New York City: Subway vs Bike

20 Sep

You can’t say you’ve experienced New York City until you’ve ridden the subway. Besides, between the $30 per day cost of renting bikes in NYC and how intense our ride was yesterday, we opted to take the subway to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was also curious to compare taking the subway to taking the bike.


The Google Maps transit option recommended we take the A-C blue line from Penn Station to 86th, then walk across Central Park to the museum at 82nd and 5th Avenue. Buying subway tickets was fast, easy and not too expensive at $2.50. But Dick’s ticket wouldn’t open the turnstile, so he had to ask the ticket agent for help. Twice. Also, we had a hard time figuring out whether we should take the A and C lines. The fact that the subway didn’t having a system map posted in the station didn’t help.

But we made it to 86th Street and walked a pleasant 3/4 mile in light rain across Central Park to the museum. For the route back we walked to the East Side’s 77th St station and took the 6 line subway to 33rd and walked about a mile back to the hotel. Total walking: 2 miles.

Thinking back over our trip and comparing to our ride yesterday, which happened to take us past the museum, here’s my take on subway vs bike.

Time: Factoring out the lost time in the station it took us about 30 minutes on the subway. On the bike, the 3.2 miles would have taken about 15-20 minutes. Bike wins.

Comfort: On a bike with fenders, riding in light rain and walking are about the same. Sitting on a bike is more comfortable than standing on a crowded subway. Bike wins.

Mental stress: Riding a bike in city traffic, especially in the rain, is much more mentally stressful than the riding the subway. But the subway is LOUD. Not that the street is quiet either. Subway wins.

Physical stress: If you have foot problems that make walking difficult, note that the subway route requires significant walking, including stairs, so I had to wear comfortable walking shoes. On a bike I can wear heels, and on a bike I can comfortably carry more stuff: laptop, shopping bags, groceries, etc. Bike wins.

Reliability: Due to the number of riders it supports, the subway in NYC is very reliable. But if something halts the line, like a water main break, it can be long walk to an alternate line. On a bike on the street grid, there are almost always adjacent streets available if there’s a street closure. Bike wins.

Given the pros and cons above, which would you take: subway or bike? Does one factor trump all others?

Speaking of water main breaks, here’s my video of the break that almost kept us from using the subway.

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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Issues & Infrastructure, Travel


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