Flickr/David Goehring

Show them how much time they waste using other modes of transportation.

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 Washington, D.C.

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 calculations).

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 modes:

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.

Top image: Flick user David Goehring.

About the Author

Emily Badger

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

Most Popular

  1. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  2. Life

    Why a City Block Can Be One of the Loneliest Places on Earth

    Feelings of isolation are common in cities. Let’s take a look at how the built environment plays into that.

  3. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.

  4. Members of a tenants' organization in East Harlem gather outside the office of landlord developer Dawnay, Day Group, as lawyers attempt to serve the company with court papers on behalf of tenants, during a press conference in New York. The tenant's group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, filed suit against Dawnay, Day Group, the London-based investment corporation "for harassing tenants by falsely and illegally charging fees in attempts to push immigrant families from their homes and gentrify the neighborhood," said Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney for the tenants.
    Equity

    Toward Being a Better Gentrifier

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a neighbor during a time of rapid community change.

  5. Infrastructure

    Vienna Makes Peace With Its Trash

    The famously clean Austrian city boasts one of the world’s most innovative waste processing systems.