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Electric Scooter Sharing in Action

Over the last few years, scooter share companies (Bird, Spin, Lime) have initiated dockless scooter share systems by dropping off flashy scooters and encouraging folks to download a mobile app to experience a new ride.

The fees are extremely low. They’re easy to ride, fun, and eco-friendly. They’re also convenient because they can be folded up and put under a desk, in the trunk of a car, or carried onto public transit.

And, they drive non-scooter users crazy.

Irresponsible users endanger pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists by speeding down sidewalks and operating carelessly on the roadway. There are also concerns about scooters being left in the way of sidewalks, ADA ramps, doorways, and other parts of the urban environment. Scooters have been found in trees, creeks, and vandalized.

Cities have responded by regulating scooter use with age and helmet use requirements, as well as designated areas for riding and parking. Scooter share companies are doing their part by requiring users to capture a photo of the parked scooter in order to check them back in and also encouraging helmet use.

Scooters: Driving the Need for Multimodal Accommodations

Now, you’re probably wondering, are scooters a trend that’ll fade away like parachute pants? Or are they the wave of the future that’ll change how we get around town?

“I vote for transportation revolution,” states Mindy Moore, AICP, Planner for Snyder & Associates. “I think the initial novelty of scooters contributed to negative user behavior, and as that novelty subsides, so will the misbehavior. Plus, the revision of city ordinances and mobile app requirements will encourage responsible use. As poor user behavior decreases, more people are likely to accept scooters as a means of transportation and recognize their benefits.”

Scooters currently lead a pack of small, lightweight electric vehicles (LEVs) that are easy to use. Along with ebikes, hoverboards, and other fancy transportation gadgets, scooters promote equitable mobility.

For Moore, a recent trip to New York City was all it took to pique her interest in the scooter revolution.

“There were people traveling everywhere on electric scooters, and ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of using these nifty devices for transportation,” she says. “My parents, who both need knee replacements, would benefit greatly from the flexible, increased mobility they provide. For example, they could’ve used scooters to explore Central Park and the High Line.”

But that’s a big-city example. What about the rest of us?

People typically choose a mode of transportation based on how easy and fast it is. In suburban and small towns, that often means using a personal vehicle, but people still bike out of necessity along with the collateral benefits of fun, fitness, and fresh air. If there’s a place for bike transportation in small communities, there’s certainly a place for scooters as well.

“In most cases, I think scooters should be used in the same places that bikes are,” shares Moore. “They travel at about the same speed as bikes and can use the same infrastructure to minimize pedestrian and vehicle conflicts. Small and mid-sized cities have succeeded in providing bicycle infrastructure for recreation and transportation, so the use of that infrastructure for electric scooters has a possible future.”

Four Ways Cities Can Prepare for Electric Scooter Use

Being a relatively new issue, and targeted at larger cities up until this point, how can small to mid-sized livable communities prepare for the use of scooters and other LEVs?

As a multimodal transportation planner, Moore says there are four key things to think about:

  1. Infrastructure – People using scooters for transportation need space to ride. Preferably, these places would be separated from both pedestrians and motor vehicles, or shared only in low-volume corridors. This system will look very similar to a bike-friendly community with trails or bike lanes that are wide enough for faster users to pass slower users. Scooters are more susceptible to pavement conditions than bicycles are, so it’s also important to address hazardous cracks and buckled pavement.
  2. Codes & Ordinances – For motorized scooters and other devices, you may want to think about speed limit regulations on shared public spaces such as trails and sidewalks. Consider including scooters in bicycle ordinances, while establishing parking regulations, and addressing yield requirements between different modes of transportation.
  3. Regulation of Scooter Businesses – If you want a scooter share system in town, or you think one might just “pop up,” consider business operations and permitting requirements that would apply to such a business to ensure the scooters don’t become a nuisance on trails, streets, and sidewalks.
  4. Public Education – Incorporate the operation of scooters into trail rules and etiquette signage, bike education programs, and with driver’s education classes. Share information about the benefits of scooters and how they support equitable mobility.

With strong experience in transportation planning, including the Knoxville Bicycle Trail and Master Plan and the Lower Fourmile Creek Greenway Master Plan, Moore and her colleagues are ready to assist with equitable mobility for all types of transportation including LEVs.

“As scooters become mainstream, I look forward to helping communities prepare by addressing their infrastructure needs and creating plans and policies that support equitable mobility,” she concludes.

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