I enjoyed reading this in-depth piece from Vox about the rapid rise of dockless escooter companies and their current and potential impact on city mobility and street infrastructure. It covers how they work, how cities are responding and suggests that they are challenging cities to re-think urban street design.
“Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of scooters will be that they will force a larger discussion of whom or what we prioritize when we design cities. “I’m hoping that all of this disruption will help us think more systematically about these things,” said UCLA’s Brian Taylor, a professor of urban planning at the University of California Los Angeles.
The article shows that the majority of vehicle trips in the U.S. are less than 6 miles (59.4%) and dockless escooters have the potential to displace some of these short trips while also giving those without a car access to a low-cost, low-friction means of getting to a transit station or, directly, to work, school etc.
When thinking about Boston, dockless escooters (and bikes) could help the “more than half of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan residents who rely on public transportation but don’t have convenient access to rapid transit” (see The Roxbury-Dorechester-Mattapan Transit Needs Study). This all sounds like a no brainer except for the lack of safe street infrastructure for escooting and biking in these parts of the city. Many residents of Mattapan will tell you they don’t feel safe biking in the street, and bike lanes there are still scarce.
Towards the article’s end, author Umar Irfan points out that while cities are putting a cap on the number of shared escooters allowed, there continues to be no limit on the number of cars. No restrictions on the number of cars in spite of the large cost to society from automobiles in the form of vast quantities of parking spaces (taking away space for housing, parks etc.), lost lives, pollution, congestion etc. The cost to society from escooters and other similar micro mobility options will be significantly less. This calculation should lead cities to engage in massive reductions of car infrastructure in favor of wider bike lanes and sidewalks.
The article indicates that New York City seems ready to deploy scooters to help those without many transit options. Let’s hope more cities move passed their hurt feelings over brash start-up behavior and start truly taking advantage of these new micro mobility solutions to bring transportation relief to those who need it and, more generally, to improve city living.