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Study: No, bikes aren’t really slowing cars down

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Gadgets for humans

At least in Portland, anyway

One of the most common complaints cyclists hear from drivers is that bikes slow them down on city streets. It’s common to have drivers dangerously overtake you on crowded roads due to MGIF (Must-Get-In-Front) syndrome. Bikes can’t go as fast as a car, so obviously they’re slowing down the other motorists on the road, right?

Not so fast. A study published in the Transportation Research Record journal last month suggests that on average, cyclists have a negligible impact on traffic speeds — generally no more than 1 mph (via Forbes).

The study was conducted in Portland and, to be clear, it was performed on “lower volume roads without bike lanes”; the results aren’t the consequence of bike lanes helping to shift the numbers in bikes‘ favor. Speeds were also compared at both rush hour traffic and over 24-hour cycles; there was some difference in the scenarios, but again, “generally in the order of 1 mph or less.” One might surmise than in a typical city with a mix of bike lanes and shared road, the impact is even lower.

The study also points out that, unsurprisingly, cyclists riding downhill were less likely to be MGIF’d by drivers. That also bodes well for cyclists on e-bikes, who for obvious reasons tend to be faster uphill.

Of course, you can’t definitively extrapolate a single study in one city to traffic everywhere, but it’s a relief to hear as someone who regularly rides e-bikes.

It’s easy to get anxious about drivers behind you — I don’t want to feel like I’m slowing other people down. As it turns out, I probably wasn’t. In any case, I was a driver in NYC for years before I made my first bike trip, and, anecdotally speaking, I know that I’m slowed down by double-parked cars and unscrupulous pedestrians much more often than bikes on the road.

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Published July 2, 2020 — 22:12 UTC

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