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D Magazine
Cities around the world are trying to adopt new measures to ensure that everything their residents need is available within a 20-minute walk or bike

Many of Dallas’s urban challenges can be summed up in a single term: land use. Whether we are talking about affordable housing or public transportation, income inequality or fixing streets, quality public schools or walkability, at its core, we are really always talking about land use.

Our massive investment in light rail doesn’t work? That’s because the city has developed with insufficient density around stations to make them useful. We can’t afford to fix the streets? That’s because our low-density development model means we have more street surface area than tax base to pay for it, and our highway system has made it easy for new investment to continually seek-out cheaper, under-developed locations outside the city. Our schools are underfunded? That’s because for 70 years land use decisions have allowed urban neighborhood to erode and an endless succession of competing suburbs to spring up to siphon off students, teachers, and taxes from the inner city. At the end of the day, all of Dallas’ urban problems are land use problems.

Which is why a new trend that is being adopted by a number of cities around the world caught my eye. It’s called the “20-minute neighborhood.” The concept is incredibly simple, and yet it promises to solve many of these problems listed above in one fell swoop. What if everything you needed from the city during your day-to-day life was located within a 20-minute walk or bike of your front door? We’re talking groceries, job, social centers, schools–everything. Twenty minutes away, tops. Sounds pretty convenient, right? It would be nice to walk to the grocery store, walk to pick up your kids from school, bike to a concert on a Friday night. But while 20-minute neighborhoods sound, at first, like convenient, fun places to live, their implications are much more profound.

That’s because the idea of 20-minute neighborhoods strike directly at the cause of so many urban issues: land use. What if cities began to regulate their land use so that every corner of a city was measured by their ability to ensure that basic daily needs could be met via a 20-minute walk? That’s the goal in Portland, which has set out to make it so 90 percent of Portland residents live in “20-minute neighborhoods” by 2030 as part of its climate action plan. The concept has been bouncing around for a long time. Back in 2010, The Atlantic looked at the effort not long after it was first introduced and pointed out that the idea was being tasked with taking aim at a whole host of urban challenges:

The 20-minute neighborhood plan is a part of Portland’s long-term strategy to manage the challenges that face many urban environments across the country, including rising energy costs, population growth, roadway congestion, and demand for expensive public transit to connect more and more distant suburbs.

As cities around the world create their own climate action plans to respond to the existential threat of global climate change, we’re seeing 20-minute neighborhoods pop up as part of that solution as well. Melbourne, Barcelona, London, and Paris all have some version of the 20-minute–or 15-minute, or “superblock”–as part of their short- to mid-term development goals.

What would such places look like? The Parisian plan sketches out a vision that would promote a hyper-local approach to all city planning:

Paris en Commun’s manifesto sketches out some details for what this future walkable, hyperlocal city would look like. More Paris road space would be given up to pedestrians and bikes, with car lanes further trimmed down or removed. Planning would try to give public and semi-public spaces multiple uses—so that, for example, daytime schoolyards could become nighttime sports facilities or simply places to cool off on hot summer nights. Smaller retail outlets would be encouraged—bookstores as well as grocery stores—as would workshops making wares using a “Made in Paris” tag as a marketing tool. Everyone would have access to a nearby doctor (and ideally a medical center), while sports therapy facilities would be available in each of the city’s 20 arrondissements.

To improve local cultural offerings, public performance spaces would be set up, notably at the “gates” of Paris — the large, currently car-dominated squares around the inner city’s fringe which once marked entry points through the long-demolished ramp
COBE
Danish architectural firm COBE has unveiled designs for a new science museum in the Swedish university city of Lund that will be powered not only with rooftop solar energy but also with pedal power. Museum visitors will be invited to help generate electricity for the carbon-neutral museum by riding “energy bikes” on its concave roof. Constructed primarily from prefabricated cross-laminated timber, the eco-friendly building will be a sustainable landmark and help cement Lund’s position as a science city on the international stage.

Winner of an international competition, COBE’s proposal for the science museum will be located in the heart of the city’s new urban district, Science Villa Scandinavia. The museum will be sandwiched between the high-tech institutions ESS (European Spallation Source) and MAX IV, which are currently under construction and slated to become the world’s most powerful and advanced research facilities within neutron and X-ray research. The science museum’s purpose is to make the institutions’ groundbreaking research more accessible and inviting to both children and adults and to promote general interest in natural science and research.

Spanning a total floor space of 3,500 square meters, the two-story science museum will comprise exhibition halls, a gallery, a reception area, workshops, a museum shop, a restaurant, offices and an auditorium. A viewing platform and patio will top the concave 1,600-square-meter roof as will energy bikes and a solar array large enough to meet the museum’s electricity needs. A large, nature-filled atrium will sit at the heart of the museum to help absorb carbon dioxide, boost biodiversity and serve as a water reservoir and overflow canal in case of extreme rainfall. Excess heat from ESS will be used to heat the museum through an ectogrid system. The timber building is expected to reach completion by 2024.

“Ambitions for the design of the museum have been sky-high, and we feel that we have succeeded in designing a unique and inviting building, whose open atrium and concave roof lend it a dramatic and elegant profile that stands out and offers novel and innovative ways of using a museum,” said Dan Stubbergaard, architect and founder of COBE. “Moreover, we have made climate, environment and sustainability integral aspects of the process from the outset. By choosing wood as the main construction material, incorporating solar cells, using excess heat and creating an atrium with a rich biodiversity and a rainwater reservoir, among other features, we have achieved our goal and succeeded in creating a CO2-neutral building, if the design is realized as intended. Our hope, as architects, is that we can continue to increase the focus on and improve our ability to create sustainable architecture and construction for the benefit of future generations and the condition of the planet.”




Cyclehoop
The Container Cycle Hub is one solution to what is going to be a very big problem.

We are in the midst of a cycling revolution with the proliferation of electric bikes, which are often far more expensive that the regular bikes people ride in cities. But this creates a problem; nobody I know with a Cevelo road bike leaves it chained to a post in the middle of the city (they keep a junker bike for that), but lots of people have e-bikes now that cost as much.

That's why secure bike parking and storage is really going to be the third leg of the stool that will make the e-bike revolution happen: good bikes, good bike lanes, and a safe, secure place to park.

That's why the Container Cycle Hub from Cyclehoop is such a good idea; in the space of a single car parking space it provides parking for 24 bikes. It's made out of a recycled high cube shipping container.

"A key feature of this product is the high security gate. The original container has been modified to fit space saving secure sliding gates with perforated panels that allow natural light inside while reducing the visibility of the bicycles from the outside for security. The sliding gates are opened using a mechanical code lock, with electronic options available, facilitating keyless access."

They get so many bikes inside by parking them double high, with Cyclehoop's "gas assisted two tier racks." It has bright motion-sensor lights powered by solar panels and enough batteries to keep it going all year.

I do hope that there is enough power to run an alarm and video system as well, just in case someone breaks it open, as often happens in bike storage lockers. You still have to lock your bike, even in this.

As more and more people ride e-bikes instead of cars, more and more of them are going to cost as much as used cars, and security is going to become a very big problem, as critical a part of bike infrastructure as bike lanes.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

I am facing this issue all the time now, as I am testing a Gazelle e-bike that is worth as much as a Cevelo road bike and 5 times as much as I got for my beloved Miata. I want to ride it to a lecture tomorrow, but do I dare leave it outside a theatre in the evening in Toronto? In a previous post, What's the best way to lock an e-bike, I quoted an Abus representative who follows a lock-per-hour rule: "If I go to a three-hour movie, I put three locks on the bike." I will be doing that, but I will still be nervous through the entire evening.

But cities now provide free or cheap storage for automobiles in public streets. They can get 24 bikes or e-bikes in the same space. If cities are serious about getting people out of cars and on to bikes, they should get serious about bike parking; it is a critical part of bike infrastructure. Dropping Container Cycle Hubs on every block would be a great way to do it.

With people riding $5,000 Terns and Surlys and $2500 Gazelles instead of cars, parking is going to become very, very important.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
Despite the buzz around ride-hailing and bike lanes, car ownership among younger Americans looks a lot like that of older Americans.

Millennials, so famous for killing things, were poised to deliver the death blow to America’s auto addiction. We were supposed to put off our driver’s licenses, choose Lyfts over car loans, and settle in cities rather than suburbs, using mass transit and bike lanes instead of the traditional private car. We were supposed to make greener choices than our gas-guzzling older kin.

But research based on years of data rather than trend stories and anecdotes paints a different picture of how Generation Avocado Toast chooses to get around, compared to its predecessors.

A working paper posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week offers an empirical examination of Millennial car ownership and driving practices against the backdrop of earlier generations. Controlling for factors like marriage and living in city, it finds that Americans born between 1980 and 1984 are just as likely to own cars compared to, say, their parents’ cohort. What’s more, when driving habits are measured in terms of vehicle-miles traveled, some Millennials really are the worst.

Authors Christopher Knittel, a professor of applied economics and the director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at MIT, and Elizabeth Murphy, now a project manager at Genser Energy and a former graduate assistant at MIT, consulted data from five editions of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Household Transportation Survey, as well as corresponding demographic data from the Census Bureau and American Community Survey.

Together, these sources captured transportation habits, geography, generational age brackets, and lifestyles that might influence a person’s transportation choices, such as marriage and kids.
Swiftmile
Cities are desperate to tame the sidewalk chaos of the e-scooter industry. One startup offers a solar-powered parking solution.

To understand the promise and peril of dockless scooters, look at Austin, Texas. This week, at least 9,000 of the zippy rentables are scattered on the capital city’s streets during this year’s South by Southwest festival. Nine different operators are vending cheap car-free transportation for the roughly 200,000 festivalgoers that have descended upon the city.

That might be great in theory, but mixed with big crowds, car traffic, a general lack of bike lanes, and a ton of free booze, the reality is cluttered sidewalks, tripping pedestrians, and some brutal scooter crashes.

Austin, in other words, is experiencing a Class 5 scoot-nado—a particularly intense variation on the shared-mobility disruption that cities nationwide have seen over the last two years. Which is why there’s a growing demand to bring scooter-sharing back to its roots, at least partly: Cities want docks for the dockless.

“We’ve all seen the problems associated with these things,” Colin Roche, the co-founder and CEO of Swiftmile, told me as he packed up his company’s booth at the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago last week. “But we also know the promise. In high-impact areas, they need to bring some order to the chaos.”

Swiftmile makes parking stations for e-scooters and bikes in support of what it calls a “semi-dockless” operating model. Their docks can pack in up to 24 Birds, Limes, Spins, and Skips in a space the size of a standard parking spot, using individual holsters equipped with anti-theft locks. More than glorified bike racks, the stations also use solar power to charge scooters while they’re tethered. They accommodate virtually all scooter models, and can gather data about vehicle use and condition.

The idea isn’t necessarily to bring all dockless scooters in from the wild. In high-scooting cities, Roche thinks the sweet spot is making parking available for about 25 percent of the total fleet, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic where sidewalk space is limited and vehicles tend to get carelessly dumped. With the rest roaming untethered, providers can still reap what are seen as the economic advantages of a dockless system, Roche explained: When rentables are freed from their expensive docking infrastructure, companies can invest in the volume and scale that may be needed to grow ridership. For the sake of comparison, docked bikesharing programs generally cost about $4,000 to $5,000 per bike; electric scooters retail for between $100 and $500.
Micromobility Conference/Vin Chandra
At a Bay Area summit devoted to electric scooters and other new mobility devices, fans evangelized about the potential of technology. But safety was an afterthought.

Inside a luminous former factory on the Bay Area waterfront last week, software geeks, VCs, and sundry tech evangelizers zipped around on electric bikes, scooters, and hoverboards. Industry representatives from Jump, Spin, and Lyft hawked their compact transportation widgets. This was the Micromobility Conference, billed online as “an event focused on unbundling the car with lightweight electric vehicles.”

It wasn’t the world’s first summit for aficionados of tiny shared urban conveyances—one in Copenhagen in 2017 might have taken that honor. But the event’s historically resonant setting (an Albert Kahn-designed industrial space that once churned out military jeeps during World War II) and grandiose manifesto signaled a deeper seriousness than the toy-like transport devices might have implied. On the convention’s website, organizers characterized the conference as part of a movement to replace society’s dependence on the automobile with just about anything battery-powered and bike-lane-scaled. Such a shift promises be “a transformation that is not only virtuous but highly profitable.”

Like many manifestations of Silicon Valley’s obsession with disruptive transportation, the (overwhelmingly male) Micromobility Conference invited a healthy amount of disbelief. Near the entrance, two men in button-ups steered a motorized desk around a course of safety cones; another dude took a stumble on gyroscopic skates. On stage, one presenter made bold declarations about the transhumanist potential of the unicycle. Towards the end of the day, a speaker on panel of venture capitalists half-kidded about the idea of “monetizing walking.”

But the rate of the industry’s growth is no joke. The global explosion of shared bikes and scooters in the past few years amounts to the “the fastest technological adoption in history,” as the event’s website noted. And it’s just getting started. “Logarithmic is the way to go with everything,” explained Micromobility Conference founder Horace Dediu, a tech industry analyst, in his keynote address. He pointed to charts showing the expected rise in adoption of shared electric scooters and their one-to-three-wheeled brethren. “If you’re not measuring in logarithmic, you’re in the wrong business.”

Investors apparently agree. Globally, they’ve plowed more than $5.7 billion into micromobility start-ups over the past four years, a new McKinsey analysis estimates.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement.

Each year, the U.S. Census releases an update in “commuting mode shares” in its American Community Survey. This is an annual accounting of the share of people in every U.S. city who bike, walk, or ride public transit to their jobs, as well as drive. Mostly the latter: Nationally, about 75 percent of the country is sitting alone in their cars every morning. About 10 percent carpool, 5 percent ride transit, and the last 10 percent either walk, bike, or work from home.

If you peruse this data-dump every year, you’ll probably notice something: Despite the tireless efforts of transit planners, bike-lane boosters, and other actors in the mobility arena, the mode-share percentages don’t seem to budge much in the any given growing city as they add more people, despite massive investments in transit infrastructure. Take Dallas, Texas, for example: In 1996, that city opened the first stage of its light-rail network, which has since grown into the largest system in the U.S., at a total cost of something around $5 billion. But the share of commuters in the city who ride transit has remained below 6 percent since 1990.

This can be exquisitely frustrating as cities task transportation leaders with tackling some of the country’s most daunting challenges, from reducing climate change to alleviating economic inequality. But a new report and interactive tool from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy wants to make the leap to a low-car future feel less enervating by breaking the numbers into smaller chunks. They’ve developed a suite of “indicators for sustainable mobility,” aimed at helping cities measure their transit systems for better outcomes by taking a closer look at where and how they reach jobs and people.

To do that, the report digs deeper in the 2015 ACS data to get a more complete picture of how cities can improve their share of sustainable transport—that’s public transportation plus walking, biking, scootering, and any other means of moving around that doesn’t involve a car. No matter if this category makes up the majority of commuters, as it does in New York City (66 percent) or the extreme minority (Nashville, 4 percent), there’s more to say about how it reaches people, housing, and jobs in any given city. (For a wider comparison, the report also looks at mode share in four Canadian cities and transit access in four cities in Mexico)

OjO Electric
Ojo to launch 100 ‘adult commuter scooters’

Austin had a flurry of scooter activity (and discussion) in 2018, ending the year with seven active companies and more than 11,000 of the dockless vehicles on the streets. Lest anyone think we’re in danger of slowing down on that front this year: Ojo electric scooters will soon be flitting about the city, according to a Wednesday Community Impact story, making it the eighth scooter company at residents’s disposal.

The company chose the Austin market for its first launch and has been permitted for 100 scooters.

Unlike the stand-up, kick-style scooters the city has seen so far, Ojo‘s are modeled on the Vespa/moped style that can be seen in films from Roman Holiday to Quadrophenia or on pretty much any street in Italy. While less stylish than their inspiration, Ojos have standing or sitting options, built-in bluetooth speakers, and phone chargers. The vehicle can be driven for up to 50 miles when fully charged and reach a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour.

Also unlike the other such companies in town, Ojo has a partnership with a Austin B-cycle operator Bike Share of Austin subsidiary Austin Commuter Scooter. It will provide operational and customer support to the company, and Ojo will share usage and trend data with the city for use in improving regulations and safety.

Ojo’s website indicates that its scooters are more durable than some of the “disposable” ones that are out there now, and therefore it’s a more sustainable transportation option. It also recharges its vehicles batteries rather than outsourcing that job to individuals through an app.

Ojo rentals cost 18 cents per minute after an initial $1.25 to get going, and the compan is offering a $5 credit when you download the app.
DAVID PAUL MORRIS/GETTY IMAGES
IF YOU SAY you saw this coming, I don’t believe you. In 2018, electric scooter-share stole the mobility show. They arrived unannounced in cities. They provoked fierce council meetings and protests. They launched debates about who owns sidewalks, anyway, and what role regulators play in bossing around big business. They sucked up VC dollars, mountains of them, as upstarts crowed about the revenue generated per scoot. They got damaged and fixed, they launched their own new gig economy jobs.

Why it happened is part crystal clear, part murky. Thanks to Uber, Lyft, and bike-share programs, the smartphone-toting masses have become more comfortable with the idea of using vehicles they don’t own. Traffic is on the rise (thanks in part to ride-hail!), which no doubt pushed some sick n’tired commuters to try the two-wheeled things that just showed up. The scooters are also easy to ride, even fun. Putting Insta-friendly models and celebrities on the things probably didn’t hurt. (Congratulations to the scooter companies’ marketing teams. Ish.) But why does any trend happen, anyway? Investors got hyped about scooters, so they poured money into it: The Wall Street Journal reports Bird is currently raising money at a $2 billion valuation, and Lime between $2 and $3 billion. Remember, pretty much no one had heard of these companies less than a year ago.

But now, the Journal has reported that investor enthusiasm for scooters has cooled amid questions about the economics of the whole concept. So in 2019, expect scooter companies and scooter-ed cities to get to the grind—and enact some shake-ups. Here are our biggest outstanding questions:

Who will win the hardware throwdown?

In the second year of the post-scooter era, competitors will continue to differentiate themselves by hardware. They will need to make their products easier, safer, more reliable, and more satisfying to use for customers. They need to keep them easy to clean and maintain, and hardy enough to survive for longer on the streets, vandals be damned. (Both companies operating scooters in San Francisco right now have openly admitted that theft and vandalism is a big problem.) The companies also might need to make some modifications to satisfy their real overlords: city governments, which often retain control of the sidewalks and parking spots where scooters rest.