FROM Francie Stefan
Santa Monica seeks e-scooter partners E-scooters were birthed at the end of 2017 in the city of Santa Monica and have divided residents. For some they are a joyful, efficient and green transit solution; for others they are a maddening incursion into sidewalks and streets. In a bid to keep all sides happy, this Thursday, August 30, the City of Santa Monica’s Planning Director David Martin will announce his choice of two e-bike and two e-scooter companies that will be part of a “shared mobility” pilot program, to start September 17 and last for 16 months. A committee evaluated applications from e-scooter providers, and gave top scores to Lyft and Uber-owned Jump. In response, supporters of Bird - which is headquartered in Santa Monica - and Lime gathered in front of City Hall to register their protest. They argued that the two companies were being sidelined by car-loving behemoths with no experience on the streets of Santa Monica, and track records of corporate bad behavior no better, and maybe worse, than upstart start-up Bird. However, Santa Monica’s deputy City manager Anuj Gupta reminded DnA the city’s goal is to provide “integrated mobility services” and “that may well have been part of [Uber and Lyft’s] pitch.” So what exactly are integrated mobility services? DnA spoke to Francie Stefan, chief mobility officer and assistant director of planning, and learned about Santa Monica’s mobility planning and what the city might expect from its e-scooter partners. The city is currently in its “teenage years of our transition from an automobile culture toward something that's much more diverse and much more sustainable and lower emissions,” Stefan explained. And that is bringing up strong emotions and exciting changes. These include expanded bike lanes and a forthcoming Dutch-style intersection (with parking removed to enhance safety for bikes and walkers) as well as public-private partnerships like Breeze Bike Share and a deal between Big Blue Bus and Lyft to provide car rides for seniors. “The private sector can be a huge innovator in big physical infrastructure, whether it's gondola or rail or bus-micro transit,” said Stefan. “But there's also really important ways the private sector provides value, in terms of integration, developing the software so that you can pay seamlessly from one transit service to another, for example.” As for what the city will be looking for in its partnership with a e-scooter company, Stefan said it might be assistance with both physical and digital infrastructure. “They have access to data, they have access to consumer input. So we're interested in hearing that and using that to inform the infrastructure investment that the city makes. But we're also really interested in the extent to which they can develop software and data that help make the systems work well,” she said. As for folks who love e-scooters precisely because they are dockless, Stefan said that may change. “It is wonderfully convenient to be able to pick up a scooter and drop it off right outside the place that you're going. But when we're in the street we have to share that space. It's crucial that we put our toys away, as one of our council members astutely said. So I don't know that it'll be possible to pull up at the front door of where you're going forever,” she said. But Stefan said her team is working to find a way that you can pull up close to where you're going, while keeping the streets safe, clear and organized for the other kids in the sandbox. Bird scooters lined up on 4th Street in Santa Monica. Could sidewalks be adapted to serve as e-scooter park space? Photo by Frances Anderton
Santa Monica tries to catch up with e-scooters Ever since Bird scooters took flight in Santa Monica in the fall of 2017, they have ruffled feathers, won devoted customers and earned huge amounts of VC investment. Now competing dockless e-scooter companies are entering the space, such as those from Lime, which also makes dockless bikes. All this has municipalities rushing to figure out what to do with a new technology that offers a popular, clean alternative to the car but has outpaced the city’s transit planning and upended its control of public space. Some cities, the tech capital of San Francisco included, have nixed e-scooters altogether while they figure out who should get permits. Others have embraced them, no strings attached. The City of Santa Monica, where the dockless e-scooter took off, is looking for a third way. Tonight City Council will consider implementing a “Pilot Program for Shared Mobility Devices.” This would allow three companies to each put a maximum of 500 scooters on the road, and mandate minimum operating requirements for maintenance, education, safety, customer service, and data sharing. So what is the goal exactly? “Our goal is to find multiple partners to test out different solutions and to see what the differences are,” says Francie Stefan, mobility manager for the city of Santa Monica. She adds, “there are few times we've seen devices taken up so quickly by so many people. And if it provides a mobility option and a relief for people we would like to support it as long as we can manage some of the safety concerns and make sure that it's good neighbors for even those people who aren't interested in riding.” Bird, however, objects to the 500 number cap being proposed by the city of Santa Monica, saying this limits the availability of their scooters, and defeats the goal of being a first-mile, last-mile solution. The company has organized a rally later today to protest. Meanwhile, the newcomer Lime says that while it has some concerns too about this cap, it stands ready to work with the city. While this pilot program is being considered, Bird and Lime scooters still operate. So is this pilot program intended to clip Bird’s wings? Gleam Davis, Santa Monica’s Mayor Pro Tempore, says that is not the goal. Rather, she says, “I think what we need to do is let them spread their wings. But we need to make sure that all dockless mobility devices are operated in a way that is conducive to a shared mobility vision where you have automobiles, dockless mobility, skateboards, all sorts of devices that people are using to move around, and it's all being done in a safe manner.” The latest version Lime-S dockless electric scooter, designed in collaboration with Segway, has hit the roads in Santa Monica. Photo by Frances Anderton.
Undersea Cables Connect LA to the Pacific Rim The internet seems virtual but it’s “primarily made of fiber optic cables, cables filled with light,” according to “Tubes” author Andrew Blum. A manhole cover in Hermosa Beach is the access point for a transpacific fiber optic cable built by TyCom in 2002. Photo credit: Avishay Artsy. Those cables run under the oceans, “a space that's inhospitable to humans” says Nicole Starosielski, author of “The Undersea Network,” yet “enables the most high tech communications that we currently have.” Currently there is a splurge of undersea cable construction going on in the Pacific, connecting the Southland to the Pacific Rim and back to One Wilshire in downtown Los Angeles. One of the primary landing spots is the city of Hermosa Beach. DnA finds out why, what the benefits are to Hermosa Beach and why some places are not excited about hosting cable landings. South America (SAM-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean, 2015 C-Print 16 × 20 in. Copyright Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures New York, Altman Siegel San Francisco We also learn about what’s involved in laying the cables and hear from activist-artist Trevor Paglen about his quest to photograph them at the bottom of the deep dark sea. We also explore why Big Tech is getting into the business of owning the infrastructure. The Pacific Light Cable Network will be one of the biggest in the pipeline. Google and Facebook, along with partners in Asia, are building the nearly eight thousand mile long cable. Landing at Dockweiler Beach, it will connect Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and will be able to move data at a speed of 120 terabits per second. Google says that’ll make it possible to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls between Hong Kong and LA. But what are the implications of increased connectivity, when it feels like our data is out of our control?
Could the fourth border be a ferry route? Communities along the Southern California coast generally do not use the sea as a transportation route. Why not? And might that change? DnA explores whether it could be possible for beach cities to be connected by ferry services. We go to the end of the Santa Monica Pier with Curbed editor Alissa Walker to observe the remains of the breakwater that once created a safe harbor for yachts, fishing vessels,and gambling ships in the Santa Monica Bay. And we ask the city’s mobility manager Francie Stefan if sea transit might ever be restored. CAPTION: Alissa Walker at the Santa Monica Pier, with the former breakwater in the background. Photo credit: Frances Anderton. We learn from Captain Dan Salas what the challenges, and opportunities, are for running a ferry service today. First and foremost, you “need a safe port for passengers,” he says, explaining how most of the Southland’s beach cities sit on open sea. Add to that powerful headwinds and high swells, then you have to guarantee the passengers, making sure “you are 70 to 80 percent full in order to cover your fuel, your insurance, the cost of the vessel, the maintenance and the inspections and the upkeep, because they’re all regulated by the federal government and the United States Coast Guard,” Salas says, adding that running a ferry boat is “almost like running a large aircraft.” Dan Salas, founder of Harbor Breeze Cruises. Photo credit: Frances Anderton. But he believes it is feasible nonetheless, adding that the first test might come with the possible arrival of SpaceX at Terminal Island, between San Pedro and Long Beach. Salas is considering offering an electric-motorized ferry service for workers who would have to park on the San Pedro side of the harbor. We learn the topic has been discussed in the City of Hermosa Beach. A ferry service has been floated as a possible application of tidelands funds earned from the cable landing sites. If ferry service could serve as a welcome connection for stressed-out Westside commuters, it might be essential in the future. Francie Stefan explains that as ocean levels rise, and tidal events might block PCH, we are going to have to figure out ways both “to enjoy the coast and to get up and down the coast… But I also think by introducing water based transportation we can actually start to break down some of that fourth border.” Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab. Follow this series at KCRW.com/BridgesandWalls
Expo Line and Hyperloop The long-awaited Expo Line extension to Santa Monica opens this weekend. It’s the culmination of 20 years of work by activists, legislators and transportation planners and engineers, and promises a 45-minute ride between downtown LA and downtown Santa Monica. But what’s the next step once you get to station? Santa Monica’s Mobility Manager explains. While many Angelenos are revving up for the first train to the beach in over 60 years, some transit dreamers are working on a vehicle that would leave light rail in the dust. Last week the LA company Hyperloop One conducted a test of the concept for rapid travel initiated by Tesla founder Elon Musk. It involves propelling passengers in pods through a vacuum tube at a speed of about 600 miles per hour and would cut travel time between LA and San Francisco to a half hour. So while we’re celebrating the extension of the Expo Line, should we be focused on newer transit technology? Is the future of a travel a marriage of the public and private sector?
Trump says goodbye Paris Accord: What does it mean for U.S. and the planet? President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, the landmark international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Trump was to renegotiate a new deal, but will that happen?
Terrorism in London: Lessons for the US This weekend’s terrorist attack in London left seven people dead and almost 50 injured. London police fatally shot the attackers, and ISIS claimed responsibility.
Hua Hsu: A Floating Chinaman Author Hua Hsu stops by to discuss his book A Floating Chinaman, recounting the life of 1930's actor/writer H.T. Tsiang and his struggles entering the American literary world.
Farewell LA freeways, Peter Shire is back Angelenos don't want more freeways but we seem not to want mass transit either. Metro has killed the 710 freeway extension, and bus and train ridership is down across the region. What's the future of getting around in LA? And, Peter Shire is having a comeback. What attracts a new generation to his playful ceramics and furniture?