Partnering up with the architecture firm Perkins+Will and mobility consultants Nelson/Nygaard, Lyft recently reimagined how Los Angeles could greatly reduce traffic and increase existing road capacity with a simple yet brilliant reimagining of Wilshire Boulevard.
They would take the car dominated Wilshire of today:
and transform it into a true multi-use mobility corridor with mass transit, automobiles, bikes, and pedestrians:
These types of proposals are incredibly important. Yet they require years of planning, the coordination of hundreds of government officials and hundreds of thousands of dollars…for a single street! Unfortunately, as we know, challenges like traffic, global warming, and inequality are all reaching critical tipping points and can’t really wait around for us to get our act together.
So we want to issue a challenge to Lyft to walk the walk when it comes to mobility in Los Angeles. Lyft, we challenge you to be the driving force in accelerating our transition away from private cars to achieve your vision of mobility!
CURRENT MOBILITY OPTIONS
First, a little bit of context to our challenge. Let’s analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the primary modes of transportation in LA: walking, biking, private cars, ride sharing, and public transit:
Cars have a lot of properties desirable for individual users like convenience, perceived speed, effortlessness, weather protection, cargo and passenger capacities. But cars are expensive and have countless negative consequences for users, cities, and the planet such as cost, pollution, traffic, accidents and deaths, global warming, expensive infrastructure, poor health due to immobility, hogging of premium urban space, stress, noise pollution, unhealthy communities, not to mention oil dependence and the global security issues of oil wars. Ride sharing mitigates some of these problems by eliminating the need for one car per person which saves cities space and helps with congestion. But they are still heavy, inefficient vehicles with many of the same problems of private cars.
On the other hand, biking and walking are extraordinarily healthy for people, cities, and the planet. They are cheap, energy efficient, space efficient, good for communities, and so on. However are not very convenient, versatile, or effortless. And in today’s Los Angeles, they are often unsafe.
Bus and rail manage to split this difference. They are somewhat convenient depending on where you live, relatively affordable, somewhat healthy depending on how you get to a station, somewhat stress free, relatively safe depending on how you get to a station, etc. They are very high capacity allowing for density and efficiency. But they are no quick fixes to many of our woes. Buses take years to implement but are still slow. Buses with dedicated lanes take even longer to implement. Rail is expensive to build and takes decades of planning and buy-in to implement. And buses and rail they both have first/last mile problems.
As a rule of thumb, when it comes to today’s mobility options, there is an inverse relationship between the convenience, ease of use, speed on one hand and the cost, efficiency, and secondary effects on users, cities, and the planet on the other hand.
A NEW CLASS OF VEHICLE
Now the good news! There is a new class of vehicle that we believe is a game changer in mobility because it completely eliminates the pesky mobility trade-off between convenience, ease of use, speed on one hand and cost, efficiency, and wellbeing of users, cities, and the planet on the other hand.
This new class of vehicle are electric featherweights: electric-bikes, e-boards, e-scooters, e-wheels, and small, ultra-lightweight electric bicy-cars.
They are effortless to ride with electric boosts eliminating sweating and panting. They come in a rich variety of form factors and capabilities providing unmatched versatility. Some have passenger, cargo, and weatherproofing options while others are super light and can fold for easy portability and storage. They are incredibly affordable, eliminating expensive vehicle purchase, insurance, gas, and registration costs. They are almost magically efficient with numbers shooting way past the 1000 MPGe mark. They are faster than conventional bikes, scooters, and skateboards and many of them compare with average real-world car speeds and can exceed them during rush hour.
If we now add featherweights to our mobility trade-off chart, the trade-off between our two sets of desired properties disappears. We are just left with the upsides of automobiles, biking, and walking with hardly any of their downsides.
WHAT MOBILITY TRADE-OFF?
BENEFITS TO LOS ANGELES
Electric featherweights would have countless benefits to Los Angeles. They have the potential to substantially reduce private car ownership drastically reducing congestion, oil consumption, smog, and our carbon footprint. This reduction in car ownership creates much safer streets. It would also make LA’s streets much more pleasant and walkable, decreasing stress and increasing sociability among Angelinos. Because most featherweights nudge riders to pedal along and engage their bodies, they can make us all healthier, improving quality of life and reducing medical costs while giving us all sexy beach bods year round by making us toned and slim, no gym membership required!
Featherweights also have the potential to generate wealth in Los Angeles in numerous ways. First, by making our streets more business friendly thanks to increased walk/bikeablility. Second, by keeping more money in Los Angeles instead of flushing it down the toilet to foreign oil and foreign auto. Third, by increasing employment and boosting the economy by supporting the many featherweight manufacturers in Southern California, potentially transforming LA into a 21st century mobility design and manufacturing center. Fourth, by drastically reducing infrastructure costs low thanks to featherweights’ incredibly lightweight bodies. Fifth, by adding much more capacity to our roads, allowing for future growth. And finally, by making LA even more attractive to newcomers and new businesses with a marked increase in quality of life.
As a bonus, they can make LA a global leader in 21st century mobility…just in time for the Olympics!
WHY SHOULD LYFT CARE ABOUT FEATHERWEIGHTS?
First, by reimagining Wilshire as a mixed use space, Lyft has shown that it understands that its biggest competition isn’t bikes or mass transit, but private car ownership. Lyft has shown that it aims to be part of the transportation mix and sees private car ownership for what it is: wasteful, expensive, unsustainable, and inefficient.
Second, featherweights are in line with Lyft’s mission of building a peer-to-peer transportation solution that would help make cities safer, more affordable and better connected.
Third, by decreasing private car ownership, Lyft would increase the entire ridesharing market and significantly increase their business.
OUR CHALLENGE TO LYFT
Lyft, help us introduce and spread the use of featherweight electric vehicles to Los Angeles. Here are two possible approaches.
The first approach would both help spread the use of featherweights and at the same time close the first/last mile problem for Lyft Lines.
Lyft Lines are a great way for folks to carpool. But they require users to walk to pickup locations and to their final destination. As Lyft expands, they are able to decrease the radius of this walk. Another way to shrink this radius is to offer electric featherweights to its riders. Lyft could leverage the storage space on board its vehicles, trunks, to store small, electric folding bikes and scooters such as the URB-E, the Carbon Momas, the Tern Vektron, or any other portable electric featherweight. Riders who take these Lyft Lines could then use the featherweights stored in Lyft trunks to ride effortlessly from Lyft pickup and drop-off spots to and from their destinations.
If this program proves effective and popular, Lyft could actually increase their Lyft Line vehicle-to-driver ratio. Instead relying on many Lyft cars to decrease the first/last mile radius, they could recruit drivers with bigger vehicles like vans to service Lyft Lines and allow featherweights to cover the first/last mile. This strategy would increase Lyft’s vehicle to user ratio, increasing profits and decreasing costs for all parties involved. This strategy would help Lyft Lines act like mini, dynamic public transit routes and take advantage of some of the economies of scale of public transit networks.
Such a solution would be good for Lyft and great for reduction of LA’s traffic woes. It would be an especially useful solution for Los Angeles because Lyft could fill in the routes currently serviced only by private cars due to the time it takes to build light rail. Such a solution would be great for getting cars off the road and substantially decreasing traffic impacted routes such as the dreaded 405.
This pairing of Lyft Lines and electric featherweights would allow mass transit to focus on primary arteries. Lyft Lines could fill in LA’s secondary routes, and featherweights could cover the remaining first/last miles.
The second idea is a bit more obvious. Lyft could simply get into the bike sharing game, but with featherweights instead of manual bikes. Bike sharing has been popping up all over Los Angeles. We love them! However, LA is huge. So Angelinos would need electrified wheels to truly help us from here to there on two wheels rather than four. Lyft could help fill this gap. They could set up electric featherweight pickup/drop-off stations all over Los Angeles.
If Lyft chose to try both approaches, they would then see a resulting multiplier effect which would give Lyft a substantial competitive advantage over other ride sharing companies by being the only company to offer a very affordable and versatile mobility ecosystem that fits almost every urban transportation use case.
Incorporating featherweight electric vehicles into Lyft’s product offering would not only benefit Lyft, but would also help introduce featherweight electric vehicles to the general population. Folks would become familiar with and excited about the benefits of featherweights. This would in turn help them ditch their cars completely and rely on a combination of walking, featherweight electric vehicles, Lyft Lines, and public transit…exactly like Lyft’s vision for Los Angeles streets!
So Lyft, let’s not wait for an eventual, hypothetical redesign of Wilshire and of LA streets. Let’s begin making car ownership obsolete in the next few years and guarantee/accelerate street transformations!