LA has a
bad, terrible, abhorrent mobility track record. It was just crowned the worst city to bike in the entire country (not a surprise to anyone living here, with most of our streets the size of most other city highways).
Its sprawl is notorious, overshadowed only by its traffic.
And it seems LA has gone out of its way to maintain the status quote, going so far as completely ignore IT’S OWN bike plan and carrying on its deadly, polluting, and carbon emitting car-centric ways.
THE STATUS QUO NO LONGER REALISTIC
But as climate change starts to show its devastating consequeces, as global urbanization continues, as traffic snarles to a crawl, and as global resources start becoming scarer, cities will have no choice but to move on from one of the worst blunders of the 21st century, automobile centrism.
It’s hard to think of a city on Earth in more desperate need of transportation modernization than the car capital of the world: Los Angeles.
Automobile induced crisis are much more acute here as climate fueled wildfires only continue getting worse, as our congestion ranks us #1 in the nation, and as our population only continues growing exacerbating our gridlock.
No more will we be able to dedicate an ungodly amount of time, energy, and space to move people around in private living rooms, going 5mph. We’ll need to become much more nimble, cost effective, and sustainable if we are to remain a competitive and livable city.
GETTING OUR WHEELS TURNING
Scooters have finally gotten the collective wheels in our heads turning about alternate mobility options.
They’ve has gotten people out of cars. They’ve gotten people talking about our unsustainable (and disastrous) car-centric transportation model. They have shattered the decades long mantra that said no one will get out of their glass/metal cages. And they have made us realize just how quickly habits can change if fun, convenience, and affordability were simply placed on sidewalks within app’s reach.
LA’S MICROMOBILITY-FRIENDLY ECOSYSTEM
While LA’s car obsession is well known, what is quite unknown is that Los Angeles might actually be quietly becoming a global hub for micromobility.
A RICH TALENT ECOSYSTEM
Bring a successful e-bike, e-scooter, e-board, or any other type of transportation offering to market, having it last for hundreds of miles of use, and being able to scale, requires a diverse set of skills: hardware engineering, software engineering, design, marketing, startup talent/creativity, incubation/mentorship, and funding.
It so happens that Los Angeles overflows in abundance in each of these requirements. Here are several lists of institutions we compiled to demonstrate the unique combination of disciplines and resources of Los Angeles: the building blocks for a potential Cambrian Explosion in micromobility.
These are by no means complete lists!
CalTech, Harvey Mudd, UCLA, USC, USI, Cal State Polytechnic University-Pomona, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, LMU, Claremont McKenna College, Cal State Fullerton
Industrial Design Schools
ArtCenter College of Design, OTIS, California State University Long Beach
Cal Arts, ArtCenter, Otis, UCLA, USC, Laguna College of Art & Design, Mt. Sierra College, Woodbury, CSULB, CSUN
SpaceX, JPL, Rocket Lab, The Aerospace Corp, Northrop Grumman, Virgin Hyperloop One, AECOM, The Boring Company
Startup/Tech Experience and Energy
Silicon Beach – Google, YouTube, Hulu, Snap, Headspace, Netflix, Blizzard Entertainment, X Prize, Buzzfeed, Salesforce, Electronic Arts, TrueCar (https://www.builtinla.com/2017/31/los-angeles-top-100-tech-companies-2017)
LA CleanTech Incubator, The Founder Institute, Amplify LA, Idealab, Launchpad LA, Disney Accelerator, Impact Hub, Science Inc
Hollywood and Advertising
While market forces might the ultimate arbiter of product success, human beings are extremely story and symbol driven. As superficial as the entertainment industry may seem, image and stories are enormous moving forces in human behavior. Thus, movies, TV shows, advertising are critical components in the potential success or failure of an idea, trend, technology, or venture.
How long before Q hands James Bond the keys to a 0-60 in under 1 second, super stealthy electric motorcycle, making electric mircomobility the envy of the world?
Walt Disney, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures
Saatchi & Saatchi, Huge, 72andSunny, Razorfish, Ignition, Team One, and many, many more
Port of LA
The Port of LA is the busiest seaport in the Western Hemisphere. It gives Los Angeles almost direct access to extremely cost competitive manufacturing, from components to fully manufactured products, a wishlist for any company in the hardware business.
It’s no coincidence that Bird’s first pilot was in Santa Monica/Venice. A quick stroll on the bicycle path along the beach reveals hundreds of kinds of motorized and non-motorized one, two, or three wheeled, super lightweight sets of wheels. These beach towns allow thousands of people to try new types of mobility while hanging out and having fun: a near perfect natural showcase for new kinds of micromobility, with Instagramable views of the ocean, palm trees, and the Santa Monica pier, for even more exposure.
Pitch Perfect Weather
Here’s a description from the same article that ranked LA as the worst cycling city:
“Los Angeles should be heaven for cyclists. The weather is beyond dreamy—downtown L.A. has gotten less than four inches of rain so far this year. The city is an enormous, mostly flat grid of wide boulevards with plenty of room for smartly placed bike infrastructure. The traffic is literally the worst in the world, making it all the more reasonable to cover shorter trips by bike. The metro area boasts postcard-perfect oceanfront riding and spectacular climbing in legendary spots like the Malibu hills, Palos Verdes, and the San Gabriel Mountains. Every day, I see hundreds of people pedaling around town with smile on their faces, despite the challenges the city throws at them.”
Yes, LA IS a fantastic city just itching for a bike/micromobility takeover, but we’ve been stuck with cars for decades.
Now with all the above developments, a micromobility tipping-point grows ever more likely. So our pristine weather and beautiful views could help make this tipping point happen much sooner.
But this isn’t a story of speculative potential of Los Angeles. A city might have all the pieces for an industry but that industry might never materialize of for any number of reasons.
Here is how these pieces are already coming together:
SHIFTING GROUND IN LA’S BIKEABILITY
Even though Los Angeles was recently ranked the worst city to bike in, things are changing:
Dockless Scooter Explosion
First and most obviously is the recent dockless scooter explosion. For decades getting Angelinos out of their cars seemed like a pipe dream. Advocates (rightly) argued that safe bike infrastructure was necessary, but apathetic politicians never paid much attention.
Suddenly, within a matter of months, scooters started getting people out of cars. So much so that their volume started becoming a concern and all anyone could do was talk about them!
These developments will be major forcing functions in getting proper infrastructure to be built. As scooter adoption increases, the voices calling for proper bike infrastructure will increase from a small minority, dedicated bikers, to a decent percentage of the voting public and intelligent politicians that didn’t have much support for creating bike lanes will now (rightly) have scooter issues to point to.
Scooter adoption and new bike infrastructure could trigger a slow but steady self reinforcing virtuous cycle of ever increasing micromobility adoption.
The Olympics and Measure M
Summer is coming. The Summer Olympics that is! Also, Measure M was passed a few years ago and is being accelerated by the arrival of the Olympics, driving a lot of Metro expansion and bringing new transportation funds to the region.
Increased Metro access throughout the city greatly allows for ever increased coverage of all of Los Angeles allowing ever more car-free trips. More Metro rides also means the increased demand for 1st/last mile solutions, which micromobility excels at.
Open Street/Mobility Centric Festivals
Open street/car free festivals are getting more common in LA.
In just two weeks we had three major street closure events with a major focus on mobility:
- COAST in Santa Monica
- ReCharge @ the Culver City Art Walk and Roll
- The biggest ever CicLAvia with over 100,000
These festivals might seem trivial. But they may prove crucial.
People don’t usually change habits when they’re in a state of anxiety. During the work week when roads are clogged with cars, almost no one thinks to themselves “I’d rather be on a bike right now next to distracted or angry drivers.” It is only during a weekends when people go to the beach and rent bikes or find the time to try that newfangled scooter on the sidewalk. Similarly, street festivals provide opportunities for tens of thousands of Angelinos to experience car free roads, and have a great time with friends and family riding and/or seeing bikes, scooters, skateboards, unicycles, and dozens of other kinds of micromobility devices.
These festivals can also provide opportunities for Angelenos to learn to use the Metro due to parking challenges at such large festivals. These new experiences allow Angelenos to learn about car free options during times of play and might make changing their behaviors and routines much more likely in the future.
MICROMOBILITY INSTITUTIONS IN LOS ANGELES TODAY
LA is the headquarters of or has a major presence of FIFTEEN different micromobility brands
- URB-E: Pasadena, CA
- OjO: Oxnard, CA
- Lithium Cycles: Tustin, CA
- Sonders: Malibu, CA
- Pure Cycles: Burbank, CA
- Micro Kickboard: Los Agneles, CA
- UScooters: Los Angeles, CA
- GigaByke: City of Industry, CA
- E-Lux: Costa Mesa, CA
- E-Glide: Santa Monica, CA
- SSR Motorsports: Norwalk, CA
- Evolve Skateboard: Carlsbad, CA (not quite greater LA, but pretty close)
- LEIF Tech: Los Angeles, CA
- Unagi: Los Angeles, CA
- Cero: Los Angeles, CA
- UScooters: Los Angeles, CA
- Envoy: Culver City, CA
- Bird, the 800lb unicorn in the room: Santa Monica, CA
- Wheels: Los Angeles, CA
- Sherpa: Los Angeles, CA
Bird’s presence is difficult to understate. Bird was pioneered dockless electric scooter sharing. They have shown rapid innovation with tools for government data access, geo-speed limiting, and the ability to spread and scale incredibly quickly.
They are also one of the most, if not the biggest, the most significant micromobility player in the entire industry, with a current valuation of $2 billion. This makes it a unicorn twice over with all the benefits, the jobs, the influence, the capital that comes with such scale.
Mobility Accelerator and Global Conference
Finally, Los Angeles is home to two important institutions.
First, there is LA Clean Tech Incubator, is a non-profit organization funded by the CRA/LA and the LADWP for the City of Los Angeles. It is LA’s cleantech business incubator tasked with accelerating “development of cleantech start-ups by offering flexible office space, CEO coaching and mentoring, and access to a growing network of experts and capital.” An accelerator that specifically funds new clean tech ventures with transportation being one of its primary focuses.
And second, there is LA CoMotion, a yearly mobility conference that “brings together the brave new world of the urban mobility revolution” and “global mayors, leading technologists, public transport operators and venture capitalists, start-ups and established players.” Started just last year, it is a conference lasting several days with inspirational panel discussions and talks, test drives, exhibitions, and demos.
THE RISE OF LA AS A GLOBAL MOBILITY LEADER
Micromobility vehicles achieve energy efficiency equivalent of thousands of MPGe. They are fractions of pennies on the dollar to operate compared to cars. They’re accessible to those who can’t drive or can’t afford to. They’re 0 emissions. Their physical footprint is tiny. And they’re just way more fun, especially compared to being suffocated in gridlock.
With such amazing cost to performance properties, micromobility is poised give the car a run for its money and open a huge market in the coming months and decades in personal mobility. “Micromobility has an addressable market of more than $1.4 trillion dollars annually just in the US, a figure that makes it more valuable than longer distance transport addressable by cars.”
And if micromobility lives up to its potential as a car disruptor, then LA might end up becoming a global leader not just in micromobility but in urban mobility as a whole.
Think a super-sustainable Detroit, during its glorious heydays.