Author Laura Bliss January 17, 2020
In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?
When San Diego opened its light rail system in 1981, Mayor Pete Wilson declared it “a good idea whose time has come again.’” The bright red train cars, known as “the Trolley,” harked back to the urban railway that spanned 165 miles across metropolitan San Diego until 1949. As in so many North American cities, that streetcar system was ripped out as the automobile era dawned.
But the San Diego Trolley was built with a different spirit and purpose than its predecessor. It was light rail. And from San Diego, the new mode would spread across North America. Far cheaper to build than a subway, faster than a streetcar, and perhaps more alluring than a bus, light rail was seen as the answer to congested highways, growing populations, and civic fantasies of a dozen U.S. cities in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
Bike-sharing has revolutionized urban transport over the last decade, and some studies are predicting that electric bicycles, which are easy to use in hilly cities, will become the go-to mobility solution, with forecasts of more than 130 million units set to be sold globally between 2020 and 2023.
The number of bike-sharing options in cities around the world has doubled since 2014, and the number of bicycles in operation has increased twenty-fold. Cities like Seville and Paris have deployed ambitious bicycle-based mobility programs, while in others, like New York, it has become the best and fastest option for getting around.
Obviously, bicycles aren’t for everyone, but it can, with the right planning and means, be a very good way to decongest cities, both in terms of traffic density and air quality. Tech platforms such as Google Maps or Citymapper already show the location of bicycles and availability at parking stations in cities around the world, which is an important step, as is the fact that companies such as Uber are moving their priority from cars to bicycles and scooters for short journeys: both Uber and Lime are pondering flat-rate systems to make the use of their fleets more attractive.