Yet Another Shiny Thing - Motorized Scooters

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Bellingham just loves shiny new things. The Infill Tool Kit to solve our housing woes. Detached Accessory Dwelling Units to provide affordable housing. The green painted bike lanes to assist in whisking bicycles all over town. Bollards. Bulb-outs. Road diets. And now motorized scooters, bikes and skateboards. Whether or not these shiny things work to actually solve a problem is an altogether different issue. But they do entertain, much like the mobile above the baby’s crib.

At its August 26th public works committee meeting (30:50 on the video counter) the members discussed changing or updating the laws concerning electric bikes, motorized scooters and motorized skateboards. A wise move since these transportation modes are either not regulated at all or the codes referring to them are outdated. The problem is that the city intends to expand this issue by inviting a motorized scooter sharing company to rent out motorized scooters, ostensibly to get people out of cars and allow them to move more easily about town. This is a laudable goal, however, we might want to look at what has already taken place in other cities.

In a Herald article by Robert Mittendorf from October 7th (reproduced as a document below), Mittendorf quotes the Interim Director of Public Works, Eric Johnston, waxing poetic about the exploding market for motorized scooter rentals all over as yet another “micro-mobility” device (see them glitter?) to ease our transportation pain. As I said above, whether or not this will work is altogether a different question. Just because other cities have jumped on the bandwagon is no reason for Bellingham to go down the same rabbit hole of woe. And it has been woe with the motorized scooter elsewhere, in spite of the hype.

Scooter Recovery in Marseille (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)
Scooter Recovery in Marseille (Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images)

Since Mittendorf’s article described personal experiences, I will add my first hand, yea verily, eye witness observations, as to the sorry state of affairs with these transportation devices in Paris and Marseille, France, where they are all the rage. And I don’t mean “all the rage” in the sense of “popular,” although they are. I mean the rage of the drivers and pedestrians who have to put up with these devices and their insouciant riders. Not only do they zip on and off the sidewalks and then back into the roadways, the users then just dump the scooters in the gutters, on the sidewalks and in front of driveways when finished, creating a slalom course for pedestrians, autos and… bicycles. The pedestrians in Marseille vent their rage by throwing the abandoned scooters into the waters of the port or directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Some are picked up and thrown in dumpsters. In Paris they are tossed in the Seine River. I await the moment when enraged Frenchmen opt to throw the scooter riders in the water instead but I stop myself from thinking delicious thoughts, moments of wondrous schadenfreude…

The city of Bellingham cannot even keep bicycles off the sidewalks in the downtown area where they have been banned for years. [Oh yes, they are banned there, but you could not tell by the behavior of bicyclists.] How will the city control hundreds or eventually even thousands of motorized scooters city-wide? Add to that the prevalence of the “Hummer-like double-wide strollers,” advertising sandwich boards, cafe tables, trash cans, newspaper dispensers, bike racks, parking meters, light poles, buskers and the occasional and unfortunately much maligned homeless “sitting or lying” person. You wonder if anyone thinks about the original purpose of the sidewalk which is to get pedestrians off the street. Maybe we ought to just abandon the sidewalks to all of these impediments and create pure pedestrian lanes. Would that not be an original thought?

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About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Alex McLean

Nov 26, 2019

I’ve read a few articles about these things and the spectrum of odious side-effects—including people being so enraged with them that they literally drop trough and shit on them—range from comical to tragic. New gizmos, so-called “disruptive technologies,” are often like that; it takes time for cultural or civil norms to adapt in the impacted populations or communities. It will be stressful, possibly involve body fluids, and will take some time for us to recover.

Bellingham will get its chance to experiment with the doo-dads of the day and, just to dispel any illusions otherwise, we shouldn’t pretend that there’s some prospect of them going away. They won’t. The reporting I’ve nibbled through seems to describe an arc of chaos and idiocy during a “trial phase” followed by either resigned acceptance or some equilibrium of sustained joy or malevolent vandalism being heaped upon the adorable ‘lil scooties. (Truly, the pictures are amazing—the people who have umbrage with scooters seem to harbor a sadistic joy in fucking them up beyond all recognition.)

I’m a crotchety old curmudgeon and, due to some wavelength of self-snotified elitism and a general dislike of seeing hipsters tweedling around with lattes and laptops everywhere already, I’ll likely avoid the euphoria of a first ride.

I like walking. I find, whenever I’m downtown, that I meander with intention: I know where my car is, thanks, but I want to saunter to discover new places, people, or art in our vibrant urban core at a pace that can temper my own hyperabundance of caffeine abuse. Nothing about these things, I’ll merrily predict, will improve my wanders. A barful of post-teens zipping around shrieking in drunken delirium on a fleet of spiffy little wheeled dildos isn’t enough to make me say, “Ahhhh, finally, the future has arrived!” 

But, hey. That’s just me—my biases, my gripes, my problem. Grandpa wants the punks off his lawn, and I want my Bellingham sidewalks to stay festooned with the same list of obstacles as I’ve already adapted to but, perhaps, with a lot more strippers, more free ice-cream, and 27 less heroin needles. I don’t get to decide these things, however; I’m a pawn, not a prince.

There’s some good news about e-scooters that, realistically, we can only blame on being late to party. While they will likely never be as efficient as a full diesel bus at getting people from A to B, the longevity of the things, the technology, and the regimen of hidden environmental impacts – such as people driving around to scoop them up each night for recharging sessions – has been improved since their inception. Some of the worst bugs around both the business model and the municipal codes have, mercifully, been sussed out in less fortunate burgs than ours. They aren’t “zero carbon” and they aren’t the salvation of humanity, but they are a bit better than they were two years ago and, just possibly, they could act as a gateway drug to getting us to really explore the potential of ditching personal vehicles entirely if, in some future iteration, people were able to foresee the benefits of driverless ride-share pods bopping allover town like a Jetson’s sketch. This, actually, is what Amazon, Google, Apple and the other microdosing wizards of high tech are already scheming over.

I doubt we have a future, due to the climate crisis, but I’m going to put a crystal ball on e-scooters here in Bellingham, nonetheless:

  • We have EXTRAORDINARILY gifted bike thieves in this town. They will, in short order, adapt to stripping these things down to their raw materials in meth-soaked seconds. Bellingham, Washington, will set the bar not for vandalism of these things – although a huge number will end up in their native habitat, typically in any nearby waterway – but for their outright vanishing.
  • The cities where they seem to work have the sort of dedicated street lanes that, at the moment, are exquisitely rare around here. These aren’t painted bike lanes. They are, rather, curb-protected and intentionally-designed thoroughfares. A good local example is the “green streets” that we just installed on the Waterfront District. I can’t foresee any easy way to “modify” the Central Business District, which is old and established like cholesteral-plaqued arteries already, so that a critical mass of these things could warrant giving them the space they deserve. It might be good, or bad … but I don’t see it happening, here, ever, for e-scooters.
  • I hope they are a fad. I hope that grown-up electric bicycles, owned and adored by individuals as commuter options rather than gimmicky Chinese e-waste with 4” plasticene hubs, take over and dominate the market. The racks for these things, the logos and bullshit bolted to sidewalks, the buffoonery and hijinks of the people who ride or ruin them, all makes me want them to disappear before they even arrive. In a world of commuter bikes, after all, we might have hope to embrace more of what we already know – respect for bicycle lanes and for items we purchased and maintain on our own – while giving traction to the idea that perhaps, just maybe, an expanded network of trails and routes would be more worthwhile to this community than continuing to ignore the stench of rot that has infused the Greenways program that started, eight long years ago, when mayor Linville decided it was dead.

 

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Dick Conoboy

Nov 27, 2019

Alex,

It might be time for me to give up writing when the comments are longer and better than my original article, however, I will take no backseat to you as a “crotchety old curmudgeon” mainly because I am a lot older than you are and claim the writer’s version of droit de seigneur

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Alex McLean

Nov 27, 2019

I was over-caffeinated and your article was the only thing on the internet that offered relief for my ambient angst — I’m like one of those lab monkeys that slaps the cocaine button sometimes, can’t stop or stfu. 

Also, I think it’s an important topic; e-scooties are really disruptive to communities (as your article notes) and I don’t see anyone in town doing anything other than chipper cheerleading for them. 

Thanks for offering us the caveat emptor. 

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