Reduce Commute Friction with Kick Scooters (and hatch more Pokémon Go eggs)

The technology industry is abuzz with new companies promising to remove the friction of traditional ways. Transportation tech is no different. Uber and Lyft reduce the hassle of hunting down a taxi. Paying is automatic and requires no time wasted entering a credit card or managing change. New technology-based transportation services are reducing obstacles in our way of getting from A to B, but it’s important to remember that not all transportation challenges require a high-tech response. We seem to forget that walking can often get us to a destination as fast as driving during rush hour, in city centers. Kick scooters provide a faster and, I would argue, more fun way to travel within a 1 to 2-mile radius.

Relative to cars or bikes, kick scooters are likely to get you out on the street and on your way faster (assuming you have to get a bike or car out of a garage). Kick scooters are the ultimate grab and go transport. Because they can be folded and weigh only 9 to 13 pounds (referring to adult scooters), you can take them with you on trains, planes and automobiles. The ultimate in frictionless transport are light electric scooters that can be stored in an apartment and walked up and down flights of stairs without a strain (see electric scooters weighing less than 20 pounds like the eMicro). But, electric scooters are significantly more expensive than manual kick scooters, ranging from $800 to $2,000+. Adult Kick scooters, by contrast, typically cost between $100 and $300.

Folded scooter

So, if you want to add control, speed and fun to your commute, whether walking or public-transportation focused, try out a kick scooter. Even drivers may be able to use one to avoid paying steep garage parking rates in downtown centers; park further away and use a kick scooter for the last mile. Introducing: Park and Scoot, the unofficial sister to Mass DOT’s Park and Ride program.

Not all kick scooters are created equal. So, trying them out on your city pavement is recommended. For adults and teens, I suggest purchasing a scooter with polyurethane, 200mm wheels (aka big wheel scooters). Within that category, there are choices (a quick search on Amazon will make your head spin). The decision often comes down to a Razor A5 versus a higher quality, Swiss-made, Micro scooter.

After experimenting with a few scooters, I have chosen Micro scooters to power my rides. While adult Razor scooters are great for the price ($99 and sometimes less), Micro scooters will provide a more comfortable, smoother, and durable ride. Micros’ heavier material, more comfortable handle bars, and high-quality bearings make a difference. Boston-area readers can contact me to demo Micro products, including the eMicro, the Pedalflow, and Micro Samsonite Luggage. Their new Suspension Scooter is receiving rave reviews from Boston friends for its speed, comfort and adaptability to rough and cracked surfaces.

If you use a kick scooter, please share which one and for what purpose. Thanks for reading!

 

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Do you Meditate during your Commute? Check out @Headspace

Commuting is often stressful and we want it to go by as quickly as possible to get to work, school, home etc. We may see other travelers around us as obstacles in our way. In the evening, after a day’s work, it’s often difficult to start unwinding until we get home. The pressure we feel to get to our destination drains the energy we need to do the work, or be an attentive colleague, parent or partner. These negative feelings can be reduced if we can change our attitude about commuting and use the time to practice living in the present. If you can delegate the driving to someone else or if you walk, bike, or kick scoot, consider practicing meditation during the journey. Headspace – meditation & mindfulness, an excellent meditation app full of meditation exercises and insightful lessons about the mind, can help. The service even provides a special session dedicated to commuting (check it out here). Note that there are also modules focused on walking and cycling.  Continue reading

MassBike and New Balance Bring Happier Commutes to Red Sox Games

Commuting to the Fenway area during baseball season can be daunting when the Sox are in town. On-street parking is banned on Brookline Avenue and surrounding streets as early as four hours before a game, while garage parking nearby is at least $40. The Green line train stops nearby, but is packed cheek-to-cheek with fans (and commuters) at gametime: not a pleasant experience in 90+ degree weather. Though the tough commute doesn’t deter Red Sox fans – it may even be part of the experience for some – a smoother version would be welcomed.

Well now there is a nicer way to get to the game. Thanks to a partnership between MassBike (The Massachusetts Biking Coalition), New Balance and the Boston Red Sox, you can now bike to Fenway Park and leave your bike with MassBike’s bike valet service for free.

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According to the website, “The bike valet is located across from Gate D on the corner of Van Ness Street and Yawkey Way, opening 1.5 hours prior to game time and closing a half an hour post-game.” Note that they will also accept kick scooters. Yay for happier commuting to Fenway games! Other crowded city venues and event organizers should take note and hire MassBike to provide bike valet services.

 

South Station’s Greenwash

In my last post I wrote about new Boston city center developments with parking space to apartment ratios of less than 1. A proposed development in the Financial District, on top of South Station (a key transit hub), goes against this idea with a garage that would provide more than 1.5 spaces per apartment. As the author points out, this proposal conflicts with the City’s Go Boston 2030 goals which include: an 80% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, an increase in public transit commutes of 30%, and a 50% decrease in single passenger car commutes. Wishful thinking it seems.

Urban Liberty

The developers behind a three-building, two million square foot, 677 foot-tall project on air rights over South Station that has been in the works since 1989 filed a notice of project change with the Boston Redevelopment Authority last Friday. They made some changes to the proportions of the project devoted to residential, hotel and office space, but most significantlty, they upped the amount of parking they want to build to 895 spaces. This is completely understandable, as it’s not like this project is close to, much less right on top of, a major transit hub with one rapid transit line, nine bus routes, nine commuter rail lines, taxis, car sharing services and Amtrak. Oh, wait, it is.

South Station air rights

Not only does the presence of those parking spaces virtually ensure that nearly 900 more cars will clog the streets of the Financial District, increasing pollution and making residents more hostile to development…

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Auto Firms Get Serious about Urban Mobility Tech

While auto companies are still enjoying strong sales activity today, this may not be the case a decade from now.  As more Millennials and Boomers choose to live in cities, the space and need for personal automobiles declines. In densely populated neighborhoods, developers are encouraged to build garages with fewer parking spots than there are apartments to keep car traffic growth in check. For example, a proposed development in downtown Boston, One Bromfield, would include one parking spot for 70% of apartments. Urban population growth is not the only reason why personal vehicle ownership seems likely to decline. Others reasons include:

  • The advent of car sharing and ride sharing companies (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Enterprise car share, Zip Car etc.) that makes owning a car less necessary
  • The evidence that Millennials are driving less compared to older generations at the same age due to lifestyle and attitudinal differences (see this research from transport scholar Noreen McDonald of UNC)

In preparation for a world that relies less on personal automobile ownership, automobile manufacturers are investing in alternative urban transport services and technology. This is happening globally, not just in the U.S. Here are some examples:

  • In May, Toyota and Volkswagen announced that they were “investing in technology start-ups that are working to change the way people travel by car” (see NYT’s article from May). These two aren’t yet going off the car chassis, but investing in ride sharing services. Toyota invested in Uber and Volkswagen investing $300 million in Gett, an app that is popular in Europe. Also notable is GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft announced in January of this year.
  • BMW has partnered with HAX, a hardware venture accelerator to launch Urban-X, a new accelerator focused on urban hyper-growth and smart cities. The urban transport-related firms selected for their current program include:
    • Brooklyness, creators of an intelligent, high-tech bike helmet (note: I just backed them on Kickstarter)
    • Samocat, creators of kick scooter sharing systems for cities

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Chariots

A look at how San Francisco is adjusting to tougher commutes: private corporate buses and new mobile tech-enabled crowdsourced bus companies (Chariot, Leap).

Granola Shotgun

In the 1950’s and 60’s plans were drawn up to build an extensive rail network that would create a ring around San Francisco Bay connecting all the towns and cities in the region. It was an ambitious plan fitting an optimistic era of large projects.9countybartJake Coolidge

Below is a rendering of what that system would have looked like if it had actually been built.

RegionalRapidTransit_Dec2013revisionJake Coolidge

But this was also the height of white flight to the suburbs. Cities were in decline. The middle class was keen to escape anything that even hinted at the urban crime, pollution, and racial strife of the day. Local opposition successfully stopped BART from being built in most of the proposed suburbs. Instead, funding was limited and public money flowed to a highway network that looks almost exactly like the old rail plan. BART was limited to a bare bones system that connects San…

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Dissecting Boston Commuter Unhappiness

I ran a survey through Facebook ads to take a pulse of Boston-area commuter happiness. As of now, I have 25 responses: not a sufficient sample size for a scientific study of the topic, but enough to start writing about on this blog. The survey will remain open for those in the Boston-area who still want to contribute. Not surprisingly, about half of my survey participants are unhappy with their commutes.

Happiness with Commute

Source: Happycommutes.com survey conducted through Facebook, May-June 2016

Most of them take some form of public transportation. I had no bikers, one walker and four drivers, so a pretty transit-reliant population. About one-third (or 8 out of 25) consider themselves to be mixed mode commuters and combine public transportation with walking or driving.

How do you commute

 

 

 

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Biking for Milkshakes

We receive a good number of gift cards to restaurants and retail establishments throughout the year. Planning when to use them can be tricky amidst our busy two-child family schedule. For this reason, a perfectly good $100 gift card to a great restaurant sat in our nightstand drawer for over two years. We finally dug it out in search of something unique to do during our atypically quiet July 4th weekend. The most unique part of our dining experience was not the dining, however – though the food was very good – it was how we got there.

The Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant closest to us is in Watertown, just a short block from the same Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path that passes close to where we live in Back Bay. Biking there seemed to me to be the most fun and logical option. Unfortunately, my 7 year old son did not agree. To be fair, his longest bike ride was hardly 20 minutes, and that was about a year ago. This trip is almost 7 miles one-way if you take the scenic route, along the Charles River. Realizing that we were asking a lot from our kids, my husband and I reset our expectations and agreed that plan B probably involved returning home hungry with an unused gift card.

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MIT Media Lab Developing Cycling App 

This week I was a research participant in an MIT Media Lab project with the Persuasive Urban Mobility team of the The Changing Places Group. A key goal of the research is driving adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors in cities through persuasive environmental and social factors as well as through technologies that make adopting these behaviors easier. One of the key researchers on the team, Agnis Stibe, describes the concept of persuasive cities in depth in his recent TEDx Beacon Street talk. One example of environmental and social persuasion that he uses in his talk involves posting stats about bicycle commuters crossing the Harvard bridge. If you knew that 2,500 bikers crossed the bridge today (instead of staring at the 5 bikers out your window), that might persuade more car commuters to give biking a try. Commuting by bike would then be viewed as a more normal activity and not something that a weird minority engages in.

The project I participated in was about testing a mobile app protype that hopes to turn skittish / reticent cyclists into more confident urban cyclists through a voice-based coaching app. Eager to improve my own cycling and to mix up my kickscooter routine with some bigger wheels, I signed up to test out the prototype. Project team member Matthias Wunsch greeted me outside the Media Lab and handed me a smartphone and some basic Apple headphones. At first, the coach told me to practice rapid braking. Once I had mastered this move, I was ready to start my urban ride on the busy streets of Kendall Square.

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TSP and Transit Priority: Not Sexy like Hyperloop but Effective Today

The term “transit signal priority” (TSP) doesn’t sound too exciting; It’s a rather forgettable phrase. Easier to get excited about bike lanes, car share and Hyperloop as new transportation ideas than TSP. But, after a few months of becoming familiar with the idea, I now see why TSP and dedicated transit lanes are key to improving urban mobility today. When I talk about efficiency, I am referring to people’s time, pocket books, and energy use. According to TransitWiki: “TSP are operational improvements in the public transportation infrastructure that reduce dwell time at traffic lights for transit vehicles by holding green lights longer or shortening red lights.” In other words, Buses and trains get their own lights, with their own timing.

From what I’ve gathered, TSP exists in Boston in two parts of town: along several intersections of the Silver Line Bus route and at four intersections of the Bus 57 route. But the impact of TSP on bus service in these areas is minimal as the lights only speed up bus service when they are behind schedule (according to an Urban Liberty article). This adds predictability to my commute but does not help reduce the current wide gap that exists between car and bus commutes in the city.

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