The most dangerous places for cyclists, cities securing federal funding for safer streets, and the best car ads – Urbanist Update
How is Citi Bike doing ten years into its introduction, Houston found to be the most dangerous city to bike in, and more in the Urbanist Update.
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Welcome to the Urbanist Update. My job here might be as tech editor, but I’ve also spent tons of time studying transportation, city planning, and engineering. Here are some of the things I’ve found interesting over the past week related to biking in cities, cycling infrastructure, and urbanism.
What is urbanism? In short, it is the study of how the inhabitants of an urban area interact with their towns and cities. If you care about building sustainable communities that let you live a happy and healthy life, then this is the spot for you. See previous Updates here.
Citi Bike at Ten: ‘We Were Riding in a City That Simply Hadn’t Existed Just a Few Years Earlier’
Curbed dropped a reflection on ten years of Citi Bike, the wide-ranging bike share system in New York City. The story interviews a number of stakeholders involved in launching the bike share program, including Janette Sadik-Khan, Alison Cohen, Kate Fillin-Yeh, and others. They tell the story of how Citi Bike overcame Hurricane Sandy and vocal opposition in the city to become a program that is the fastest-growing transportation network in the United States.
Citi Bike is reliable, its network is likely the strongest in North America and you’re likely to find a bike at nearly every docking station, even during peak commuting times.
To my eyes, seeing the city by Citi Bike is one of my favorite things to do in New York City. NYC’s subway system is solid, but you miss a whole lot of action on the street in those dark, humid tubes. Taking the bus allows you to see the city, but you’re likely to miss the number of times New Yorkers say, “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” because you know, they say that phrase a lot. Trust me, I know because I use Citi Bike.
Importantly, the multifaceted interview discusses the future of Citi Bike. Where does it expand from here? How do you get more people to use the program? How do you integrate it with OMNY, the contactless fare payment program for other NYC public transit programs?
What Does the Potential Demise of Lyft Mean for Citi Bike?
A related story from Curbed writer Alissa Walker highlights the potential trouble brewing at Lyft, and by extension a large percentage of United States bike share systems.
Believe it or not, the ride hailing giant operates some of the most-used bike share systems by ridership in the country. It started in 2018 with the purchase of Motivate, which at the time was the largest-bike share operator in North America. Its goal was to find a last-mile solution in bike share that was bundled with ride-hailing services. And while Uber abandoned its dockless bike and scooter programs, Lyft doubled down and invested even further.
Many of these programs have skyrocketed in usage, largely due to a user’s ability to reliably take a bike to their destination without the often-long wait times of a bus. As a result, these programs have often become utilities of sorts: operations built for the public good not unlike an electrical or gas supply.
Here’s the problem: a utility is generally non-profit, and it is owned and operated by whatever municipality or region it serves. Most of these bike share programs are operated by Lyft, a company that needs more than ever to make a profit.
Lyft operates NYC’s Citi Bike, a program that is unlikely to go away. But Lyft also operated Minneapolis’s Nice Ride program, which had to shut down after Lyft couldn’t bridge a $2 million operating gap after a sponsor pulled out.
The program might have Citi Bank in its name, but the program is largely operated by Lyft. Should Lyft go under, what happens to Citi Bike as well as the array of bike share systems also outsourced to the company? If Lyft keeps a program, there’s a chance prices will skyrocket as they already have for most dockless bike and scooter programs.
Don’t be surprised if your favorite bike share system folds. Programs need investment in new bikes, more docks, and even bicycle electrification, but in the case of a utility, the public gets to have a say in what happens next. Lyft gets to do whatever it wants.
Study: The Most Dangerous Places for Cyclists
You may want to buckle up for this one. A study by e-bike retailer Velotric learned a ton of unfortunate information that may not quite be shocking.
Velotric collected data from more than 900 bicycle accidents logged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System as well as their own survey of 1,000 cyclists to explore their safety habits.
From the NHTSA data, Florida, Louisiana, and Arizona are the states that see the most fatal bike accidents per million residents. Houston, Los Angeles, and Tampa are the most dangerous cities to bike in as well. Their own survey found that 1 in 4 cyclists don’t wear helmets during the riskiest time to ride in the day (5 to 7 pm).
As a professional nit-picker, however, I take issue with one small part of the study, saying:
“About 73% of the cyclists we surveyed said they wear a helmet while riding. But a shocking 27% said they don’t, and 18% wear no safety gear at all!
“This includes visibility enhancers to ensure others on the road can see you at all times, which can be especially challenging at night. That’s why reflective gear and lights are so important for cycling after sunset or in the early morning. Even so, far too many cyclists said they don’t wear a reflective vest (82%) or bright clothing (53%) while riding.”
The idea of victim blaming in cycling – and for anyone not driving a car – isn’t new. Jaywalking is a term first pushed by the auto industry to blame accidents on pedestrians rather than drivers. Cities regularly put up well-meaning ads reminding cyclists that they’ll get hurt if they don’t wear a helmet.
But the source of the problem very rarely isn’t that cyclists aren’t wearing safety gear: it’s that safety gear must be considered in the first place like they’re going to battle. Truthfully, though, unless roads have better protections against cars for pedestrians and cyclists – remember, a strip of paint for a bike lane isn’t infrastructure – they are going to battle. And against cars that are growing larger and heavier every day, it is a losing battle.
Velotric’s study is an important one to put the obstacles that cyclists new and old face in their cities into context. It isn’t their fault that they call for more cyclists to use reflective vests, but rather that cities aren’t doing enough to make cycling safe and accessible for folks with or without vests.
Feds Hand Money to Cities for Safer Streets and Resilient Infrastructure
Cities nationwide are using $5 billion in federal funding from the Safe Streets and Roads for All program according to a story from Governing. The work is said to cover everything from building protected bike lanes, updating sidewalks so that they’re ADA-accessible for less-able folks, and “rightsizing” streets to improve overall traffic safety.
The new program is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) as part of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, itself the result of a bipartisan shift from the Build Back Better plan originally suggested by President Joe Biden.
Receiving funding isn’t as simple as just asking for it. Cities, counties, transit agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, or Tribal governments must lay the groundwork for plans aimed at creating interventions that improve high-injury networks.
Chances are high that if your city has recently announced some form of transportation-related infrastructure improvements, a large portion of the funding comes form this new program. Most cities are starved for infrastructure investment, making a program like this absolutely essential.
And if there are no plans? Let your local government know what’s up!
🚃vs 🚗 Uma forma criativa e perfeita para ilustrar a comparação entre o espaço ocupado por cinco carros dentro de uma cidade e um eléctrico. pic.twitter.com/77pWf49LQP
— José Carlos Barbosa (@zecarlosbarbosa) May 14, 2023
A near-perfect illustration of how much space a car takes up compared to a street car system.
A keen eye in Europe saw one of my favorite kinds of ad: the kind that shows why cars in a crowded city center are silly.
Just think about it: 5 of these cars take up about the same space as a street-level light rail, tram, or street car. None of the cars listed are vans, meaning they’ll likely have a capacity of 5 people each, or 25 people total. The max capacity for a street-level light rail train car is about 90 passengers per train car. Because these light rail cars seem small, let’s put it to about a third the capacity; 5 cars still means 150 people per train. Even accounting for train cars that aren’t at capacity, a train is simply a much more efficient way to move people around.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not anti-car. Rather, I am pro-freedom of movement for everyone. At some point, the numbers need to add up, and for cars in city centers, they simply don’t.