Friday, February 20, 2009

Bike Conquers Traffic Jam

When traffic's at its worst, it's great to go by bike. An hour ago, I peddaled up Margit krt., the busiest road in Buda, to drop off our boy at day care. It was typically thick Friday traffic -- when the usual throng of commuters merges with weekend travellers and grocery shoppers. 

I managed to get through the chaos at Moszkva tér, Buda's most snarled crossroads, without incident. But on the way back after dropping off the kid, the situation had deteriorated. A long, articulated bus was stuck on Krisztina krt., blocking crossing traffic on Csaba utca. Nothing was moving, either, on Margit krt. I could hear sirens, indicating a traffic accident might be gumming up the works. It seemed no one was moving.

Seige mentality had taken hold, and the teetering edifice of roadway decorum had crumbled to the ground. In this situation, motorists fixate on the rear bumper of car in front, and tailgate as tightly as possible lest a competing commuter sneak into the gap in her Smart car. This descent into anarchy exacerbates things, of course, but for the bicyclist, it's no problem. 

That meter of space between bumpers gives me ample room to cut across traffic, and the gap between lanes makes for swift passage down any traffic-jammed street. It's a bit slower than when traffic's moving, of course; I've got to take care not to sideswipe anybody. But I try to make a game of it, pretending the cars are gates on an Alpine slalom course, and I'm Hermann Maier skiing to his umpteenth World Cup victory! 

At any rate, 15 minutes later, I'm home sipping coffee and writing smart-ass commentary about motorists, while the poor schmucks in their cars are still out there thumbing SMS appologies to their colleagues and clients for being late.

I don't know if you've ever seen the graph above. It's de rigueur for any presentation about the benefits of transport cycling. Not the altruistic, socially responsible, climate-saving benefits, mind you. I'm talking about the selfish, hedonistic benefit of being faster than everyone else. The graph shows that, due to a bike's maneuverability, ease of parking and other factors, it is faster, door-to-door, than a car for short, urban journeys. For trips that involve long stretches on an expressway or lightly trafficked thoroughfare, the car's greater horsepower naturally has the advantage. But for trips in traffic across the city, the bike wins hands down. This morning's ride was a potent reminder of why that's true.  


anna said...

I've seen a similar graph before, and quite like it. It was also in "Cycling - the way ahead for towns and cities" on p. 11, which can be downloaded on (in case you don't know it already).

I know exactly what you mean by sitting at home and drinking tea when others are still sitting in a traffic jam ;-). There are only very few times, when I'm stuck too. On the bike it's cool. I just hate being in trams at the rush hour - they are really slow because the rails are blocked all the time.

Greg Spencer said...

Yep. Budapest trams normally have priority on streets, so they don't get stuck in traffic as often as they do in some places. Still -- my son's daycare is in a bit of a public transport dead zone, so it takes forever to get there unless you go by bike. When it comes to commuting, the quicker the better.