Should Lyft be running bikeshare services? NYC cyclist deaths; AV safety regs; changing SF & Oakland; & more!

Issue 93

Hey urbanists,

Before we get into this week’s issue, an update on the state of the Radical Urbanist.

For 93 weeks, I’ve been putting together this critical weekly update on urban tech, liveable cities, and climate change. I’ve heard from a bunch of you that you really enjoy the newsletter and get great value from it.

I spend a lot of time putting it together every week, and I want to keep making it better. I’m planning to launch a Radical Urbanist podcast to bring you in-depth conversations with people I think are making an important, critical contribution to the future of cities, but as a graduate student and freelance writer, I need support so I can keep putting in this time and effort.

I’ll be making it possible to contribute once the podcast starts, but I would really appreciate if you’d answer this two-minute survey so I can tailor it appropriately. You can also reply to this email to provide further feedback. Thank you for subscribing and for taking the time to respond.

Now, onto this week!

I started with a reflection on whether it’s a good idea for Lyft to be running bikeshare services, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about since the IPO. There’s a lot in the roundup this week, but I want to recommend the pieces on cyclist deaths in N.Y.C., why pedestrian safety might not by prioritized in AV regulations, the deaths of Uber Eats couriers in Mexico, and the pieces on housing in S.F. and Oakland are important, but kind of sad.

Have a great week, and I look forward to the survey responses!


Lyft shows why cities should run bikeshare

Last year, Lyft acquired Motivate, a company that runs docked bikeshare systems in nine U.S. cities. In San Francisco, Motivate was the exclusive operator of the city’s docked Ford GoBike system and had agreed to allow a trial of Jump’s dockless e-bikes, which began before Uber acquired Jump.

However, now Lyft is taking San Francisco to court over its desire to expand the number of dockless bikeshare operators in the city, arguing that Motivate’s exclusive contract covers both docked and dockless bikeshare. Lyft is also rebranding its system as Bay Wheels, and despite promising a major service expansion, including a lot of e-bikes, the number of bikes available has dropped from 2,000 to 1,100 and users are complaining that docks rarely have bikes available.

I’m not opposed to bikeshare exclusivity — long-time subscribers will know I think that “micromobility” will eventually become part of a single, public system with bikes and possibly scooters — but this story about private companies contracted to operate bikeshare services and not delivering is one I’ve heard a few times now.

When Uber and Lyft went public a few months back and there was a lot of discussion about whether they could ever find a workable business model, I wondered what that meant for their bike services. I’m not so worried about Jump, but Motivate runs a key piece of urban infrastructure in major cities, but what happens to those services if Lyft goes bankrupt a few years down the line or has to cut back on some of its offerings and boost prices to try to get to black?

Lyft has proven to be very litigious, suing cities whenever it can’t get its way, and now not only is it suing San Francisco, but it’s not delivering the quality service to residents it was contracted to provide — in part because of this dispute.

San Francisco isn’t the first city to run into problems with private bikeshare operators. In May 2017, Paris’ famed Vélib bikeshare system, previously operated by JCDecaux, was taken over by another company, Smovengo, after low-balling the bidding process. They promised a third of the 14,000 bikes would become e-bikes, which required updating the 1,200 docking stations, but it was a mess. Daily rides dropped to 10,000 in April 2018, from a high of over 100,000, and even threatened the mayor’s reelection.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more stories like these. For decades, there’s been an emphasis on outsourcing city services to private operators with the promise they will manage them more efficiently, but I think there’s a strong argument to be made for cities to run their own bikeshare services instead of having to try to make a private company’s priorities align with those of the city and its residents. And relying on a very unprofitable ride-hailing firm for your bikeshare system doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Around the world

☀️ There were two major climate reports this week. One said planting a trillion trees as part of a global reforestation effort could absorb a lot of carbon dioxide, but researchers warn it’s misleading. The other said all fossil fuel development needs to stop now to achieve Paris targets. Can you guess which got the media attention?

Transit and trains

📱 U.S. transit agencies are beginning to build their own mobility-as-a-service platforms. A great move, as MaaS shouldn’t be left to juggernauts like Uber.

😕 Some transit agencies are subsidizing Uber for last-mile connections, but even a report from an Uber-funded group found the results are mixed

🇪🇸🇫🇷 Spain has the most extensive high-speed rail network in Europe, and now the national carrier, Renfe, is bidding to run services in France after President Emmanuel Macron opened the French railways to competition. That’s provoking a debate over whether that was really the best move.

👽 London is adding sounds to electric buses to comply with new regulations, but the proposed sounds are “all very spaceshippy”

🚧 Transit construction costs have jumped in some major cities over the past few decades

Bikes and scooters

☠️ 10 cyclists died in New York City in 2018; 2019’s body count is already at 13. Major U.S. cities have committed to Vision Zero plans, but they’re not doing enough to make streets safer. Highly recommend.

🇳🇱 Short film shows infrastructure is key to Utrecht being a paradise for cyclists

🚲 Despite the excitement about self-driving cars, the cargo bike may have a much bigger impact on the future of transportation

🌍 Where are the 20 most bike-friendly cities? Most are in Europe with a few in North America and Asia, but I couldn’t help wondering if the latter is underrepresented.

🇩🇪 The legalization of scooters in Germany corresponded with the Europe-wide heatwave, leading to 300,000 trip kilometers (186,000 mi) in just four days

Cars and roads

☠️ Henry Grabar argues we shouldn’t expect government to regulate autonomous vehicles to ensure pedestrian safety since they didn’t do anything about SUVs

🇳🇴 In Oslo, despite restricting cars, it doesn’t mean the streets are empty. “They hum with bicycles, electric scooters, trams and pedestrians.” Business were worried shops would have fewer customers, but now “there’s more people going around in the streets, and they are using their money both for restaurants and for shopping.”

🇪🇸 Madrid’s new right-wing mayor, in coalition with far-right Vox, put a three-month suspension on the low-emission zone to find “alternative” ways to improve air quality

🇯🇵😬 Car sharing is popular in Japan, but not for transportation. In a world where indoor spaces are privatized and inaccessible for many, people rent cars for naps, to do work, charge their phones, eat lunch, make a phone call, etc.

🇬🇧 U.K. report confirms that electric vehicles are not a panacea, and electrification alone is not enough. Governments need to prioritize alternatives.

Environment and climate crisis

🔮 Brooke Bolander’s op-ed from the future: “Who Should Live in Flooded Old New York?

🇧🇷 Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon has accelerated 60% since fascist president Jair Bolsonaro took power — to 769.1 km² (297 mi²) last month, or 1.5 soccer fields/minute

🏭 Cities are starting to better understand their consumption-based emissions, which are often hidden by consuming goods produced abroad

☀️ Analysis of Europe’s heatwave suggests climate change has made such an event at least five times more likely to occur than in the past

🇨🇦 Canada is the only country in the Ring of Fire without a commercial geothermal plant, but that could be about to change

Gig economy

🚗 Why Uber and Lyft drivers are clearly employees, and should be treated as such

🇲🇽 In the past six months, five Uber Eats couriers in Mexico have been killed. Uber established an insurance policy, but five injured riders said they sought compensation and never received it.

💵 Alison Griswold explains that if you use DoorDash, you should tip in cash, otherwise the tip counts toward their wage

🇪🇺 Ten major European cities want the European Union to protect their ability to regulate Airbnb


✊ Since the 1970s, private rental and home ownership have been given priority, but new movements for housing justice are forcing governments to seriously consider and act on tenants rights, vacant units, and reinvesting in public housing

😕 People say San Francisco is diverse, but though people move there from around the world, the only ones who can still afford are from the same socio-economic class

👨🏾👩🏾 Forty years ago, African Americans made up 40% of Oakland residents. Now, with housing prices continuing to soar, they’re on track to make up just 16%.

🇮🇪 Large investment funds in Ireland buy up homes in bulk, making things difficult for first-time homebuyers

Provocative: Julian Francis Park argues the problem isn’t housing supply, “but the entire social relationship — the relationship between proletarian tenants and landlords; between proletarian builders, plumbers, and electricians and the capitalist firms that employ them; between proletarians in general and the state. Abolishing these social relationships requires an offensive on two fronts: for free housing for all, and against attempts to profit from ownership, construction, and management.”

🤔 Some responses I liked to the CNN story about $1,200/month “co-living” in San Francisco or Los Angeles — or, as I like to say, glorified hostel life.

Other great reads

🎮 Canadian Geographic has a fascinating feature on map-making for video games, with a focus on Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (Subscriber Konstantinos Dimopoulos is quoted!)

🇬🇧 London councils are using summer music festivals to fill budget gaps, but that means parks aren’t available for public use

🚫 Bitcoin consumes 64.15 TWh of energy, more than Switzerland. Ban it.

😊 Minimum wage hikes aren’t just good for urban workers. In poorer, rural U.S. counties, where a higher minimum wage can make it almost equal to the median wage, the benefits are profoundly positive, significantly reducing poverty rates.

Thanks for subscribing to Radical Urbanist! If you enjoy the newsletter and want to share it with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up.

Have comments or suggestions? Send them to @parismarx on Twitter or