Monday, 14 January 2013

Speed freaks

"No thanks, I need to take the car as it's far quicker"
"But it must take FOREVER to cycle there!"
"Cars are far quicker than cycling"

Sounds like something you may have heard before? I bet it does!

After all, cars can go stupidly fast and we all know that, don't we? So it must be obvious that cars are FAR quicker than bikes.

But are they? Let's look at some facts:
Over the past 3 500 miles of cycling in very hilly Devon, my average speed is 12.7 mph. Now I'll be the first to point out that this is much slower than a car doing say 70mph on a motorway. Indeed, to get from Plymouth to London is far quicker, and less tiring, by car (although I believe cycling the journey will be a great deal more fun!)

Like most cycle campaigners, I am NOT anti-car, and I'm certainly not saying we should get rid of all cars forever. Yes, there are issues, such as the pollution created, and the wanton death and destruction associated with driving, that need to urgently be addressed, but cars will remain absolutely essential for many people, and many journeys.

Where we may disagree is who those people are, and which journeys are essential. Cars are NOT essential to go do shopping, unless you'd be picking up very large, bulky and heavy objects. Cars are NOT necessary for most people doing trips of three miles or less.

In fact, according to the DfT, 20% of all car journeys are one mile or less! Think about that a minute - why would you drive less than a mile?

The UK is sitting on a health time bomb, with obesity rates rocketing. In 2010, over a quarter of all adults in the UK were classed as obese, with 63% of all adults classed as either overwight or obese. This obesity epidemic carries an enormous cost, in human and financial terms, with obese people being at vastly increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Add into the mix the fact that almost two thirds of UK adults lead a sedentary life, which again decreases their life expectancy.

And yet people think driving a journey of less than one mile is acceptable!

Ignoring all the health issues for the moment, including the unnecessary additional pollution created by trips that could easily be made by bicycle or on foot, let's look at speed of travel for a moment.

Very recently I drove my wife's car to collect two of my children. Whilst waiting for them, I went through the statistics that the car gathers automatically and I must say I was surprised by what I saw.
I've always known that cycling in congested cities is a far quicker way of getting around than driving, but on long distance journeys the opposite would obviously be true.

My eldest daughter does competitive swimming, and that often means regular long-distance trips at motorway speeds to Cardiff and other destinations. I mention this to clearly illustrate that my wife's car doesn't only do urban trips.

Here's what the car's statistics look like:

In case it isn't clear, it shows that over almost 800 miles the car travelled at an average speed of 19.3 mph.
Yes, that's an average, and at times it travelled much faster, but the fact remains that this is a surprisingly low average speed.
In fact, that is higher than the average speed for the largest urban areas (excluding London, which is even lower). The average speed of travel in those areas is only 17.8 mph!

There are many cyclists who maintain a higher average speed than 17.8 mph, which simply means they are often slowed down by cars that keep getting in the way.

Remember this next time you drive into any congested urban setting and you see cyclists around you. Almost every one of those cyclists represent one less car clogging up the roads around you, thus helping speed up your journey that little bit. Now imagine if every car around you disappeared and was replaced by a bicycle - how much more road space would you have? Wouldn't that be fantastic?

Even better, imagine you're one of those cyclists happily zooming past row upon row of cars stuck in traffic. No wonder we're always smiling!