The Beautiful Commute: Visualizing one full year of bike commuting in Cincinnati

TL;DR - I mapped out an entire year of biking to and from work here in Cincinnati.


2017 was an interesting year in terms of my daily commute. Although I unfortunately own a car, I refuse to waste my life mired in a quagmire of traffic like some kind of suburban commuter. This means I’m biking everywhere, or taking transit. But not like one of those weird weekend warriors dressed head to toe in fluorescent lycra, more like hoodie and sweat pants. What made 2017 interesting was the fact that not only did I move around several times, but being apart of a rapidly growing tech startup, so did my office.

Some highlights:

The best part about commuting via bike was once my one-way commute distance dropped below about four miles, it ended up being just a quick as driving! This was due to the fact that traffic doesn’t exist when you’re on a bike, neither does parking. The biking advantage increases even more during inclement weather, since Cincinnati residents still haven’t figured out how to drive correctly when it rains or snows. Lastly, one of the more salient aspects of bike commuting is that even if it takes a little bit longer to commute, I end up having more free time because I don’t have to waste time outside of work going to the gym. I basically gained an extra hour, every day of the work week.🚴‍♂️👌

I captured location data using the Strava app running on my phone. At the end of the year I wrote a quick Python script that scraped all my data from the Strava web page and converted the GPX files into GeoJSON files so they could be imported into QGIS for rendering. Note that in the images below, all the detours are due to grocery shopping, meeting up with friends, bars, etc. Or if it was a nice day out, I probably took the long way home. Cyan represents the morning commute while magenta represents the evening commute.

Another reason I was interested in mapping out all my bike commutes is because people in Cincinnati view the concept of walking or biking short distances instead of driving about as foreign a concept as high energy particle physics. These short trips would include going to the grocery store, the park, gym, work, school, etc. Besides reducing traffic and pollution, people who bike or walk to work are happier and healhier than those who choose to drive. It’s also patently more fun than traveling around in a tin can.

Unfortunately, because Cincinnati resides squarely in the middle of flyover country, residents here have a fairly uncultured outlook on biking. As such, biking in Cincinnati falls into two main stereotypes. Either you’re privileged enough to live close to where you work or you’re a failure because you can’t afford a car. This regressive mindset means Cincinnati lags substantially behind most cities when we should be thriving. Cincinnati is an ideal biking city. It’s compact, the weather is mild. The hills are short, with plenty of alternate routes. As I’ve illustrated above, all it takes is the motivation to not be a car dependent slob. If I can do it, literally anyone can do it!

When I moved back to Cincinnati last year, I regrettably had to spend the first three months living amongst the normies out in Hyde Park. While I was there, I couldn’t help but notice that I was basically the only one commuting and getting groceries via bicycle. Because of this, I began mentally recording the excuses my neighbors and other suburban residents would make in order to justify their unparalleled laziness. Now after a year of living in several of Cincinnati’s neighborhoods, I have accumulated a wide sampling of excuses. Here are some of the most common ones I heard (which are not real excuses whatsover):

Again, none of these are real excuses. All one needs to do is look at other cities across the United States for validation. Minneapolis, a city with winters substantially colder than Cincinnati has a higher rate of bike commuting. San Francisco, a city with hills far bigger than what’s in Cincinnati has a higher rate of bike commuting. These are not excuses, but simply the fallacious ramblings of lazy, unambitious suburbanites.

So how did we come to this sad state of mobility? Well, Cincinnati like many American cities continues to mistakenly redesign many portions of the built environment to maximize the efficiency of the automobile at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. This preference towards automotive convenience has proven a tough barrier to overcome in regards to increasing the bicycle ridership across the United States.

This complete lack of forethought by our “urban planners” can be overcome rather easily however. Just because the built environment has been redesigned to incentivize car dependence and laziness doesn’t mean you actually have to live that way. Travel to any one of Cincinnati’s traffic clogged suburban neighborhoods around rush hour and you’ll witness the tragedy of the commons in full effect. Cincinnati’s residents need to stop selfishly thinking about personal convenience, and for once, consider the greater good when choosing between mobility options. No one likes bike commuting in the rain or in the dead of winter, but either of those situations are preferable to arriving like generic Steve who sat in his car for 30 minutes then took the elevator.

bike commuting in cincinnati

For most trips, substituting biking for driving is a fairly painless alternative, all it takes is a bit of motivation. Once the habit of biking instead of driving is established, traveling throughout the city becomes a fun way to break up the day, and cleanse the mind. Cincinnati is a great city for biking and walking. Commuting via bicycle is an opportunity to enjoy the day, get some fresh air and exercise.