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These Animated Videos Show Just How Much Space Cars Waste In Our Cities

Cars need eight lanes to keep up with a single train moving the same amount of people.

We know that a car is just about the biggest waste of space around. And we don’t mean "waste of space" like your teenage kid’s stoner best friend, the one who mooches all the snacks from your fridge and watches your Netflix all day long. No, we mean a literal waste of space. As transportation goes, cars use more road real estate than buses, bikes, trams, or trains.

You can really see that truth in these great animations, designed to show just good different methods of transport are at moving people around. The first, produced by traffic planning software company PTV Vision Traffic, shows how long it takes to shift 200 people past a stop line, using various modes of transportation, including train, bus, bike, car, and walking. Here it is:

Cars, as you’d expect, came dead last, taking over four minutes to move just 200 people over the line. In the city, the superior acceleration and speed of a car give no advantage. Busses and trams come first—no surprise, they’re called "mass" transit for a reason. But bikes come in far behind pedestrians, taking two minutes to get 200 people over a line, compared to just 38 seconds for walking. Obviously, over longer distances, things change a lot, but it’s interesting nonetheless, as much city travel is stop-start.

The second video did the same, but with the occupancy levels of the vehicles tweaked so that they were all full to capacity (the previous video showed them at typical occupancy levels). Bikes fared worst this time, overtaken by cars (a bike is always at maximum occupancy after all, unless it’s a tandem), but trams and buses soared ahead. The tram took just nine seconds to shift 200 people over the line.

Now Traffic Inside has made a third animated video, this time focusing on the space used by vehicles. It has the same 200 people in the same vehicles, only this time the traffic lanes are widened so that each mode of transport takes the same amount of time to pass our hypothetical traffic light. The vehicles are occupied with a "typical number of passengers."

The various widths are given in meters, but you can see everything better in the video. Cars need eight lanes to keep up with a single tram track, and bikes need over half the space taken by cars, and four times the space required by pedestrians. Again, this is only relevant to stop-start traffic, but it shows how much space is wasted by allowing cars in cities.

Traffic research is ongoing, and in places like the Netherlands. bikes are often given priority. One paper has studied the capacity per hour of bike lanes. It seems clear that cars are the wrong choice in dense cities, but just how much space should given to bikes vs. mass transit, and so on? This is the question that could shape transport in the future.

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