18 Nov 2019


Street Justice: Scooters are Bad Like Cars Were/Are Bad

Gordon Chaffin is a freelance journalist who focuses on infrastructure and traffic news and insights for Street Justice. You can support independent journalism by subscribing to Gordon’s newsletter. He’s offering a 20% discount to THIH readers.  –Maria Helena Carey

New Lime scooter model (version 3.0) next to the old version at the Rhode Island Metro Station. (Gordon Chaffin / StreetJustice.news)

Lime Deploys Their 3.0 E-Scooter

Today, Lime deployed to DC its third version electric scooter. I tested the 3.0 model 10 months ago at Transportation Camp DC. You can read my review for free, but here are the takeaways:

“Lime’s 3rd model is the first fleet scooter I’ve seen that I would ride more than a block. It’s not a 2000-era Razor scooter with rollerblade wheels and an electric motor.”

“The rear wheel includes a 750W electric motor capable of 20 mph. … the wheels are wider and have proper tires on them. The fork has shocks along with a plastic cable management channel pushing hydraulic fluid to the disc brakes. … Lime put the internal battery pack into the floor, which lowers the center of gravity, making the scooter easier to ride on mixed terrain and steering kind of like a bike or surf board. … Lime discussed using a removable, swappable battery to keep their fleet charged up in the field, but decided the tech/engineering wasn’t ready yet.”

“[Lime] said the new model costs basically the same as the old, crappy one. So, Lime seems to be betting the new ones last longer—and therefore pay off the fixed cost of manufacture before the units poop out. Bird seems to both think they can make their scooters cheaper and last longer. That depreciation/marginal value intersection point is the key to sustainability as companies. I think Lime’s gambit is more likely to work. Bird’s new Zero is less capable than Lime’s 3.0 spec.”

“Lime’s 3.0 has a tab throttle on the right handle and a lever brake on the left handle. There’s a bell. It makes a nice sound.”

New Lime scooter model (version 3.0) next to the old version at the Rhode Island Metro Station. (Gordon Chaffin / StreetJustice.news)

Since I wrote that review, DC-area jurisdictions have been finalizing regulations for electric scooter and e-bike operations. This weekend, Arlington County adopted a 15 mph speed limit on roadways, 15 mph on trails, and 6 mph on sidewalks. That is, in practice, unenforceable. The GPS units in the scooters aren’t accurate enough to figure out whether a user is riding in a curbside bike lane or on the adjacent sidewalk. All of the permitted scooters now have speedometers.

There are a few categories of shared electric mobility rules. Some are automatically iron-clad — driven by software in the scooter or app — and some require human enforcement. The speed limits are driven by the company software, which cuts the motor off at a certain speed. But, again, the GPS error is too high for road vs. sidewalk speed rules. In practice, the speed limit is 15 unless you get deep into a pedestrian space.

Limiting the operation of scooters and dockless bikes to certain areas — “geofencing” — is easier to execute. Large areas of National Park Service land are in theory and practice off-limits. You might be able to ride a scooter a few feet onto an NPS park, but it will quickly stop you. This is true of jurisdictional boundaries. You might be able to get a dozen feet into Prince George’s County, but you can’t stop your ride there unless the company is permitted.

As I’ve reported, more capable scooter models are better for safety. 15 mph is safer than 10 mph when considering holistically the risks of scooter use. A 10 mph limit makes it impossible to comfortably mix with vehicle traffic, which means more users ride on the sidewalk, which then means more likely pedestrian collisions. 15 mph is around the median bike speed and therefore a more comfortable zone for riding scooters in bike lanes, therefore less sidewalk riding.

These newer-model scooters have better kickstands and companies have accountability provisions built into their apps. Some require a picture of the parking location before it stops your ride aka the time you’re being charged. Some have user fees for improperly parked scooters if the company is reprimanded by the Transportation or Public Works departments.

The three most important maxims for shared electric mobility are: (1) theoretical rules are inert unless enforced (in an unbiased manner; note the opening here to harrass black and brown users); (2) that those rules don’t change user behavior if people don’t feel safe following them (even when they know the rules); (3) and that scooters are much, much safer than cars. Public safety on roads, sidewalks, and other public travel space is under much greater threat by car use than scooter use. Nearly every complaint of scooter users applies even more so to motorists.

These are facts, this is physics; not anti-car propaganda. 100 years ago, when public space was taken from pedestrians to build roads for cars, the same things were said of automobile dangers that are now said about scooters. We fear scooter riders as we once feared drivers. The difference is that cars were and are more dangerous than scooters. Force = mass * acceleration. Another difference, too, is that governments regulate scooter use now more than they regulated automobile use when that technology went mainstream. In fact, we blamed pedestrians for the danger cars inflicted on them. Governments outlawed walking in the street — criminalizing the victim’s behavior — so that dangerous car drivers would have fewer pesky obstacles.

Safety Studies, Improvements Pushed for in Eckington, DC

The Eckington Civic Association (inside ANC 5E) — the most ambitious pro-street safety civic association in DC — met with DDOT for a walkthrough of the neighborhood Thursday. Eckington includes the MBT, Dave Thomas Circle, lots of land parcels in the pipeline for multi-family, mixed-use development, and is bound by Florida Avenue NE, North Capital St, and Rhode Island Avenue NE. ECA submitted traffic safety assessment requests to DDOT August 13th, 2019 for eight highly-used roads by all types of travel modes.

[Full Story]

Palisades ANC Supports Palisades Trolley Trail

At last week’s ANC 3D (Palisades/Foxhall/Spring Valley) meeting, the Commission voted 9-1 to send a letter to DDOT supporting the restoration/replacement of the pedestrian bridge over Arizona Avenue NW [DDOT project page], along the alignment of the Palisades Trolley Trail. The letter also supports the design and installation of a shared-use path from Galena Place NW to the Palisades Recreation Center. The document also supports a new trail where the Trolley right of way is now used as a grass path — east from the Palisades Rec Center to the intersection of Sherrier Place and Nebraska Avenue NW, where the Battery Kemble Trail terminates. [Full Story]

How the MBT Gets Through Takoma, DC

In July, ANC 4B01 Commissioner Evan Yeats took rode me through potential routes the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) can take through downtown Takoma, DC. Yeats represents the neighborhood next to the Takoma Metrorail station. There are a few blocks of retail and restaurants, but it’s not very inviting or safe to travel around there on foot or bike. With the reconstruction of the 4th/Blair/Cedar NW intersection — completing Spring 2020 — and the MBT coming through in the next few years, Takoma could get much safer and transit-oriented. Despite maybe the most prolific historic preservation and anti-development NIMBYs in all of DC, some of the MBT-adjacent land is getting improved with more housing and locally-owned businesses. [Full Story]

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