By Emily Badger, November 8, 2013
Because humans are weird and complicated and not always rational, it's
not enough to scatter bikes around town if you want people to use them.
Changing behavior – especially behavior as deeply embedded as our
commuting patterns, or our preference for cars above all – may also
require a little nudge.
There's a ridiculously simple way to do this with bikes: Show people
how long the exact same trip would take in a car, or on foot, or even by
transit. One of Google Maps's smartest innovations has been to make
these side-by-side comparisons possible in its trip planner, with
alternate routes laid out on the same screen:
Google Maps. Alternate walking and driving directions, by
time and distance, from the Atlantic Cities office to Dupont Circle in
Zach Rausnitz recently imported some of this Google Maps data into an even more powerful tool for local bike-share users in Washington, D.C. (hat tip to DCist).
Rausnitz has used historic data from actual Capital Bikeshare member
trips to calculate the average time a ride takes between any two
stations in the system (he threw out the crazy outliers in his
Even more usefully, Rausnitz's Bikeshare Trip Timer
now compares those results to Google Maps data on how long it would
take to travel the same route between bike-share stations by other
The Bikeshare Trip Planner
Google's data doesn't factor in traffic or parking time. So what would
you rather chose: a free bike ride of about nine minutes, with no
parking hassle, or a six-minute car ride with more unknowns (and parking
costs), or an 18 minute metro trip?
This comparison is so powerful – and this is the kind of data any
bike-share system needs – for one big reason. It's not enough to make it
possible for people to bike. What advocates really need to do is make clear the costs of not biking, in minutes saved or dollars not spent.