Study: Rush-Hour Bike Speeds Compare Favorably to Cars

A group of French researchers recently completed the “first robust” study of urban bicycling behavior, and the takeaway conclusion, in the parlance of their kind, is pretty clear: Vive le bike sharing.

The work, recently published in the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, centered on a bike-sharing program in Lyon, France, called Velo’v, which began in May 2005. Velo’v has evolved into a truly massive effort, with 343 stations and roughly 4,000 available bikes across Lyon, leading to an average of 16,000 trips a day. To get a better sense of the program’s achievements, four Lyon researchers analyzed some 11.6 million trips taken between May 2005 and the end of 2007.

On early weekday mornings, before rush hour, Lyon bicyclers reached an average speed of 14.5 kilometers per hour (roughly 9 miles per hour) — though “experienced or hurried” riders got up to 20 k.p.h. (12 m.p.h.), the authors report. During morning rush hours the average bicyclist’s speed dropped to 13.5 k.p.h. (8.4 m.p.h.). Still, that figure compares very favorably with the average car’s speed in a downtown European city, which ranges from 10 to 15 k.ph. (6.2 to 9.3 m.p.h.). When taking into account very short bike trips and the general difficulty of finding parking spots in Lyon, bicycling fares even better, conclude the authors:

Therefore, even when considering bare speeds, bikes are faster than cars in downtowns.