Pedal power proves faster downtown

Pedal power proves faster downtown

March 16th, 2011 by Rebecca Miller in Local Regional News

A new multimodal travel time pilot study could steer people to consider biking around downtown Chattanooga to speed up their commute.

David Baird, senior planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, was inspired to do a multimodal travel time pilot study by his own experiences biking downtown.

Photo by Rebecca Miller/Times Free Press.

"I don't think this study proves that bicycles are faster, but it sheds light on the fact that the personal vehicle isn't always the fastest just because it reaches the highest speeds," said David Baird, senior planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. "We really see this pilot study as an educational tool."

The study, which showed bikes as the fastest option 80 percent of the time, began as an observation by Baird and a co-worker who bring their bikes to work. They noticed when they bike to a restaurant for lunch they almost always arrive before coworkers who choose to drive.

Baird said they were asked to host a workshop at the Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference last September and decided to expand their observation into a study and presentation for that conference. With help from the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Baird created the pilot study while following carefully controlled scientific methodology.

"The reason we call it multi-modal is there are four major transportation methods in the study: walking, personal automobiles, bus and bicycle," said Baird, who found 10 volunteers willing to use all four methods to time specific routes within the city and who were not members of any transportation advocacy groups. "We had to make sure there was a standardized way to do the route. Google Maps gives directions now for driving, walking and biking. CARTA already has designated routes."

Staff members at CreateHere voted to determine the five most common destinations downtown - Coolidge Park, Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center, Tennessee Aquarium and UTC's Student Center - which would be the start and end of the routes. Each of the 10 participants were given four different routes to follow that were calculated by Google Maps using all four modes of transportation starting at the northern most origin and always traveling south to a destination.

"One of the most important things about this kind of study is that we realized transportation is really about how long it takes to get from one door of a building to another door of a building," Baird said. "Most people think of it as the time they turn on their car to when they turn it off, but they still have to get out of the car and walk to the door. We had them start and stop their clocks in front of doors."

After all participants made a successful trial run of their routes, they were allowed to take an official time door to door from origin to destination. The results showed the bicycle as generally faster, having the shortest travel time eight out of 10 sets.

Baird said the mode of transportation with the largest variable in time was the bus route because some volunteers didn't have to wait long before they boarded, while others waited at the bus stop for a significantly longer period. The study also found that walkers had the straightest and most direct routes because they could travel on one-way streets in the opposite direction, while cars, buses and bikes would have to circle the block. The two routes where a bicycle was not the fastest mode of transportation were from Coolidge Park to the Convention Center on CARTA and from Coolidge Park to UTC's Student Center by car.

"Our hypothesis before the study was that the bicycle times in the downtown corridor would probably be quicker," Baird said. "In locations where the bicycles weren't quickest, there were logical reasons why they weren't."

Baird plans to continue using the study as an educational tool and hopes to connect it to the new Bike Share Program, emphasizing that bicycles are not just for recreation, but are also efficient transportation alternatives. The findings will be presented next at second World Congress on Exercise is Medicine in Denver, Colo., this June and the study's abstract will be published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise."