Discover more from The Curbivore
$99 Curbivore Tickets Available for a Limited Time
Plus: is the bike boom real or a statistical mirage?
Look at the totally innocuous images below. Just a bunch of city streets, delivery workers, new mobility vehicles, smart curbs, virtual kitchen cuisines…
If for some reason that makes you think about Curbivore — returning March 28th & 29th — well there’s only one thing to do. Act fast, and score our limited time $99 tickets, and join us at the greatest curbside commerce conference on Earth.
Urban Biking Is Up, But How Much?
StreetLight Data put out a new report tracking the recent rise in urban biking, and it’s generating a lot of enthusiasm on social media. And why wouldn’t it? It shows not only a sustained rise in biking across the country, but big jumps in places not often thought of as bicycle havens: Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Bridgeport, etc.
But if there’s one thing that this newsletter is, it’s a skeptic. So I thought, let’s tease out the claims a bit and think them through. Particularly fun is that the report shows growth in biking trips for metros / states in both 2020 and 2022 (each compared to 2019.) So while New York showed the most growth in 2022, in 2020 its growth was 87th out of 100. SF was 10th in 2022, 58th in 2020; Boston was 42nd last year, 92nd in 2020. In general that tracks with everything else we know about urban behavior during the pandemic — cities like those were particularly hard hit, and saw both stronger movement restrictions locally, as well as especially high population outflows. By 2022 they were seeing a rebound, as folks streamed back to big cities, often replacing former transit trips with bike use.
But there are some other places where the story is a bit harder to follow. Bakersfield showed the 3rd highest growth last year, and also scored a strong 9th place in 2020, logging 50%+ growth for both. 100 miles north, Fresno was the worst performing city last year (with a decline in riding) while still performing poorly in in 2020: 84th place. It should be noted that both cities continued to grow during the pandemic, neither have particularly robust multimodal infrastructure, and Bakersfield has been pouring billions of dollars into expanding its urban freeway system.
There are other head scratchers. The report says the NYC metro area has the most bike trips per capita, followed by SF-Oakland. But looking at 2022 Census ACS data, we see that bike mode share in the SF Bay Area is 2%, but only 1% in Greater NYC. Now, you could argue back that the Census is only looking at “journey to work” and thus missing recreational bike use. But if there’s one sport that SF is famous for, it’s mountain biking — invented across the bay in Marin. Are more folks really biking across the Gowanus canal than riding near the redwoods?
More likely this is an issue with data collection. StreetLight’s own methodology states that 0% of its counters in the SFMTA region are on trails, meaning there’s a big hole in the data. Meanwhile, the same methodology states that in regions with low bicycle volume, the mean error distribution is a whopping 101% — a very plausible explanation for some of the yoyoing or differing results in otherwise similar cities.
There are of course other ways StreetLight imputes bicycle traffic, including looking at cell phone locations. But some of that is derived from deltas to phone movement it ascribes to auto users. So again it’s possible that some of those big gains are paired by similarly large (but not celebrated) jumps in car use.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t broadly interesting trends in the report, or to discount the hard work that went in to making this. But maybe think twice before you declare Buffalo the next bicycle capital of the world. 😉
I’ve reached out to some contacts at StreetLight, and asked them about the points raised above. Looking forward to digging deeper into this data in a future edition!
Thanks for reading The Curbivore! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
HOT INDUSTRY NEWS & GOSSIP
Should micromobility be subsidized? New data shows that low income users treat shared micromobility similar to traditional public transit, as a necessary tool to get to work. In fact, 44% of low income users connect that shared scooter or ebike ride to public transit, compared to just 23% of higher income users. This has a number of advocates noting that perhaps governments should subsidize fares on systems like Lime and Bird, now that venture dollars have slowed and prices have risen. (Anyone else feel like any scooter trip costs at least 10 bucks these days?)
While certainly equitable, there’s a funny irony here, as in many cases those same micromobility providers replaced what used to be municipally subsidized bikeshare systems. Santa Monica is a pretty telling example, as the city is where Bird first created the concept of for-profit scooter-based micromobility. For a few years prior, the city had operated Breeze bikeshare, covering its modest costs with a few grant dollars and an ad sponsorship by Hulu. The system was operated by Social Bicycles, which became Jump, which was bought by Uber, and then transferred to Lime.
When it came time for the city to update its bike fleet, officials thought there was less reason to, as private providers now offered plenty of options (which also cut into Breeze’s ridership.) With Lyft offering ebikes as well as scooters, Santa Monica ended Breeze service. Fast forward to 2022 and Lyft pulled its micromobility services from Santa Monica to trim costs. Operators like Veo still have scooters in the area, but those can cost a pretty penny; Breeze users who paid just $25/mo were treated to 90 minutes of free rides per day.
This isn’t to say that Santa Monica is blameless in the current situation — the city could certainly bring the cost down if it stopped charging the operators not just an annual license, but fees per device and per trip.
Curb data, specified: The City of Seattle and Populus are teaming up to digitize the city’s curbs, sending out realtime parking rules to fleet operators. The program runs off of the OMF’s Curb Data Specification, naturally. In less happy Seattle news, the region is rolling out new branding for its battery-electric busses, even as they suffer from reliability issues. And the city is also looking to water down delivery and freight safety requirements at the behest of some logistics conglomerates.
Money, money, money: NYC is piloting fare-free bus routes for six months, with one route going free in each borough. Not to be outdone, Santa Monica and LA Metro are paying out $599 to 200 households that will experiment with giving up a car for five weeks. This builds off a state program that created a tax rebate for residents living car-free. Back in NYC, the transit union is worried that the city’s beleaguered congestion pricing program will simply be a band-aid to fix agency budgets, as opposed to raising new money to actually improve service.
Lots of delivery news: JOKR hauls in $50M to prove that instant delivery isn’t dead. Meanwhile competitor Getir is making itself available on Uber Eats’ app. And Grubhub scored a big partnership with Choice Hotels, making free delivery available across 500 locations.
More of this please: LA’s commuter rail agency is cobbling together $1.6M to add near-hourly weekday service, and improved weekend service, starting with the line that serves the Antelope Valley desert region. Bump that up to every 30 mins and all of a sudden people can maybe ditch their cars and walk around Palmdale!
Speaking of service levels: What happens when your bus service goes to zero? Atlanta’s suburb of Calyton County tried that cruel “experiment” and found that not only did unemployment go up, but poverty increased. Much like preventative medical care, sometimes these government services actually more than pay for themselves on a societal level!
What a T-ease: Just a few months after opening, the MBTA’s new Green Line extension is already breaking down. Defects to the track work have slowed trains to 3 MPH — slower than walking. Much like LA Metro’s recent incident in the new Regional Connector, the question boils down to if it was bad construction, or inept maintenance…
Are the commuters back? Office activity in Lower Manhattan is recovering; certain stations like WTC/Cortlandt are actually registering higher ridership now than they saw in 2019. Across the country things haven’t quite caught up as well; SF just hit a record 33.9% office vacancy rate: that’s nearly 30 million square feet of empty commercial space.
Smart City Expo USA: Join me in NYC on October 4th and 5th for Smart City Expo USA. I’ll be leading the conversation “Future of Streets, Fleets, and Delivery” with NYC Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman, Automotus President Roamy Valera, Together for Safer Roads Executive Director Peter Goldwasser, Regional Plan Association VP Tiffany-Ann Taylor and NYCDOT Director of Freight Mobility Diniece Mendes. Hope to see you there!
A few good links: Tesla breaks ground on its first Supercharger restaurant. Lyft CEO David Risher talks about the future of the company. SF Supe proposes no right on red rule. Reykjavik urban design overhaul looks promising. Bird delisted from NYSE. Yellow cabs to show up on Uber’s LA network. Tech billionaire-proposed “new city” in NorCal revealed to just be standard issue sprawl. Retail-focused EV charging advances in Brazil. Push back against CTA’s redundant expansion. Speed cameras work. Nice shots of new LAX Metro station. Japan looks to loosen ridehail rules. Video extolling cargo ebikes.
Until next week!
- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew