ELECTRIC BIKES, SCOOTERS AND OTHER LIGHTWEIGHT EVS ARE AWESOME
There is an entirely new class of mobility that has been quietly developing and evolving over the past few years. They are electric bikes, electric scooters and a whole new crop of lightweight electric vehicles
They are starting to show up everywhere in cities and rapidly adopted by enthusiastic users.
And have awesome superpowers.
These new lightweight EVs keep most of the benefits of cars, cut travel times, are easy and convenient, help flatten hills, increase range, and marginalize fatigue and sweating, without the terrible drawbacks of cars: their enormous weight, size, danger, inefficiency, huge parking costs, pollution, expensive infrastructure, degradation of neighborhoods, etc.
Not to mention, they are incredibly green, help reduce traffic, cut car crash deaths, cut pollution, and eliminate carbon emissions from urban mobility.
Recently dockless e-scooter and e-wheel companies, fueled by some serious cash, have been rapidly expanding in many cities.
Users love them. But many city official have been throwing a fit.
San Francisco just issued a cease and desist letter to Bird, LimeBike, and Spin telling them they should’ve waited for a permitting process, crying that they are “creating a public nuisance on the city’s streets and sidewalks and endangering public health and safety.”
DOCKLESS ISN’T THE PROBLEM
Dockless bikes and scooters are not actually the problem.
For decades now, cars have gotten the royal treatment. Users were able to pick up their cars and drop them off anywhere in the city thanks to the automobile parking that is all around, from street parking, to business parking lots, to single family homes with driveways and garages, to large parking structures.
Thus, the user experience for drivers is essentially go anywhere, park anywhere. It is simply expected that anywhere one goes in a city, one could be guaranteed a free, giant space to park one’s private 4000 pound box, no questions asked.
Sure, in some dense areas, payment is now required. Yet private vehicle parking is essentially considered a right. We know this because when we can’t find parking for more than two minutes, we get upset. 5 minutes? We get very upset.
We also know this because parking is quite literally law, with parking minimums mandated for homes, businesses, and just about every building that is built or remodeled. We’ve mandated that the space that could otherwise we utilized for affordable housing, parks, cafes, or other human uses is legally required to serve as public storage for urban tanks and a free subsidy to oil and car companies.
If a city all of a sudden woke up to find the same amount of parking for cars as there is now for bikes/scooters, there wouldn’t be a few angry tweets (as there is now for new dockless bikes/scooters), but riots in the streets (ironically blocking all the cars).
For the first time, scooters and bikes, the absolute rockstars of urban mobility, have started coming close to enjoying a similar user experience as cars: the convenience of go anywhere, park anywhere.
If cities mandate that car parking should be ubiquitous, why shouldn’t bikes have the same convenience, especially considering they require 10 times less space than cars and offer the enormous efficiency, environmental, cost, and health benefits listed above.
Cities should strive to quickly figure out how to make scooter/bike parking as accessible as car parking. The fact that they haven’t already done so exposes an inherent discrimination. Instead, cities are now pointing their fingers at the dockless companies and blaming them for blocked sidewalks.
We don’t ask GM, Ford, or Toyota to solve car parking (or even pedestrian deaths, traffic, and other car issues). So why are we asking LimeBike, Bird, or Spin to solve bike/scooter storage?
CITIES CAUGHT WITH THEIR PANTS DOWN
A lay person reading about these new forms of mobility would think that an infestations or disease had hit their cities, with “scooters that have descended”on cities.
But they are not the problem. Not by a long shot.
What this sudden adoption reveals is two things:
- Pent up latent demand of alternate mobility choices
- Woefully inflexible city streets, tiny sidewalks, and bad urban planning
What is almost a mantra in American cities, “no one walks or bikes,” is actually the cause of low rates of walking/biking due to little to no attention given to good walk/bike infrastructure and mass transit. Resources for road “engineering” were (and still are) therefore almost exclusively dedicated to the automobile (from funds, to road space, to engineering talent), making it ridiculously difficult to actually get around most American cities without a car. This is the modern urban mobility self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, as soon as the convenience notch is turned up for alternatives, as dockless bikes/scooters are doing with electrification and round-the-corner access, people have started biking and scooting, exposing the myth that there is no demand.
The issues cities are having with bikes/scooters taking up sidewalk space is merely a symptom, not the actual problem. Inflexible streets, tiny sidewalks, and bad urban design are the real culprits. Streets have historically served dozens of purposes. They have always been space for walking, street vendors, festivals, hanging out, street performers, markets, outdoor cafes, etc. They are not single use highways for speeding for 4000 pound boxes.
So dockless bikes/scooters are also exposing just how inflexible cities have made their streets. As soon as a minor new technology is adopted, chaos seems to ensue. Real streets would not have blinked at this relatively small shift in mobility habits.
VC money did accelerate the adoption of bikes/scooters faster than anyone expected. Yet it laid bare the bad design and poor planning that was there all along.
Dockless caught cities with their pants down.
CITIES SHOULD RAPIDLY EMBRACE, NOT PENALIZE OR SLOW DOCKLESS LIGHTWEIGHT EVS
These new modes of mobility, have been an absolute godsends. They are potential set to help solve countless serious urban and planetary problems: climate change, traffic, pollution, equity, car crash deaths, expensive car infrastructure, etc.
As much as city officials love talking about these issues, when faced with of the possibility of fixing these previously unimaginably intractable issues with lightweight electric vehicles, they seem to be are showing their true colors. Or at least showing utter lack of spine and open-mindedness.
What’s the issue? Some blocked sidewalks. As if that was a new issue in cities.
Cities habitually ignore cars blocking sidewalks and bike lanes. And that is an ACTUAL issue. You can’t just pick up a damn car and move it.
City officials should be falling over themselves to court dockless sharing companies who have literally put a solution to so many of our local and global problems right under our noses, not trying to set up slow, bureaucratic permitting systems in place.
Blocked sidewalks are not trivial, but if officials wanted to, they could easily solve that problem overnight.
One quick fix: designate one car parking stop near every street corner as drop-off spots for dockless lightweight EVs. Problem solved.
Now, was that so hard?