Don’t vilify scooters

If regulated, they can be good for Sacramento

Kirin Kumar is executive director of WALKSacramento, which advocates for active transportation to make the region healthier, safer and more sustainable.

Kirin Kumar is executive director of WALKSacramento, which advocates for active transportation to make the region healthier, safer and more sustainable.

For many, just the thought of motorized scooters from companies such as Lime, Bird and Jump can induce a panic. And in many cases, rightfully so.

In cities across California—including Santa Monica, San Jose and San Diego—scooters have cluttered walking and bike paths, sped rapidly down sidewalks and blocked access for the disabled.

A recent lawsuit filed on behalf of disability rights groups in San Diego accuses the city of allowing scooter providers to operate with a disregard for those protected by the Americans with Disability Act. These are major issues, that if go unresolved, will not only continue to impact pedestrians, but can lead to providers being banned and riders moving back into their cars.

Scooters have already landed in Sacramento, with more on their way. The City Council is scheduled to vote March 26 on an amendment to the ordinance regulating “shared rideables” including bicycles and scooters. These amendments seek to proactively address many of the concerns other cities have faced by requiring companies to help pay for parking, by fining those who leave electric bikes and scooters blocking the sidewalk and imposing permit fees that ensure the city has adequate resources to manage the shared rideables. While we at WALKSacramento fully support these amendments, it’s important to also consider the underlying reason we continue to have this fight: car-oriented design of cities.

Whether you like them or not, it’s difficult to argue that getting more people out of their cars and on to shared bikes and scooters isn’t a good thing for the planet. Uber has shown that there have been more rides in downtown Sacramento on Jump bikes than in Uber vehicles. We also hear from women in Sacramento that scooters are much easier to use than bikes when wearing dresses. And while there have certainly been cases where people have been injured riding scooters, we must also consider the health benefits of traveling by an active mode of transportation.

Given the benefits of these kinds of travel options, many of us in the active transportation advocacy world are still quick to vilify scooters and their riders. Often the arguments center around user behavior and uncooperative providers.

Instead, I think we should consider the scooter craze as a boon to our work, enabling thousands of new users to experience our streets—and the need for improvement—first hand. City streets that allocate a minimal amount of space to healthy, alternative forms of travel while prioritizing motor vehicles are going to continue to leave pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and everyone else fighting for limited space.

We must use this opportunity to collectively push our cities to rethink how we allocate space on our streets. Wider sidewalks, more protected bicycle lanes, more pedestrian crossings and narrower travel lanes not only make things safer for all roadway users, but encourage more people to walk, bike or scooter.

At the end of the day, common-sense regulations are a must. But to truly be proactive, California cities must dramatically rethink how our streets work for people of all ages, abilities and modes.