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Opinion: Scootering is very popular and hasn’t destroyed Portland

Posted by on August 14th, 2018 at 10:52 am

I, for one, welcome our new scooter overlords.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

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.

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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.)

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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m
Guest
m

I have been really surprised at how strongly the Willy Week has come out against the scooters from day one without even giving them a chance. Multiple articles with a negative spin from the beginning. But that is probably a part of bigger issues at WW with its continued decline in quality (IMO).

I’m still neutral about the scooters. They definitely haven’t “taken over” downtown or other areas I have been. But I would say that helmet law compliance is close to zero percent based on my observations. I think the city is taking the right approach by giving it a test run.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I ride Lincoln a lot and have encountered scooters there — I agree they’ve been easy to share the street with. I have seen some mild hijinks, but everything happens at 15 mph or less, so it’s hard to get into/cause too much trouble. So far it seems like “what’s the big deal?”

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I am happy to report that while during the first week I exclusively saw only the stereotypical “Scooter Bros” riding the scooters, I now see a much more diverse group of folks climbing aboard. The scooters seem to be neatly parked for the most part, and fewer people seem to be salmoning. The biggest problem I see is that most of the riders seem to be oblivious to the two key dangers that most serious cyclists have at the forefront of their brains at all times. Dooring, and right hooks. But perhaps there is a bright-side and some wealthy tech mogul will get hooked or doored and launch a cost-is-no object suit against against the enablers of unrestricted happy motoring ,bringing the” Potemkin Village” of motorist responsibility law crashing down.

Leslie Carlson
Guest

I have heard a lot of angst from friends and neighbors who are worried about unsafe scooting (is that the verb?), people not wearing helmets, crowding in the bike lane. But I have to say, they are an easy, efficient option in a pinch. Just last week, I went out to get on my bike and realized I had a broken spoke. At first I thought I’d have to take the car the mere 2.5 miles to my office, but then I realized I could take a scooter. I walked 1.5 blocks and picked one up. It was an easy and cheap alternative to my car — and much more environmentally friendly.

Shoupian
Subscriber
Shoupian

I think the e-scooters provide a great alternative option for Biketown. Biketown’s quality has declined dramatically in the past couple of months. Key pads either are too sensitive or don’t function at all. Bikes go into repair mode without prompt. Reserving bikes via the Biketown app is prone to glitch and malfunction. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the annual membership, I would have stopped using Biketown already. Thanks to scooters, I now have a way to get to where I need to go reliably.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

eScoots replacing Biketown?

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Portland has also gotten lucky that the scooter companies did not do a “Uber” on them and instead worked constructively within the City’s framework, as not all cities have been this experience. The real test will be after November 20th once the winter starts…will anyone want to ride such then? (No one really knows how the market will react especially when the battery run times are diminished by the cold and the components by the wet.) PBoT did a big favour for the scooter companies by cutting off the pilot period then vs. a more typical “6-month” period which would have been January-ish.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Scooter article from the LA Times four days ago…
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bird-scooter-vandalism-20180809-story.html
Sometimes its not about the scooters but what they might represent.

Connor
Guest
Connor

I am a transportation data analyst, so I might be the only one to care about this small linguistic slip in the article, but BP is my favorite blog so I feel compelled to help. When you state “Portland still has more daily bicycle riders than any other big city in America” what you mean to say is that “Portland still has a higher proportion of bicycle riders than any other big city in America”.

When comparing the sheer number of cyclists, Portland is easily surpassed by New York and Chicago. With biking representing 1.1% and 1.7% of commuters in New York and Chicago respectively, they have a smaller percentage of cycle commuters, but significantly larger populations. So even though Portland is much higher at 6.3% of commuters by bicycle, the number of people biking is much smaller.

Formula: (bike commute percentage) x (population) = # of bike riders

New York = (1.1) x (8,537,673) = 48,601 cyclists
Chicago = (1.7) x (2,704,965) = 22,449 cyclists
Portland = (6.3) x (639,635) = 21,982 cyclists

All data is from the 2016 American Community Survey Data Report

SD
Guest
SD

I love trying out new ways to get around and having options. I also feel that I need to know how to use all of the tools that are available so that I can pick the best one for the situation. Its weird that some people are so tied to their cars that they don’t experiment different modes or they reflexively see scooters, or bikes for that matter, as for “other people” and are not interested.
Sometimes I think that a contingent of people living in the metro area think of Portland more like a small town that is only there to accommodate their needs rather than a city that has its own life and must meet the needs of many people with many interests.

Champs
Guest
Champs

I have no major quarrel with the scooters in practice. When idle, they could have better kickstands. In use, they’re very “human” in size/speed (unlike Class 3 e-bikes). It’s fine.

I’ve still got issues with scooters in principle. Profit is the motive. Making the world a better place is not part of the mission. Applause might be the wrong way to greet these things.

Tiffany
Guest
Tiffany

Well i have almost been run over in the side walk by these. As a pregnant woman i find the danger i have faced from irresponsible riders the police are NOT TICKETINg thanks to Wheeler unacceptable. Side walks are for walking. Period.

Aziz
Guest
Aziz

Is the city charging these scooter companies a fair market rental rate for the right to use public property (eg, sidewalks and parking) to store the scooters? If yes, then no big deal. If not, screw them, and I encourage everyone to damage scooters whenever the opportunity presents itself.

John
Guest
John

I had an encounter with a pair of scooter riders going way to fast on the Division St sidewalk (~SE 43rd).

I’m cool with the scooters but there seems to be some room for learning about the proper place to ride them (not on sidewalks).

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

For those that have ridden the PBoT permitted e-scooters at night, how effective are the head lamps for visibility (other traffic seeing you approach) and for illuminating the street conditions ahead? (Do the headlamps shine far enough ahead to match your travel speed while giving enough reaction time?) I wonder, as I have only operated them during daylight hours so far.

Irakli
Guest

I love seeing people on scooters, I do really hope that would incentivize creation of a better infrastructure for cycling and scooting.

I do run into scooters parked inappropriately on sidewalks but how one could blame that on scooter operators, there is virtually no space had being created for them to park. I really hope city would create dedicated spots for scoots to park. It would be also great if system was developed to report inappropriately parked scooters and fine operators responsible.

Erleichda
Guest
Erleichda

Look, there just isn’t time for electric cars to rid us of fossil fuel use before it’s too late (using guesses that beyond 2 degree C warming may be unstoppable.) I welcome any and all non-fossil fuel transportation. Really, we need a bold Mayor/Council to start shutting down streets to cars. Just copy the older cities in the rest of the world, it’s not rocket science. Would be nice to require large businesses to meet targets of non-fossil fuel commuting too. Time to start getting extreme folks. (by extreme, I mean doing what has already been done elsewhere in the world successfully)

Erleichda
Guest
Erleichda

degrees

Alice
Guest
Alice

Pure slanted rhetoric as always. I do wonder what the world is like when you only see what you want to see…

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

The Oregonian article on the two gentlemen standing on a sidewalk getting run down by a drunk driver, at 4pm downtown, was reported as “two people attempting to rent scooters”. It’s a rather morbid headline grab.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

“People who tried to make scooters the new bogeyman (after a temporary hiatus from punching at bikes) must be feeling very disappointed”

Quite the opposite. Now they have another thing to point out where the users break the law even more than cyclists. They’re riding on sidewalks and without helmets. Scofflaws, the lot of them! It’s become easier to point out lawbreakers on e-scooters than on bicycles these days.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

How many tickets have been written for the 2 most commonly broken laws: no helmet and sidewalk riding?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I haven’t seen a lot of people using them so I can’t comment on user behavior. I have seen them parked in the way a lot.

There have been a couple times where I thought about using them, both times to get home from an errand and dining. The first time I was with my kid, and since he can’t use one we couldn’t use them. The other time was with and older gal (who is an interested but concerned cyclist) and she said “I saw an older lady riding one the other day and she looked like she was having a really hard time” so she didn’t want to try it. Neither time did we have a helmet for any of us (since we’d arrived at our destination using safe transport) so we would have had to break the law in a very obvious way in order to use them.

This seems like just another motor vehicle where we allow the users to break the law to the detriment of vulnerable users. Sure, smaller is better but you’re still sending the message that it’s OK.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Tech bros ride scooters and work for Snapchat, thus the scooters are a very visible sign of gentrification.

And I’ll bet the real estate speculators’ BMWs and Mercedes are regularly keyed or otherwise vandalized as well.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

I wonder why we’re so concerned about whether a scooter rider wears a helmet? Spare me the “it’s the law” nonsense. It’s not my concern whether someone follows a law that has no impact on me.

Yes, in theory there’s a chance they suffer a more severe injury in a crash that somehow, someway gets passed onto the public or my insurance. When major head trauma via helmet-less scooter becomes an actual measurable rpoblem, let me know. In the meantime, you’re rasping at the tiniest, most insignificant straw that can be conjured, among an enormous bundle of much larger straws.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

If I were a daily car commuter to downtown Portland I might keep an eScoot in the trunk for the last mile.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Great that the scooter pilot project seems promising!

But what news of the other one – PBOT’s long-running motorbuggy pilot? That’s been going on for like a hundred years and there’s ample evidence that experiment was a dismal failure. Far past time to can it and try new things.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

During this pilot, there are are only about 600 scooters in Portland. Thus the impact is limited.

So far, in my experience, I’m seeing some impact from scooters cluttering up sidewalks (I reposition poorly parked scooters a couple times a day) but not (personally) seeing much reckless scooter riding; there’s been one scooter/car accident but no scooter/ped or scooter/bike accidents (that I have heard of). I see scooters ridden on sidewalks and in parks, where they shouldn’t be. I don’t care if scooter riders use helmets and as far as I know, no-one is enforcing that rule.

Wait to see what the impact is when the number of scooters rises 10X to 6,000 or so. I’d imagine the impact will scale linearly with number of scooters.

I am pleased that Portland is proceeding slowly with the scooters and controlling them fairly tightly. I’d like to see us assess the experience of this pilot AND the experience of cities that have proceeded to a full rollout of several thousand scooters, before deciding whether and how to permit a full rollout in Portland.

Incidentally, I have been trying to monitor how many scooters are in East Portland, to see if the companies are complying with the pilot rules. However, the Bird app seems to be now showing me only scooters nearest my location, which means I can no longer see where scooters are elsewhere in the city. Anyone else noticing this?

Robert
Guest
Robert

As a cyclist and pedestrian who has to interact with these, it is really hard not to complain about the scooters and their users. When the thought crosses my mind, it makes me feel like a cranky driver complaining about bikes though, so I use all of my will power to give the scooters the benefit of the doubt.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I have begun to appreciate the skooter riders as a kind of cannon-fodder for cyclists. Several of the more dangerous intersections in North West that I normally ride through have been tamed considerably the last time I crossed them because skooter riders were bobbling and zipping through them in various directions bringing the normally aggressive drivers to a crawl with confusion. Like in Chaos theory , perhaps the addition of this new element will bring the pace of auto’s down to a better lever due to the added complexity of navigating the streets with Skooters about.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Peter W
Great that the scooter pilot project seems promising!But what news of the other one – PBOT’s long-running motorbuggy pilot? That’s been going on for like a hundred years and there’s ample evidence that experiment was a dismal failure. Far past time to can it and try new things.Recommended 1

Or old things, like cycling, or walking!

PS
Guest
PS

I get this is just, like, Jonathan’s opinion, man, but comparing ridership numbers at release of biketown to dockless e-scooturds is not all that reasonable. The payment model for biketown was a disaster when it started (remember the membership cards, lol) and was nothing like the ease of an app download and you’re on your way as with the scoots.

Also, the trial period should run a full year, ending it in November doesn’t allow us to see how the bourgeoi-lazy will actually use these things once the novelty has faded or once the weather is dark, wet and cold. I mean, we can all agree that nobody is riding these in January, right? I suppose the weather is the best thing for those against these and the biggest hurdle by far for the proponents.

soren
Guest
soren

A scooter-hating driver ran down two human beings yesterday:

https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/08/15/brothers-admiring-scooters-on-portland-sidewalk-say-driver-hit-them-on-purpose/

It should come as no surprise that someone acted out on the intense hatred directed at people scooting in Portland.

PS: I’m not a scooter user and have no plans to be one.

9watts
Subscriber

Re-reading Ivan Illich is *always* rewarding, and almost as often timely.

“The habitual passenger cannot grasp the folly of traffic based overwhelmingly on transport. His inherited perceptions of space and time and of personal pace have been industrially deformed. He has lost the power to conceive of himself outside the passenger role. Addicted to being carried along, he has lost control over the physical, social, and psychic powers that reside in man’s feet.”

“He takes freedom of movement to be the same as one’s claim on propulsion. He believes that the level of democratic process correlates to the power of transportation and communications systems. He has lost faith in the political power of the feet and of the tongue. As a result, what he wants is not more liberty as a citizen but better service as a client. He does not insist on his freedom to move and to speak to people but on his claim to be shipped and to be informed by media. He wants a better product rather than freedom from servitude to it. It is vital that he come to see that the acceleration he demands is self-defeating, and that it must result in a further decline of equity, leisure, and autonomy.”

http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1973_energy_equity.html#3

Jason H
Guest
Jason H

Looks like this debate has gone national with an Op-Ed by a rehabilitation physician on CNN. There are some points I as unaware of such as the very un-consumer friendly hold-harmless clauses in the scooter companies contracts, and the fact that you may also not be covered under your own personal insurance policies. While not incredibly egregious. I have personally seen the helmet-less, sidewalk riding, traffic control device ignoring, salmoning behaviors multiple times a day every day since the intro and can’t believe a high-profile incident is nearly inevitable.
https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/16/opinions/dangers-of-e-scooters-vox/index.html

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

9watts
Re-reading Ivan Illich is *always* rewarding, and almost as often timely.“The habitual passenger cannot grasp the folly of traffic based overwhelmingly on transport. His inherited perceptions of space and time and of personal pace have been industrially deformed. He has lost the power to conceive of himself outside the passenger role. Addicted to being carried along, he has lost control over the physical, social, and psychic powers that reside in man’s feet.”“He takes freedom of movement to be the same as one’s claim on propulsion. He believes that the level of democratic process correlates to the power of transportation and communications systems. He has lost faith in the political power of the feet and of the tongue. As a result, what he wants is not more liberty as a citizen but better service as a client. He does not insist on his freedom to move and to speak to people but on his claim to be shipped and to be informed by media. He wants a better product rather than freedom from servitude to it. It is vital that he come to see that the acceleration he demands is self-defeating, and that it must result in a further decline of equity, leisure, and autonomy.”http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1973_energy_equity.html#3Recommended 1

In the 20th century the Roman Catholic Church produced a number of brilliant philosopher-priests, among them Ivan Illich, Teilhard de Chardin, Romano Guardini, all of whom riled church authorities with radical ideas of human nature and societies.

Guardini, in particular, emphasized the negative aspects of “over-personalization,” and the consequent deconstruction of social values and interactions.

Several Protestants got there first, notably Nietzsche, who predicted that Darwinism, reducing humans to overly clever animals, would unleash a 20th century of horribly destructive wars–obviously correct–and a 21st century of complete social degradation, the “eclipse of all values,” which is unfolding even as we watch.

Jung also had much to say, considering our plight as “loss of soul.” Every attempt to secure a final and ultimate victory for “good” was bound to generate an equal development of “evil,” and accumulation of power over nature, in the form of nuclear weapons, for example, in essence solved no problems, but rather exacerbated them. Only radical confrontation of human psychology would allow a way forward.

Our salvation does not lie with smart phones and electric scooters, any more than it lies with radical militarism, with or without nuclear weapons. Clearly, our planet cannot survive another century of consumer capitalism.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Maddy
Guest
Maddy

I just walked out of my house to find a Lime scooter completely blocking the residential sidewalk. It is not dangerous, but I wish there was a built in mechanism to fine the company and have them pass the fine along to the rider. These companies haven’t been good citizens elsewhere, and have no incentive to treat our city any differently.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

e-Scooter report: two or more Lime eScooters have been sighted in downtown Vancouver. (I saw one last night.)

soren
Guest
soren

i saw more people scooting than cycling on my commute home yesterday. most were women and many were taking obvious utilitarian trips (picking up take out pizza, for example). in fact the bike rack at virtuous pie had 5 scooters and 2 bikes. if scooting really takes off, i expect even more push back from bike enthusiasts who are outraged at having to share the (bike) lane.

*popcorn*

Eva
Guest
Eva

I would like more detailed statistics on usage. Who is using both Biketown and escooters? Are they truly filling a need for Portland residents? Or are they mostly a plaything for tourists, hurting local businesses that used to serve that need?

As for the scooters, I live in southeast Portland and commute by bike or bus to a job downtown, near Naito and the waterfront. So, I’m observing the a high-use area for this service. I average 3-4 scooter complaints a day, which I file on the site for this pilot. No helmets. Riding on sidewalks. Parked in the middle of sidewalks. Underage riders. Riders going the wrong way, either in the street or in bike lanes. Every day. And I do not see any scooter activity during morning commutes—just at lunchtime downtown or after work as I go home.

If we are largely siphoning Portland tourist money to enrich out-of-state scooter companies or just giving bored people lunchtime joyrides to restaurants so they don’t have to walk, it’s not worth it. I cannot understand why any program like this should not be held to strict success metrics around improving traffic congestion or some measurable benefit for Portlanders. I feel the same about Airbnb, Uber/Lyft, Instacart, Taskrabbit, etc. Every experiment like this has systemic impact, often creating negative, overlooked problems. Other commenters have mentioned Biketown, for example, and how they no longer like it. So what will happen to mountains of 45-lb orange bikes and all the infrastructure given to that experiment when it falls out of favor? At what cost to taxpayers or the environment? How long until people are similarly bored with scooters?

We cannot follow fashion, which is what used to make Portland different. We have to demand constructive, effective solutions that work systemically for city residents.

q
Guest
q

I’ve been seeing more every day on the Willamette Greenway Trail. All types of people–fun to see adults, little girls and cool teenage guys all having fun doing the same thing. Some poor parking but not bad considering it’s a new thing.

I assume it’s almost all recreational riding where I see them, and in the worst case they’re replacing biking or walking trips, but it’s still nice to see people outside enjoying themselves. If massive amounts of people switch from self-propelled biking or walking to battery scooters and bikes, and few trips replace car trips, my opinion will drop some.

I’ve lost track of whether they’re supposed to be riding on the trail through parks but it feels like they belong, as do ebikes that are becoming common.

The idea of helmet wearing when riding them never would have occurred to me if I hadn’t read about it being required–seems dumb to be required.

Cellular
Guest
Cellular

thanks, Eva!
i am made most uncomfortable by the sightings of scooters out in the road, going up and down NW Front in the Industrial areas—Fathers are taking their children on piggyback rides, even???
i really do not see freight trucks handling this type of traffic well, seeing as these scooters most likely have a low profile to them up in their high seats and will be even harder to scope out than cyclists.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Took my first spin yesterday on a Bird. Pretty good experience overall! Snagged it about two blocks from work on Water Ave and rode it about 3 miles up Clinton to meet the wife (who was travelling by car herself). Convenient for the way one trip, smooth ride, didn’t break a sweat, and definitely smiled some. It is a zippy little ride. Cost was $3, which I consider high, especially compared against my annual Biketown subscription which is like $8/month. If they end up offering similar subscription deals, I’ll consider it. But I doubt I will diverge from my current 95% commutes on my own bike or legs. Nice tool to have in a pinch though.