Feb 12, 2020

Axios Cities

Good afternoon! My name is on this email, but my colleagues Sam Baker, Stef Kight, Erica Pandey, Felix Salmon and Marisa Fernandez deserve the credit for the content while I'm still on the mend.

Today's edition is 1,225 words, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Rural values and city values are the same values
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Data: SurveyMonkey online poll of 2,726 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 24–28, 2020. Margin of error ±2.5 percentage points; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

City dwellers and rural Americans share many of the same values, despite political and economic polarization that can push the two apart, Axios' Stef Kight writes.

The big picture: Practically, rural and urban lives look vastly different — from where they buy groceries to the way they get around to how they die. But their values and worldviews are often similar.

  • And according to our latest Axios/SurveyMonkey poll, sizable minorities in each group think the other looks down on them.
  • But underneath all that, they have a lot of values in common, the poll finds.

By the numbers: Big city residents (53%) were just as likely as rural respondents (55%) to say they often feel like a stranger in their own country.

  • The economy, health care and the environment were the three most important issues — in that order — regardless of where respondents lived.
  • Rural and urban respondents are equally likely to attend a religious service once a week— or to never attend. Rural areas, however, have a higher share who attend more than once a week.
  • Strong majorities of respondents from every rural-urban classification support legalizing marijuana.

Yes, but: Questions about partisan politics revealed the starkest disparities between rural and urban communities in the Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.

  • For example, half of those living in major cities said they "strongly disapprove" of Trump's presidency. 41% of rural respondents said they "strongly approve."
  • The urban-rural divide has become more pronounced as rural areas have become far more Republican, Juliana Horowitz, associate director of research at Pew Research Center, told Axios.

"We do find a lot of similarities between people living in urban and suburban communities," Horowitz said. "They’re dealing with similar problems even if they feel like people aren’t sharing their problems."

2. How to build a safer city

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Traffic accidents did not kill a single pedestrian or cyclist last year in either Helsinki or Oslo, Axios' Sam Baker writes.

The big picture: The main ingredient in these cities' successes should not surprise you: They made their streets a lot less accommodating to cars.

Denser cities have an inherent advantage in walkability, and older cities often have more rail infrastructure. But Helsinki also employed plenty of modern interventions that other cities can learn from, Streetsblog notes.

  • Wide sidewalks and narrow traffic lanes prioritize people over cars, and the city has almost 750 miles of protected bike lanes.
  • Helsinki also has gradually lowered its speed limits. Most local roads now have limits of about 20 mph, and major arterials are as low as 37.

Go deeper: In a study published in January, an international group of researchers studied the road and transit layouts of nearly 1,700 cities, breaking them down into nine types to analyze their safety.

  • Unsurprisingly, density, short blocks and the availability of mass transit all contributed to fewer injuries.

The bottom line: "The best approach is to get people out of cars in the first place, and to design cities in ways that people are using motor vehicles less," one of the study's authors told Fast Company.

3. Cities are killing scooters

They're everywhere, but maybe not for long. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Cities are driving electric scooters out, either by explicitly ordering them off the streets or regulating them into extinction, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

Why it matters: Dockless electric bikes and scooters can be a pain for cities to deal with. But they offer a clean, convenient way to get around, and eliminating them entirely isn't the right solution, experts say.

Where it stands:

What they're saying: "The wrong approach to regulation can become an e-scooter-killer," David Zipper, a fellow at Harvard's Taubman Center for State and Local Government, writes in CityLab.

  • Bigger cities will have greater demand for scooters and can sustain multiple companies vying for the market. But it may only be worth it for a scooter company to operate in a smaller city if local officials keep competitors out.

Cities are struggling to manage the electric bikes and scooters because "we've developed governance that is pro-car," says Richard Florida, an urbanist at the University of Toronto. "This is a product of cities that are not prepared for the revolution in mobility."

4. When ride-sharing left Austin
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Reproduced from Tarduno, 2019, “The Congestion Costs of Uber and Lyft”; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Traffic moved faster in Austin after Uber and Lyft left the city, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

  • Daytime traffic sped up by about 3.4%, according to a new paper from Matthew Tarduno, a graduate student at UC Berkeley. That's about 0.1 minutes per mile.

Why it matters: Tarduno's paper shows that Uber and Lyft increase the number of cars on the road, increase congestion and decrease traffic speeds — even if the effects in Austin were relatively modest.

Background: After Austin insisted that Uber and Lyft drivers pass background checks, both companies ceased operations in the city overnight. (They eventually returned after the state of Texas effectively overruled the city.)

The bottom line: Tarduno calculates that while faster traffic is worth $61 million a year to Austinites, that's roughly the same as the value to citizens of having Uber and Lyft (also known as transportation network companies) in the first place.

  • "TNC activity can be viewed roughly as a transfer," he concludes. "The consumer surplus enjoyed by TNC passengers is of similar size to the time loss incident on incumbent drivers."
5. Brokers' fees live on, for now

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

New York City renters will have to keep paying brokers' fees, at least for a while, after a judge this week froze the city's effort to overhaul those fees.

Why it matters: New York's brokers' fees are typically 15% of the annual rent, all due at once — a price that many renters simply can't afford.

  • As Felix explained last week, the problem is that landlords hire brokers, but don't have to pay them, so they're not particularly invested in the size of the fee, and renters simply don't have a choice but to pay.
  • Brokers panicked when New York said landlords, not renters, would have to start paying those fees, because that could make them less lucrative.
  • Landlords for rent-controlled units wouldn't be able to pass the cost of the fee on through rent, and when landlords pay those fees now, they tend to pay less than 15%.

What's next: It's not unusual for the courts to freeze new policies while sorting out whether they're legal, the New York Times notes, so this temporary freeze in the new rule doesn't tell us much about how this will be resolved in the end.

6. Urban files

Berlin, New Hampshire. Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Unemployment may be falling, but working-class towns are still hurting. (WaPo)

It's awfully hard to keep your local economy going without broadband. (Kansas City Star)

Private companies, not local governments, are deciding cities' futures. (Governing)

Republicans in the Florida legislature are advancing a bill to preempt local regulation of Airbnb and other short-term rentals. (Tampa Bay Times)

7. 1 fun thing: Fake town, real Subway

The Hogan's Alley Subway. Photo: FBI

None of the businesses in Hogan's Alley, Virginia, are real. The whole town is an FBI training campus — the "bank" exists only to be robbed, the "hotel" is there to practice getting suspects out of dicey situations, and the streets often erupt in paintball "gunfights," Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.

But there's one exception: Hogan's Alley does have a real Subway restaurant.

  • “Outside the restaurant, you’ll watch the searches and the arrests and the paintballers,” one retired FBI agent told the Wall Street Journal, which profiled the fake town earlier this week. “You have a front-row seat to whatever’s going on.”
  • Per the WSJ, you do need a security clearance to work at this particular Subway.