Scooters: Sidewalk Litter or Future of Mobility?


Last night a classmate of mine said that scooters are littered around his neighborhood. This came just an hour after another classmate of mine said that scooter injuries are from user error. These aren't uncommon opinions, but those two comments really stuck with me - the images of scooters as litter and the idea that it is the fault of the rider that they got injured.

Let's start with the idea that it is the fault of the rider that they were injured. Long-time bike riders or advocates for bicycle infrastructure will recognize this argument - if you are in the domain of the automobile, it's your fault that you were injured because you don't belong there. This line of thinking is slowly disappearing as cities become more human-oriented, but the antics of scooter riders has caused it to reappear. Unfortunately, I cannot argue against the fact that the majority of scooter riders that I've seen in the last year are not riding helmets and that is undeniably reckless. I also cannot argue against the numerous exhibits of careless and risky behavior I've seen from scooter riders, including two people doubling up on one scooter and zooming into the street, scooters careening down busy sidewalks when there actually is a bike lane they could utilize, or riders balancing on a 24-pack of beer while riding a scooter and flying off curbs. These absurd sightings stick in my mind much more than the dozens of people I see on a daily basis riding scooters and obeying the rules of the road (and sidewalk), and I imagine I'm not alone in this. So, while I understand the gut reaction of saying that scooter injuries are user error, I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe that scooter injuries are from company error.

When scooters first hit the transportation scene it was largely without cooperation with local governments. To many residents, they seemingly appeared overnight. They were a new toy, a new zippy way to get around. Sure, the app made you swipe through a "how-to" guide when you first registered, and occasionally reminds you to wear a helmet and stay off of sidewalks, but these reminders registered to most riders as much as my mom yelling "have fun, make good choices!" registered to me every time I went out with friends in high school.

For scooters to be taken seriously as a transportation option they need to work with their local governments. They need to help fund and build bike lanes - which should be widened and re-branded as active transportation lanes - and they need to advocate for safety interventions such as better intersection design that prioritizes bicycle and scooter riders. They need to help make streets safer for their riders to ensure a steady and growing ridership base and help municipalities see that they can be partners in Vision Zero campaigns and are a valid option for a low-carbon commute.

This leads into the second comment, that idea that scooters are litter. I have heard this comment many times, and it is another that is hard to argue with sometimes. I've seen scooters parked on narrow urban streets that have fallen across the sidewalk and become a tripping hazard and a major obstacle for a differently-abled person.

I strongly believe that one of the best ways to begin to change the public opinion and municipal view of scooters is to install docking stations and provide designated scooter parking. Designated scooter parking is much easier than installing docking/charging stations, and can be done with some paint and a few plastic bollards, as seen above in a bit of excess road space across from the Crystal City Metro Station. I was part of a team with the Crystal City Business Improvement District that worked with SPIN this summer to install a network of docking and charging stations for scooters across what is now known as National Landing in Arlington. These docking stations not only give people a place to park their scooters but it is also giving people the security of knowing that they can always find a charged scooter in the location of the docking station. The docking station elevates scooters as a transportation option from somewhat reliable to nearly as reliable as Capital Bikeshare. It legitimizes the scooter in the public realm and it begins to legitimize the scooter on the roads, although we still have much work to do there.

SPIN Docking Station Photo Courtesy of Rob Mandle/Crystal City BID

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