks, a little more than .1 mile each.

Where there’s a gray bus icon, it’s faster to wait for the bus. Where there’s a blue bicycle, it’s faster to hop on the bike and ride. The yellow jogging man represents a brisk walking pace (4 MPH) and the green foot represents trudging along with an average gait of 3 MPH. I extended the chart out to 4.0 miles, which is about how far one can expect to get on a bicycle in an urban setting within half an hour at 8 MPH. These are just guidelines, of course. Some people are considerably faster on bicycles. Others are slower. Same with walking and the bus, actually.

Of course, speed isn’t the only variable. Traffic congestion, mechanical problems, the ability to take shortcuts by foot or by bike, and other things beyond your control can throw this off.  This definitely isn’t a reference card to keep on you. It’s more of something to get you thinking about how you get around, and maybe something to show your friends and co-workers when they ask how practical non-motorized transportation really is.


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  2. Pardes

    There is another category to consider. The bike/bus combo commuting.

    Daily I bike to the bus stop, put me and the bike on the bus for the drive on the interstate highway, and then bike from the bus stop to work. Then I reverse it at night. For the last 16 months I’ve used ONLY my bike (and bus combo) for all my transportation needs from work to shopping to just pedaling around for recreation.

  3. Backyardavore

    I like the chart concept but I’m not sure I like the math. You somewhat address my concern in your final paragraph.

    My kid’s school is exactly two miles from my house. By car, it takes about 7.5 minutes. Pulling him in the bike trailer, it takes about 8.5 minutes.

    The biggest delay is the stop light to get across the single intersection in our way. The light cycles at 2:15 intervals in the morning and 1:45 in the afternoons. So, that light alone could account for a quarter of the commute.

    Without the trailer and child (combined, about 75 pounds), a six mile trip is about 20 minutes.

    In any case, the shorter the trip, the far more heavily I favor a human-powered solution.


  4. Noah (Post author)

    Yeah, the math doesn’t always make sense. Example, some of the buses on routes I use don’t go straight up or down one road. And then there are fun tricks like flanking a bus you just missed (traveling on an arterial) going down some side street with stop signs every two blocks, knowing that after a mile you will come out faster than the bus due to stop lights, allowing you to get on at the next bus stop. 🙂

    On my 29-mile round trip commute from suburbia to downtown KC, I usually average about 14-16 MPH (PR of 19.6) when I ride the whole trip without using the bus. In urban traffic, I usually come out ahead of cars because I save time parking and stoplights keep average speed pretty low. As I mentioned above, it’s easy to beat buses with their bus stops AND stoplights combined. It’s pretty hard to beat the bike for short errands and urban trips, and even when the bike’s slower, it’s always funner.

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