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 A wise move since these transportation modes are either not regulated at all or the codes referring to them are outdated.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 , 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.
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?