E-scooters, the modern day velocipedes
November 23, 2019 7:09 AM   Subscribe

From the very beginning, though, riders were also mocked as fops pursuing a ludicrous pastime. Pedestrians back then were the prime users of roads and sidewalks, so cycles seemed like dangerous interlopers. A Baltimore newspaper called the bicycle “a curious two-wheeled device...which is propelled by jackasses instead of horses.” One New Haven, Connecticut, newspaper editorial even encouraged people to “seize, break, destroy, or convert to their own use as good prize, all such machines found running on the sidewalks.” What the Fight Over Scooters Has in Common With the 19th-Century Battle Over Bicycles -- The two-wheelers revolutionized personal transport—and led to surprising societal changes [Smithsonian Magazine]
It took inventors about 70 years to perfect the bicycle. An ur-version was built in the 1810s by the German inventor Karl von Drais, and it was just two wheels on a frame. You scooted along by pushing it, Flintstones-style, with your feet. “On a plain, even after a heavy rain, it will go 6 to 7 miles an hour, which is as swift as a courier,” Drais boasted.

By the 1870s, entrepreneurs were putting pedals on the front wheel, creating the “velocipede” (the Latin roots for “fast foot”). Since a bigger wheel went faster, inventors built front wheels as huge as five feet tall, stabilized by a tiny back wheel—a “penny farthing,” as the cycle was known. Riding was mostly a sport of well-off young men, and riders exulted at the dual feelings of speed and height. “From the saddle we perceive things which are hidden from them who only walk upon the earth,” one Connecticut rider boasted in 1882. “We dash across the plain with a wild sense of freedom and power which no one ever knows until he rides the magic steed.”
The bicycle didn’t truly reach the mainstream until engineers began selling the “safety” bike in the 1890s. With inflatable tires, it offered a gentler, less bone-shaking ride, and the chain propelling the back wheel left the front free for steering. Now this was something anyone could ride—and anyone did, as dozens of bike firms flooded the market. The bicycle craze was born.
To many, cycling embodied the very spirit of American freedom and equality. “As a social revolutioniser it has never had an equal,” Scientific American observed in 1896. “It has put the human race on wheels, and has thus changed many of the most ordinary processes and methods of social life. It is the great leveller.” By 1900, there were more than 1.25 million cyclists in the United States.
Riding a bicycle felt like a burst of independence. “Finally you could go where you wanted, on your own,” Macy says. “When you were riding a cycle your mother didn’t know where you were!” Young women could meet potential paramours on the road, instead of having their parents size them up in their living room. Soon women were 30 percent of all cyclists, using the newfangled technology to visit friends and travel the countryside. It was empowering. “Cycling is fast bringing about this change of feelings regarding women and her capabilities,” the Minneapolis Tribune wrote. “A woman awheel is an independent creature, free to go where she will.”
posted by filthy light thief (75 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
The problem isn't scooters. Scooters are fine. The problem is that they're dockless rentable vehicles, meaning users can leave them anywhere, even in the middle of the sidewalk. That's got two problems: first of all, it's potentially dangerous to people who need a clear sidewalk. Second, the scooter companies are using public space to lease private property, which feels downright dystopian to me.

These two problems are so obvious that it's astounding that the article doesn't give them any attention.
posted by LSK at 7:32 AM on November 23, 2019 [81 favorites]

The biggest difference is that likely people weren't dumping piles of penny farthings on people's doorstops and walking off.
posted by Ferreous at 7:33 AM on November 23, 2019 [31 favorites]

And assholes ride them illegally on sidewalks.
posted by PhineasGage at 7:37 AM on November 23, 2019 [19 favorites]

The early bicycle pushback is also an odd comparison given that they existed in an era before streets were solely the domain of cars. At the time there was a lot more real estate for foo traffic.
posted by Ferreous at 7:45 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

As above, no problem with scooters. The problem is dockless rentable anything-smaller-than-a-motorcycle because people were raised by goddam wolves. DC had this problem with dockless bikes last time I was there. I love bikes! I bike commute to work! I do not love bikes when they are stacked four-high in the middle of the sidewalk. I was in Austin last spring and it was legitimately difficult to go for my runs because it was like steeplechase with discarded scooters.

Here on Pittsburgh's college campuses I see all manner of outlandish electric conveyances. They're all fine. I would probably bust my head open if I tried to use many of them, but that's fine, they're not for me. Just don't run me down on the sidewalk, and don't stack them like you're about to reenact burning man in front of the building I need to get into.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:45 AM on November 23, 2019 [17 favorites]

No one cares if people ride scooters, what people don't like is having companies who are funded by Saudi blood money dump them en masse in their neighborhoods.
posted by bradbane at 7:47 AM on November 23, 2019 [22 favorites]

Yes to all of this. I rode the scooters a few times during the “experimental period” in Chicago, and they’re fun! I am in favor if anything that keeps people out of cars. They seem slightly more accessible for people who have trouble biking or walking since they’re self-propelled. But the dockless system is TERRIBLE. I’m surprisingly in love with the bike share system (I bike with my own bike all the time and was skeptical I’d use it, but I do, ALL THE TIME) and as much as the docking stations seem like an investment in infrastructure that feels like a big barrier to implementation, it’s also a lot better than bikes or scooters thrown all over the sidewalks.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:54 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

I too love the dock-based bike share even though I own a bike that is easier and more fun to ride than theirs. But yeah, the dockless bikes and scooters very clearly make life worse for everyone who is not currently riding one of them, and I super wish they would stop piling up on all the bike racks and in the middles of bike paths and sidewalks and so on. I wish it weren’t so environmentally irresponsible to throw them in the bay.
posted by aubilenon at 7:59 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

this blog about amsterdam cites 12,000-15,000 bicycles are pulled from its canals annually. take the figure with a grain of salt as there's no source cited, but I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that the problem is less the tool and more the user- take any personal transportation solution and make it ubiquitous, be it bicycles, scooters, or cars, and you might expect to see the same problems surface: careless operation, careless storage, etc.

I have my own concerns about electrified personal transit, like battery waste and maintainability of the whole device, but anything that gets people to use cars less and think about different and more human-centric ways to share our roads is a serious positive.

a lot of the hate between pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter users would vanish if less space were afforded to automobiles and returned to human-centric modes of transportation. a little more mindfulness would benefit all around too, but that is another issue altogether.
posted by One Thousand and One at 8:03 AM on November 23, 2019 [21 favorites]

This flood of venture backed experiments my be a very helpful to cities that want and need to diversify transportation post-gas-automobile. That's not happening next week but may begin next decade. City center car restrictions and growth of walk only areas along with the interest in increasing density for all the cultural such advantages needs a complex ecology of transportation options to be functional.

The bike/scooter rental really should be a public good run by the "city" or what every regional organization makes sense. (many small towns are within reach on the east coast, LA for example geographically encompasses the range of a bike or scooter). Along with social awareness that it's a shared resource like benches or fountains.
posted by sammyo at 8:07 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

What I was trying to say was "good on, big venture money" it'd cost cities a lot to gain the understanding of the last few years. Hope cities actually do what's appropriate.
posted by sammyo at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2019

Does anyone know if lock-to technology actually helps? It seems like the best way to deal with bikes and scooters being left in the middle of the sidewalk. Anything I find seems to be from the companies that make the lock-to bikes.

The main issue I have with dock-based bike systems is that the docks always seem to be half a mile from my desired end destination, since the bikes seem to be placed near the bus routes, and I mostly want to bike in situations where it's annoying to take the bus.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:09 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, the seasonal availability of rental bikes and scooters means it's not ever going to be feasible as a primary mode of transit, but that's very much a regional issue.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

DC had this problem with dockless bikes last time I was there.
We since got rid of them and replaced them with these fucking scooters, which somehow manage to encourage even worse behavior.

But this article is a lot more interesting. It's crazy that the song "Daisy Bell (a bicycle built for two)" is about this new amazing technology that's taking the kids by storm.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:14 AM on November 23, 2019

In Stockholm there seem to be about six or seven competing companies now. As a cyclist, I'm not so bothered about sharing bike lanes with them, but the parking is a major issue. The local traffic authorities have marked off designated parking areas, but they're mainly meant for dropping off charged bikes in the morning. Also, the short lifespan of the vehicles and the means of transport they are replacing don't make for an overall great environmental argument.

Dockless solutions have their advantages as well. Bikeshare solutions are normally provided by advertising companies (JC Decaux or ClearChannel) in exchange for exposure. And of course the stations tend to be empty when the bikes are most needed, and full when one is in need of leaving a bicycle which is a conundrum.

The small wheels, poor trail, high center and gravity and novelty effect make them relatively dangerous to use as well. But it's been fascinating to watch how they are forcing traffic planners to negotiate a totally new and ubiquitous form of transportation.
posted by St. Oops at 8:18 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

While the dockless aspect would have been nice to see in the article, I think the comparison is worthwhile - the difference being that scooters also have to deal with cars. While carriages and wagons did exist, they didn’t have the kind of lethal dominance over the road that cars do today. Here’s a good article in CW about the societal impact of the automobile on road culture.

The stacks of dockless wheeled things on every corner frustrate me because it’s such an easy problem to solve, especially compared to other city infrastructure. The real problem is, as it has been for 100 years, how to reclaim our city spaces from inefficient, dangerous, and wasteful relics from the 20th century.
posted by q*ben at 8:22 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

People’s behavior is shaped by their environment. In a city built for cars, with space dedicated to public storage of private vehicles on both side of every street and only thin strips of pavement provided for light, individual transportation, users of scooters and bikes will occupy sidewalks and driveways. Many cities have experimented with dedicated curb space for other uses like bikeshare docks or rental scooters to provide an environment that no longer forces all the non-cars into the same tight spot.
posted by migurski at 8:23 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

What I have noticed in Portland OR is the scooters are bloating. They started as all Bird type electrified Razoresque but they have gotten bigger and now there are these boato rides that look like mini bikes with big fat sand tires and seats. I'm waiting for dockless automobiles.
posted by Pembquist at 8:23 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

The bike/scooter rental really should be a public good run by the "city"

They tried that where I live and it was immediately slaughtered by Tier/Bird. For starters, the big scooter companies have unlimited funds to flood the area with new scooters, improve their app, and retrieve their scooters for charging. A city-led initiative is competing with whatever the city needs to do with its moneys. Like, house homeless people, empty the bins, feed orphans. So it's pretty hard to justify duplicating the scooter companies effort.

In the year or so that scooters have been in my city they've moved from all-over to now quite focused on drunk people. They're targetting their most important market - that of people with low impulse control, who want to pay over the odds for something they would have walked past before they got drunk. Scooter companies know this and pile their objects around drinking and youth hangout spots. It's a pretty shifty business practice before you get to the bit where they suck up resources like pavement space.
posted by The River Ivel at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Portland dockless automobiles already came and went. You probably didn’t see them because cars are ubiquitous.

Pessimists Archive is a fun Twitter account with more breathless century-old condemnations of new things like bicycles, televisions, and calculators.
posted by migurski at 8:29 AM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

In addition to all the circumstances surrounding their use, I object to the scooters themselves. I would say they are "broken as designed" if I thought they had been designed at all. I think they weren't--I think they were just assembled from parts lying around.

- The tiny wheels have minimal rollover capacity, which means that riding over less-than-perfect pavement is a problem.
- They have solid tires, not pneumatic, which exacerbates the rollover-capacity problem, not to mention making them less comfortable to ride, reducing traction, etc.
- The steering geometry (caster angle and trail) is terrible, and result in extremely unsteady maneuvering.
- They are nowhere near durable enough for the way they are used, which is why, based on the best evidence available, they seem to have a lifespan of about a month.

In short, I think these things were initially built for kids riding around suburban cul-de-sacs, and now they're being used by adults as transit infrastructure on public streets. The comparison shouldn't so much be to a modern bicycle as to a pennyfarthing—imagine dockless pennyfarthings littering our city streets.
posted by adamrice at 8:30 AM on November 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

I can't believe that nobody has posted this yet.
posted by jrochest at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2019 [21 favorites]

They're not environmentally great bc they are disposable and the business model requires people with fuel-ineffiecient pickup trucks to drive around everywhere at night and collect them for charging.

But they are fun.
posted by subdee at 8:49 AM on November 23, 2019

The steering geometry (caster angle and trail) is terrible, and result in extremely unsteady maneuvering.

Just like the velocipedes.
posted by subdee at 8:50 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

They are fun, accessible (not to all, but to many), and get more people out on the streets in something other than cars. Cities definitely need to find better ways to enforce parking them so that they are not blocking sidewalks (I have seen them left directly in the middle of a wheelchair ramp, for example) and resolve the other issues, but overall I think the scooters are a net positive.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2019

Portland dockless automobiles already came and went. You probably didn’t see them because cars are ubiquitous.

Because everything is terrible, Car2go was pushed out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul market by the sort of laws that were supposed to regulate rental car companies, but the local regulations on taxis actually helped Lyft and Uber (it's illegal to hail a cab from the street in Minneapolis, for example - you have to call one specifically to pick you up).

Obviously Car2go was not ideal - still a (tiny) car, the GPS would get wonky in subzero weather, and they were terrifying on the highway. But in general, the times I used to use car2go, I find myself resorting to ride share instead.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Portland dockless automobiles already came and went. You probably didn’t see them because cars are ubiquitous.

Derp! Must be early, I totally forgot about Car2Go and the peculiarly named and logoed Reach Now. To be honest I was envisioning cars parked on the side walks though as the next logical evolution.
posted by Pembquist at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2019

Not to pick on LSK here, but this:
Second, the scooter companies are using public space to lease private property, which feels downright dystopian to me.
This is just blindingly bizarre in the face of the massive handover of public space to private use that we call "street parking". Cities routinely dedicate billions of dollars and uncounted hectares of public property to support the storage of cars in the 90+% of their life that they are idle. By comparison a scooter company using a sliver of sidewalk that you wanted while walking.. that's nothing. How is all that anger being directed at scooter shares instead of at cars?
posted by ChrisR at 9:29 AM on November 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

Second, the scooter companies are using public space to lease private property, which feels downright dystopian to me.

Curiously, it seems people just accept the dystopia in which public roads are used as parking places where people just leave their cars for free. About 50% of most roads, two lanes on each curb, are used for free parking.
posted by JackFlash at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

Am I missing something? Scooter companies are commercial enterprises profiting from placing the products they own on public sidewalks. Isn't this different from individual citizens parking their cars on public streets? What the scooter companies are doing feels more like Hertz or a local auto dealer using a public road for their car lot.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:48 AM on November 23, 2019 [16 favorites]

As a bike advocate, rental scooters feel like a frenemy. They are causing some problems (making sidewalks ADA non-compliant), surfacing other problems (riding on sidewalk because no bike infrastructure), mitigating other problems (pollution, uber, cars). I feel like they need to be in the mix but we need better regulation.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:49 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

PhineasGage, in both cases it's a massive handover of public land -- the roads we use to get from point A to point B -- to private interests. The size of the private interest is not really the point. It's publicly-funded private automobile storage. Free parking is a massive public subsidy to car owners, and I'm not sure how much value is made back from paid street parking, either.

It's just so baked into our expectations in North American cities that we look right past it.
posted by ChrisR at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Interesting points, ChrisR. It doesn't seem to pertain to rural/exurban areas. In suburbs, street parking in front of each house is sort of collective payment/collective benefit. In cities, though, where your point is strongest, it does seem as if free street parking is diminishing: NYC is even thinking about eliminating it.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2019

Every time you find yourself frustrated at scooters littered on the sidewalk, stop and take a moment to see how much space between buildings is currently taken up by parked cars.

This is a classic "Cars take 11 cookies, turn to the pedestrians and say 'I think that guy is going to steal your cookie!'" moment in history.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 10:04 AM on November 23, 2019 [10 favorites]

True, rural/exurban areas have different situations. I'll also draw your attention to the fact that they're not really relevant to this discussion, though, since scooter shares aren't viable there anyway. There are no competing needs. Even in the suburbs, the density is low enough that there's room for everything. It's in the denser urban areas that space is at a premium and staggering amounts of it are dedicated to car storage.
posted by ChrisR at 10:10 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

But when they’re blocking the sidewalks, scooters have actually taken that cookie. I can be angry at both the scooters and the cars.

I like Shoup’s parking prices to slowly reclaim some public benefit from street parking. I wonder if his team has a theory for adding bike/scooter docks in the parking zone.
posted by clew at 10:11 AM on November 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

What I'm starting to see in Ballard / Fremont / Downtown Seattle is great: there are places where a car parking space has been delineated as a bike/scooter spot. Those are amazing, and I want to see more of that. It's a way to get the scooters off the damn sidewalk -- because yes, I'll heartily agree, the scooters cluttering the sidewalk are in fact taking the 12th stolen cookie -- and maybe give pedestrians back some of the space they need. Especially the ones who have limited mobility.

But I wish to hell people would remember where the lion's share of the space has already gone.
posted by ChrisR at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Interesting article, thanks!

In the direct comparison, another point to consider is that bicycles last a lot longer. The data are hard to find (because it's a new technology) but a couple of early studies suggest that e-scooters last 1 month/170 miles, to 3 months/no miles given. A bike will keep going much longer than that, with minimal maintenance and resource consumption.

Outside of that, given that a Tesla battery pack is 300k to 500k miles, then you'd probably need at least a thousand e-scooters and probably a lot more to transport someone the same distance.

Many points to argue here - are e-scooters and EVs used for different purposes (short point to point versus highway for example)? How much are e-scooters/EVs recycled? etc.
posted by carter at 10:22 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The current scooter free-for-all is definitely not great and obviously completely unregulated dockless systems are a disaster, but we all park our bikes on the sidewalk all the time. I think the argument that the sidewalk can never be used for parking things is obviously not true in practice and it's a bit funny to pretend like it isn't the reality of how bike parking has always worked. It's also interesting that no one is even talking about using some of the vast space available on the actual roads for parking things other than cars.

I think the scooters generally suck as transportation devices, mostly because they are not very stable, not good on rough surfaces, and not good at being on the road with cars, but I can see they may have a niche in the long run. We're starting to see dockless and docked electric bike systems, which to me make a lot more sense as a real transportation alternative that might get people out of their cars. The logistics of charging dockless electric bikes is a lot more challenging, but it seems to be happening in some places. I really hope our cities can work out how to integrate these kinds of new transportation alternatives, but I worry that the mess that scooter companies have made will make this difficult.

The solution is actually very simple: Take one car parking spot out of every block and designate it for parking bikes and scooters.
posted by ssg at 10:38 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I initially read this headline as "E-scooters, the modern-day Velociraptors."

I was like, "It's an edgy take, but I'll allow it."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:43 AM on November 23, 2019 [21 favorites]

Also, it's very weird that the article compares bikes to scooters without acknowledging the obvious driver of scooter proliferation, which is billions of dollars in venture capital. This is not a normal market with supply and demand where consumers are expressing their preferences; it's a bunch of companies losing cash on every ride and scraping huge numbers of scooters daily to try to gain dominance in a market that may or may not end up being significant.

Bikes are great and people keep riding them despite the danger from cars, the rampant theft, the air pollution, etc. There's obviously some demand for dockless scooters, but to compare the two like this is really ignoring the elephant in the room.
posted by ssg at 10:47 AM on November 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

"we all park our bikes on the sidewalk all the time"

Hell naw. To start with, rude. Second, there's nothing to lock them to in the sidewalk. Finally if you lock your bike to something in the street-furniture strip but it blocks the sidewalk, you know perfectly well you risk having your wheel stomped before you get out of the coffeeshop. The dockless abandoners don't care if a company bike gets damaged.
posted by clew at 10:53 AM on November 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

I see the anticar people have turned up again to shill for venture capitalists again, and announce people shouldn't criticize because cookies. I live next to a city central campus that is an example of exactly that kind of reclaiming from cars. Several decades ago, all 7 streets that crossed it were closed and torn up. Because of all that space, it has wide sidewalks and paths, students ride bikes to class all the time. And it's great, I love it, especially when I was going there.

Guess what? They banned escooters last year, because they were sick of them being left blocking handicapped ramps and people blasting down walks at street speeds. And that's happening because the companies are not in the slightest interested in enforcing good behavior. In fact I suspect making sidewalks hostile to pedestrians is part of their business plan, just as making the streets hostile to pedestrians was part of the auto industry's business plan.
posted by tavella at 10:57 AM on November 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

As a denizen of car-locked Seattle, whatever it takes to get people off of using cars is worth the hassle. We can figure out ways, through legal and social pressures, to change usage behaviors. But the main thing is getting automobiles off the road.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:10 AM on November 23, 2019

Combining the last two comments -- if dockless whatevers make the sidewalks worse for pedestrians, they could easily *increase* demand for cars, or rather forestall nervous persons feeling that transit is safe and usable.
posted by clew at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It doesn't seem to pertain to rural/exurban areas. In suburbs, street parking in front of each house is sort of collective payment/collective benefit.

See, this is what I don't get. People are so used to the privileges of cars they completely invent new (free) rights for their cars. Collective payment? Collective benefit? For whom. You pay property taxes for the land up to the street. You don't pay taxes that allow you to appropriate part of the street for you personal use.
posted by JackFlash at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

clew: I can see where you're coming from, but my gut -- completely without supporting data! -- says that the people who say "e-scooters made me more likely to drive" might not be entirely honest with themselves in that claim. I won't universalize my asserstion, obviously, because I'm pretty sure that for people whose mobility is contingent on clear broad sidewalks e-scooters will definitely lead to more car use.

I am in full agreement that scooter shares being dropped on the sidewalk are teh suck, though. I'm just pretty convinced that we're fighting over scraps of public space inches away from the cars in their fenced off commons where even walking is viewed as an undue risk.
posted by ChrisR at 11:21 AM on November 23, 2019

Lots of people's mobility depends on clear sidewalks. I'm mostly dealing with aging people who need carts to get the groceries home. They're also more physically threatened by fast sidewalk vehicles zooming past them. That's not what bus-triers have mentioned to me, but I have stopped to check in with total strangers wheezing in fear after getting zoomed.

I just don't see that the docklesses are replacing driving. I suspect they're replacing transit use for the pretty high-abled. But this is just my gut feeling -- which is why I hope Shoup or the city or both are studying it.

Enforced bike lanes and bus lanes, now *those* can replace driving. Free the 8!
posted by clew at 11:30 AM on November 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

The solution to scooters blocking the sidewalk is simple. Create zones for leaving/picking up dockless vehicles, and treat all others as abandoned property.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:30 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

clew: You're right, I need to be clearer and broaden my statement about sidewalk needs. People with reduced vision also need clear and safe spaces to walk, as well as parents with children etc.
posted by ChrisR at 11:32 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

but we all park our bikes on the sidewalk all the time.

Yeah on a city installed bike rack! Which went through planning considerations and the democratic process. That included public hearings on the public transportation plan, where people with disabilities, pedestrians, and other community groups got to put in their two cents on the impact of this.

For a while I noticed the scooters had locks on them and it looked like people had to take a picture of where they locked it. But they all seem to have given up on that idea, because I don't see that anymore. And thank fucking god - because what would happen is that the chargers would stop in every single night and lock 2 dozen scooters to every single bike rack in the city, making them unusable for actual cyclists.

Why does a private company get to do this kind of shit with no accountability?
posted by bradbane at 11:32 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Why does a private company get to do this kind of shit with no accountability?

Because apparently they can afford a massive amount of chaff and FUD and sending representatives to city meetings, based on ten minutes of Googling. Lots of the `mobility' websites look like wholly-owned-subsidiaries to me. Here's Shoup's website, but I don't see much there about dockless.

(Seattle has been applying Shoup to some neighborhoods, for cars not docks, and I think it works, but I don't think it's loserless -- I know small theater and event managers who hate it.)
posted by clew at 11:54 AM on November 23, 2019

Cities routinely dedicate billions of dollars and uncounted hectares of public property to support the storage of cars in the 90+% of their life that they are idle. By comparison a scooter company using a sliver of sidewalk that you wanted while walking

If you are pro scooters and anti street parking, then make scooter parking spots out of the car spots, like bike shares have done. That is fine. However, as a pedestrian, scooters blocking the sidewalk -- which I only stopped seeing a lot of because it snowed-- are much worse for me than street (free or paid) parking, which never blocks the sidewalk or the curb cuts. And I am mobile and very rarely have a small child or a stroller or my grandmother in her walker (or or or) with me. She would have to, what, take a few blocks detour which she is not able to do, because she certainly can't move a scooter lying across the entire sidewalk.

My city said they would start fining for scooters left where they aren't allowed, so I guess I will see how that works in the spring.
posted by jeather at 11:57 AM on November 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

I don't have to physically leap over cars whilst trying to jog. Cars are sort of "docked", it's just that the docks are massive and everywhere. But with cars I do know where to expect to find them. I'm not running through the park and then suddenly in the middle of the tail a sculpture made of cars randomly has appeared overnight

We actually don't have dockless in Pittsburgh. From what I've seen in cities that do, this is the best decision. We have docked bike share (the docks are almost all in former parking spots). We have dockless Vespa typed scooters, but because those are motor vehicles, they're not really dockless. Any legal street parking spot is their dock. The middle of the sidewalk is not.

The thing about creating "dump your scooter here or else" zones is that the "or else" is meaningless when it isn't your property. I don't leave my bike in the middle of the sidewalk because it's my bike and is like to keep it in good working order. There are bike racks or you find a place to unobtrusively lock your bike up because if you don't someone is going to stomp YOUR bike and now you have to go buy another bike.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:02 PM on November 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

“a curious two-wheeled device...which is propelled by jackasses instead of horses.”

Ha! That's a proper Joke, that is.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:06 PM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I mean, I have to dodge cars that park half in the sidewalk all the time. One example: there's a corner property on my walk to the bus with a garage that opens out to the street and not the alley, and they park two cars in the tiny little "driveway" but the only way to fit is to fully block the sidewalk as well. I mean like maybe there's 18 inches between the front of the cars and their garage door.

And in my city neighborhood that is poorly served by transit - the docked Divvy bike share doesn't even have stations out here - the brief period of time during the scooter trial showed lots of folks using them as actual transportation. I bet even more would ride them now that school is back in session and traffic is so backed up from everyone driving their kids to school that the buses take forever.

My understanding is Divvy is expanding to include e-assist, dockless bikes that have a built in cable lock so you must lock it up when you're done using it. I'm looking forward to seeing how that works. While yes it's not your property if it gets destroyed, you can get booted from the app/service for not parking it property.

All of these things can be true at the same time:
1. Venture capital hides the true cost of "disruptive" transportation modes so we don't really know what a profitable or break-even scooter program looks like.
2. Poorly parked scooters are a hazard for pedestrians (and cyclists - I've seen them dumped or toppled over into bike lanes).
3. Scooters as currently designed/built seem too flimsy for long term public rental use, making the environmental case for them suspect at best; especially when you factor in the vehicles driving around to charge and redistribute them every night.
4. Docked bike systems also require vehicles driving around to redistribute them and for maintenance.
5. Rental bikes and scooters can be a useful part of expanding the transportation network - again, my neighborhood is a 20-25-minute bus ride from the nearest train station or I can bike/scooter it in under 15, plus the time saved not having to wait for the bus to actually arrive. When I bike, I usually pass 2-3 buses in the 2.5 miles between my house and the train station.
6. Privately owned cars take up so much of the space of our cities for both driving and parking that the rest of the modes are left fighting for scraps.
7. It is imperative that cities find ways to get people out of cars, and the way to do that is to expand and improve the transportation network. It's not just the short trips, either. If one leg of a public transit journey (i.e. my bus route) is miserable and slow, a person may decide to drive the whole thing. I have done this myself.
8. Better public transit (more buses, more trains, more frequent service, dedicated and enforced bus/bike only lanes, bus rapid transit, etc.) is the best solution but is hard to get the political and financial support. Alternative transportation modes are another part of the solution.
9. Not everyone who can ride a bike wants to ride a scooter, and not everyone who would ride a scooter can or wants to ride a bike.

To me, the answer isn't to say "oh well" when an alternative mode creates equity and mobility issues, but it's also not necessarily to ban them entirely. The answer is to encourage *well-regulated and well-planned* alternative transportation modes and the infrastructure to support them.

Just because something is hard or complex doesn't mean we shouldn't try if there is value in a well-executed version of it. There are issues with the way scooters are currently being introduced to cities and the problems may seem intractable, but there should be ways to make this work. For the sake of our planet and the sake of livable cities I think we have to be open to doing so.
posted by misskaz at 2:42 PM on November 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

I don't live in an urban area where these things congregate, but I imagine they'd make my life as a blind pedestrian really fun if I did. I already struggled with bike racks which just happen to be at the right height for my knees.

I like cars, as unfriendly as they are, if only because they're big enough they tend to be in mostly predictable places, and make noise, or used to, when moving. These things I'm less sure about.
posted by Alensin at 3:04 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah on a city installed bike rack! Which went through planning considerations and the democratic process. That included public hearings on the public transportation plan, where people with disabilities, pedestrians, and other community groups got to put in their two cents on the impact of this.

Are you saying that cyclist are (and should) only be allowed to park their bikes on city-installed bike racks? Because that's pretty far from the reality in any city I've ever been in, where cyclists use signposts, fences, etc to lock their bikes.
posted by ssg at 4:20 PM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just last night I walked past 5 dockless scooters and a Citibike dock in an ~8 block walk. The dock full of bikes cut the width of the sidewalk such that it is questionable whether two wheelchairs could pass. All 5 of the scooters were parked on the edge of the sidewalk and parallel to it or off in the grass.

That is an unusually low density of poorly parked scooters, but there are always bikes blocking the sidewalk. (which in that case is technically a MUT, FWIW)
posted by wierdo at 4:33 PM on November 23, 2019

Philly has tons of bikes and they rarely if ever block the sidewalk. They often ride on the sidewalk, though, despite (and often directly adjacent to) dedicated bike lanes. People are jerks. It's just a fact.

Thankfully we are free of the scooter scourge and rich in public transit options.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:50 PM on November 23, 2019

For those of us stuck with hourly or half hourly bus service (when things are running well, anyway), those scooters look pretty attractive, at least when they aren't in a position to be tripped over. As I've mentioned before, the people riding the scooters seem to be getting better at not leaving them in the way, at least where I live.

I don't like how they initially just dumped them on the streets, but things have improved significantly now that there are some rules in place that are forcing the scooter companies to consider the needs of everyone using the space and they are giving in-app reminders telling riders not to be asshats (and how). Not that that stops jerks from knocking them over after the fact..
posted by wierdo at 5:10 PM on November 23, 2019

As a cranky velocipedienne in a place with no dockless scooter rental, my only slight beef with e-scooters is when someone toots up the bike lane behind me and passes me at a pretty good clip, completely silently. I'm trying to get used to it but I'm having trouble. I need to reinstate my bike mirror so I don't get surprised so often because I currently jump a little every time when someone just appears.

Also, I worry about light placement for scooters so that people riding them can be visible in the dark. Front is fine, but back is super low and will take getting used to for drivers (many of whom still struggle to understand bike lights, so).
posted by urbanlenny at 5:32 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

did a scooter write this article
posted by Maaik at 7:11 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Singapore suddenly banned scooters on footpaths this month after several accidents and it's been complicated. We're essentially a small dense city-state with a lot of cars and a very peculiar bike law loophole: bikes are allowed on pedestrian paths and roads, so e-scooters were waved in as well. Food delivery has always been routine here, and it exploded with apps and scooters to become a small industry.

Car ownership is also complicated because the government controls it very tightly through taxation - a very basic family car like a Toyota costs about US$50,000 and has to be traded in after 10 years, with steep annual fees. Only 11% of Singaporeans own cars, but there are a million cars in a city of 6.5 million people.... We have a very fucked up GINI.

We've got a good public transit system, but there is one big obstacle people forget: IT'S REALLY REALLY HOT AND HUMID. Yes, you could bike or walk the last mile to work, but you would turn up at work drenched in sweat. The only people who can do this are people who have showers at their office and are either high-end professionals or people working in outdoor work.

So PMDs took off in a big way here. Lots of people have them - my house had three at one point shared between kids. The accident rate for PMDs was extremely low compared to the bicycle rate or the car rate, but they got banned anyway. No-one is sure why.

What hasn't been brought up in any of the debate about this is why the government hasn't put any money into retrofitting our roads to accommodate the obvious huge demand for bikes, e-bikes and PMDs to be able to safely use the roads in a cycle-lane.

They've said they'll introduce a park-cycle lane, but that's for leisure riding which is entirely different from actually being able to use the road network to go places for well, work and school and life stuff.

I think the bigger question really is: what is the city designed for? Make it work for people who don't have fucking cars. Except the people who do the designs and approve the designs inevitably have cars.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:53 PM on November 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

The scooter-velocipede parallel is kinda BS for all the reasons mentioned above, but I'm struck by how well anti-velocipede rhetoric tracks with contemporary anti-unicycle rhetoric. Apparently there's just a sort of constant reservoir of loathing for nonstandard transportation choices.
posted by Not A Thing at 5:44 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think the bigger question really is: what is the city designed for? Make it work for people who don't have fucking cars. Except the people who do the designs and approve the designs inevitably have cars.
Also usually reserved parking spots in desirable locations. I often wonder what my city (DC) would look like in a decade if the mayor & council members were required by law to take transit or had to find legal parking like every other commuter rather than having reserved spots or the knowledge that they won’t be ticketed if they park illegally.
posted by adamsc at 6:43 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm struck by how well anti-velocipede rhetoric tracks with contemporary anti-unicycle rhetoric

Is there a lot of contemporary anti unicycle rhetoric? I have not heard its merits discussed or the plague of unicyclists raged against.
posted by jeather at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

The only unicycles I have seen in the last few years are those electric ones where people stand on the pegs and (I think) lean forward or back to control the speed. They don't look all that safe but I've seen people riding in traffic and keeping up with cars, so...
posted by Dip Flash at 8:16 AM on November 24, 2019

There is a small number of people who ride unicycles. I only know one personally. Precisely because it is so uncommon they draw a lot of attention, and "mocked as fops pursuing a ludicrous pastime" seems a pretty common response.
posted by RobotHero at 8:35 AM on November 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have not heard its merits discussed or the plague of unicyclists raged against.

Rage is not too hard to find; check the comments of just about any mainstream story about unicyclists. Violent ideation ("Given how much I hate unicyclists and clowns, I’d have run him over, cell phone or no."; or regarding unicyclist run over by bus: "I hope the police decide to charge him with something. Think of the shock that poor bus driver must have gone through, let alone any passengers.") is often paired with loathing of unicyclists as hipsters and/or show-offs (e.g. Reddit's running gag about how every campus has "that one guy" who rides a unicycle and is obviously desperate for attention). Cf. the derision and calls for violence against early bicyclists in the OP.

Sam Shuster wrote a couple of papers on onlooker response to the act of unicycling, finding it rather creepily paired with male aggression. (BMJ paper, followup paper in Psychology Research & Behavior Management paper that wanders off into weird sociobiological speculation).
Ninety percent of responses from women were supportive, praising, and concerned, whereas 80% of men responded with a snide, aggressive, repetitive joke, most often a variant of “lost a wheel”? In children, the response was one of interest and curiosity. In older boys, it was one of aggression, often physical. In the later teens this became more verbal, with transition to an aggressive, snide, adult male “joke”.
I have definitely encountered this on a personal level as well, although somewhat blunted by my preference for riding late at night and/or in remote places with few onlookers.

Curious if e-scooter riders have encountered similar animus, or if e-scooters have already been so thoroughly mainstreamed that it doesn't come up.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:22 AM on November 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Dockless personal transport was first articulated in Provo's White Bike proposal, whose planners were ultimately involved in creating bike sharing as we know it.

Socialists & anarchists prototyped and mapped the design space, which remained dormant until the technology and municipal will arrived.

"We're getting a lot of data from the dockless disaster to design something that works" is kind of true, but I would say it is really an example of conceptual laundering. Socialist ideas are re-articulated by cynical capitalists who use the sheer volume of their data to avoid proper citation practice.
posted by head full of air at 11:17 AM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I understand the very real frustration of scooters taking up pedestrian space, and that's a real problem.

But don't write off cars "because cookies", as if a frivolous bit of colour in an analogy somehow invalidates the point.

The hire companies can go to hell for all I care, but scooters themselves are not the root cause, here.

Cars are.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:58 PM on November 24, 2019

Are you saying that cyclist are (and should) only be allowed to park their bikes on city-installed bike racks? Because that's pretty far from the reality in any city I've ever been in, where cyclists use signposts, fences, etc to lock their bikes.

You have to lock it to something, I don't know anyone who would choose a random signpost if there was dedicated "real" bike parking. The solution is to build more dedicated bike infrastructure, preferably by removing parking and installing racks en masse that are not in the sidewalk. Then everybody wins, except people who store their cars in the road.

But the real point I was making is that cyclists, and their organizations, have gone through a public & democratic process to get the public space in their local neighborhoods changed.

That's not what is happening with scooters at all.
posted by bradbane at 2:28 PM on November 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have not heard its merits discussed or the plague of unicyclists raged against.

There's a guy in my city who unicycles through the winter and my entire being explodes with joy every time I catch a glimpse of him.
posted by urbanlenny at 3:53 PM on November 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

A wood-and-steel velocipede, thrown in the river by yobs, does not leak heavy metals, poisons, and flammables in the same way that a contemporary, Li-Ion battery-powered e-scooter does. So without policies ensuring safe return of the vehicles when the rental period is over, the modern devices pose a much higher risk to the environment.

I pulled two scooters out of the river downtown a couple of weeks ago. We're a coastal city, so the river gets salt water pushed up the estuary by the tides -- and the electronic guts of a drowned scooter is ruined very quickly, and even if they are rescued promptly they can't be repaired. When the company in question has already abandoned the city as a market, it goes from "vanishingly unlikely" to "absolutely certain" that abandoned scooters will never be recovered.

Whereas an abandoned bike will quietly rust away.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:42 AM on November 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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