The Market Urbanism Report Sun, 19 Nov 2017 03:17:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Market Urbanism Report 32 32 An Interview With Toby Sun, Co-Founder Of LimeBike Sat, 18 Nov 2017 23:00:09 +0000 The bikeshare startup is seeing rapid growth in various types of U.S. cities.

The post An Interview With Toby Sun, Co-Founder Of LimeBike appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.


Toby Sun is, along with Brad Bao, a co-founder of LimeBike.


The private bikeshare industry has stumbled very suddenly into America. Although long a feature of dense Asian cities, the industry was for several years limited in the U.S. to public-private partnerships that either didn’t work, or required subsidies. All this changed in what seems like a year or two.  Companies such as Spin, GoBike, Ofo, Mobike and Zagster are carving out niches across the cities and college campuses of urban America.

Another early player has been LimeBike, a San Mateo-based startup launched by Toby Sun and Brad Bao. Just as Uber revolutionized the cab industry by digitizing it, LimeBike joins a rising storm of dockless bikesharing systems that operate by phone app. Its main achievement so far has been serving as a lead anchor in Seattle, which has the nation’s lone dockless-only citywide system. This has helped LimeBike gain $12 million in seed funding in March, and grow rapidly in the ensuing months.

Recently I spoke with Sun and Caen Contee, a founding member of LimeBike, to learn about their fast start and their future plans. The conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.

LimeBike jumped onto the private bikeshare scene quite fast. Is it really just under a year old?

Sun: This is officially our 11-month anniversary. We founded the company in January of this year, but really started to look at the urban mobility and transportation factor several years back. I have a consumer product background, and a venture capital investment background. So I have experience looking into exciting products like autonomous vehicles, Uber/Lyft, and dock-based bikesharing. I got to look into dockless bikesharing in Q2 of last year. So we founded this company this past January, but we’ve been studying this industry for over a year and a half. We raised our series A in March. We launched our first market in Greensboro, North Carolina in June. We launched our first major market in Seattle in July. And after that we’ve launched in one or more markets every week. In a roughly 3-to-4-month timeline, we’ve gone live in 25 markets, which includes 16 cities and 9 college campuses. This includes big metropolitan areas like Seattle, Dallas, DC and Los Angeles; and schools like Notre Dame, UNC-Greensboro, Arkansas State, etc. We’ve so far seen over ¾ million total rides in only 4 months, and we’ve got over 300,000 registered users.

Contee: What we’re trying to do now is build that system out to our goal of 30+ markets by the end of the year.

What is it that caused LimeBike to grow so fast? Some of your U.S. competitors have been around for several years, but you’ve become one of the industry leaders.

Sun: Having a team together to activate a dockless program from day one was super important. That might take another company half a year or even longer to make that pivot. The reason is that when they first started, the technology was not quite ready. But we’re starting from a new angle.

Contee: Part of the perfect storm for us has come from the business model. Bikesharing 1.0 was the dock-based system. But a dock-based system costs millions of dollars to deploy in cities. As a result, they were limited to large metros that could afford to fund them, or find anchor sponsors for them. But for our new economic model, we don’t have to pay for docks, we don’t have to pay for the kiosks or the fobs, so we can deploy far more bikes for no cost to the city. So we’ve created a system that takes away all of the economic barriers. And this actually opens up the market, meaning it’s not just the large metros we can serve.

How do you decide which cities to open in?

Sun: It’s a combination of things. So when we first got started, the reason we chose UNC-Greensboro–which is not the typical first-launch market for a lot of technology companies–was, Number 1, that they had a present need. They’d been thinking about a bike share system for a long time, but had found the dock-based program kind of limited. Yet the city is committed to building more bike lanes and improving the bike infrastructure. Number 2, they really embraced new technology, which impressed us a lot. Number 3, the UNC-G campus has more than 20,000 staff and students, and the city has 287,000 residents. So they had the population and the density to meet our criteria.

All these things put together, and it’s turned out to be a great first market for us. And that goes for the medium-sized cities with similar combinations, like South Bend. So we started with the small, passionate markets, that will work closely with us and that we also learn from, before we get to the bigger markets.

But even with smaller markets, do you find that there must be a certain minimal population density?

Sun: It varies. Sometimes a super-small market with only 10,000 people can support a program. Key Biscayne, FL, where we launched, only has 10,000 residents; but there are over 1 million travelers going to that market every year. But ideally, we like a 1-to-100 bike-to-person ratio. So that requires a certain level of density over the coverage area for our bikes.

What are the specific challenges of working your way into bigger markets?

Sun: You need a bigger team to manage it. So it turned out that starting in a smaller city was a good thing for us. That way when we come into the big cities, we have a playbook, we have a solid team that has experience dealing with the issues we have seen in smaller markets, and is able to manage a more complex environment.

Which city have you found to be the best market so far, and do you think that answer will change as you expand?

Sun: Seattle has been the best so far, because we have the most bikes there. Dallas is surprisingly good too; in some areas the ridership is even higher than Seattle. Ten years from now, we see it being New York City, San Francisco, DC, Chicago. All these very high-density areas that are suffering from traffic congestion and pollution will be the biggest market for sure.

Have you had any regulatory battles so far, and do you anticipate that heating up as you expand?

Sun: I wouldn’t say it’s a “battle”. I’d say it’s an “ongoing discussion”. Cities love bikes, and cities love bikeshare. But it does take some time to educate them on how this will bring unique advantages to the city.

In some cities that we’ve launched, we have all the officials’ support. We’ll announce the programs with the city councils, the mayors, the DOT directors and the school chancellors in attendance. There are other cities that have been a little slower at adapting to this change. But I wouldn’t say it’s a battle. We are actually seeing the changes way faster than we thought it would be.

You said your goal by the end of 2017 was to expand into 30+ markets. What are your other goals?

Sun: We aim to deploy between 50,000 to 70,000 bikes. We have roughly 10,000 bikes deployed in the U.S. now. In terms of ridership, by the end of the year, hopefully we can get up to 2 million rides.

What about the long-term goal? Do you want to become the Uber of bikeshare?

Sun: We want to be the LimeBike for, uh…mobility options (laughs). If you ask me what the vision will be in the next 3 to 5 years, we want to become the default short-trip, on-demand service for getting people around cities. After that, we hope to transform form a mobility platform to a lifestyle brand, where people can use one bike to make friends, choose another to stay healthy, choose another to get other things done. So we feel super, super excited.

[This article was originally published by Forbes.]

The post An Interview With Toby Sun, Co-Founder Of LimeBike appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
Chicago Public School Money Will Need To Come From Somewhere Sat, 18 Nov 2017 13:00:12 +0000 Short-term borrowing is forcing CPS to pay mountains of interest.

The post Chicago Public School Money Will Need To Come From Somewhere appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

Ever-struggling and always in the news, Chicago Public Schools recently took out the last of $387 million in loans from JP Morgan, primarily to make payments to their teacher pension system. It’s not uncommon for public schools to sell bonds so they have extra cash to fund projects, renovate, and whatever else they can think of to spend other people’s money on. But continuing a streak of bad financial decisions, the district took out private short-term loans expected to cost $70,000 a day in interest. This all comes as they’re considering laying off 350 teachers and 600 support personnel. CPS is anticipating more than $400 million in education grants from the state, which is how they plan to pay back the loans. But the city and state have been in a funding stalemate, so that aid is far from guaranteed. The district has until December 28 to repay or refinance the loans, and since the state hasn’t passed a budget in 3 years, essentially holding up public school funding, CPS better have a backup plan for when those payments are due. Without any city or state aid, the district faces a $544 million deficit.

The post Chicago Public School Money Will Need To Come From Somewhere appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
The Hospital As Homebuilder Thu, 16 Nov 2017 18:06:07 +0000 Medical institutions are supporting urban development as a way to improve health outcomes.

The post The Hospital As Homebuilder appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.


The Cleveland Clinic / wikimedia


This September, a new building opened in Minneapolis that, while unspectacular, represents a prototype for the future of urban American development. A permanent supportive housing complex for military veterans—many of them homeless—went up just outside city boundaries, near the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. The 100-unit Veterans East project was seen as yet another advance in the “housing first” strategy, in which the chronically homeless are housed to avoid the cost run-ups of having them live outdoors.

But that is not what was notable about Veterans East. Rather, the $14.3 million project had several financiers, and the leading private one was UnitedHealth Group. The $160 billion company, which is based in nearby Minnetonka and has multiple facilities metro-wide, provided $5.2 million in equity.

This is one of many housing projects the health giant has financed, not just throughout Minneapolis but nationwide. Since 2011, reads the company’s website, “UnitedHealth Group has provided more than $350 million in financing for 56 affordable housing communities in 14 states, helping create more than 1,300 homes for individuals and families. This includes investing nearly $62 million…to build ten new affordable-housing communities and 500 affordable homes in Minnesota and the Great Lakes region.”

UnitedHealth Group joins a larger trend in which major medical institutions delve into urban development—namely affordable housing—as part of a more comprehensive approach to healthcare. These institutions build, operate, invest in or subsidize new or remodeled housing, often in the low-income communities near their hospitals. Sometimes they take a for-profit approach, and other times a philanthropic one, providing zero-interest loans or grants.

These systems have prescribed to a growing belief that better health will surface not just from technology and medicine, but from building nicer neighborhoods. As I noted in a September piece for Tax Credit Advisor called “What is a healthy neighborhood?,” the health outcomes of different demographics appears directly tied to their zip codes. Particularly within an urban context, wealthy areas have abundant jobs, nice public spaces, low crime and healthy food options; poor ones typically have minimal economic development, dangerous streets and public spaces, and retail options that reinforce bad habits. This helps explain, according to some analysts, why life expectancies in these different neighborhoods are often decades apart.

Thus major health systems, seeing the benefits of dense housing and economic development, have used their vast resources to encourage it in areas suffering from growth shortages. The strategy, says Vickie Eaton Johnson, director of community relations at the Cleveland Clinic, is considered an “upstream” way to provide preventative care, helping people meet their material and health needs, so that they have money to maintain health and well-being.

“It’s within our own self-interest to partner with the community outside the hospital,” she said. “We want people to be well longer, not to show up at the emergency room.”

Besides UnitedHealth Group, here are some other notable medical centers pursuing the same strategy:

Bon Secours Hospital

The Catholic nonprofit, based in a rough area of west Baltimore, was an early pioneer in the community-based health approach, said Dr. Megan Sandel, a nationallyrecognized healthcare expert for the Boston Medical Center. Bon Secours’ approach is multi-pronged, dealing in neighborhood revitalization, social services, youth employment programs, workforce development, and last but not least, housing construction. The hospital has a housing division that focuses on developing the west side, specifically. The agency has “developed and now owns and operates more than 720 apartment units for low- and moderate-income seniors, families and people with disabilities.”

Boston Medical Center

Rather than building and managing homes, Boston Medical Center is, in the mold of UnitedHealth Group, committed to investing in them. In 2015, several prominent Boston nonprofits joined to form the Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund. The fund seeks out institutional investors who will underwrite high-density, mixed-use projects in various low-income neighborhoods or municipalities throughout greater Boston. BMC, a nonprofit hospital located on the South End, has added $500,000 to the fund. BMC’s role is as a Class A investor that gets market-rate returns, but Dr. Sandel said by phone that “any of the returns that we get, including the principal, we will reinvest in more housing projects in the future.” BMC is also providing a zero-interest loan to a food market that will be opening at ground-level in one of HNEF’s projects.

Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic neither builds nor invests in housing, but helps specific individuals buy or rent, in some cases by remodeling the city’s older historic stock. The clinic, a world-renowned nonprofit that is Ohio’s second-largest employer, has a diverse range of workers, including, said Johnson, many residents from the poor surrounding neighborhoods of east Cleveland. So a decade ago, the clinic started a housing program that incentivizes its employees to live in, and revive, the surrounding area. Employees who locate within about a mile of the clinic in any direction qualify for $20,000 in down-payment assistance if they buy a home, and $1,400 if they rent. All of this money comes from a philanthropic trust the clinic has set up for the program, and so far this year, the fund has divvied out $2 million.

Johnson says that this has helped spur private construction in the surrounding area, and is part of a broader community development mission that has also included building parks and hosting farmer’s markets.


Of course, these are not the only medical institutions taking a community-based approach. The concept has proliferated so much that there is now a network of 40 health systems, called the Healthcare Anchor Network, that are dedicated to advancing the concept. These include other prominent systems, like Dignity Health and Kaiser Permanente, and the network often partners with institutional private investors and major philanthropies, like the Kresge Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is not hard to see, given the vast resources circulating through these institutions, how their focus on urban development could lead to major transformation in America’s cities. Maybe, too, this pro-housing, pro-growth mentality will help close the nation’s health gap.

The post The Hospital As Homebuilder appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
Cities Are Trying To Block Competition From Uber, Lyft & Chariot Wed, 15 Nov 2017 13:00:25 +0000 Recent tales out of San Francisco and Chicago show that governments want to keep urban mobility under their grip.

The post Cities Are Trying To Block Competition From Uber, Lyft & Chariot appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.


credit: Chariot

Here’s a difference between government-run businesses and private businesses: when private businesses face competition, they are forced to innovate to survive. When government-run businesses face competition, they can regulate or tax their competitors out of business.

Blackberry was once the dominant smart phone. Then came the iPhone, which reduced Blackberry subscribers from 85 million to 23 million in just 18 months. In 2016, Blackberry stopped designing phones. But that doesn’t mean it is out of business; instead, it is doing other things like designing driverless-car software.

Now consider the Chicago Transit Authority, which has lost riders in every year since 2012, partly if not mostly because of the growth of Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing has also reduced car rentals (which are taxed by the city) and downtown parking (which is taxes by the city). Although Uber and Lyft also pay taxes to the city, the city estimates it lost a net of $40 million in revenues (including transit fares and vehicle taxes) in 2016. So Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to increase taxes on Uber and Lyft to make up the difference.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Ford subsidiary Chariot is running buses in competition with publicly subsidized Muni. This has led to demands that the city “regulate Chariot to save public transit.” The term public in public transit doesn’t refer to ownership; it refers to transport that is available to all of the public. So what they really mean is “regulate privately owned transit to save publicly subsidized transit” because, for some reason, subsidized transit deserves to be “saved” from private competition.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) was expected to approve such regulations in October. The new regulations forbid private transit operators from competing directly with Muni. The MTA grandfathered in Chariot’s routes, effectively giving Chariot a competitive advantage over other companies that might want to enter San Francisco’s market. But Chariot won’t be able to add new routes that compete directly with other Muni routes.

This is one more reason why government should get out of the transit business. Some of the few private transit operators in the country, such as New York Waterway, succeeded only because they entered a market that the government transit agencies had ignored. Many others, such as jitneys, were regulated out of business. This slows innovation and rewards bureaucratic bloat.

[This article was originally published on The Antiplanner blog.]

The post Cities Are Trying To Block Competition From Uber, Lyft & Chariot appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
What Defines A Nimby? Wed, 15 Nov 2017 13:00:00 +0000 Sometimes anti-development attitudes come from a legitimate desire for security.

The post What Defines A Nimby? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

In the San Francisco Bay area, and prominent cities on both coasts, the cost of housing is somewhat irrational. Those of us under the age of “I bought my house twenty years ago” blame this on a group of people we call NIMBYs. We consider these people backwards, unwilling or perhaps unable to face a future of dense residential urbanism. In response, they say “Die tech scum,” since tech workers are the only new residents who can afford to live in their city instead of commuting from far away. It’s tech workers vs NIMBYs, young vs. old, those striving to get ahead vs those who already got theirs.

I thought my attitude towards this was a global one. New construction is good in all places. If the real estate market demands it, it should be fulfilled. Yet recently a remark from an acquaintance gave me pause.

He showed me an article about a development that was blocked in my hometown of Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati wants to build a new dorm, but it is against the wishes of nearby residents. My acquaintance called these development-objecting residents NIMBYs.

“But they aren’t,” I argued. “They’re poor black people living in the ghetto next to campus. UC is a college, serving mostly middle-class students, and its campus has encroached on their neighborhood for decades, fueling fears of displacement. A few years ago, UC even demolished an elementary school to make way for more student housing, and the city let them.”

In San Francisco, when white working-class residents object to encroachment by new tech workers, they’re NIMBYs. In Cincinnati, when black working-class residents object to encroachment by college students, are they NIMBYs too?

Other people besides my acquaintance might not say this. Cincinnati’s black population, after all, has long had a disadvantage in this highly-segregated city, and the growth of UC may give them the further sense that they will be uprooted. Yet a longtime resident of San Francisco who can barely afford to live there anymore might have similar insecurities, and believe that the local system is against him, too. Perhaps we should not dismiss the concerns of either group.

The post What Defines A Nimby? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
Los Angeles Gets An Upzoning — But Will It Stick? Mon, 13 Nov 2017 13:00:19 +0000 This past Thursday was an important day in Los Angeles YIMBY history. Various areas of the city were upzoned due to letters and contact with the City Planning Commission. This is the first time this has ever happened in city history. The Commission heard public comment and actually told the planners they needed to add…

The post Los Angeles Gets An Upzoning — But Will It Stick? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

This past Thursday was an important day in Los Angeles YIMBY history. Various areas of the city were upzoned due to letters and contact with the City Planning Commission. This is the first time this has ever happened in city history. The Commission heard public comment and actually told the planners they needed to add more housing.

This happened because 189 people submitted letters through the Abundant Housing LA website. It also happened because of the great work being done by Mark VallianatosBrent GaisfordGabe Rose and Leonora Yetter, along with others at Abundant Housing LA. At one point, the Commission even referred to the letter written by AHLA.

This is a victory, but it might be temporary. Paul Koretz, who is councilman for the 5th District, encompassing much of western L.A. proper, argued that they should not be upzoning this area until there are infrastructure improvements. I guess the billion dollar subway is not good enough for him. But it is possible that City Council could remove these upzones. We shall see.

The post Los Angeles Gets An Upzoning — But Will It Stick? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
The New Bikeshare Boom: A Triumph Of Riders And Business Mon, 13 Nov 2017 12:59:19 +0000 How do you make a bicycle scary to urban planners? You let it earn a profit.

The post The New Bikeshare Boom: A Triumph Of Riders And Business appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.


LimeBike is one of many emerging private bikeshare models. / company photo

For the past decade, bikeshares have been spreading across cities, with residents and tourists alike using the bikes for quick jaunts around town. According to US NACTO figures, rides per day went from a third of a million in 2010 to 28 million for 2016 – a nearly 100x increase. For the last two years, bikeshare has been growing at about 25% annually.

Sounds like a lot, until you realize that Americans take some 400 *billion* trips a year, the vast majority of that by car.

Bikesharing’s Potential

Bikeshares are a terrific opportunity for cities. They can help reduce car travel and parking demand, increase physical activity while providing extremely economical transport – historically 10-20% of the cost of a transit pass. With 50% of trips being 3 miles or less, there’s plenty of potential for biking to replace driving. One of the biggest impediments to cycling is simply not having a working bike. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for a bike may not be so appealing, if you aren’t even sure you’ll ride it.

Bikesharing 1.0: ‘Stationary’ Bikes

Until recently, bikeshares all relied on ‘docks’ – all bikeshare trips had to start and end at dedicated bikeshare stations. If there was no bikeshare dock near both your origin and destination, bikeshare was not an option. Navigating from station to station was trying enough, let alone if your origin lacked bikes or your destination lacked empty spaces.

With docks costing tens of thousands of dollars, and the bikes themselves costing $1,000+, bikeshare facilities are tightly rationed, lest they go underused. Bikes are constantly shuttled from full stations to empty ones, especially in hilly areas.

System rollouts are slow, and expansions of service even slower. My home of Los Angeles has a fragmented system that covers only a small portion of the city, let alone the region. And for city budgets, the systems often require millions of dollars in subsidies per year to survive – a pittance in comparison to regional car subsidies, naturally, but an impediment nonetheless, especially when users tended to be higher income.

These bikeshares operate on the “tax foreigners living abroad” revenue model pioneered by a Monty Python character – temporary passes cost far more than monthly or annual passes, and are responsible for a large portion of system revenues – around half, in the case of DC. That price premium suppresses occasional bikeshare use by residents.

Enter a new generation of bikeshares

With the newest generation of bikeshare, there are no docks. Bikes are stocked with GPS that track their location. Chinese pioneers of the model put the cost of each bike at about $400. Rides tend to cost $0.50 to $1 per half hour in the West, and about $0.10 in China.

Seattle is at the forefront of dockless bikesharing in North America. Its own municipal bikeshare, Pronto, failed to cover costs, some say due to stringent helmet requirements. The bikeshare was shuttered, and the city invited dockless bikeshares to set up shop. Now, the city has two private providers, Limebike and Spin, with each providing 1,000 bikes, the maximum currently allowed. Each has tentative plans to offer 10,000 bikes, and there are two more vendors in the offing, ofo and Vbikes. Unlike Uber, the bikes are downright cheap for daily use, at a dollar per ride or $29 per month.

Already, the private bikeshares in their first week have topped their failed government counterpart. Limebike reports that in its first week with 500 bikes, there were 10,000 rides, or about 3 per bike. With 20,000 such bikes in the city at 3 rides per day, Seattle would have about 22 million rides a year – as much as all American bikeshares had in 2015!

Admittedly, many of these early rides were free, to promote the service – but such ridership levels are hardly unprecedented. For comparison, New York’s Citibike, a dock-based station, currently racks up about 3 rides per bike per day in cold January, and 7 in June.

(Citibike / wikimedia)


Perhaps the greatest virtue of these systems is their flexibility: shortly after users took issue with Spin’s limited gearing, given Seattle’s hills, Spin announced that within a month, all of its Seattle bikes would be upgraded.

At a time when China has often been mistakenly dismissed as a nation of copycats and cheap workers, dockless bikeshares are a prime showcase for Chinese innovation. There, the bikes now see as many as 50 million rides per day – that’s equivalent to 12 million rides a day in the US, while China’s Uber, Didi Chuxing, sees an average of 20 million rides per day. And the bikeshares are growing faster. Two of the biggest players, ofo and Mobike, have billions of dollars in venture capital backing them – which is helpful for a business where large upfront capital investments are made, and then paid off over the course of a couple years’ worth of fares. Even Rihanna has lent a little starpower to the effort.

The Opposition… from Urbanists?

Suspiciously, many urbanists and planners have spoken of dockless bikeshare in accusatory tones. Detractors have dredged up images of abandoned, broken, and ill-placed bikes. With single rides costing a dollar or less, private bikeshares could take away municipal bikeshare’s most profitable customers, temporary pass holders.

Undoubtedly, dockless bikeshares, “rogue” or not, will have growing pains. Parking tickets and impounding may prove to be needed punishments for scofflaws. City officials may have to convert some car parking into space for bikes, and possibly charge the bikeshares accordingly.

The planners’ concern (…trolling?) about the viability of someone else’s investments is fruitless and perplexing – especially given the tenuous and subsidized finances of city bikeshares. If municipal bikeshares were as excellent as Paris’ Velib, the planners might have a point – but Velib has had an annual subsidy of $18 million, or $60 per subscriber, an amount U.S. cities simply won’t provide. And that’s in a place with countless visitors year round, paying for costlier temporary passes. The bureaucrat’s aversion to anything “not invented here” will give way to tolerance and acceptance.

As someone who bikes, having billion dollar companies staking their fate on city cycling is reassuring, not scary. Alarm about for-profit bicycles “taking over” cities is comical, given the vast urban property already given to cars.

The Bicycle Battle Royale

With municipal bikeshare, a for-profit company is responsible for managing operations for a single system. Without continual direct competition, the pressure to keep costs down is minimal.

When multiple vendors compete daily for riders, pricing pressure is acute – and innovation is the result. Dockless companies are experimenting with crediting users to rebalance bikes, to reduce the workload for costlier paid staff. Partnerships and promotions will flower, subsidizing rides, just as Hulu and Citibank have done with municipal systems in Santa Monica and New York.

If dock-based systems falter, the stations could be repurposed for electric bikes, to court people who wouldn’t use a mechanical bike for a given trip. Alternatively, dockless systems could offer ebikes and incentivize users to charge them overnight, as some carshares do for gas.

Among everyday citizens in Seattle, the people who likes bikes are more than grateful for the thousands of lime and orange bikes entering the Emerald City. Already, cyclists are asking Seattle to relax the initial cap on the number of bikes allowed. Dockless systems are now available in Dallas, South Lake Tahoe, South San Francisco, and various campuses.

Uber and Lyft have been the biggest change to city streets in the last decade. But their impact on routine travel has been limited for most people, because they cost too much. Dockless bikeshare doesn’t have that problem, or the need for months of planning and building that dock-based bikeshares do. The technology stands to be the most sweeping change to American cities for the next couple years. As dockless offerings prosper, expect planners to belatedly follow the people and embrace change.

The post The New Bikeshare Boom: A Triumph Of Riders And Business appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 3
Notes From Houston Sat, 11 Nov 2017 13:00:52 +0000 In July, long before the recent flooding, I visited Houston.  Houston has a reputation as a poorly planned city- and in some respects, it is. But Houston’s transportation planning is superior to that of my native Atlanta, in at least two ways.  First, Houston has a grid of commercial streets; one can travel though Houston…

The post Notes From Houston appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

In July, long before the recent flooding, I visited Houston.  Houston has a reputation as a poorly planned city- and in some respects, it is.

But Houston’s transportation planning is superior to that of my native Atlanta, in at least two ways.  First, Houston has a grid of commercial streets; one can travel though Houston fairly easily without being forced onto an interstate highway.  By contrast, Atlanta’s roadway system is dominated by north-south interstate highways; in some parts of Atlanta and its suburbs, east-west arterials are few and far between.   Second, sidewalks seem to be the norm rather than the exception in what passes for urban Houston; by contrast, in the homeowner blocks of Atlanta, sidewalks die out about four or five miles from downtown, long before the city limits.

What about land use?  Houston’s lack of zoning does not seem to make a huge difference in spatial order; by and large, I saw no large-scale land uses (such as, say, factories or department stores) in the middle of homeowner blocks. However, the absence of formal zoning does allow for slightly more mixed use than in a typical city; although I saw very few blocks that combined housing with even small-scale commercial activity, I saw more blocks that contained both single-family and multifamily houses.  Although Houston is basically a low-density city, it is somewhat less so than other Sun Belt cities.  Inside Houston’s I-610 “Loop” (which includes around 100 square miles of land) the population density is a little over 4,500 people per square mile.  By contrast, the density of the city of Atlanta (which includes about 130 square miles) is about 3,500 people per square mile.

The post Notes From Houston appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
How American Culture Is Fueling The Housing Crisis Sat, 11 Nov 2017 13:00:29 +0000 While regulations are one big reason for the housing affordability problem, there are larger economic and societal factors, too.

The post How American Culture Is Fueling The Housing Crisis appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.



Sometimes it can be hard to fathom that various American governing bodies are actually inflicting a housing crisis onto their people. And yet that’s what is happening. To be specific, countless municipalities— particularly in major metro areas—are caving to political pressure from existing homeowners, by refusing to allow more construction for newcomers. This has caused housing shortages and price inflation—a textbook case of a government-created problem.

Yet, as bad as this may seem, there are other factors behind the crisis—and some have little to do with the government. Just as certain segments of the population can’t afford healthcare, higher education and reliable transport— and must therefore be subsidized by taxpayers—they also cannot afford housing. This population spans every city and town, and their problems are rooted in larger economic, cultural and even personal factors that, for better or worse, add to the fabric of modern American life.

But before getting into those, just consider the extent of the housing crisis. According to data from, Americans today are more burdened by housing than by any other expense, with housing costs growing dramatically over the years. Between 1901 and 2012, the share of total consumer spending on housing grew from 23 percent to 33 percent, while the percentage remained in or near single digits for food, clothing, healthcare, entertainment and education. In 2016, the U.S. homeownership rate dropped to 62.9 percent—the lowest level since the Census Bureau began keeping track in 1965—and has ticked up only slightly since. In the 53 largest metros, nearly half of households are rent burdened, spending over 30 percent of their income on housing.

Some of these burdens result from structural economic factors, says Stephanie Coontz, an Evergreen State College history professor best known for her book on American family life, called The Way We Never Were. Depending on certain metrics, the U.S. economy—and our general standard of living—is greater now than ever before. In September, the Census Bureau announced that median household incomes were at an all-time high of $59,039. Even adjusted for inflation, these medians have steadily ticked upward since the 1960s. The U.S. poverty rate has remained more or less stable through the decades, now standing at 12.7 percent.

But where America’s rising economic problems become evident, said Coontz by phone, is in the details. The incomes that men earn throughout their work careers have been declining since the 1960s. Millennials are struggling too; while they have higher education levels than their parents, they have 20 percent lower incomes than Boomers did at the same age. Millennials have also adopted the American penchant for debt, trying to pay off five- and six-figure student loans, often while working service jobs. And while the gap is narrowing, there is still significant economic disparities by region, leading to specific housing challenges depending on the context. In hot coastal city markets, housing is just plain expensive, and ownership hard for most any income group. While housing is cheaper elsewhere in America, job markets are often worse thanks to deindustrialization, so ownership remains a difficult goal.

This is exacerbated, said Coontz, by the fact that school quality has become such a driver of where people live, causing money and population to flood, and a severe bidding process to ensure, in select areas.

“A big part in the run-up of housing costs is because we do not have, like many other countries, a standardized education system where all the schools are basically the same,” said Coontz. “So there is tremendous pressure among families to buy into an environment where you can go to a good school.”

The bigger factor, though, may be cultural – namely the decline of traditional families. Coontz noted that the ongoing rise of median household income was not because individuals were making more—in fact, wage growth has been uninspiring—but because of the rise these last few decades of female workers, and thus two-earner households. The problem, though, is that such households have become rarer. Since 1960, the share of Americans who were married went from 72 percent to about half.

In many cases, traditional marriages are being replaced by couples who live together but don’t wed, a group that has increased 15-fold since 1960. This is an unfortunate trend, according to Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist and director of the National Marriage Project. Many of these relationships fizzle out with time, creating instability for adults and children alike, and seem particularly bad for men. Wilcox has found that married men are more productive economically, and in many respects emotionally, as they are likelier to avoid counter-productive behaviors like crime and drug addiction.

This means a lot of potential wealth in America is sacrificed to delayed marriage. Coontz added that one cause for the delay, namely for Millennials, is the economic situation: couples don’t want to wed if both parties don’t have stable jobs. But there is no doubt that cultural norms have—to the disgruntlement of Wilcox and other conservative commentators—also changed, so that traditional marriage is a less-valued institution. This means there are fewer stable, dual-earning households around to pay off that mortgage together.

This isn’t to say that the housing situation, at a broader national level, is necessarily in crisis. After dropping during the recession, permit numbers have ticked upward every year, and Americans are living in vastly nicer housing than they once did – housing that is bigger, sturdier and filled with more luxury features. U.S. homeownership rates are comparable to Canada, Australia and various advanced European countries.

Where the situation gets complex is with specific demographics and locations. And this complexity is due to the economic and cultural factors mentioned above, along with countless other ones. They include high rates of drug addiction in certain parts of the country; increased longevity that has placed more people on fixed incomes; and the fact that Americans are less willing than before to move to more economically-robust areas. Really, the inability to afford housing boils down to the case-by-case scenarios of individuals. Of course, it doesn’t help that government regulations make practically every home more expensive – and dramatically more expensive in certain markets.

[This article was originally published by]

The post How American Culture Is Fueling The Housing Crisis appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0
What Is Going On Inside The LAPD’s Youth Program? Fri, 10 Nov 2017 15:58:53 +0000 LAPD Cadets, the department’s flagship youth training initiative, is intended to prepare young adults who envision themselves as having a future in law enforcement. But recently, the program has generated theft of police equipment, illicit underage sex, and cadet car chases. Seven LAPD cadets were arrested after allegations that they took patrol cars beyond county limits, even pulling…

The post What Is Going On Inside The LAPD’s Youth Program? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

LAPD Cadets, the department’s flagship youth training initiative, is intended to prepare young adults who envision themselves as having a future in law enforcement. But recently, the program has generated theft of police equipment, illicit underage sex, and cadet car chases. Seven LAPD cadets were arrested after allegations that they took patrol cars beyond county limits, even pulling motorists over (since they are not actual cops, that’s very illegal). In another instance, cadets led LAPD officers on police chases that ended in crashes. The worst failure of oversight is that a 31-year-old officer allegedly had sex with a 15-year-old cadet and helped her steal cars, Tasers, bulletproof vests, and other equipment. The officer has formally been charged with sexual assault. After all this news broke, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ordered a thorough review of the program. Simultaneously, an ongoing review will be performed by the LA Police Commission inspector general. It’s a terrible stain on an otherwise remarkably successful program.

The post What Is Going On Inside The LAPD’s Youth Program? appeared first on The Market Urbanism Report.

]]> 0