Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Intraday Biking

The things I carried.

The history of bicycling in the United States has been overwhelmingly recreational. (See Why Are European and American Bicycling So Different?) In recent years, though, bicyclists in Philadelphia and a number of other American cities have started to ride their bikes to work in considerable numbers - not the kind of numbers we see in the Netherlands or Denmark or Germany, but still noteworthy.

The thing that was missing was people going around town in between commuter hours. The Europeans use the term utilitarian bicycling, which can include commuting but also the little trips. Dropping kids off at school, or preschool. Going to the grocery store. Going to a meeting at someone else's office.

I'm primarily a recreational bicyclist myself, but I've also taken to riding Indego bikes to the Reading Terminal Market and to the Whole Foods on South Street. These are just far enough away from home that I don't always feel like walking.

Recently I've had the impression that there were more bikes on the streets of Philly in the middle of the day. I'm not sure they're all running errands like me. Some are in spandex and look like they may be out to Fairmount Park and beyond for a training ride. Others look like students and professors on their way to class. And others look like they may be commuting to jobs that start later than 9 a.m. - stores maybe, or restaurants.

Let's borrow a term from the stock market and call it intraday biking.

The Counts
As I said, I've had an impression. But what's that worth? So I decided to get some numbers.

My first stop was Rival Bros, the coffee shop at 24th and Lombard. I wanted to see what traffic was like at the deadest times. I made a leap of faith and picked 2:30-3:30 in the afternoon - after lunch, before the rush. This was on Wednesday, June 15.

It was pretty quiet. Westbound, in the bike lane on Lombard, there were 31 bikes in the hour (19 males, 12 females). Southbound on 24th there were 14 bicyclists (9 males, 4 females, one child riding with a grownup).

In all these counts I logged people as they exited the intersection. There was quite a bit of turning, and it would probably be nice to capture that information. Something for next time.

This was the quietest hour that I saw. On average, there was a bicyclist floating though the intersection every 80 seconds.

I went back to Rival on the morning of Friday, June 17. (You should try the Derringer, which I think is called a cortado elsewhere.) Between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. there were 65 bicyclists, or more than one a minute. Westbound there were 59 (38 males, 21 females). Southbound there were 6 (5 males, one female).

Next I went to Plenty, at 16th and Spruce. (I can't resist the chocolate croissants.) Between 9:20 and 10:20 a.m. on Monday, June 20, there were 152 bicyclists through the intersection, 116 males and 36 females, or approximately one every 25 seconds. Westbound, in the bike lane on Spruce, there were 93 (70 male, 23 female). Northbound on 16th there were 59 (46 male, 13 female).

On the afternoon of June 20, sitting in my sidewalk chair at Plenty, I saw 113 bicycles gliding through the intersection, or approximately one every 30 seconds. This count ran from 2:30 to 3:30. The weather was sunny, with a temperature of 93 degrees. Westbound there were 83 cyclists (61 male, 22 female). Northbound there were 30 (19 male, 11 female).

What the Numbers Mean
These numbers say a few things to me.

First, biking is an all-day phenom, at least in parts of Center City. I'm not sure people have noticed it yet. Bikes are small and quiet, and easy to miss if you're not looking for them.

Second, there was only one child. This is probably an unfair observation; the locations I picked are parts of major commuter routes where there won't necessarily be a lot of children. But still, there was only one child.

Third, only 29 percent of the riders were female.

Women and children are markers for perceived safety. What I was looking at, I think, are the "strong and fearless" and the "enthused and confident." Maybe 10 percent of the population. Half the population is what we call "interested but concerned." I don't think they've showed up yet.

They haven't showed up because they don't think it's safe. Want them to show up?  Build protected bike lanes. That's what they did in Europe, and it works.

Rival Bros, after the coffee is done.

See also Flex Posts on Pine and SpruceMore on the Pine and Spruce Bike LanesLooking and Not Seeing, Listening and Not Hearing.

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