Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Chicago Suburb Hopes to Create a Docked-Dockless Hybrid

Oak Park gave Chicago's Divvy the boot in January. (Photo by Steven Vance)

Taking a page from Seattle’s playbook, Oak Park, Illinois is planning to go dockless after dropping the local docked operator earlier this year.

Cameron Davis, the village’s new assistant director of the Development Customer Services Department, is currently researching dockless best practices employed by other municipalities, reports. Five start-ups are interested in rolling out locally, but Davis wants to let “at least two” operate in Oak Park to encourage competition, according to the site. Regulatory framework will likely be in place in late 2018.

There’s a twist to Oak Park’s proposed model, however, as StreetsBlog Chicago points out. The village’s trustees Monday endorsed a concept involving “ponds” or “hubs” to serve as semi-official pick-up and drop-off points. The model would essentially make Oak Park’s system a docked-dockless hybrid.

“Having these ponds or areas where people could take or return bikes I think is crucial to the success of any program we implement,” Trustee Deno Andrews said Monday, according to StreetsBlog.

The trustees want to see the hubs located at parks, libraries and schools, and view them as a solution to the much-hyped problem of bikes left strewn haphazardly around sidewalks and other throughways.

Whether the start-ups will push back against those rules remains to be seen. As Next City has covered, operators haven’t been too thrilled about Chicago’s “lock-onto” policy, in which bikes must be left attached to something, rather than standing solitary with their wheels locked.

Small municipalities and suburbs like Oak Park are increasingly turning to bike-share start-ups such as LimeBike and Spin (Beijing-based Ofo, however, has essentially taken itself out of the small-city running). The start-ups, which are investor-funded, offer a system that is essentially free to get up-and-running. And then municipalities can more quickly form multi-jurisdictional partnerships, which make sense in rural and suburban regions where town borders overlap and bleed together.


In D.C. Region, Resistance Grows to HQ2

Amazon's Seattle campus (Credit: Amazon)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called Amazon’s HQ2 “the greatest economic development opportunity in a generation.” Increasingly, though, Washington, D.C.-area residents don’t agree. Since D.C., along with nearby Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, made the list of finalists for the retail giant’s second headquarters, a bipartisan group of citizens is organizing to resist the deal, WAMU reports.

From the station:

In Seattle, an attempt by that city’s council to tax large employers in order to fund affordable housing was met with swift and ruthless opposition from Amazon, stoking concern that the company, if it came to the Washington area, could crush similar efforts here. Activists have also raised concerns about the company’s potential impact on already-high rents, its cutthroat corporate culture and its penchant for legally avoiding taxes — a strategy that has been baked into its business model since Bezos started the company in 1994.

Now, those doubts have begun to coagulate into a movement against local bids for Amazon.

That movement is mostly a series of conversations at this point, according to WAMU, hosted by Our Revolution Arlington (which grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign). But its members are looking at community wealth-building strategies with real-world examples, for example, Richmond, Virginia’s Office of Community Wealth Building, which connects residents with smaller enterprises such as Stone Brewing. (Next City has covered similar wealth-building efforts here and here.) Ultimately, Our Revolution Arlington wants to be in a position to push back against blanket corporate giveaways if Amazon does choose their area — and get a better, more equitable deal.

“Whatever jurisdiction ultimately is the landing spot for HQ2 will be in a much better position than Seattle,” Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey recently told the station. “When Amazon started and began growing there, no one was thinking about these issues.”

As Next City has covered, the competition to land Amazon is creating something of an artificial race to the bottom — funded with public dollars that the company doesn’t necessarily need.

“Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction,” Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy said in a statement when the HQ2 race was announced. “We fear that many states and localities will offer to grossly overspend to attract Amazon, even though the business basics — especially a metro area’s executive talent pool — will surely control the company’s decision.”

The state of Maryland, according to WAMU, has approved $5 billion in tax breaks for the company. But many of the finalists won’t disclose what they’ve offered the company, even though their promises are technically made with public money. As Next City has reported, there’s no national law ordering cities to make their bids public. Problematically, though, those figures haven’t just been kept from citizens and reporters. Last year, the Nashville Scene reported that members of Nashville’s Metro Council — the very people who would have to approve the incentive package — hadn’t even seen the city’s proposal.

“I would be very curious to see what we are giving away,” Nashville District 31 Councilmember Fabian Bedne told the paper at the time. “We never learn about these things until it’s too late.”


World’s Largest Dockless Bike-Sharing Company Retreats from U.S.

(Photo by Nick-D)

Mere months after it entered the U.S. market, Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo is shuttering most of its state-side operations.

The Beijing-based company — still the world’s largest bike-sharing entity — told U.S. employees that it would be downsizing its workforce to outposts in a handful of cities, the Washington Post reports. The company has been operating in about 30 U.S. cities, and while it’s still determining final details, it plans to continue only in select metros like San Diego and Seattle, which have created fewer regulations, according to CNN Tech.

“As we continue to bring bikeshare to communities across the globe, Ofo has begun to reevaluate markets that present obstacles,” Andrew Daley, head of Ofo North America, said in a statement today, as reported by CNN.

The company, he added, will continue to “prioritize growth in viable markets.”

Ofo was one of three dockless bike-share companies that set up shop in Seattle shortly after the metro’s docked bike-share system, Pronto, ceased operations. The city set up a regulatory pilot to test the model, as Next City covered at the time, and officials were impressed by ridership numbers that dwarfed those seen while Pronto was in existence.

Over the course of 2018, however, some cities have become increasingly wary of the dockless model — and the venture-funded start-ups helming it — even as others have jumped at its relative affordability. In January, spooked by reports of bikes left strewn about other cities’ sidewalks and streets, Sacramento devised a system of particularly stringent regulations mandating that operators pick up their stray bikes or have their fines and permits revoked (and bicycles impounded).

“Without regulation, bicycle-share businesses pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” the ordinance stated. “[D]erelict self-locking bicycles can become a major cause of blight in both residential and nonresidential neighborhoods.”

Still, dockless bikes (and then scooters) have had no trouble spreading to cities like Milwaukie, Dallas, New Orleans and a handful of smaller cities and suburbs. (Chicago’s ‘lock-to’ ordinance, requiring that the bikes be left attached to something, did ruffle the start-ups’ feathers a bit). But with Uber’s April acquisition of Jump, it’s possible that Ofo’s retreat is as much about U.S. competition as city-based regulation.


San Diego Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

San Diego’s short-term rental market could be in for a sea change. On Monday, the city council voted to outlaw vacation rentals in secondary homes, theoretically limiting short-term stays to primary residences. The new law (borrowing from similar regulations in Boston and New Orleans) is much stricter than short-term operators had expected — and is being hailed by labor and housing advocates as a means of reclaiming valuable local rental stock.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The action, following a more than six-hour-long, sometimes emotional hearing, marks a striking departure from the centerpiece of a compromise proposal crafted by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office over the last several months…. His plan would have permitted vacation rental hosts to rent out their primary residences while they are not present for up to six months a year — plus one additional home with no limit on the number of days annually.

The new council-approved plan, however, nixes the allowance of an additional home. And while the council was expected to exempt the Mission Beach neighborhood, where an estimated 44 percent of the housing stock is short-term rentals, they decided not to grant it any special allowances, the paper reports.

“Today’s vote by the San Diego City Council is an affront to thousands of responsible, hard-working San Diegans and will result in millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for the City,” Airbnb said in a statement to the Union-Tribune. “San Diego has been a vacation rental destination for nearly 100 years and today’s vote all but ensures activity will be forced underground and guests will choose alternative destinations.”

The council members who voted in the new legislation, however, expressed their frustration with the city’s supply-demand imbalance.

“I wasn’t elected to serve the interests of out-of-town investors but our District 2 constituents who have spoken for years of abuses of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods,” said Zapf, who represents many of the beach communities. “Our neighborhoods should not be treated like a game of Monopoly … while our long-term residents suffer. This is by no means the ideal solution but it’s as close as we’ve gotten to getting some relief.”

As Next City has covered, cities that regulate short-term rental companies generally fall into two camps: those that tax, and those, like San Diego, cracking down on rentals that aren’t owner-occupied. Often, the idea behind the latter strategy is that short-term vacation units take homes off the market that would otherwise be long-term rentals. The diminished supply makes prices go up overall. In response, one common regulatory strategy involves limiting the number of nights an owner can rent out their space — in New Orleans and Boston, for example, a cap is set at 90 days.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of whole units and whole buildings turned into short rentals that used to house long-term residents,” Karen Chen, Chinese Progressive Association’s executive director, told Next City earlier this year, speaking of Boston’s Chinatown. “People who lived in Chinatown for many years and relied on doctors and social services here are being displaced.”


Looking to Skirt State Preemption, Seattle Passes Gun Storage Bill

Protesters assemble for Seattle's "March for Our Lives" on March 24, 2018. (Credit: davidjlee)

Seattle will require gun owners to lock up their firearms and fine those who don’t comply under legislation passed by City Council last week. Beyond the monetary penalties, the new law will allow local courts to build negligence cases, which has become nearly impossible in many states under constitutional carry laws.

After a small grace period, storing a gun outside a locked container will be a civil infraction punishable with a fine of up to $500, the Seattle Times reports. And when an owner knows that a minor or “at-risk person” could reasonably access their weapon — and then that second party does access it and causes some kind of harm — the owner can be charged with a similar infraction in the ballpark of $1,000 (for access) and $10,000 (if the minor hurts someone or commits a crime).

“While we can’t prevent every gun death or injury, we can take steps to help prevent future tragedies,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement, as reported by the Times. “Requiring that gun owners responsibly store their guns can help make our communities safer places to live.”

The Seattle Stranger points out that it’s still unclear “exactly how — or how strictly — Seattle will enforce the new law.” But the legislation has the potential of helping courts charge violators with negligence — at least as far as the weapon’s storage. As the New Republic has covered, any kind of negligence charge is increasingly difficult to come by.

From a 2015 article:

Every year many gun owners … unintentionally cause death and injury yet face no legal consequences. In criminal and civil courts, the legal system often fails to hold negligent gun owners accountable for such harm. Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit effort that combs through more than a thousand media sources to collect information about gun violence, has verified more than 1,500 accidental shooting incidents in 2014. Data on the legal outcomes of these shootings is sketchy, but many cases of unprosecuted unintentional shootings are available — dozens from the first two months of 2014 alone remain unprosecuted.

Like other cities trying to curb gun violence within their municipal borders, Seattle is constrained by state preemption laws. Washington law prevents local policymakers from regulating the “registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components,” according to the Stranger.

The new law appears to skirt the state regulation — which could spell victory for local gun control advocates since other state preemption laws are much stricter. In Florida, for example, state law —with more than a little financial help from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — forbids cities and counties from enacting any of their own gun laws. Officials who craft or enforce such laws face up to a $5,000 fine and removal from office. That includes seemingly innocuous measures, like codes banning guns in libraries and parks and laws limiting celebratory shots or gunfire in dense urban areas. (More Next City coverage of state preemption laws, including plastic bag ban bans and measures forbidding paid sick leave can be found here, here and here).

But the state, and the NRA, could retaliate in Seattle, too. According to the Stranger, City Council passed a law to tax guns and ammunition sold within the city in 2015. Gun rights advocates did end up challenging that law, claiming it violated the state’s preemption. The Washington State Supreme Court sided with the city, however, and upheld the tax — a move that likely gave city officials courage to push back against the preemption once again.


Land Trust Helps Oakland’s Hasta Muerte Coffee Stay Put

(Credit: Hasta Muerte Coffee)

The Oakland Community Land Trust is at it again. After helping to save the building housing Peacock Rebellion — which serves queer and trans people of color in Oakland — along with several other grassroots organizations and low-income housing units, the organization has teamed up with Hasta Muerte Coffee to deal another blow to the city’s ever-encroaching gentrification market.

The worker-owner collective that runs Hasta Muerte announced last week that it had successfully purchased its mixed-use building, after learning that it had been put on the market earlier this year, the East Bay Express reports.

“TGIF WE BOUGHT A BUILDING,” the collective wrote on Instagram. “After 45 or so days of fundraising, fundraisers, loan negotiations, generous donations of all kinds, bombarding you on social media, meetings, and meetings we are excited, anxious, nervous and *happy* to share that on [J]uly 11th the sale closed….”

Hasta Muerte successfully crowdfunded upwards of $50,000, according to the paper, and the land trust served as the initial buyer. It plans to eventually transfer the building to the collective, and keep the deed to land that it sits on in trust for perpetuity, to ensure the building isn’t sold at market rate. That’s customary for land trusts, as Next City has covered — and similar to the deal the nonprofit made with the building housing Peacock Rebellion earlier this year. The tenants of that building also plan to purchase the building outright from the land trust, in that case within a period of 15 years. In the meantime, land trust staff plan to train them in building management best practices.

Hasta Muerte has become a community hub since its opening, although one worker’s refusal to serve a uniformed police officer earlier this year — protesting what the collective referred to as Oakland Police Department’s “history of corruption, mismanagement, and scandal” and “legacy of blatant repression” — earned it a flurry of negative online reviews and alt-right media coverage.


Fifteen-City Bike-Share Launches in Massachusetts

(Photo by Mike Licht)

In the Boston area, city-based bike-share is so 2016. Last year, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced that it would create a regional system involving more than a dozen small towns and cities. Earlier this year, it signed contracts with two private dockless bike-share operators. Now, that synched-up system has finally begun rolling out, the Boston Globe reports.

So far, the program is up and running in the towns of Malden, Everett, Chelsea, Winthrop and Arlington, all with the help of LimeBike, according to the paper. By the end of summer a total of 15 small cities will be actively participating, meaning that residents in those cities will be able to rent bikes from their smartphones or with cash and ride anywhere within the towns’ collective borders. The Massachusetts cities participating include Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, and Winthrop.

“Dockless bike sharing brings another transportation option to residents that offers both convenience and a method to reduce one’s carbon footprint,” Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said recently, according to the Globe. “As this new program grows we hope to find cost-efficient means to expand the region.”

Bike-share start-ups like LimeBike, Spin and Ofo are increasingly attractive to small, cash-strapped cities because, unlike the public-private partnerships built up in cities like Chicago and New York, they don’t require tax-payer funding upfront. That doesn’t mean they’re universally beloved — a number of policymakers have expressed fear that the start-ups’ venture-funded model incentivizes quick, cheap roll-outs without adequate consideration of the transportation system as a whole or equity-planning to reach already transportation-starved areas. And then there’s the fact that the systems themselves are dockless — and could potentially create a whole lot of sidewalk clutter.

Still, as Marc Draisen, executive director of Metropolitan Area Planning Council, pointed out last year, the model is promising for inter-agency partnerships, particularly in suburban communities where municipalities bleed together.

“These recent rapid changes in the bike-share industry have created a unique opportunity for Boston’s suburbs to launch a large-scale regional bike-share system without having to raise large amounts of public capital,” he said at the time, according to WickedLocal Concord. “Our goal is to have high-quality bikes that will be well maintained, in a system that is easily accessible throughout the participating communities — and we want a seamless experience for riders crossing municipal lines.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the start-ups have a patent on inter-jurisdictional partnerships. As Next City has covered, established P3s like the Bay Area’s Ford GoBike and New York’s CitiBike have also had some success with multi-city expansions.


Pew: Income Gap Now Widest Among Asian Americans

(Credit: Pew Research)

Income inequality is often presented as a study in socioeconomic or racial difference — the racial wealth gap, for example, or comparisons of household income in rural vs. urban America. But, as Pew Research Center recently pointed out, another “important part of the story of rising income inequality is that experiences within America’s racial and ethnic communities vary strikingly from one group to the other.”

Take America’s Asian population — which now has the widest gap between its top and bottom earners, according to a new report from the research center.

From the report:

From 1970 to 2016, the gap in the standard of living between Asians near the top and the bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled, and the distribution of income among Asians transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic groups.

In this process, Asians displaced blacks as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S….

Asian Americans, of course, aren’t alone. According to Pew, the income gap between ALL Americans at the top and the bottom of the income distribution widened a whopping 27 percent over that same 46 years.

But the widening gap within the country’s Asian population is part of a story of several immigration laws, according to the research organization. Immigrants accounted for 81 percent of the growth in the adult Asian population from 1970 to 2016, following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. That law favored family reunification, and, together with the end of the Vietnam War, it brought a wave of refugees into the U.S.

“One result was that the share of new Asian immigrants working in high-skill occupations decreased from 1970 to 1990, and the share working in low-skill occupations increased,” according to the report.

More recently, however, the Immigration Act of 1990 (which sought to increase the inflow of skilled immigrants to the U.S.) coincided with a tech boom that brought a new wave of Asian immigrants from India under the H-1B visa program.

“Thus, since 1990, there has been an increase in the share of Asian immigrants employed in high-skill occupations,” according to the report.

The new data will likely be helpful for equity-focused policymakers — who haven’t always seen Asian Americans included in large research projects. Even when they are, “Asian” is itself a broad category that masks many historic ethnicities with differing median hourly wages and household incomes.

That variation, as Next City has covered, is a particular challenge for both the Asians and Pacific Islanders because of the “model minority” myth.

“On educational attainment or disconnected youth, they’re doing better as a group than others, but it’s really masking a lot,” Sarah Treuhaft, director of equitable growth initiatives at PolicyLink, told Next City in 2016. “It’s detrimental to the groups who aren’t doing as well.”

Pew’s report can be viewed here.


Davis, California, is Still One of the Safest Cities to Bike

(Credit: Flickr user velo_city)

If you’re looking for safe cycling, don’t go to Iowa. Five of the 10 most dangerous cities for bicyclists can be found in the midwestern state — Webster City, Waterloo, Sioux City, Johnston and Des Moines — according to a new report from security company ADT. The company also lists Los Angeles, New York and Houston among the finalists for that dubious category.

Most dangerous cities for cyclists. (Courtesy of ADT)

ADT considered the number of bike commuters, protected bike lanes and cyclist-friendly laws, while factoring in the number of fatal crashes, the WCF Courier reports. And while some of the company’s findings overlap with previous bike safety reports, it’s a helpful look at many of the smaller cities that more well-known organizations often overlook.

Davis, California, for example, tops the list of safest cities for cyclists (no surprise there, considering Davis is essentially built around a massive employment center, UC Davis, that’s closed to cars). Eugene, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; and Palo Alto, California, also made the cut.

Safest Cities for Cyclists. (Courtesy of ADT)

The company’s data also highlights some interesting and previously under-reported trends — for example, that Missoula, Montana, reports that more than 7% of residents use cycling as a main method of transportation to work (this ranks #6 out of the cities researched). However, statewide Montana scored 0 in bike-law categories.

In Iowa, cyclists have a legal right to roadways, but must adhere to the same traffic rules as vehicles, according to The Courier. Some cities have been trying to educate cyclists as to just what those traffic laws are, but, as Next City has covered, such education is rarely as effective as comprehensive bike infrastructure. One reason: Infrastructure brings out more cyclists, who create what’s often referred to as the “safety in numbers” principle.

As one well-known safety-tracker has put it: “The ‘safety in numbers’ research indicates that more bikers on the road makes drivers more aware of bikers — and more drivers have had the experience of biking.”


Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative Throws Weight Behind Affordable Housing

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Facebook is voting ‘yes’ on California’s Proposition 1.

The “Housing Programs and Veterans’ Loans Bond,” which will appear on the state’s ballot in November, would authorize $4 billion in general obligation bonds for housing-related programs, loans, grants, and projects, and housing loans for veterans. On Monday, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative — helmed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan — announced that it will donate $250,000 toward the campaign for the ballot measure, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports. The donation is the largest the Proposition 1 campaign has received so far.

“The measure will help more workers live in the same communities where they work, provide below-market interest rates with low- to no-down payment for veterans to buy homes and help low and very low-income households have access to affordable housing,” according to a press release issued by the Initiative.

Veterans have been particularly hard-hit by the Bay Area’s notorious housing crunch, the Sentinel reports. Last year Santa Clara County recorded 660 homeless vets (according to data from the All the Way Home Campaign), making it one of the counties with the highest number of unsheltered veterans in the nation. Nearby Alameda County recorded 531 the same year.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has entered the housing sector. Last year, the company made public its plans build a new Menlo Park campus complete with (at least) 1,500 new housing units. The idea was to build mixed-use density into the company’s new employment center, as Next City covered at the time. But some critics fear the units aren’t enough, and with a continuing influx of new employees, the regional jobs/housing imbalance will remain a problem.

At the state level, meanwhile, California legislators have been getting both aggressive and creative about the housing shortage this year. Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827 — which proposed a radical up-zone of apartment buildings near transit state-wide, whatever local zoning codes say — died at its first committee hearing earlier this year, but the conversations and debates (and all-out fist fights) it spawned will likely echo into 2019’s legislative session. And Proposition 1 isn’t alone in addressing housing on the 2018 ballot — other measures tackle homelessness and rent control.


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