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The Beautiful Commute: Visualizing One Year of Biking to Work in Cincinnati

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

Introduction

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. 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:

  • Total distance: 1,407 miles
  • Total elevation: 93,009 ft
  • Longest commute (one-way): ~8 miles
  • Shortest commute (one-way): ~2 miles
  • Coldest day: -3°F
  • Hottest day: 92°F

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 the data from the Strava web page and then imported it into QGIS for map 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):

  • I work too far away...
  • I have to dress up for work...
  • My job is exhausting, the last thing I want to do is bike home...
  • Hills...
  • It's too hot...
  • It's too cold...
  • It's raining...
  • It's dangerous...
  • I'm in a hurry...
  • I'm too old...
  • I'm too young...
  • I don't have time...
  • I have kids...
  • I can't fit groceries on my bike...

Again, none of these are real excuses. These are simply the fallacious ramblings of unambitious suburbanites. Any amount of time spent living in Europe, NYC, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Vancouver, basically anywhere outside the Midwest and it would become instantly apparent how petty these excuses are.

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. But until residents can figure that out, they’ll have to enjoy their traffic, pollution, and obesity.