Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Author is External News’ Category

Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists

The Conversation, 8 February 2019

Designing for bikes has become a hallmark of forward-looking modern cities worldwide. Bike-friendly city ratings abound, and advocates promote cycling as a way to reduce problems ranging from air pollution to traffic deaths.
But urban cycling investments tend to focus on the needs of wealthy riders and neglect lower-income residents and people of color. This happens even though the single biggest group of Americans who bike to work live in households that earn less than US$10,000 yearly, and studies in lower-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Boston have found that the majority of bicyclists were non-white.

I have worked on bicycle facilities for 38 years. In a newly published study, I worked with colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston groups focused on health and families to learn from residents of several such neighborhoods what kinds of bike infrastructure they believed best met their needs. Some of their preferences were notably different from those of cyclists in wealthier neighborhoods.

Cycling infrastructure and urban inequality

Bike equity is a powerful tool for increasing access to transportation and reducing inequality in U.S. cities. Surveys show that the fastest growth in cycling rates since 2001 has occurred among Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American riders. But minority neighborhoods have fewer bike facilities, and riders there face higher risk of accidents and crashes.

Many U.S. cities have improved marginalized neighborhoods by investing in grocery stores, schools, health clinics, community centers, libraries and affordable housing. But when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, they often add only the easiest and least safe elements, such as painting sharrows – stencils of bikes and double chevrons – or bike lane markings, and placing them next to curbs or between parked cars and traffic. Cycle tracks – bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs, lines of posts or rows of parked cars – are more common in affluent neighborhoods.

Compared with white wealthier neighborhoods, more bicyclists in ethnic-minority neighborhoods receive tickets for unlawful riding or are involved in collisions. With access to properly marked cycle tracks, they would have less reason to ride on the sidewalk or against traffic on the street, and would be less likely to be hit by cars.
In my view, responsibility for recognizing these needs rests primarily with cities.

Urban governments rely on public participation processes to help them target investments, and car owners tend to speak loudest because they want to maintain access to wide street lanes and parallel parking. In contrast, carless residents who could benefit from biking may not know to ask for facilities that their neighborhoods have never had.

Protection from crime and crashes

For our study, we organized 212 people into 16 structured discussion groups. They included individuals we classified as “community-sense” – representing civic organizations such as YMCAs and churches – or “street-sense,” volunteers from halfway houses, homeless shelters and gangs. We invited the street-sense groups because individuals who have committed crimes or know of crime opportunities have valuable insights about urban design.

We showed the groups photos of various cycling environments, ranging from unaltered streets to painted sharrows and bike lanes, cycle tracks and shared multi-use paths. Participants ranked the pictures according to the risk of crime or crashes they associated with each option, then discussed their perceptions as a group.

Studies have shown that awareness of criminal activity along bike routes can deter cyclists, and this is an important concern in low-income and minority neighborhoods. In a study in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, I found that African-American and Hispanic bicyclists were more concerned than white cyclists that their bikes could be stolen. Some carried bikes up three flights of stairs to store them inside their homes.

From an anti-crime perspective, our focus groups’ ideal bike system was a wide two-way cycle track with freshly painted lines and bike stencils plus arrows, free of oil or litter. Conditions around the route also mattered. Our groups perceived areas with clean signs, cafes with tables and flowers, balconies, streetlights and no alleyways or cuts between buildings as safest. They also wanted routes to avoid buildings that resembled housing projects, warehouses and abandoned buildings.

For crash safety, participants preferred cycle tracks separated from cars by physical dividers; wide cycle track surfaces, colored red to designate them as space for bicyclists; and bike stencils and directional arrows on the tracks. In their view, the safest locations for bike facilities had traffic signals for bikers, clearly painted lines, low levels of traffic, and did not run near bus stops or intersections where many streets converged.

Rules for the road

We compared our results with widely used bicycle design guidelines and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles to see whether those sources reflected our participants’ priorities. The guidelines produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Association of City Transportation Officials provide engineering specifications for designing bicycle facilities that focus on road elements – paint, delineator posts and signs – but do not describe design features that would protect vulnerable humans bicycling through an environment at night. Our study asked people about what kinds of surface markings and features in the surrounding area made them feel most comfortable.

As an example, our groups preferred street-scale lighting to brighten the surface of cycle tracks. In contrast, tall highway cobra-head lights typically used on busy urban streets reach over the roadway, illuminating the road for drivers in vehicles that have headlights.

In higher-income neighborhoods, cyclists might choose bike routes on side streets to avoid heavy traffic. However, people in our study felt that side streets with only residential buildings were less safe for cycling. This suggests that bicycle routes in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods should be concentrated on main roads with commercial activity where more people are present.

Decisions about public rights-of-way should not be based on how many car owners or how few bicyclists show up at public meetings. Our study shows that city officials should create networks of wide, stenciled, red-painted, surface-lighted, barrier-protected, bicycle-exclusive cycle tracks in lower-income ethnic-minority neighborhoods along main streets. This would help residents get to work affordably, quickly and safely, and improve public health and quality of life in communities where these benefits are most needed.

There’s Nothing Ridiculous About Trains Replacing Planes High-speed rail in California was a disaster. But there’s a better way.

Slate, 12 February 2019

What a train wreck.

Last week, the rollout of the Green New Deal brought sustained attention to the idea of high-speed rail in the United States for the first time since the early years of the Obama administration. Various Democratic presidential contenders endorsed, albeit in the vaguest possible terms, the idea of getting more people to more places via faster and more dependable train service. The office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went one further, suggesting—by mistake, apparently—that a souped-up rail system could replace domestic air travel.

D’oh. A GOP meme was born. “The authors of the Green New Deal assume that technocratic planners can master the movements of 328 million Americans and design a transportation system so that ‘air travel stops becoming necessary,’ ” David Brooks jabbed in the New York Times. “This is from people who couldn’t even organize the successful release of their own background document.” By the time Rep. Liz Cheney discussed the plan on the House floor, Democrats were planning to “outlaw air travel” within the decade.

That was fancy. But reality wasn’t on the Democrats’ side either. On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would be truncating the nation’s flagship public high-speed rail project, the train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to run between … Bakersfield and Merced. Driving that great strawberry patch takes just 2½ hours.

It’s a staggering step back from the plan as it was envisioned more than a decade ago, and it feels like a blow to the idea that high-speed rail can meaningfully compete with air travel beyond the Northeast Corridor. It shouldn’t: High-speed rail is in fact eating into domestic airline industries from Italy to China, making travel easier, cheaper, faster, and cleaner. Modern, purpose-built high-speed rail has captured 90 percent of the market between Paris and Lyon (267 miles) and 85 percent of the market between Tokyo and Osaka (320 miles). Insert your favorite short-distance U.S. airline route here.

But first you have to lay the tracks.

In 2008, California voters approved a $10 billion bond for a new train route between the Southland and the Bay. At the time, the project was supposed to cost $32 billion and finish in 2029. Last year, a revised business plan had it at $77 billion, finishing in 2033. The state broke ground on the 119-mile Central Valley segment in 2015, but still hadn’t acquired all the land in the corridor as of last year. The entire route is 520 miles.

To Californians who have followed the project, Tuesday’s announcement comes as no surprise. In December, Newsom professed his support for the so-called “Valley-to-Valley” section of the California project, the first to break ground, but otherwise thought it was “time for a fresh start.” “What Newsom said today wasn’t news. It was news that he said it out loud,” said Nadia Naik of the grassroots group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, which supports the high-speed rail plan but has argued for greater transparency and accountability. “For Californians, it’s really sad. We knew California could be a model and that if we screwed this up, people would point and say we shouldn’t do that. All the fears have come to pass.”

What makes this failure so biting for environmentalists and rail advocates is precisely the fact that high-speed rail projects around the world have proven to be exactly what Ocasio-Cortez’s office suggested: major threats to domestic airline routes. A broader lesson is that the greatest threat to a progressive national agenda lies with its own incompetent administrators.

Opponents of high-speed rail often invoke some kind of American exceptionalism, arguing that America is too big, too dispersed, and too car-dependent to have a market for intercity train travel. In reality, the only American exceptionalism is our debilitating lack of expertise. “I’ve always quoted Churchill when it comes to high-speed rail,” says Anthony Perl, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

A recent overview of research suggests that planes and high-speed trains are competitive on routes under 600 miles. Internationally, that includes routes like Rome–Milan, Tokyo–Osaka, and Paris–London. Domestically, it might include Atlanta–Charlotte, Los Angeles–Las Vegas, and, yes, Los Angeles–San Francisco. Under 300 miles, rail becomes dominant. “Several regions in the United States have comparable density that might support the success of high-speed rail,” says Yu Zhang, one of the report’s authors. Park-and-ride, Uber and Lyft, transcontinental flights, and short-haul, low-ridership airplane shuttles should all be viewed as complements to new high-speed rail, which is often linked to airports as well as city centers.

Even long routes can succeed if passengers are willing to sacrifice a couple of hours for the comfort of the train. Beijing–Shanghai is only a bit shorter than New York–Chicago (though with more forgiving terrain—a U.S. version would have to trace the old Erie Canal). At 4½ hours, it’s one of China’s most popular and profitable routes.

California’s project had little in common with its peers in France or China. “You hear a lot about best practices,” says Jeff Davis at the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank in Washington. “This particular California project has a series of worst practices.” Those include:

• A meandering route through the Central Valley devised to win support at the ballot box, locking planners into a scheme that took the route away from its goal of connecting the state’s biggest cities.
• A mad rush to begin construction without knowing the route, acquiring the right of way, studying the geology, or securing the funding.
• An irresponsible partner in the federal government that rushed California to get going and encouraged the state to proceed with half-baked plans.
• A balkanized planning process teeming with eager private-sector beavers who were afraid to report how flawed the enterprise was, a system that Naik called “no consultant left behind.”
• The determination not to engage French and Chinese engineers who offered to just build the damn thing for us. “The equivalent of Bangladesh saying they’d go to the moon with indigenous technology” is how Perl describes the general attitude. “We excluded all the learning and tech that happened elsewhere.”

Is there reason to be optimistic? Perhaps: Newsom’s promise to bring transparency to the high-speed rail project can serve as a teachable moment for the state and others that want to follow in its footsteps. “It’s a very expensive misstep,” says Naik. “But if Gavin Newsom is able to make a real change, and get more accountability, it’s probably worth more to California than any amount of rail.” Once a useless Central Valley spur is in place, there might be appetite to try again. (We could ask the Japanese to clean up our mess.)

Critics will whine, as they always do, that high-speed rail can’t pay for itself. The evidence suggests it hasn’t and won’t. (Though a private company is trying in Texas.) But neither do highways or airports, especially when you account for their enormous externalities. Democrats are right to want to subsidize the development of a transportation mode that brings us less close to a global meltdown than the other subsidized transportation mode. Once operating, many high-speed rail routes are self-sufficient, with ticket sales covering operations and maintenance. What makes the failure in California so frustrating is not that it was crazy to suggest the train could sharply curtail California’s intercity air travel—but that it might have, if we’d done it right.

E-Scooters Could be a Last-Mile Solution for Everyone

ITDP, 14 December 2018

Like docked and dockless bikeshare before them, dockless electric “kick” scooters are taking off in popularity, responding to a strong and growing need for urban car alternatives like transit and “last mile” connections. As part of a menu of urban transportation options, scooters have the potential to reduce short-distance, single occupancy vehicle and TNC (Transportation Network Company, e.g. Uber, Lyft, Via) trips, reducing urban congestion and emissions.

Scooters provide a low cost, flexible mobility option for short trips, particularly those connected to transit. Bikes have long provided an excellent option for last-mile trips, and they continue to do so. However, the popularity, and user-friendliness of e-scooters may offer an even easier option for the first and last mile.
Scooters, particularly e-scooters, offer an option that pretty much anyone, regardless of fitness or ability, can ride for short trips. As with shared bikes, cities have an opportunity to leverage scooters, and other privately-operated, shared modes in a way that more directly encourages their use in coordination with transit. For example, cities could work with operators to subsidize scooter and bikeshare rides that start or end at transit using common payment options. This level of targeted integration benefits cities by expanding access to transit at a relatively low cost per mile (compared to building new stations, adding buses, etc.), benefits users by making sustainable, multi-modal trips more streamlined and affordable, and benefits companies by establishing a loyal, diverse customer base.

Scooters, bikes, and other technology-enabled shared modes have a role to play in shifting the paradigm away from personal car ownership. Cities can take advantage of this opportunity by understanding the demand for car-alternatives for short trips, and setting smart, goal-oriented regulations that help address that demand. Data from Portland’s scooter pilot shows that 34% of resident scooter riders would have otherwise driven a personal car or taken a taxi or TNC if a scooter hadn’t been available for their most recent trip. While this is promising support for scooters helping to reduce car trips, the data also indicates that 37% of respondents would have otherwise walked if a scooter wasn’t available. When asked how often they rode a scooter to or from a transit stop, 61% responded ‘never’. These last two data points underscore the need for cities to ensure that scooters support public transit, walking and cycling, instead of competing with these modes.

More, and longer-term data on scooter trips could help cities decide whether scooters are, in fact, providing a first-last mile connection to transit, substituting car trips, or pushing pedestrians and cyclists away from biking and walking.

Funding the Last-Mile Solution

Cities are now more prepared for the “ask forgiveness, not permission” attitude of privately-operated mobility services, and are responding to the unpermitted launch of e-scooters much more quickly and systematically than with transportation network companies like Uber, or even dockless bikeshare companies. While a few cities have outright banned scooters, most have launched pilots to test regulations and evaluate potential for long-term integration of scooters into the transportation network. In some cases, such as in Austin, Denver, and Los Angeles, cities are moving to combine permitting of dockless bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters under a common regulatory scheme.

Other cities are taking more concrete steps to improve scooter and bike riders’ comfort on the street by requiring private operators to help fund infrastructure and other road safety improvements. Indianapolis is the first city to require scooter operators to pay $1 per scooter per day into a fund for road safety improvements for cyclists and scooter riders. Scooter operator, Bird, has volunteered to pay a similar amount for infrastructure improvements in other cities (many of which have been hesitant to accept Bird’s offer) however, some reportedly do not have a process in place to accept this type of funding from the private sector. Regardless, this new model of collaboration between cities and private companies to fund projects that make choosing a scooter or bike as a last-mile solution safer could prove successful, as long as cities are clear about what their goals are and why they are asking companies to share costs.

Encouraging the use of dockless scooters as a first-last mile option could also help connect people living further from the city center to public transit. Residents who live in outer neighborhoods tend to have fewer transit options, and likely require both a first and last mile solution for their trip. These residents stand to benefit the most from improved access to reliable, affordable first-last mile options.

Cities and e-scooter operators have an opportunity to learn from bikeshare by recognizing the demand – especially in neighborhoods further from downtown – for low-cost, reliable transportation options that aren’t private vehicles. It’s also critical for cities to realize their role in supporting sustainable transport like bikeshare and e-scootershare with protected infrastructure that can serve cyclists and scooters well, along with cost-effective and convenient connections with transit. Technology and private capital offer cities great tools to improve the lives of their residents, and taking full advantage of these tools means making space on our streets for many mobility options: scooters, bikes, transit, and shared vehicles all have a role to play in a healthy, vibrant transport system.

E-Scooters Could be a Last-Mile Solution for Everyone

Launching the first unmanned delivery service

Medium, 18 December 2018

Today, Nuro launched the first-ever unmanned delivery service for the general public. People in Scottsdale, Arizona can now have their groceries delivered by the R1, a self-driving, unmanned on-road vehicle. We are incredibly proud of our team and our partners for reaching this milestone together.

Eleven years ago, I was fortunate to be part of the DARPA Urban Grand Challenge. In the final competition, eleven teams launched autonomous cars into a mock urban environment. It was the first time self-driving vehicles interacted with neighborhood traffic in realistic, unscripted on-road scenarios. And we got goosebumps. My co-founder Jiajun and I were also fortunate to be part of Google’s self-driving car project in its early years. In 2015, the team at Google performed the first unmanned trip on public roads. Steve Mahan ‘drove’ a self-driving vehicle while being legally blind. And we watched in awe. Since then, the industry has taken further big steps towards bringing this technology to the world. We believe our launch today is one of them. For the first time ever — as far as we know — an unmanned service is available to the public. For us at Nuro, this represents the culmination of years of long days and team breakthroughs, sweat and (literal) tears.

We founded Nuro two years and four months ago to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. We wanted to tackle challenges that had an immediate impact on communities everywhere. As described in earlier posts, we realized that we could give back millions of hours of time to people if we built an inexpensive service that provided anything, anywhere, anytime. We started by partnering with Kroger — America’s largest grocery retailer — to create a grocery delivery service with self-driving vehicles. After launching this service in August with our fleet of self-driving Priuses, we’ve completed roughly one thousand deliveries, received best-in-class customer satisfaction ratings, and freed up many hours of our customers’ time.

In parallel, our technical teams have been preparing the R1 to join the pilot. We can’t wait for our customers to meet this special unmanned vehicle. Every team, from hardware to software, operations to product, worked together closely to design and build R1 from scratch. Truly joint development meant we could thoughtfully dive into everything from compartment ergonomics to vehicle shape to sensor design and placement. The constant goal: Build the best vehicle, and service, for goods transportation.

Being the ‘best’ vehicle also means being incredibly safe. The R1 features world-class self-driving software and sensing hardware, redundancy across every critical driving system, and a lighter and nimbler footprint than a standard car. In the initial phase of the development, we’ve also thoroughly trained our robot operators who monitor R1 and are able to take control at any time. Read more about how we incorporate safety into every step of the development process in Delivering Safety: Nuro’s Approach.

While this first unmanned service represents the culmination of many years of work, it also represents another beginning. For this may be the first, but it will be followed by many more: more vehicles, more cities, and more services. Together with others in the industry, we will usher in new ways to provide transportation, and more time, to everyone.

Want to keep up with Nuro? We invite you to follow our blog and connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Consider joining us to be part of the journey.

Read this before investing in Uber or Lyft IPOs

Investopedia, 24 January 2019

Stock investors who expect to rake in big profits on the soaring shares of Uber Technologies and Lyft if they go public as early as this year should think again, according to a detailed analysis by industry expert Joseph Vitale.

Deloitte’s global automotive practice leader, whose group delivers consulting, risk management, and other services to auto makers, suppliers, dealers, and car rental companies, and also advises governments, is not one of the wave of sell-side analysts waiting to market the two ride hailing stocks.

4 Reasons to Be Cautious About Uber and Lyft

Uber and Lyft are actually worsening the urban congestion problem.
Ride hailing will become less convenient for consumers as congestion increases.
Ride hailing isn’t as economically traffic-efficient as taxis.
Ride sharing has declined among the heaviest users.

Unicorns Valued at $120B and $15B

The public debuts of America’s two leading ride-hailing rivals are among the most anticipated in 2019, as the volume of IPOs soars to its highest level since the dotcom bubble in 2000. Uber’s estimated value is now at $120 billion, compared to Lyft, at $15 billion, per an earlier Investopedia story. Their forthcoming IPOs are seen as helping the transportation giants expand into new markets like autonomous cars and bike sharing. The funding is also seen as aiding the ride-sharing companies to solidify their leadership in the burgeoning mobility-as-a-service space, wherein fewer people will own cars and instead hail rides via self-driving taxis at the push of a button.

Still, Uber and Lyft have yet to receive feedback from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on their filing for initial public offerings, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. A partial government shutdown has choked off SEC review.

Traffic Jam
While on the surface, popular ride hailing platforms may look like a smart way to invest in the changing mobility landscape, Vitale highlights a handful of major risks facing these soon-to-be traded stocks, per Barron’s. First, he notes that Uber and Lyft aren’t solving the congestion problem that cities want to solve, instead they are actually causing it.

As urban congestion increases, Vitale suggests ride hailing will become even less convenient for consumers. This is due to the fact that ride hailing isn’t as economically or traffic-efficient as taxis, argues the Deloitte market expert. With the Uber and Lyft apps, the ride sharing driver has a period of time with no one in the car in-between rides. “Congestion is a big deal for cities, especially with 80% of people expected to live in urban environments by 2025,” Vitale told Barron’s. “Right now, Uber has made congestion worse. It isn’t as efficient as taxis. The ride sharing driver is waiting and has to drive an empty car to come and get you. A taxi drops someone off just before you get in.”

Ride-Sharing Declines Among Heavy Users

Ultimately, ride sharing may not offer the growth that Uber and Lyft want, suggests Vitale, pointing to his firm’s data which shows ride-sharing usage has actually declined among the heaviest users. “Usage is up for the occasional user and with more people using ride-hailing services there may be growth, but waiting for a ride while taxis pass you isn’t ideal,” he explains. While both companies have invested heavily in their car-pooling initiatives, Vitale suggests that the hard fact is, “no one actually wants to share a ride.” “On the subway or the bus people will pack themselves in, but no one expects to talk. In a car you feel rude not acknowledging a fellow passenger,” he noted. Lyft has pledged to make over 50% of its trips shared rides by the end of 2020. While shifting consumer preferences and the introduction of driverless car technology could change the game, Vitale isn’t sold. He views ride-sharing as just one part of a multimodal approach to mobility as a service, alongside smart infrastructure, and light rail.

“Investors should ask the companies how they plan to tackle the problems of low asset utilization and resistance to actual sharing. Investors should also try to understand how the ride-sharing companies plan to work with local governments to help lessen congestion and help make life more convenient for commuters,” read Barron’s.

Looking Ahead

The Deloitte study indicates that while Uber and Lyft are innovative, they may face limited profit growth, potentially making them poor long-term investments. On the upside, it’s important to note that these two companies have already surmounted a huge amount skepticism and prevailed.

The tech companies that debut in 2019 could face turbulence in the coming years, similar to many of the firms that had their IPO at the height of the dotcom boom. Meanwhile, as the market heads into a period of heightened volatility, investors could continue to pull out of less-certain growth plays in tech and into more defensive value stocks.

Chasing China: Chile drives Latin America’s electric vehicle revolution

Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2018
A massive cargo ship docked in the Chilean port of San Antonio at the end of November. It carried it its belly the first 100 electric buses from China that Chileans hope will revolutionise their public transport system.
Read more

How your personal information funds share bike schemes

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November 2017
You’re 25, you ride your brightly-coloured share bike across the city to get dinner and drinks with friends at the same pub every Friday, you take the same route home, and leave the bike near your house each time. That kind of portrait is legally captured by the navigation systems and phone apps linked to the dockless share bike schemes quickly spreading across Australian cities, and is a valuable source of income, especially when they charge as little as $1 per half hour.
Read more

Perth bike paths fail to meet lighting standards

The West Australian, 13 December 2018
Large sections of Perth’s most popular bike paths are poorly lit, with many failing to meet Australian lighting standards. Research commissioned by the RAC examined 67km of inner-city bike paths and found almost 60 per cent had substandard lighting.
Read more

Oslo prepares for ‘war on cars’

New Mobility News, 25 September 2018
Oslo, with its 675.000 inhabitants, is preparing for ‘a war on cars’ and ‘is seriously violating freedom’, critics in the Norwegian capital say, now city government is forcing the car – including the electric one – more and more out of the city centre. “We have to give the city back to the people, to let children play in security and let elderly people find a bench to sit on”, Hanna Marcussen, ecologist and in charge of urban development, says.

Read more

New creatives are remaking Canberra’s city centre, but at a social cost

The Conversation, 27 December 2018
The new economy and new technology are changing Canberra’s city centre, Walter Burley Griffin’s design legacy of 100 years ago. While the central area is becoming an innovation precinct and a dynamic place, it comes with a cost of social gentrification and unaffordability. In Griffin’s design for Canberra, the city centre was planned to be a lively business centre with high-density retailing and commercial uses. The original idea included a citywide tram network supported by higher-density development along the corridors. City Hill was intended to be a heart for the city’s citizens. Griffin’s vision was not truly fulfilled, however.

Read more