Soapdish: 'Dump the Pump' commuting experiment races bikes, buses and cars

Attention intrepid Cincinnati commuters! Your attention please. All things being equal, if you were commuting from Mt. Lookout Square to say, oh City Hall, and you had the choice of automobile, bicycle or bus, which would you choose, and why? Moreover, which one do you think would win out, both in terms of commute times as well as the overall feel-good morning transit experience?  

This past Tuesday, I bore witness to just such an experiment, and the results were, to say the least, interesting.

The rules were simple: The commuters were to travel portal to portal (which includes parking, lock-up and the like) and had to abide by posted limits and regulations.

At the crack of dawn on Tuesday, your fearless Soapdish reporter leapt out of bed in order to chronicle this experiment en temps réel, and, in order to spice things up, I provided the added option of “scooter” to the range of transit alternatives available for the commute. I quickly headed east out of Pendleton in order to meet my comrades at Mt. Lookout Square by 7 a.m. Relishing an opportunity to beat the heat, the 72-degree ride up and out of the basin was probably the coolest moment in an otherwise sweaty and sweltering day. My ride of choice was the finest in sub-standard Chinese scooter engineering, a Cobalt blue “Tao-Tao 50.”

I arrived at Lookout Joe to find two of the participants in this multi-modal Gumball Rally already luxuriating, al fresco, steeling themselves with appropriate levels of caffeine for the noble race ahead. In one chair, hailing from Norwood, was father of three Noel Leon Gauthier, a partner at design consultancy The Launch Werks, and recent addition at Frameri as head of design and development. Poised alongside Gauthier was his ride of choice, a steel, single-speed Raleigh Furley. He was armed with little more than a change of clothes for work and a full toolkit.  

Opposite Gauthier was Jake Hodesh, an east side resident who lives with his wife and daughter in one unit of a three family that they own. Hodesh works downtown at The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and is vice president of operations for People's Liberty. Hodesh and his wife, both Queen City natives, returned to Cincinnati after a seven-year stint in Savannah, as well as various other cities before that. Hodesh’s ride of choice? Cincinnati Metro’s sleek and artic-level air conditioned 25x express bus downtown. Hodesh arrived at Lookout Joe following a short 15-minute walk from his nearby home on Overland.

On your mark, get set

Following the usual familiarities, we carefully sized each other up, friendly but warily, and awaited the final party in Cincinnati’s version of an on-road, tamed-down mini-Paris/Dakar rally (actually, it was nothing like that, but the imagery of scooters, bikes and MetroBuses flying over sand dunes was too indelibly etched in my brain at the time to ignore).

Fifteen minutes or so later, Eric Avner, Soapbox’s Chief Instigator, Haile Foundation VP and the CEO of People’s Liberty, pulled up in an understated, well-waxed, charcoal grey 2007 Acura TSX. Avner would provide the final link in our multi-modal, ersatz Cannonball Run (sadly, Dom DeLouise was unavailable), and he was reminded to adhere to posted speed limits throughout his journey to Plum Street. Avner was 15 minutes late due to his inability to locate the car keys, a fact that, arguably, should be added to his time.  

Hodesh’s bus was to arrive at 7:52 a.m., so we milled about and chatted about the day’s events as we finished our coffee.

At about 7:43 a.m., a somewhat informal kickoff occurred, as Gauthier sped off down Delta on his trusty Raleigh. The rest of us looked at each other, shrugged and headed off to our respective vehicles or bus stop. I watched Avner’s late-model Acura motor out of the Square at 7:47 a.m., bid adieu and piloted the trusty Tao-Tao down Delta Avenue toward the mighty Ohio River. Hodesh was left at the Square, quietly hoping his bus would arrive on time.

The ride down Delta was amazingly smooth, in stark contrast to the Belize-like road terrain of the Delta Avenue of years past. The well-delineated bike lanes were, no doubt, a welcome amenity to our fearless bike rider, which continued as we turned onto Riverside Drive. Given that I was astride a motorized scooter, I naturally stayed out of the bike lane and maintained a steady  35 mph as I headed toward downtown. I passed Gauthier right around the iconic St. Rose’s church, as the cityscape of downtown began to rise in the distance.  

Curiously enough, my adherence to the rules and regulations of the road caused no small amount of consternation to the edgy and agitated drivers in my rearview mirror, many of whom still consider Riverside Drive to be a mini version of Columbia Parkway, speed limits be damned. To this end, no less than five cars passed me on a double yellow line, with one of them also running the red light at Bains (ironically enough where the road expands).

Gauthier, meanwhile, had an “entirely uneventful” ride. Like me, he took in the expansive views that are much more available to the non-automobile drivers. As he observed, “Riverside had great views of the city coming around the bend, as usual … and the remaining sunrise still looked great between the bends in the river, with Tusculum and Alms Park behind me.” He later found Eggleston and Central Parkway to be equally uneventful, save for the large posters at the Casino advertising ZZ Top and the Counting Crowes concerts, which precipitated him to ponder what decade we were in.

Hodesh, on the other hand, had hopped on the bus at 7:53 a.m., greeted by a “kind, warm and welcoming driver.” He then multi-tasked for the ensuing 13 minutes as the 85 percent-full vehicle made its way down Columbia Parkway. During that time, he finished 1.5 podcasts and read all eight news stories on his morning news app. By 8:06 a.m. he had arrived at Sixth and Main, and then hoofed it to City Hall in less than 10 minutes. Total cost: $1.75.

As I approached City Hall, I passed Avner, pulling up to a parking space and about to feed an actually functioning, non-decapitated parking meter. I circled a bit and pulled up on the sidewalk by the City Hall bike walk (sidewalk parking on small scooters is now allowed, as long as you're not blocking any ingress/egress). We both signed in at 8:07 a.m. (although I was technically first), 20 minutes after leaving the Square.

Following close on our heels, Gauthier pulled in three minutes later at 8:10 a.m. Then, as we chatted briefly with interim city manager Scott Stiles in the lobby, Hodesh strolled in at 8:16 a.m., 23 minutes after leaving the Square. My attempt to photo-document the login times was thwarted by an overzealous security guard, who directed me to the law department down the hall. Eschewing the need to file a subpoena, it was readily apparent that we all arrived in a span of less than 10 minutes.

The results are in

During the commute, I hypothesized a bit, noting that our city’s mayor lives but a hop, skip and a frisky jump from Mt. Lookout Square. If given the option, perhaps he would choose one of our transit alternatives, strolling down Delta to the Square, enjoying a cup of coffee with some of his constituents and then hopping the bus downtown, easily reading the Enquirer cover to cover during the journey, while also answering a few emails and mentally preparing himself for the rigors of the day ahead. The short walk to City Hall from Vine would allow for some further interaction with the citizenry, while also giving him a “sense of the city” that you don’t get when enveloped in the cocoon of the car.

As Hodesh commented, “between my dropoff and City Hall, I saw and said hi to three people I knew. If it wasn’t for the ‘competition,’ I would have stopped and talked to them. …  my normal daily commute doesn’t allow me to intersect with many people.” (Hodesh could have brought his bike with him on the bus, thereby easily minimizing his travel time from dropoff to City Hall.)

Avner, for his part, found it interesting to engage in the actual experiment, as opposed to speculating on the results. “I was amazed that the four of us were so close in time,” he said. Moreover, he continued, there are all sorts of variables to consider, e.g., the results would be different if we started in an office building, where the car had to be retrieved from a garage as opposed to the bus rider and bicyclist simply walking out the door. Living near transit lines or along streets with bike lanes adds to the convenience.

All in all there are a multitude of variables that go into assessing the overall experience. When one considers the “sweat index,” those taking the bus and car were at an advantage. Then again, our Cincinnati Bike Center at the Banks offers lockers and showers for just this reason (although that would require some added time).

When one considers the “fitness” index, obviously the bike would win out.  

On the purely “multi-tasking” front, the bus would win out (presupposing that we are not a city of distracted drivers on their smart phones, which is, sadly, a bit of a stretch).  

And I haven’t even mentioned inclement weather, which can affect each alternative in a variety of ways (as can misplaced car keys, for that matter).

It was a truly fun and interesting experiment, with each option having its plusses and minuses. As Hodesh observed, “While in other cities, my wife and I were avid cyclists, users of public transit, etc. Since being here for 1.5 years, I have been automobile-dependent. I know this exercise will help me rethink that. … I am going to start busing and biking more—guaranteed.”

We here at Soapbox encourage our readers to try this experiement and share the results, with different starting and ending points, different routes, different times of the day. Like the participants in this experiment, you will find it eye opening to realize the varied, viable transit options available in the city. Guaranteed.

Read more articles by Casey Coston.

Soapbox columnist Casey Coston, a former corporate bankruptcy and restructuring attorney, is now involved in real estate development and construction in and around Over-the-Rhine and Pendleton as Vice President at Urban Expansion. He's also a civic activist and founder of a number of local groups, including the Urban Basin Bicycle Club, the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network, the World Famous OTR Ping Pong League and LosantiTours: An Urban Exploration Company.
Signup for Email Alerts