Dynamics in the process of transcription are often simplified, yet they play an important role in transcript folding, translation into functional protein and DNA supercoiling. While the modulation of the speed of transcription of individual genes and its role in regulation and proper protein folding has been analyzed in depth, the functional relevance of differences in transcription speeds as well as the factors influencing it have not yet been determined on a genome-wide scale. Here we determined transcription speeds for the majority of E. coli genes based on experimental data. We find large differences in transcription speed between individual genes and a strong influence of both cellular location as well as the relative importance of genes for cellular function on transcription speeds. Investigating factors influencing transcription speeds we observe both codon composition as well as factors associated to DNA topology as most important factors influencing transcription speeds. Moreover, we show that differences in transcription speeds are sufficient to explain the timing of regulatory responses during environmental shifts and highlight the importance of the consideration of transcription speeds in the design of experiments measuring transcriptomic responses to perturbations.