Meandering the streets of Venice, my partner and I—a pair that often takes random if not needless trips to various parts of L.A. every week because I have an insatiable need to know what other cities are doing compared to Long Beach—stood aghast after taking a pause and gawking at the sidewalks of Abbot Kinney: a tangle of electronic scooters sat in every place imaginable, from the middle of the street—no joke—to the middle of the sidewalk in mini-heaps of four or five.
Pedestrians, rightfully irked, would eye them distastefully as they maneuvered around them. We even watched as one man, along Washington Boulevard, motored up toward a bar entrance at a good 15 mph on a scooter, slammed to a stop, dropped the scooter in the middle of the entrance, and scooted his lack of consideration into the bar.
In other words: I get the frustration (though I think smearing feces on them in protest is a bit dramatic and inappropriate).
And for many municipalities, the frustration has been loud enough to sanction various bans on them. San Francisco forced Bird and Lime, the country’s two largest e-scooter operators, off the street until they apply for certain permits. West Hollywood has implemented an all-out ban, much to the chagrin of its younger residents.
Rather than dismissing the scooters by banning them—something San Diego is now considering along its boardwalk after a crash caused serious injuries, leading to potential bans in other places misplaced call for safety—Long Beach has done something entirely different.
They want to actually create a pilot program around the scooters. Yup, they want to look at how they can actually incorporate an alternative mode of transit rather than being rashly irrational, inviting scooter companies—Bird and Lime included—to work with them to best implement their business model.
What does this mean? This means creating hubs where the operator is responsible for returning all the scooters to at the end of each day. This means managing data and figuring out how users are actually using the scooters. This means creating an outline of rules, regulations and riding laws.
In other words, Long Beach is looking to make its streets better for all modes of transit, including one that is increasingly popular among younger crowds—they just want to do it in way where we’re avoiding piles of scooters left in random places and evading a possible nuisance.
And that deserves applause.
See, those young folks in West Hollywood are right about one thing: scooters are quicker and more convenient than bikes—convenience, attached indirectly to laziness, mind you, is arguably the biggest hump in getting folks out of their cars—and they’re far more environmentally sound than vehicles as well as more traffic-efficient.
So the real question isn’t about banning them, continuing to socialize large portions of our roads to individual car use, but rather how to accommodate multiple user modes and get people to start using their car less.
“The real question that we were attempting to address is: How can we improve mobility?” Eric Widstrand, a traffic engineer with the City of Long Beach, said. “And in this particular case with this pilot program, it’s really about the first-mile, last-mile of people’s commute. That is key. Even more, it’s about something the city itself can manage rather than dismiss or deal with.”
Because some have noted that back in the day, indeed, scooters were part of the everyday life of the urban fabric—and I mean back in the day:
Everything old is new again. pic.twitter.com/97Ft4Db38h
— Autonomous Law (@SafeSelfDrive) April 21, 2018
We had several modes of transportation that catered to efficiency and accessibility—and surely, though the reality is that we’ve handed our streets back to cars, it doesn’t mean we can’t be proactive in figuring out how to retract that.
Because clearly, more Americans want more ways to move around outside a car.
Lyft bought the country’s largest bike share operator, Motivate, on top of launching Lyft Bikes. Uber has added electric-bike operator Jump and Lime scooters to its app. What this means is that, whether the scooters and electric bikes are controlled or not, by the end of this year, millions of people in the country’s largest cities—over 150 of them—will be able to rent bikes and scooters with the tap of a finger.
Cities have to accommodate them—and unlike the majority of those cities, Long Beach is making room for their operation and not running them over.
The pilot program will begin to roll out in August, according to Windstrand, and run through October 30. After that, the City will evaluate the performances of each and direct more permanent action.
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