Viadoom. Carmageddon. Everywhere you look, everyone is complaining about Seattle traffic and offering dire prophecies. Even so, the current administration led by Mayor Jenny Durkan, is failing to take advantage of one of the key opportunities to reduce congestion and divert citizens to a more environmentally friendly form of transportation; electric scooters. These e-scooters have enjoyed tremendous success across the country since their arrival in 2017. Easy to ride, zero emission, and fun, e-scooters appear to be an ideal form of transportation. Instead of hopping in a large gas guzzling vehicle and clogging roadways, we could be zipping across the city on snazzy zero emission scooters.
Yet Mayor Durkan claims we can’t allow e-scooters on our streets because they’re ‘too dangerous’ saying at a recent CityClub Cocktail Event “every city that has scooters has significant traumatic injuries.” Mayor Durkan is singling out scooters unfairly. If we want to talk about dangerous, we should probably be talking less about small rises in emergency room visits for those who don’t wear helmets and more about the over 40,000 people that die annually due to car crashes, those same cars which have been involved in every one of the three reported scooter deaths so far.
If Mayor Durkan wants to make sure our streets are safer, she should be encouraging scooters with helmet requirements, lowering speed limits, and providing alternatives to speeding cars — which are the leading cause of increasing pedestrian and bicycle injuries. To further increase safety, the two leading scooter companies Bird and Lime both include speed regulators in their e-scooters, allowing the Mayor to set and maintain speed limits for the scooters while still working to reduce our traffic. Considering Seattle’s continued push to build safe, dedicated bicycle infrastructure, scooters seem like a natural addition and our new Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation(SDOT), Sam Zimbabwe, is perfectly positioned to lead that charge.
Zimbabwe previously worked for Washington DC’s Department of Transportation(DDOT), and since 2017 he was directly responsible for their bike-share and scooter share project delivery. Zimbabwe has a huge opportunity to make an immediate impact on the snarled mess that is our city’s transportation system by pushing for the city to allow e-scooters just in time for the peak spring and summer months. DC’s own DDOT Director Jeff Marootian says that e-scooters are a significant change “that provides a new mobility opportunity.” So why isn’t Seattle taking advantage?
Other Pacific Northwest cities are already experiencing the benefits of electric scooters. Portland just released the findings from their recently completed e-scooter pilot which spanned an astounding 700,369 trips covering 801,887 miles on just 2,043 e-scooters. An astonishing 34% of Porland riders and 48% of visitors took an e-scooter instead of driving a personal car or using, Uber, Lyft, taxi, etc. One of the e-scooter companies, Lime, also released the results of an 11,000 person survey this week that found that 30% of Lime riders replaced a trip by automobile with their most recent e-scooter trip, directly reducing traffic. This finding is telling in other ways — while some have claimed that the positive environmental impact of e-scooter diversions wasn’t fully proven, the findings imply that during the Portland scooter pilot, potentially 210,110 trips by car were replaced(if we use Lime’s 30% number). With an average trip length in the study of just over 1.14 miles, that’s 240,565 miles of car trips that didn’t happen during the four-month pilot program. That means less pollution and less traffic.
The data also shows that e-scooters attracted new Portlanders to active transportation with 74% of local users reporting never having used bikeshare and 48% reporting never bicycling. This is a significant untapped market that bikeshares do not address. By bringing e-scooters to Seattle, there is a clear opportunity to limit car usage and decrease our environmental impact in a city where transportation is the number one contributor to our climate emissions.
The same Portland study also demonstrates that allowing e-scooters in our city is a socio-economic issue. In the representative citywide poll by DHM Research, 62 percent of all Portlanders viewed e-scooters positively at the completion of the pilot, and an even higher percentage (74) for people of color, and for those with incomes below $30,000 (66 percent). Portlanders under 35, aka those who are going to have to deal with the major impacts of climate change, also were heavily in support at 71 percent.
We need to face the facts. Seattle’s traffic is terrible. Our city is gridlocked; we need better mobility, and we cannot continue to expect one solution or another to fix the situation. We need to follow Portland’s lead and expand our multi-modal approach to include the one vehicle alternative that is cheap, sustainable, and can have an immediate impact on our city’s transportation mess: e-scooters. Our new SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe knows how to implement an e-scooter program and if we act now, we can take advantage of the peak months of scooter usage — and minimize gridlock while limiting our carbon emissions. If Portland can do it; why not Seattle?
Originally published on my personal website.