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Uber Says It Can’t Be Regulated Because NYC Is Bad At Urban Planning

Urban Design

This Property in Manhattan is the Size of a Pizza Slice

From MediumDecades of changing street designs resulted a piece of property in Manhattan being dwindled down to the size of large slice of pizza. Lots of great stuff in this story including the origins of Broadway (it was an old Native American trail), the creation of Central Park, and lessons in the importance of good surveying and drafting accurate legal descriptions of property boundaries.


Energy/Environment

Turning Lake Mead Into a Large Battery

From The New York Times. Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the U.S., was created in 1936 with the construction of the Hoover Dam. The dam plugs the Colorado River to create the lake, which serves as a reservoir as well as a power plant. Water from the lake is pumped through a generator to create electricity. The water is outputted into the Colorado River where it flows downstream along the border of Arizona and California and down to Mexico.

Wind and solar power have grown extraordinarily throughout the country with California being the leading producer of solar energy. The problem with these forms of energy is that they often create excess electricity during the day (when the sun is out) and during particularly windy periods. California, and Los Angeles in particular, have no choice but to sell that electricity, or otherwise get rid of it, so it doesn’t burden the electrical grid. This is an obvious problem since renewable energy is being produced, but since it isn’t needed during peak production hours it sometimes goes unused. While large batteries are currently being developed, we’re not to the point where all the electricity can be adequately stored.

Instead of relying on batteries or fossil fuels, Los Angeles wants to create a pump system where excess electricity created from solar and wind farms is used to pump downstream water in the Colorado River back into Lake Mead. This potential energy (the water) would then be stored in the lake and run through the generators when electricity is needed. Large environmental and political obstacles exist as the US Department of the Interior would have to sign off on the project. The concerns of downstream Colorado River users would also have to be addressed as the plan would potentially deplete water resources for these people. Still, it’s a plan that has many excited.

Hoover Dam. Photo Credit: Wikipedia


Architecture/Urban Design

London Could’ve Had a Futuristic Pod System Over the Thames

From Popular Mechanics. Everyone loves looking at renderings of provocative structures that were never built. Popular Mechanics put together a slideshow of 7 of those buildings from cities across the world. Perhaps the strangest ones are the giant elephant monument in Paris and the futuristic pod system over the River Thames in London.


Transportation

Uber Says It Can’t Be Regulated Because NYC is Bad at Urban Planning

From The New York Times. Doubling up on stories from the NYT this week. Many studies show that ridesharing is not only reducing transit ridership, but is actually causing more traffic congestion in some cities. While many cities have capped the number of taxi cabs, no such system is present for Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services in a major American city. This can result in drivers clogging the streets waiting for new rides. Of course failing to maintain the subway system and employing policies that encourage auto use are underlying problems that exacerbate traffic congestion, but an excess number of ridesharing vehicles may not help.

To address the congestion, New York City is looking into capping the number of ridesharing vehicles that can operate in the city. A previous attempt to cap these services failed in 2015, but ridesharing vehicles have nearly doubled since then. As you would expect, Uber has come out strongly against the proposal saying it would make services less accessible, particularly in areas poorly served by transit. The company also argues that NYC’s underlying planning problems are the real cause of congestion, not Uber. But just because poor city policies exist regarding urban design and the upkeep of the subway, doesn’t mean you should be immune from regulation if you are causing additional harm, at least in some areas of the city.

Fivethirtyeight has several good articles looking at the data surrounding the allegations that ridesharing is causing more traffic. In 2015, they found that Uber and Lyft were only causing slight increases in the number of vehicular traffic in NYC. That could have changed in the past few years, though, given the increase in the number of ridesharing vehicles.

This seems like a natural progression in regulation. A new service floods the market and then we apply regulations that we’ve previously used for similar services to mitigate some of the actual or perceived harm. We obviously have the taxi example where caps were used to regulate wages and congestion, but we could also look at above-ground wires. Excessive electrical and telecommunications wires obstructed views of the sky and were susceptible to damage during storms. Cities therefore decided that wires should be put underground even though costs would be much higher. Capping Uber and Lyft could create higher costs, but will those costs outweigh the long term benefits to most people?

NYC’s overhead wires in the 1890’s. Photo Credit: The Atlantic and Sailortwain.com

 

Cover Photo Credit: Nicholas Hartmann via Wikipedia


 

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