Author Archives: Colin Beresford

Look Up In The Sky! Can Gondolas Solve NYC’s Transit Problems?

An NYC developer thinks a gondola can help the city’s transit problems. Photo: East River Skyway

This summer has been coined the ‘summer of hell’ by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, due to the Amtrak shutdown at Penn Station for repairs, and delays which have skyrocketed this year on subway lines.

While the city has increased bike lane construction and has expressed interest in Chariot, a crowd-funded bus service, getting millions of people where they need to go is no easy task.

But, one prominent realtor has proposed a unique solution: aerial mass transit. Daniel Levy, the president of City Realty, thinks a high speed gondola system might solve some of the city’s transportation woes.

The idea is in discussion now as New York faces  the 2019 shut down of the L train, which carries 300,000 people a day between Manhattan and the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza Bus Terminal in Brooklyn and Delancey Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Save for surface transportation, there are few options for moving these passengers about.

While on a ski trip, Levy took an interest in the gondolas that bring skiers to the top of the mountain and thought the same system might help his city. He founded the East River Skyway company, which is pushing for the construction of a gondola near the Williamsburg Bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Manhattan has a tram system that runs to Roosevelt Island, the closest thing to what Levy is proposing.

“They (gondolas) are relatively inexpensive to build and operate and very importantly, they can be built quickly,” Levy said in an interview with Curbing Cars. “So our vision is to augment the New York City mass transit network by adding additional capacity across the river.”

Gondolas are capable of moving 5,000 to 6,000 people an hour, and have been built in many cities, including La Paz Bolivia, Caracas, Venezuela, Cali, Colombia, among others.

Per mile, subways can cost around $400 million, light rail $36 million, but gondolas only cost $3 million to $12.

Even before the L train is shut down, “there is a fundamental need for additional capacity,” Levy says. “You’re not going to go below the ground, you don’t have any ability to add capacity on the ground, so you’re going to go above the ground.” Continue reading

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Filed under cities, public transportation, Rail, urban planning

Car-sharing Is On The Rise, But How Will It Affect Auto Sales?

Car-sharing is growing, led by companies like Turo.

Cars were once seen as a symbol of freedom. But as real estate prices rise, and millennials face student loan burdens, some see them as a burden. Their owners are saddled with a costly, often unused piece of machinery, not really necessary for everyday life.

In comes collaborative car consumption, which addresses the profound cultural shift in how transportation is viewed.

Collaborative car consumption, also known as car-sharing, takes many forms and has been the cornerstone of many recent car-based start-ups, from well-known Hertz to lesser-known Turo. Collaborative consumption is the shared use of a good or service, and in this case, that good is a car.

Ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft, don’t necessarily fit the definition of collaborative consumption. These services still have a single person driving, or owning, the car, and they are generally booked from point A to point B (although Lyft’s new “add a stop” service could change that.)

Collaborative car consumption models

There are three types of collaborative consumption, according to Future of Car Sharing, which tracks the model. They are peer to peer, where individual car owners rent their cars; business to consumer, where a business owns the cars and facilitates their use to members; and not-for-profit, where a community group owns cars and facilitates their use.

Peer to peer companies include Turo and Getaround. Through Turo, a car-owner lists their car on the company’s database as available for rent, according to the Turo website. From there, anyone who needs a car can rent one, meeting up with the owner at a specified location.

In New York City, cars listed on Turo can be rented from $40 per day to more than $250 per day.

Peer to peer car-sharing companies have found it difficult to be successful. One such company was WhipCar, a British start up which was founded in 2009 but shut down in 2013. On its now deactivated website, the company says, “there are still barriers to widespread adoption of peer-to-peer car rental in the UK.”

The business to consumer model is includes companies such as Hertz, Enterprise and Zipcar. These companies own the fleet of cars they rent to consumers and are the most popular form of collaborative consumption.

Not-for-profit collaborative car consumption companies prioritize car-sharing with the goal of changing driving habits over profit. Many cities across the country have programs that allow users to rent cars from the city owned program, often by the hour.

Programs include eGo CarShare in Boulder, Colorado, City Car Share in San Francisco, California, and Ithaca Carshare in Ithaca, New York. Continue reading

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Filed under car sharing, cars, cities

As Bike Lanes And Riders Increase, So Does The Controversy

Philadelphia has been installing bike lanes for over a decade. They’re a big draw for its young residents.

You can’t drive through any major U.S. city now without spotting a bike lane. Separate spaces for bikes have surged in popularity, prompting cities across the country to widen their roads, and in some cases reduce car lanes, to accommodate for cyclists.

Bike lanes are typically five feet wide. They run adjacent to car lanes, generally traveling in the same direction as cars.  They can next to the car lanes, separated by either by a parking lane or other barriers, and are most often in addition to sidewalks.

Based on data from seven major U.S. cities, the number of bike lane miles has increased about 50 percent from between 2006 and 2013, and cycling has increased about 100 percent, according to the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO).

Bike lanes also decrease risk for bicyclists. The same NACTO survey showed that an increase in bike lanes was correlated with a decrease in risk, which diminished by about 50 percent between 2006 and 2013.

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of commuters who rode their bicycles to work rose by 60 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of bicycle commuters rose from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2012.

Despite the positive impact of bike lanes in the U.S., a number of factors are causing bike lane backlash, making some people weary of them and their implementation. Continue reading

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Filed under bicycling, Driving, urban planning

Subways Everywhere Are Falling Apart, But Some Cities Want To Build New Ones. Why?

The local 1 Train in Manhattan. Photo: Bebeto Matthews, AP

 

Subways seem like they are are falling apart across the United States. And still, people want them, even though cost is a barrier. The ones that work seem to be safe and reliable.

Today, the United States is seeing a boom in mass transit. Since 1995, mass transit ridership is up 34 percent while vehicle miles traveled by individual drivers has risen 33 percent, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Yet, every day brings more stories of stranded passengers, crumbling systems and even derailments. Let’s look at what’s happen with the subways.

Broken Subways

In 2016, ridership of the New York City subway system, supervised by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, hit over 1.7 billion riders, according to the  MTA. However, that ridership does not help the system turn a profit.  In 2017, the MTA’s projected operating expense is $12.7 billion, while operating revenue is projected to be only $8.5 billion. That means there will be more than a $4 billion shortfall.

Faced with continuous headaches, New York Gov.Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the New York City subway system. The action followed the derailment of a car in Harlem which injured 34 people.

The derailment delayed cars on the rail for hours, just the latest in a series of delays that have become more and more common for the New York City subway. In the past five years, the number of subway delays has tripled, according to USA Today.

There are plans to make repairs and improve the system. In announcing the  state of emergency, he pledged $1 billion to the MTA capital plan. But, that’s only one-quarter of the expected shortfall just in operating expenses, not long term improvements.

Starting July 1, the M train, which runs in Manhattan, was shut down for two months in order to demolish and replace a section of its tracks, according to Metro. In 2019, there are plans to shut down the L line, which runs between Manhattan and Brooklyn, to make improvements. Many Brooklynites are already beginning to panic, fearing they won’t be able to travel easily into the city. Continue reading

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Filed under infrastructure, public transportation, urban planning

Does This Place Come With Parking? Increasingly, The Answer Is “No”

A proposed apartment without parking in Portland, Oregon. Via Oregon Live; Courtesy of the Boise Neighborhood Association

 

Mass transit and millennials are feeding one of the biggest trends in real estate development: apartments without a parking space included in the purchase price or rent.

Of course, city buildings constructed through World War II rarely had much parking. But starting in 1950, the number of parking spots built by home builders rose steadily for more than six decades, according to a study by real estate analysis firm Redfin.

Since 2012, however, the number of parking spots built per bedroom has declined. That’s causing some discussion over whether a lack of parking is good for the environment or bad for the neighborhood.

The issue is front and center in a number of American cities. Here’s a round-up of what’s going on where.

Last week, transportation officials in Portland, Oregon announced that they are looking into the possibility of building a subway system, according to Next City. That could increase demand for buildings without parking spaces.

In 2013, Portland officials decided that buildings with 30 units or more should have a minimum number of spaces, responding to neighbors’ complaints about crowded nearby streets. But in 2016, officials decided not to impose the minimums in a Northwest Portland neighborhood, reopening the debate.

In Denver, plans for an apartment building without onsite parking were approved in Denver last year, but were met with resistance from neighbors shortly afterwards, according to 9 News. The city has since stopped issuing similar permits for space-less buildings.

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Filed under cities, urban planning

Bike-sharing Is Booming. Will You Find Your Next Ride In A Tree?

Bike sharing programs are booming across the United States, like the Arbor Bike Share system in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Micheline Maynard)

Seven years ago, if you wanted to ride a bicycle in a U.S. city, you probably had to own it. Now, bike-sharing programs are spreading across the United States, expanding — and transforming — transportation options.

Bike-sharing allows riders to pick up a bike in one location, typically at a station, and ride it to another location with a station. Riders can either be members of the program, or one-time users, and can keep the bike as long as they want, paying for the time it is in use.

There are now nearly 1,000 bike-sharing systems in use around the world, and 88 million trips have been taken by U.S. bike-sharing users since 2010.

In 2016 alone, American riders took over 28 million trips, on par with the annual passenger levels of the entire Amtrak system, and higher than the number of people visiting Walt Disney World each year, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. Continue reading

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Filed under bike sharing, public transportation

The Two Faces Of Uber: Getting Banned And Becoming Public Transportation

Even as it is under fire, Uber’s role is expanding. Photo via Uber

Over the past seven years, Uber and ride-sharing have taken the transportation world by storm, changing consumers’ transportation habits, and forcing cities around the country to rethink their own transportation systems.

Uber’s troubles still get most of the attention.

Last week, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit by Google’s self-driving car division, Waymo, will go to trial. Waymo has accused one of its former engineers of stealing thousands of pages of trade secrets when he left, and taking them over to Uber. The judge rejected Uber’s claim that the dispute was an employment matter that should have been settled through arbitration.

In the meantime, Uber is moving beyond its original approach of growing its customer base through individual customers. Some states and cities are ncreasing the role of Uber within their jurisdictions.

Five Florida cities are subsidizing Uber rides, and providing further support by paying for rides to public transportation stations. A New York City proposal, if passed, would force Uber to add a tipping option for riders within the city. And Edmonton, Alberta has begun exploring a partnership with Uber and other ride-sharing companies, in an effort to replace bus routes.

Making deals with cities

Last June, the Florida cities of Altamonte Springs, Longwood, Lake Mary, Sanford and Maitland, began their pilot programs with Uber. The five are located just north of Orlando, and aim to save money, reduce traffic congestion and increase ridership of their SunRail train system.

The program subsidizes 20 percent of every Uber ride beginning and ending within the city. Trips that end or begin at a SunRail station are subsidized 25 percent, according to the Orlando Sentinel. These ideas are often referred to as “last-mile programs,” meant to bring riders to public transportation stations.

Uber kept the amount of money it received from each city a secret until January, when a Longwood city clerk, Michelle Longo, released the invoices from Uber to the Sentinel.

Longo told the newspaper, “While Uber claims this invoice is a confidential trade secret and exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act, it is the City’s position that this invoice is not confidential and exempt and that the public should have access to this invoice reflecting the amount that Uber is seeking payment from the City under the Pilot Project Agreement.” Continue reading

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Filed under car sharing, cities, infrastructure, Uncategorized

States Are Rushing To Raise Gas Taxes. Will That Be A Federal Solution, Too?

Atlanta’s crumbling freeways. Photo via ABC News.

America’s infrastructure is crumbling, sending states scrambling for ways to fund the rebuilding of their worn highway systems. Increasing the gas tax is a perennial solution, and now, it is getting attention from the White House.

The federal government levies an excise tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of unleaded fuel and 24 cents on diesel fuel. States gas taxes vary from state to state, but range from a fraction of a cent to more than 50 cents on each gallon.

The federal gas tax is not indexed to reflect inflation. It has not gone up since 1993, although inflation has risen by 64.6 percent.

On May 2, President Donald Trump suggested the possibility of a federal gas tax increase in an interview with Bloomberg.

“(I’ve) had the truckers come to see me, that if we earmarked money toward the highways that they would — that they would not mind a tax — you know, gas tax or some form of tax,” Trump told Bloomberg.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. has $836 billion in needed repairs and improvements to roads and bridges, plus an additional $90 billion needed to fix public transit systems, the AP reported.

A dozen states join the push

On Jan. 1, six states implemented higher gas taxes, including Pennsylvania, which raised its state tax on gas by about 8 cents per callon to 58.3 cents per gallon, and Michigan, which raised its state gas tax 7.3 cents to 26.3 cents per gallon. Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, also raised their state gas taxes, according to Forbes.

Michigan also increased registration fees on electric cars, to counter for their lower gas consumption. California will implement a similar measure in November, along with a higher gas tax.

So far this year, five more states have raised gas taxes, and increases are up for debate in more state legislatures.

The gas tax isn’t generally a divided issue; in many states, bipartisan support is garnered for the proposals. Traditionally red states, such as Tennessee and South Carolina, have passed gas tax increases since Jan. 1. Continue reading

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Filed under cars, infrastructure, Uncategorized