[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 19, 2014]
The mainstreaming of bicycling is nothing short of a comeback story in the United States.
Bicycle ridership generally is up, and so is bike commuting, particularly in some key urban markets. In automobile-congested but bicycle-friendly regions such as New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C., the ability of bikes to outmaneuver automobiles and avoid headache-inducing traffic is envied and admired.
Bike commuting is still a small number of trips overall, but has increased in mode share in recent years. The increase in people biking to work nationwide has been “small but steady,” according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
This gain has been more dramatic in some influential urban markets. In so-called bicycle-friendly communities, a term coined by the League of American Bicyclists, the number of bicycle commuters has increased at roughly twice the rate as in the country overall.
Commuting via bicycle increased an impressive 445 percent in Washington D.C. between 1990 and 2012, bolstered by the number of bicycle-infrastructure improvements and pro-biking policies (for example, adoption of a Complete Streets policy) that were created in the city in recent years. Equally important has been the implementation of arguably the most successful bikeshare system in the United States, Capital Bikeshare, and engagement of the public at a grass-roots level through the programs of BikeArlington.
For localities wishing to encourage biking, the League has enumerated the following qualities that create a bicycle-friendly community. Called the 5 E’s, these are good places to start for communities that want to encourage more bicycling:
One additional way cities can encourage biking, as mentioned previously, is by implementation of a bicycle sharing program. The growth of bikeshare systems has been explosive in recent years. Today, more than 600 cities around the globe have bikeshares. The systems were virtually nonexistent in the U.S. five years ago. Of the 25 top American cities for bicycle commuting identified by the League, Mobility Lab found that 40 percent of them have a bikeshare system in place, and an additional 28 percent have systems in the planning stages.
Bikeshare systems, which tend to focus on bicycle transit over bicycle recreation, don’t just encourage bike commuting itself, but encourage other modes such as rail and bus. Bikeshare systems are fulfilling their promise of providing an effective connection between home and work and other modes of transit (the “last-mile/first-mile problem”). Also important to note is that bikeshare makes one-way trips possible. As Chris Eatough, program manager for BikeArlington and Capital Bikeshare states, “Bikeshare fits with a dynamic lifestyle and a daily schedule that is more varied that just going from home to work and back again using the same mode.”
Furthermore, these systems encourage “the rest of us” to bike, not just avid bicyclists. Eatough has spoken of the ability of bikeshares to mainstream or normalize cycling: “Capital Bikeshare is very visible, and the essence of that visual is that biking is normal. This helps more people realize that getting around by bike for short trips is something they themselves can do.”
Regarding America’s rates of biking and bike commuting, there is still a long way to go. Portland, Oregon, with the highest bike commuting levels of U.S. large cities (at 6.1 percent in 2012), lags far behind Copenhagen (50 percent currently, according to the official website of Denmark).
If current trends persist, however – and they should, especially in communities that include biking as part of a multimodal transportation strategy – then perhaps some American cities will be competing on Copenhagen’s level in the coming years.
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 17, 2014]
What’s the current state of the rider experience? Are transportation systems meeting the demands and expectations of the general public?
These questions were posed to a panel of speakers at a plenary session of the Mobility Lab-sponsored Innovation in Public Policy Summit. Technology – in particular the power of information – was shown to be a good start to positively impact the rider experience.
Kari Edison Watkins, assistant professor of engineering at Georgia Tech University, began by acknowledging that riders avoid certain transportation modes due to perceptions regarding comfort and safety.
Watkins’ research at Georgia Tech demonstrated how providing real-time information about transit arrival times can positively affect both riders’ perceived and actual wait times, and increase rider satisfaction levels. Systems such as the open-source OneBusAway, which operators can implement on the back end, have the potential to get more people to use transit.
But technology, contends Watkins, is not enough. At its most basic level, getting consumers to choose one form of transportation over another involves making that option more attractive than the others. If a ride is uncomfortable, or the infrastructure poor, then riders probably won’t choose it no matter how much real-time information they are given. Transportation policies need to ensure that these vital systems are properly funded and maintained.
Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst and program director of U.S. Public Interest Research Group, discussed how generational differences affect rider expectations.
USPIRG has performed a number of studies regarding transit ridership, particularly with respect to Millennials. Those studies portray this population, born roughly between 1982 and 2001, as making a conscious decision to reduce driving. The generation’s student-loan debt exacerbates the trend. Millennials prefer walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods more than their older cohorts.
Most important, according to Baxandall, is the fact that the car no longer represents freedom for this population cohort. To Millennials, “freedom is spontaneity, he said. The concept of spontaneously taking a trip is no longer contingent on owning an automobile. In fact, Baxandall contends that shared-use mobility increases the ability to act spontaneously, in the way that bikeshares and carshares avoid both the responsibilities (automobile maintenance) and fixed costs associated with owned vehicles.
Millennials, in other words, are inherently biased in favor of transit, biking, and walking. It may follow, then, that their expectations regarding these transportation choices are lower, or at least different.
Darren Buck, bicycle program specialist with the Washington, D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), discussed Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) use in the District, focusing on how CaBi responds to rider demand.
As background, Buck described how CaBi users in D.C. are demographically similar to bikeshare users nationwide: they are generally cash poor but education rich, largely Millennials, and mostly males.
Capital Bikeshare, said Buck, “does exactly what it’s intended to do.” It increases capacity on rail in the urban core, and acts as a connection between the suburbs and urban employment centers. It is a complementary mode that works holistically with the rest of the D.C. transit system.
D.C.’s successful bikesharing system isn’t without its challenges, however. The system is in need of near-constant “rebalancing.” This is the cost-heavy practice of moving bikes from full stations to empty ones, based on real-time usage data.
Buck proffered the intriguing idea of the use of gamification (“the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems,” according to Wikipedia) to incentivize users in assisting with the expensive but important task of CaBi bike rebalancing. By awarding virtual points or statuses via an app, users can be engaged to move bikes from full to empty stations. Gamification is an intriguing idea that’s been used successfully by Waze and Foursquare, for example, to enhance customer loyalty.
Gamification is also a way to innovatively deal with a supply-and-demand disparity that’s more efficient than simply adding to the supply of bikes at every station. Like transportation demand management, it is more effective, inexpensive, and sustainable than the supply-based approach.
Photo of Shanghai Metro by Eduardo M.C.
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 11, 2014]
The first day of the two-day Innovation in Mobility Public Policy Summit in Washington D.C. was “bike heavy,” according to one participant.
With the conversation clearly revolving around bikesharing systems, participants and speakers had to dance around the subject on many people’s minds: Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar – the transportation network companies (TNCs) everyone either loves or loves to hate.
Day two corrected that disparity, with a lively conversation moderated by Mobility Lab Managing Director Howard Jennings called “A Match Made in Heaven? How Can Local Governments and Shared-Use Operators Work Together to Promote Innovative Transportation Modes?”
Jennings began the discussion by stating, “The marriage of transportation demand management and shared-use mobility has us on the cusp of a breakthrough in transportation” – one that will be “transformational.”
Public-private partnerships will be key in this breakthrough, according to Sam Zimbabwe of the D.C. Department of Transportation. Regarding such partnerships, however, it appears that Uber may not find them necessary. The company, with a market valuation of $17 billion, declined to participate in the summit.
Uber and Sidecar, according to conference organizer Jason Pavluchuk, “don’t want to play.” Lyft did have a representative present at the conference. Uber, a 300-pound gorilla, possibly thinks its size means it doesn’t need to participate with local governments. It has said that it will defy a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles order that the company cease operations in the state, and some insiders feel its size and market valuation mean it will succeed.
Zimbabwe said regarding TNCs, “We don’t exactly know how to regulate them.” Timothy Papandreouof San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency said that inefficiencies in the current taxicab system equate to about $60 billion in potential revenues for these companies in the largest U.S. urban markets. The term “disruptive technology” may be an understatement.
Sean O’Sullivan, the CEO of Carma, pulled no punches in attacking Uber and its ilk. He referred to the companies as “neo-taxis,” and called the companies’ use of the term “rideshare” as “deceitful, duplicitous, and damaging” to actual ridesharing companies such as his. Carma operates in four cities: Austin, Texas; Bergen, Norway; Sonoma, California; and Cork, Ireland. Regarding his relatively small market penetration, O’Sullivan said, “Our focus is to nail it before we scale it.”
Jennings finished the TNC discussion with a question, “Is it important to be confusing? Is there a public good in that?”
To her credit, Lyft spokeswoman Emily Castor addressed the audience, defending her company’s use of the “rideshare” term as historical (Lyft was initially an actual rideshare company called Zimride), and as exacerbated by the media. Furthermore, Castor said that a portion of Lyft’s trips are legitimate rideshares.
Finally, Jennings said that TNCs may be positively affecting congestion and vehicle miles traveled (VMTs), but we need more research and data to determine the overall effects the companies are having on “moving people instead of cars.”
Photo by Steve Rhodes
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 10, 2014]
The Oregon Democrat described how transit, walking, and cycling are all necessary in order to “coax more capacity” out of our current transportation systems. And it seems, by the focus of speakers on a panel called “How Local Governments are Using Innovation to Complete Multimodal Transportation Systems,” that localities are primarily focused on the bikesharing and car-sharing elements of the transportation sharing economy.
These shared-use modes tend to be excellent at filling in the gaps and extending the reach of current regional transit systems.
Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, described Chicago’s successful implementation of its bikesharing program called Divvy. Hamilton explained how Divvy, in operation since June 2013, is part of Chicago’s Complete Streets policy. She referred to the fledgling bikesharing service as “a new form of transit for Chicago.” Even with one of Chicago’s worst winters in its history, Hamilton said users still used Divvy in numbers that would characterize it as a success.
Hamilton attributed part of Divvy’s success with the Chicago DOT’s policy of public engagement. Specific ways the department engaged the public have included public crowd-sourcing of new-station locations and through a Data Challenge that encouraged coders to visualize anonymous bikeshare data.
Hillary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), discussed the opportunities and challenges of living in Los Angeles, California, a city with the dubious distinction of “highest number of hours per capita lost in traffic (92 per year).” Also, L.A. County has a high population density, a high percentage of drivers, and high vehicle miles traveled (117 VMT per person). Finally, L.A. has the largest number of street miles of any county in the U.S.
Norton described how L.A. started a First Last Mile Strategic Plan to inform the public about mobility problems and how to address them. Specifically, the plan described how biking and shuttles could expand the reach of the transit system, and it created Mobility Hubs, areas of density where car sharing, bike sharing, and bike parking would encourage greener transportation.
She said partnerships have worked well – with Bike Nation to bring bikesharing, and with Zipcar to bring carsharing to L.A.. Norton concluded that, while tech might be sexy to industry insiders, it’s important to “highlight people and not technologies” in building public support.
Linda Bailey from the National Association of City Transportation Officials discussed multimodal transportation from a national perspective. Bailey said that “80 percent of our public space is made up of streets.” Bailey described bikesharing as an effective and popular way to bridge the gap between walkable and drivable destinations (there are 46 bikesharing systems in the United States). Bicycling, unlike walking, is effective at traversing trips of medium distance.
Cities still have questions regarding bikesharing systems, including the role of private versus public funding, and the most effective way to roll out these systems. Bikesharing systems are making clear that success can be measured in different ways. Equity concerns, a result of the “digital divide,” and sustainability are new ways to measure success of mobility services. Bikeshare systems, Bailey concluded, are an opportunity to create low-cost mobility solutions for everyone.
Bibiana McHugh, sometimes referred to as “the visionary behind Google Transit” and currently with Portland, Oregon’s TriMet, discussed her experience with creating Google Transit. Her goal in the project was to “make transit directions as easy as driving directions.”
As a result of the success of the Google Transit project, General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data is now the de facto standard for public-transit schedule information. McHugh’s experience with OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open source crowd-sourced street map, and OpenTripPlanner, a true open-source multimodal trip planner, resulted in several lessons learned: namely, that open standards, open data, and open-source software are important, but shared resources and collaboration are indispensible.
McHugh said that while bicyclists are smart, “they’re not as smart as the algorithm.” She explained how OSM, by using elevation data, can output to users the quickest or flattest bicycle trip. McHugh summed up that standard data sets are important, and she envisions a day when carshare and bikeshare locations are incorporated in Google Transit maps.
Multimodal, inDivvy bikes at Bike to Work Day Rally photo by Steven Vance
[Note that the following article authored by me, Paul Goddin, was written for and published by Mobility Lab on June 4, 2014]
Arlington County Commuter Services (ACCS) looks and operates more like a start-up tech company than a government agency.
The transportation demand management (TDM) arm of the Virginia county has an energy one might not normally expect in a government office.
Busily decorated with site plan documents pinned to walls, bookcases filled with business management paperbacks, and a prop Capital Bikeshare bike located centrally amidst the cubicles, one could infer from the controlled chaos that this is an organization valuing innovation and creativity.
The innovation occurring at ACCS, says Bureau Chief Chris Hamilton, is “the robust application of transportation demand management, or TDM.”
TDM is a group of strategies that incentivizes and enables alternative modes of transportation — biking, walking, and transit, among them. These techniques are especially important for a county like Arlington, one of the densest places in the country, with borders that burst each day with the highest proportion nationally of non-residents commuting into the county for work.
TDM is a way to deal with this potentially crippling transportation problem in a way that makes sense both fiscally and from a land-use perspective. It is a way to get more utility out of the infrastructure in which a locality has already invested, and a way to get more bang for the taxpayers’ buck.
Here’s a roundup of the key ways TDM works in Arlington:
Bureau Chief Hamilton describes TDM as a way that “ACCS leverages the investment Arlington has already made in the infrastructure by getting more people to use it.” In a competitive marketplace, with more cities and counties engaging in transit-oriented development (TOD) and competing with Arlington on place, the suite of TDM services provided by Arlington County may be an advantage the county has over other comparable places.
Through innovation and rigorous application of the principles of TDM, ACCS is helping to disprove the maxim that congestion is always a symptom of a region’s success. One commuter at a time.
Office photo by Paul Goddin. Transit screen photo by BeyondDC.