The revolution is in peril

Now that “personal mobility” is getting to be a thing, the public safety implications of emerging personal transportation options like electric scooters is getting more press. I was particularly struck by a recent Associated Press report headlined (in the Oregonian) “Worldwide scooter booms leads to more serious injuries, fatalities.”

The story begins with one scooter riders near brush with death: “Andrew Hardy was crossing the street on an electric scooter in downtown Los Angeles when a car struck him at 50 miles per hour and flung him 15 feet in the air before he smacked his head on the pavement and fell unconscious.”

Long story short, Hardy suffered extensive injuries, including several broken bones, but miraculously lived to tell about it. 

And what was the take-away from Hardy’s near brush with death?

“These scooters should not be available to the public,” he told AP. “Those things are like a death wish.”

Now maybe it’s just me. But shouldn’t the takeaway be the absolute insanity of any motorist in any downtown in any city in America being able to drive 50 mph? 

Is the bottom line here that we need to stop riding e-scooters anywhere within potential collision distance of motor vehicles that are routinely being driven so fast and so carelessly that the rider’s life and limb would be in peril as a result of that proximity?

No question there are legitimate issues that need to be resolved as the e-scooter – or the e-bike or the e-pogo stick or e-whatever comes next – craze continues to spread in American cities. Who should be allowed to share sidewalk space or bike lanes and who should get precedence therein? And how do you control e-clutter in ride-share situations when the things can be picked up and dropped off anywhere a respective rider cares to begin and end?

All of that conceded, the bottom line, whether one’s personal mobility device of choice be scooter, bicycle, skates pogo stick or just good old fashion shoe leather is the same in virtually every instance.

We have deliberately built our communities and designed our public streets for the convenience of people who encase themselves inside fast and powerful motor vehicles. We design everything from lane width to speed limits to intersections to pedestrian crossings to curb cuts to turning radius with the primary intention of allowing people to drive as quickly and as efficiently as possible through the urban landscape. This because being forced to sit in traffic is considered the closest thing to a cardinal sin in autoAmerica.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We know how to design our streets to be less auto-centric and more forgiving for walkers, cyclists, scooter riders and other living things. What we lack is the political courage to do the right thing.

Do we really want to restrict e-scooter traffic because drivers deem it their right to travel move at 40-45-50 mph or faster in the middle of a city? Must pedestrians really be obliged by law to walk a quarter of a mile, or even further, just to get to the nearest designated crosswalk so they can safely cross to the other side? Most won’t. We know that. Most will simply look for a gap in traffic and take their chances. And when that happens with the predictable tragic consequences, will we continue to blame the “jaywalker” and give the innocent motorist a pass?

Back to the AP report: “There are no comprehensive statistics available but a rough count…turned up at least 11 electric scooter rider deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of 2018. Nine were on rented scooters and two on ones the victims owned. With summer fast approaching, the numbers will undoubtedly grow as more riders take to the streets.”

Let’s put that into perspective, shall we? 

Roughly 11 e-scooter deaths in a year and a half in autoAmerica 

In 2017 more than 40,000 people died in motor vehicle collisions. Including some 6,000 pedestrians and cyclists. 

Oh, and bike-ped deaths are on the increase even as traffic deaths in general have been declining. Put differently, we have insured that people inside automobiles are safer than ever. Meanwhile, people on foot or on bicycles are in more jeopardy with each passing year.  

“Across the nation, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% since 2010 and pedestrian deaths have risen by a staggering 45%. More people are being killed because cities are encouraging residents to walk and bike, but their roads are still dominated by fast-moving vehicular traffic,” John Ronnie Short, public policy professor at the University of Maryland, writes on As my research has shown, this shifting mix can be deadly.”

So, yes, by all means, we need to have a public conversation about how to meld all of the emerging forms of the personal mobility revolution into the mainstream of public life. But make no mistake. So long as we continue to concede our streets and roads to lead-footed drivers, this revolution will be a bloody one indeed.   

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