Sorry to break the news to all the local journalists and civic pundits who are desperate for juicy scooter headlines; but so far the predicted scooterpocalypse has not materialized.
We’re almost three weeks into the City of Portland’s electric scooter pilot program and things seems to be going very smoothly. The injuries and deaths many predicted would befall reckless scooter operators haven’t happened. And the sidewalk obstructions and right-of-way issues appear to be no worse than before the scooters got here. Yes, there have been some immature people who’ve destroyed a few of them and we hear there are people downtown stripping them for parts, but those are expected outliers and not a really big deal.
On the flip side, the scooters have given thousands of people a new mobility option — a way to get around that is a million times better for our city than using a car or truck.
In the first two weeks of the program there were 47,836 trips taken on the e-scooters. That’s a massive number! Based on only about 500 scooters in the field, that’s about six rides per scooter per day. By comparison, Biketown had 29,284 trips on 1,000 bikes in its first two weeks. Now we’ve got three companies (Bird, Lime, and Skip) operating over 2,000 scooters citywide.
People who tried to make scooters the new bogeyman (after a temporary hiatus from punching at bikes) must be feeling very disappointed. It’s almost as if many peoples’ dire proclamations like “Someone is going to die!” and “Those things are terrible!” were based on their own projections and fears about something new and different.
What accounts for this contrast between what many expected/hoped would happen versus what has actually happened?
I chalk it up in part to local culture and good government.
Portland is not San Francisco. New and different things are welcome here. It’s what makes this place great. When it comes to streets and transportation, Portlanders in general have a lot of respect for new and different (aka non-car) options than residents of many other cities. Despite not being as bold as I think we should be, Portland still has more daily bicycle riders than any other big city in America and we are making steady progress in constricting car use. We also have a healthy transit system and a culture of proximity which makes it possible for many people to lead low-car lives.
PBOT deserves credit too. In case you haven’t noticed, PBOT is really good at transportation policy (thanks in large part to a very healthy ecosystem of activists prodding them along). Sightline just lauded them for the best parking policy in the nation. Just like with Biketown (which also has had nary a controversy in its two-year history), our City planners waited and researched before jumping into this. The result was a set of sound and sensible operating policies that strike a balance between regulation and experimentation.
The pilot program isn’t over; but so far it seems like we just might survive this “scooter invasion.” And who knows, maybe Portland will actually be a nicer place to live once our streets are full of people on foot, bikes and scooters — instead of hiding inside huge, socially awkward, motorized machines that don’t mix well with others.
(And yes, I’m aware of the unfortunate collision on 122nd and I-84 Saturday. That’s a terribly dangerous place no matter how you’re getting around. And I heard about the drunk man who hit two people trying to rent scooters on the sidewalk downtown yesterday. Very sad, but again it just reinforces a fact no amount of scapegoating can overlook: That cars are a poor choice for city travel and they have a tremendous potential to do harm.)
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