Dear Decaturish – On the joys of scooting
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Electric scooters have arrived in Decatur, and they do not appear to be winning the battle for hearts and minds in our city.
I like the scooters. I think that they are useful and fun. Detractors complain that they are inherently dangerous, and represent an imminent threat to both riders and pedestrians on Decatur’s sidewalks. My experiences aboard Bird’s version suggest that a scooter ride is approximately as dangerous as a bicycle ride. Furthermore, I’ve seen fewer scooters blockading sidewalks than my social media feed would lead me to believe. Despite relentless assertions, no online foe has yet presented compelling evidence of remarkable hardship caused by the e-scooter industry in Decatur or beyond.
This is not to say that frustration with the scooter services is completely baseless. No rational argument can be made that a ragtag assortment of precariously balanced two-wheelers makes the city sidewalks more attractive. And any blockade, even one constructed unintentionally, is worse than no blockade.
The vitriol leveled at these scooters, however, is out of proportion to the hazards that they represent. That’s because we aren’t arguing about scooters. If we woke tomorrow in a world in which an optimal number of scooters were thoughtfully parked in designated zones, where every rider was 18 years of age and wore a helmet, and where Bird and Lime magnanimously shared half of their profits with Decatur – the same people would still hate the scooters.
The scooter debate is a canary in a coal mine. The real debate is about speed, and convenience, and whether it’s possible to design a network that is hospitable to pedestrians (and cyclists, and scooters) and doesn’t place an undue burden on motorists. For motorists, every unoccupied bicycle lane and scofflaw scooter that they see from behind the wheel is another turn of the screw: this drive used to be a lot faster – what are they thinking?
I am privileged to be in a situation where I can often take advantage of 15 mph solutions to get to the places that I need to go each day. For the vast majority of people moving through Decatur during the week, this is not reality. The same vast majority thus concludes that these vehicles are annoying toys. That is not the case. As population density increases, it is in drivers’ best interest that everyone in my shoes – even if that number is now relatively small – opts for a scooter or bike over a car, as often as possible.
Yesterday’s road-widening project is almost certainly going to be tomorrow’s road diet. If kicking the scooters out of town feels like a win against this sort of “progress,” it’ll be a short-lived win. And you may be unwittingly eliminating a singular tool in the fight against gridlock. Before you conclude that they have nothing to offer, take one for a ride. I would welcome a few confederates.
– Brad Patterson