How do Americans move through their cities? Here at Curbed, we’re super curious about the transportation habits of regular folks. So, using a diary format, we’re asking real people to track their multimodal journeys for a week and report back with the highs and lows of what it takes to get around town.
This month, Seattle completed a one-year pilot program to study the effectiveness of dockless bike fleets on its streets. Over the last year, one of the program’s most enthusiastic riders was Yes Segura, an autonomous vehicle transportation planner who’s particularly fond of the city’s new shared electric bikes.
From his microstudio in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, Segura commutes to work at Impact Hub in Pioneer Square, where he's the founder of Smash the Box, a startup that helps cities plan for new transportation technology, and the director of communications for Young Professionals in Transportation.
Segura also drives for Uber, where he can talk to passengers about their transportation habits and survey Seattle’s streets from a vehicle’s perspective. He posts observations as @BlitzUrbanism to Twitter and Instagram. Segura took Curbed along for the ride during World Cup week, when the Salvadoran American had to make a few special trips to catch important games.
Sunday, July 1
One thing I like to preface before speaking on planning and designing cities for self-driving cars is that I bike everywhere and use my car for Uber driving. It’s cool, I won’t go on my autonomous vehicle (AV) soapbox in this transit diary, but if you want to hear how this queer trans person of color millennial first-generation Salvadoran American started my own business after seeing jobs with “Need 10 years of experience” and “We are not hiring for an AV planner,” well then bless your heart and please be so kind as to listen to this podcast. I talk about my journey as an AV planner and designer, and my LGBTQ+/QTPOC life.
It’s the beginning of the month, meaning this is when I typically spend the entire weekend Uber driving. I also use this time for research: As I’m driving, I’m analyzing the streets of Seattle for autonomous vehicles and asking passengers about their thoughts on AVs. During this week, I’m also asking some of my Uber passengers about dockless bikes. Seattle has three dockless companies, Lime, Ofo, and Spin, which are testing their bikes in the city.
I know that one day I’m going to ditch my car, rent it out using Getaround—it’s the Airbnb for cars—and be able to work full-time on my startup Smash the Box (StBox), which helps cities plan for disruptive transportation technologies like self-driving cars, bike shares, ride shares, drones, and hyperloop. Alas, I must do the Uber driving and “hustlers hustled to hustle” routine. (That’s my tagline that I created. I have it on a screenshot of my phone with my alarm.)
Before I start any day I have to have my coffee. While grabbing my cold brew at my favorite coffee joint, my barista mentions she Lime-biked to work. I ask her some questions: Her reason for biking from home to work was because it’s fast and cheap.
When it comes to smart mobility options, I know that using a dockless bike is an option that will always be cheaper, healthier, faster, and more accessible. Seattle traffic is a pain. It seems that every day there are new road construction obstacles. What I love about the whole dockless bike-share program in Seattle is that it works, especially as another mode of transportation option for first- and last-mile solutions.
Honestly, I’m too lazy to walk, so if I see a dockless bike then I’ll immediately grab one to cruise to my end destination. The bikes are cost-efficient in that they are affordable transportation. Also, this transportation system doesn’t have a stigma placed on it, meaning the current socially conditioned, systematic, racially driven thoughts associated with other modes of transit (that only poor people of color use public transportation, for example) aren’t associated with this new transportation mode.
Before Seattle’s dockless pilot program started last year, we had a docked system called Pronto. Docking bikeshare systems don’t work, they are inconvenient, and cost more to use. While Pronto had a grand 142,832 trips in its first year of running, LimeBike just celebrated its millionth trip in Seattle in 11 months. You gave it your best shot Pronto, but LimeBike is here to help you out.
Since Lime has entered the streets of Seattle I have become a big el numero uno fan para todos los bike-share programs in our city. ¿Y por qué es LimeBike mi numero uno? Well, that’s easy—there are simply more of them and they are easier to find when walking around a majority of our neighborhoods. I have to give it to them—since LimeBike started you can see that the quality of the bikes and placement of the bikes have been well-thought out in the planning and design implementation process. You can’t find a Spin bike just anywhere, and it seems like Ofo bikes just use the LimeBike app to figure out where to place their bikes. LimeBike is clearly the champ in this city.
Also, Lime has Lime Access, which promotes equitable mobility by removing the barrier of smartphones and credit card ownership. You can purchase 100 rides for $5.
As I start my day, I pick up my first Uber passenger in the Madison Valley neighborhood. I asked him about whether he uses bikes. He says that he hasn’t because they are never in the area. Madison Valley is a pretty affluent neighborhood with single-family homes dominating the space—a copious amount.
I start Uber driving around 10 a.m. and work for 6.5 hours, giving a total of 19 trips. I’ve driven around people from everywhere from India to Yakima, Washington, and this weekend, I give rides to people going to the Mariners baseball game and Sounders soccer game.
Monday, July 2
I start the day Uber driving at 5:30 a.m. and work for five hours, giving a total of 13 trips. Today marks an important day of El Copa Mundial where Mexico plays Brazil, so I stop around 7:30 a.m. to watch the game.
Heck yes! I get to ride a bike. Right now Lime is using Seattle as its testing ground for the electric pedal-assist bikes. After Uber driving, I park my car in the Pioneer Square area of Downtown Seattle near my office and find a Lime-E bike.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation survey data, half of all trips in the U.S. are three miles or less in length, a distance widely regarded as bikeable for most adults and even more feasible for electric bicycle riders. Seventy-two percent of those trips are currently made by cars, and fewer than 2 percent by bicycle. E-bikes also provide a new transportation and recreation options for people with disabilities and those with physical limitations.
Some thoughts on Lime’s e-bikes:
- The Lime-E electric-assist bikes are relatively heavier compared to a pedal Lime bike. The battery surely has to weigh a good 20 pounds. Which is a smart theft-free design on Lime’s end—who would ever want to steal a heavy bike?
- You don’t need a smartphone to unlock the Lime-E bikes, but if you want to see how much battery life is left in the bike you’ll need a smartphone for that.
- Lime-E costs $1 to unlock and $.15 per minute. For a 21-minute ride that’s still $4.15 cheaper than an Uber or Lyft!
- It makes life so much easier going up hills!
- It rains in Seattle, a lot. This is the case for fall, winter, and spring. When riding an Lime-E down a hill you will learn to go as slow as possible. The battery makes the bike bottom-heavy and you can fishtail.
- I’ve ridden a Lime-E in the snow. Lesson learned was to never go full speed on this bike while crossing over the streetcar rail lines. Let’s just say it’s been five months and my wrist still makes a funny cracking noise.
I ride the bike from Impact Hub in Pioneer Square to Fado Irish Pub. There is no parking on this road because it’s a collector arterial that leads into a principal arterial—in other words, it’s a commonly used road that can get you onto the highway. There is no way in heck I was going to try to find a parking space in immediate walking distance to this bar to watch the game. What’s better than walking? Riding a bike, of course! What’s even better than riding your own bike? Riding a dockless bike! What’s even better than riding a dockless bike? Riding a dockless Class 1 electric pedal-assist bike that can get you up to 15 mph. Heck yes!
I make it to the pub in time to watch the game. Park the Lime bike in an area that I know won’t get used by pedestrians. I make sure to park the bike standing upright in an area that is easily accessible for someone else to grab the bike to use.
For comparison, here’s what it would have looked like if I would have taken other modes of transportation to this bar.
Walking: Free + 8 minutes
As I stated before—I’m too lazy to walk.
Driving and parking: $2-$5 + 15-20 minutes + walking time to bar
This is all depending on the hour and which street you are on. It takes time to find parking and you have to sit through peak hour traffic to find a spot and there is construction. It’s just so much easier to ride a bike through the area, and because you can ride on the sidewalk and having a Lime-E bike makes life so much easier. Goodbye headaches and aggressive driving.
Ride-hailing: $6 for ride + 3-5 minutes wait time + 5-7 minutes for ride
Bike-riding: $1 + 2 minutes.
A no-brainer here to choose this method of transportation. When Google gives me an estimate I always know I can get to my end destination faster because I know the city pretty well. It might be because I drive it everyday, I bike it everyday, and I have that 10 years of GIS cartography experience plus a masters in urban and regional planning. Getting from point A to point B for me is like solving a puzzle, and solving puzzles just comes naturally to me.
Later that day, the pizza place on the same block as my office was closed, so I grab a Lime bike in front of the pizza place and quickly bike over to the next block. This was needed because 1) I hate walking, and 2) I was very hangry. It cost $1 and took about two minutes. The bike was super easy to find because it was in busy Pioneer Square.
Tuesday, July 3
I start Uber driving at 6 a.m. and work for seven hours, giving a total of 21 trips. Today’s neighborhoods: Beacon Hill, Central District, Madison Valley, SODO, Downtown Seattle.
As I’m Uber driving, I always note if the neighborhoods I’m driving through have a relative presence of dockless bikes. I notice that where there are five or six Lime bikes hanging side-by-side there will be at least two Lime-E bikes out of that bunch. Sometimes when I’m driving and I see an Lime-E, I just want to stop driving and go ride one. It’s almost like finding a rare treasure.
While Uber driving, I see an Ofo bike—one of the three bike-sharing companies in Seattle—on top of a Seattle Times newsstand box.
Parking seems to be one of the dockless bike issues that people are complaining about. I have a feeling the NIMBYs started this movement. I think it’s funny that people are complaining about where the bikes are being parked when our city has 1.6 million parking spots, equaling about two spots for each of our 700,000 people! A group of high school seniors in our Ballard neighborhood pulled a great prank that pointed this out well. Better than the Ofo parking job.
I’m not sure why parking these dockless bikes has been such an issue for the community. I guess people don’t have much to complain about when it comes to these bikes, except for where they are parked. Although I should acknowledge that I can see how it would be an issue for someone that is not fully abled.
Seattle is close to wrapping up the final pieces on an ordinance for a permanent bike share program, but part of it will include designated parking spaces for bikes. So let me get this straight—you are creating a docking area for dockless bikes? The number-one reason why they are a success is because they are dockless.
Wednesday, July 4
I start Uber driving at 5 a.m. and work for six hours, giving a total of 18 trips.
When I moved into my microstudio I knew that I wanted to be in biking distance to a light-rail station. The light-rail station in Beacon Hill is a six-minute bike ride from my house. From the light-rail station, I can either take the train or bike all the way to my office in Pioneer Square, which is what I do today.
There are basically three things to consider when deciding to ride dockless bikes in Seattle—street design, time, and distance.
- Street design: Are there bike lanes, bike signage, bike lights?
- Time of day: During peak hours of congestion, you can weave in and out of traffic with ease.
- Distance: Including topography! Those hills are killer. Walking up the hills in our city is something I like to call “urban hiking.” I wish the Lime app would show the directions and route and hills and time to reach your end destination.
One of my friends said to me, “You aren’t stuck in traffic, you are the traffic.” If only the rest of the country would rethink the way they traveled instead of relying on a car.
Thursday, July 5
I start Uber driving at 6:30 a.m. and work for 5 hours, giving a total of 16 trips.
Today is the day where I ride a Lime bike to work and my phone falls out of my pocket and gets run over. Today is not a good day. Note to self—next time use the Lime bike phone holder. They all have them.
Every Thursday and Friday afternoon I volunteer five hours of my day as a host at Impact Hub Seattle. It’s one of the many shared coworking spaces in Seattle and where I have my office. It’s located in good old Pioneer Square.
Usually there are a handful of Lime bikes, Ofo bikes and Spin bikes hanging out along the area, so I know I can just jump on one and go down to the waterfront or to grab some fruit at Uwajimaya, hands down the best Asian grocery store in all of Seattle. Yes, you can put an entire watermelon in the cart of a Lime bike.
Friday, July 6
When the sun is out in Seattle, you know to always take advantage of it before fall or winter happens and you never see it again.
I need some time out of the office today. I ride my own bike to work and then down to the waterfront, which is four blocks away from my office. Why get stuck in traffic when you can ride a bike? It’s a breeze riding my bike through traffic during peak hours when everyone is in gridlock. Whenever I pass by people on my bike and they have their car windows open I tell each one of them: “Get a bike!”
What I love about my city is that we welcome bicyclists with dedicated bike lanes, bike sharrows and bike lights (signals just for bikes) to help create visibility of bicyclists, so I mainly bike down these paths from time to time. One of our newest bike lane additions is on 2nd Avenue, with nice separated lanes. Disclaimer: I know our city is still working on creating a more bikeable, complete streets city. Heck, some people don’t even use the bike lanes we have. I’m grateful for just having them, but yes they can be improved.
I got my sweet 1970s Peugeot bike from a thrift store in SODO for $40. You can hang your bike on a rack on the light-rail train here. It claims to hold two bikes, but I’ve never seen that done before.
I almost want to say that I equally use my bike as much as the dockless bikes here in Seattle. Just the convenience of having the bikes ready to go whenever I’m walking in downtown Seattle or in Capitol Hill, Ballard, Beacon Hill, and the University district assures me that I don’t have to bring my bike and sturdy Kryptonite bike lock with me everywhere I go. Having that accessibility plays such an important role in the amount of energy I physically exert each day. I can use that energy towards some other project needed.
Saturday, July 7
Mandatory beers, soccer juggling, and World Cup day. No Uber-driving or bike-riding was done on this day.
This day almost feels like I’m at a Catholic mass where you sit down and stand up every five minutes, but from all the soccer match excitement. So that was my mini workout activity for the day.
Sunday, July 8
I start Uber driving at 4 a.m. and work for three hours, giving a total of 11 trips.
Afterwards, it’s time to get my LGBTQ+ on in Seattle. My dearest friends who work for Microsoft, but live in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s historic queerborhood, invite me to wine and dine at the 2018 Greater Seattle Business Association event held on a cruise line. Fancy, I know.
The flyer is disappointing in that it only gives parking instructions. Even the LGBTQ+ community prioritizes cars over other modes of transportation! Guess who was the only one who biked to this event? Guess who was the only one who had a bike on Terminal 91 in Seattle? Guess who didn’t have to wait for an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, or pay for parking?
I go to find a Lime bike. This road is flat as a pancake. As a bicyclist that’s exactly what you want to get to and from one location with ease, these flat as pancake roads. But cars, cars, and cars! No bike lanes. No bike sharrows. No bike lights. And yet, a popular 3.4-mile bike trail that runs along the waterfront, the Elliot Bay Trail, is behind a conveniently located Staples.
I’m pretty sure I wait 10 minutes for the pedestrian light to give me the go-ahead to cross the street.
In 13 minutes I’m at the Pier 91 terminal. Once again no bike lanes, no bike signs, and no bike lights. Just parking lots. The U.S. has been driven by car-centric design since the early 20th century. Pun intended. What we have is a design where you are car-dependent. You have a outdated 1900’s design that doesn’t meet the needs and ideals of a 21st-century community.
I take a photo of the parking lots and realize it’s a beautiful day outside—and the only people present in the photo are the ones in cars.
I said I wasn’t going to get on my AV soapbox but... who was I kidding? My AV planning and design experience started in 2015 when my graduate studio course at Florida State University won an American Institute of Certified Planners award. A lot of what is being proposed in AV transportation planning now, like reduced parking and new road designs, was in this project. The project included doing a design charrette and capturing major stakeholders voices’ to envision the entire state of Florida with AVs.
On September 15, Smash the Box will be hosting a design charrette at Impact Hub on envisioning Seattle with self-driving cars. This event will capture the community’s voice by including its citizens, architects, planners, and engineers. Not only will we be talking about this new disruptive technology, we will be using virtual reality to help us experience the space.
Right now we have the ability to change the design of our cities for communities instead of cars—so why are we letting the people who created this mess fix it with their so-called expert solutions? Sorry, there are no “Do you have 10 years of experience in this field” jobs, but rather “Are you up for the challenge?” This is our chance to change the game by using proactive planning that uses sustainable, inclusive, and innovative design. I am up for this challenge—are you?