44.6 F
Seattle
Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Scootergeddon? Ready or Not, Here They Come

Jetson Scooters
$599/$89. 15/6mph
“Power Trip”/”envy-inducing cosmic sparkle”

The rush to electric scooters as a solution to urban congestion and traffic woes is hitting town in a very Seattle way: cautiously, processed-to-death—and maybe too late.

Earlier this summer, the City Council authorized a pilot program to scooterize one neighborhood with an e-scooter share program and see how it works out, but that plan’s not likely to see legislative light
until early 2020 at best.

King County is more sanguine: The Stranger reported this week that King County Council member Joe McDermott hopes to have a pilot project up and running in White Center before the end of this year.

Riptide R1 Electric Skateboard
$599. 18mph
“Serious speed in a compact package”

But the high promise of using rent-a-scoots for commuters’ last mile to office or coffee-shop has begun to tarnish even in California’s early-adoption heaven: Things seem to be going well in casual, beachfront Santa Monica, but San Diego has laid significant limits on how, when, and where scooters can be used. Relentlessly laid-back Santa Barbara decided against allowing scooter rentals at all. San Francisco’s streets were littered with the things until they were abruptly banned last year until a few rules could be sorted out.

E-scooter companies had glommed on to the share business after initial trials showed some riders preferred them to bike shares. And of course Silicon Valley wasn’t far behind with piles of cash to fuel the next transportation revolution. Though Seattle still has two bike-share companies active, experience in other cities suggests that the scooters could capture a big part of the share market, dooming Lime bikes et al. But are we already too late to be experimenting? By this summer Time magazine cogently questioned whether the autonomous-scooter-rental model would ever pay off for investors.

Razor E-Punk Minibike
$159.99 9mph Range: 40 min.
“PUNK YOUR RIDE”

In theory the Seattle municipal code recognizes the existence of such devices; in practice, it makes no distinction between an essential life-style machine like a powered wheelchair moving a stately 6 mph and a $1800 one-wheeled plaything for the young-well-off-and reckless, capable of speeds in excess of 25 mph.

Council proponents of e-vehicles (mainly the irrepressible and soon to depart Mike O’Brien) asked Department of Transportation planners to look into the matter. The planners in turn opted for the classic Seattle course of trimming sail in a rising gale: They assembled a “focus group” of “stakeholders” to address a strictly pre-defined set of “concerns.”

City of Seattle Scooter focus group community input presentation

The result, in April, was a bland 44-page skim through the issues covering all forms of novel e-transport alternatives, including radio-frequency-controlled delivery bots to allow e-commerceers like Amazon and Doordash to cut their response times to mere minutes rather than hours.

Onewheel “Pint”
$950. 16mph
“Travel through mud, rain, gras: even
gravel!”

It also provided a useful (but already severely dated) precis of other municipalities’ experience with them so far. Beyond that it was devoid of any attempt to suggest an overarching approach to their regulation locally. Not surprising then that a Council already preoccupied with the approaching primary elections could come up with little but a boilerplate request for yet another study, this time for a pilot scooter rental program to be submitted to a more or less brand-new Council in 2020.

And as the days and months slip by, purchasers well- and not-so well off have taken matters into their . . . under their own feet. Around us, like sleek, silent marauders of the deep, privately-owned scooters and other e-alternative modes of transport are showing up on streets and sidewalks, bike-lanes and park paths. Some are little more than training-wheel toys; others are sizzling supersharks of the street: all are essentially unregulated in any way.

SISIGAD Self-Balancing Scooters
$150 9mph
“Electric Scooter for Adult Kids”

Keep an eye out for the devices pictured here as they toddle, saunter, and whoosh around you. You’ll be encountering them anywhere from the paths clogged with class-changing students at the University of Washington to the paved and unpaved routes circling Greenlake and on the pedestrian-heavy sidewalks of the Central Business District.

You’re not likely to hear them coming—bicycle bells are so last century—but the whiff of their passage will remind you, if e-bikes grazing your elbow has so far failed to do that, that being a pedestrian in an age of cheap, powerful, long-lasting lithium-ion batteries is going to be as exciting for pedestrians—though not as much fun—as for the pilots surfing the electron-powered new wave.

Top image by TheDigitalWay from Pixabay

Roger Downey
Born in Canada moved to Peru's altiplano at the age of six; came to the U.S. at 10 to discover that you don't use your feet to dribble the ball. Learned from the git-go that "America" is an idea, not a place.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great post for refocusing the scooter-share debate on the broader question of all the ways little e-motors and e-wheels will be challenging, and threatening, long-settled understandings of how we all move around the city. Sidewalks are called sidewalks because they are for walking. Across the country the broadly emerging rule is very simple: no e-scooter riding on the sidewalks at all. That hasn’t seemed to slow the big e-scooter programs for example in California where the sidewalk e-scooter riding prohibition is a matter of state law. It is also, we need to be reminded, illegal to ride an e-scooter on a sidewalk in Seattle today. As it is – this list goes on and on including the major cities across the country – in Portland with shared e-scooters already in Year Two.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

LATEST

King County, E-book-Lending Capital Of The World

King County Library System is the third-busiest e-book lender in the country (after the Los Angeles Public Library and the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium) and fourth-largest in the world (Toronto is No.1 with more than 6 million checkouts). But the Seattle region tops all libraries in digital checkouts when you add in Seattle Public Libraries, which posted more than 3 million digital checkouts in 2019.

Has Downtown Seattle Become a War Zone?

Add to the crime problem the coming years of "The Seattle Squeeze," caused by massive construction activity, and you have a Downtown Seattle under political strain.

Don’t Get Shot! Will Gray Wolves Be Dropped From The Endangered Species List?

If wolves lose all federal protection, as is now threatened, they still have the state. But Washington state policy looks uncertain.

Urban Asset: What To Do With Underused Churches

Purchasing a church is not easy, as the congregation is normally split between the sell-and-move faction and the nostalgic-stay-put group. It took the congregation of the Christian Science Church about 10 years to make a decision -- the kind of debate and delay that often chases off developers. But what lovely assets these old sanctuaries are!

Are We Going To Save Orcas Or Not? Another Blow to Chinook Salmon

"Fishery managers and NOAA could resolve this by moving Southeast Alaska’s Chinook fishery in or near the Alaskan rivers where their Chinook were born, allowing Chinook from down the coast to migrate back to their home rivers along the coast, and giving Southern Resident killer whales a chance to feed.”

TRENDING

Has Downtown Seattle Become a War Zone?

Add to the crime problem the coming years of "The Seattle Squeeze," caused by massive construction activity, and you have a Downtown Seattle under political strain.

Urban Asset: What To Do With Underused Churches

Purchasing a church is not easy, as the congregation is normally split between the sell-and-move faction and the nostalgic-stay-put group. It took the congregation of the Christian Science Church about 10 years to make a decision -- the kind of debate and delay that often chases off developers. But what lovely assets these old sanctuaries are!

King County, E-book-Lending Capital Of The World

King County Library System is the third-busiest e-book lender in the country (after the Los Angeles Public Library and the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium) and fourth-largest in the world (Toronto is No.1 with more than 6 million checkouts). But the Seattle region tops all libraries in digital checkouts when you add in Seattle Public Libraries, which posted more than 3 million digital checkouts in 2019.

Review: “Evgenyi Onegin” – Pain! Passion! Poetry! (hold the irony . . .)

I suddenly realized how lucky we are to have it at all. If the poet who created the story and the composer who set it to music 40 years later had ever actually met, they would probably have disliked each other enough to make collaboration impossible.

Humor: Tips on Buying Off Shakedown Artists on the Phone

It was Seattle City light threatening to turn off my electricity unless I paid them $857 immediately. I told them to collect a $1,000 Amazon gift card.