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Dockless scooters have landed. Here’s what that means

Dockless scooters have landed. Here’s what that means

We’ve been thinking about writing about this issue for a while, but a little bird told us that fleets of dockless scooters were dropped unannounced into a few communities in Metro Boston today – which is why we’re publishing this on a Friday afternoon!

WalkBoston makes walking safer and easier in Massachusetts to encourage better health, a cleaner environment and more vibrant communities. New mobility choices are being introduced every day. Transportation options that are safe and get more people out of single occupancy vehicles can be positive additions to the mobility mix.

WalkBoston’s position

Sidewalks should be reserved for people walking or using wheelchairs. If users of micro-mobility devices are on the sidewalk, it is likely that the street is unsafe – and that needs to be fixed. We like how Walk SF framed this discussion: “The greatest threat to pedestrians is, of course, cars and trucks. The potential harm that automobiles can inflict on people is why Walk SF works every single day to make our streets and sidewalks safe – and make Vision Zero a reality.”

Where things stand in MA: July 2018

  • Smart phones have made on-demand mobility options easier to access.
  • More types of shared bikes: docked bikeshare bikes (BlueBikes, formerly Hubway) & dockless bikeshare (Lime, Spin, ofo, Pace/Zagster, AntBicycle, etc).
  • More types of wheeled options: scooters (Lime, Bird, etc), one-wheels, electric longboards/skateboards, etc. Additional mobility assistance devices that serve people with mobility impairments are also coming soon.
  • Longer-lasting, smaller batteries have made electric scooters, electric pedal-assist and fully electric bicycles (e-bikes) possible. These are not just being used for short term rentals in a shared ecosystem; people are also buying them for personal use.
  • Additionally, autonomous vehicle testing is underway in the city of Boston, with citywide testing recently granted; Massachusetts has also opened applications to test in 14 communities around the Commonwealth.

What cities and towns should do

Cities and towns can most effectively respond by rapidly implementing safety improvements that work, while also looking for win/win opportunities to advance mobility goals:

  1. Re-design streets to encourage slower speeds. The likelihood of a serious or fatal injury in a crash is drastically reduced when people are going slower.
  2. Create safe lanes for low speed travel. As more mobility options develop, a bike lane may be seen as the ideal place for their use. It can be, as long as users are going a speed that makes it safe and accessible to everyone else using it; at the same time, that lane needs to be a place where people feel safe and protected from larger vehicles.
  3. Ensure multi-use paths stay that way. Paths should be off limits to fully-motorized vehicles, no matter their fuel source. We recognize that these paths are linear parks that double as transportation corridors, but the parks should remain safe and comfortable places for people to enjoy. If electric pedal-assist bikes are allowed on multi-use paths, the paths should be low speed zones (10 mph). Any shared electric pedal-assist bikes should have a GPS-regulated governor to cap the speed. This technology is now being used as part of the new ValleyBike Share program in the Pioneer Valley.
  4. Create more bike and scooter parking so that people have a place to leave bikes and scooters and keep sidewalks and curb ramps clear for people walking, people using wheelchairs, and people with strollers or grocery carts.
    • Encourage (or require) mobility providers to provide parking or funding so that the municipality can add areas/corrals that fit into ongoing planning efforts.
    • Add more in-street bike parking on corners or near crosswalks to “daylight” the intersection. This can be a way to formalize the ‘no parking’ zone that exists close to intersections, while also improving sight lines. People can more easily see pedestrians who are waiting at a corner to cross if they are not blocked by a vehicle.
  5. Ensure that traffic signals work for everyone, not just people in cars. We have many reservations about “smart” or “adaptive” signals. Any signal timing changes should include a study of impacts on pedestrian safety and delay.
  6.  Rethink curb management. Delivery zones, short term drop-off/pick-up zones, flexible bike/scooter parking, food truck spots, temporary parklets, peak hour bus lanes, and other options are all on the table when the lane next to the curb is thought of as a flexible space rather than just a parking spot.

We look forward to continuing our conversations with municipalities and other stakeholders as they update regulations to respond to a changing mobility landscape. We also look forward to hearing from you about how WalkBoston should be weighing in on this and other issues that impact people walking!

Additional reading

Curbed: Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets. Cities are regulating mobility startups, but ignoring the real problem—there’s still too much space for cars. (July 13, 2018)

Walk SF: Walk San Francisco Stands Up for sidewalks – our stance on electric scooters (June 27, 2018)

Slate: Give the Curb Your Enthusiasm. Worth billions but given away for free, the curb is arguably the single most misused asset in the American city—and one that, more than any giant investment in apps, sensors, or screens, can determine the future of transportation. (July 19, 2018)

Metro: Self-driving car testing expands in Boston, to 14 other Mass. cities and towns. Officials cleared the way to allow companies to test their autonomous vehicles on more Massachusetts roads. (June 22, 2018)

NACTO: NACTO Releases Guidelines for the Regulation and Management of Shared Active Transportation As shared dockless bikes and scooters proliferate on city streets, guidelines aim to ensure the best outcomes for the public (July 11, 2018)

City of Boston: Autonomous Vehicles: Boston’s Approach (June 22, 2018)

Mass.gov: How to Test Autonomous Vehicles in Massachusetts (June 2018)

The Urbanist: Adaptive Signal System Kicks Pedestrians to the Curb (June 9, 2017)

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