Folks who know me know that, generally, I am not a fan of scooters or solowheels. Not because I don’t think they are a great component to a transportation system that focuses on getting folks to and from places rather than cars, but because I think adults look ridiculous riding them. Yes, I am judging you.
But that is no reason for our city to outlaw this mode of travel. Regular readers may well recall I went through the data regarding safety and use earlier this year, essentially concluding that our city should legalize scooter share with concurrent investments in corrals for free-floating bikes and scooters, among other things. So imagine my joy when I read that the Mayor, who has long opposed scooters, came out in support of a pilot project to be proposed in 6 months (which, in Seattle-speak, really means 9 months)! She even signed an op-ed over at Geekwire outlining her proposal.
People probably know that I am not what one would call a “fan” of this mayor. However, on an occasion where someone takes a step in a good direction, I can’t help but be happy. So, with that in mind, I dove into the Geekwire piece, and walked away with concerns. In an effort to help readers track, I’m going to go sub-headline by sub-headline.
Scooters present safety issues we cannot ignore
Wait until you hear about cars.
But snark aside, this section argues that there have been “dramatic spike[s]” in scooter-related injuries across the country. To which I say: duh. Going from 0-200 year-over-year definitely appears “dramatic,” but it is disingenuous at best to use such hyperbolic language, unless the goal is to misrepresent the data.
Enter the next paragraph: “In the CDC study, nearly half of those hurt in scooter crashes sustained head injuries, 15 percent of which were traumatic brain injuries.” Holy shitballs, that is terrifying!
So I did the responsible thing, and looked at the study the Mayor is citing. The study specifically focuses on electric scooters, and found 192 injured persons involving these types of scooters in the study period, of which 190 were riders (1 a pedestrian, 1 a cyclist). 48% of reported injuries were to the head (92). 15% of those riders (14) had what was believed to be a “traumatic brain injury.” The relevant section of the study:
“Traumatic brain injuries include concussions and other forms of altered mental status or bleeding such as subrachnoid hemorrhage and subdural hematoma. Fifteen percent of riders had evidence suggestive of a traumatic brain injury.”
In total, there were 936,110 rides in the study period, representing 182,333 hours of use, and 891,121 miles ridden. Put another way, out of 936,110 rides, 14 led to a concussion or worse. That represents .00015% of rides leading to a TBI. There were no deaths reported.
Conversely, in 2018, 74 people died in Austin (the study city) as a result of motor vehicle collisions.
Moving on, the Mayor highlights that many of the injury-crashes involving dockless scooters were as a combined result of speed (the limit for e-scooters in Austin is 20 MPH) and shitty road conditions (potholes, uneven pavement, etc.). I have no argument with this. The data shows that high speed and poor street conditions can lead to injuries. Thankfully, cities can limit speeds for scooters. Road conditions are hazardous for pedestrians and cyclists, as well, so maybe this means there will be a new push for improving those conditions for all non-car users? Wait, I forgot - this administration is actively cutting funding for safe streets to keep up with cars.
Scooters companies [sic] can’t shift responsibility for injuries to riders or Seattle taxpayers
Here, I wholeheartedly agree with the Mayor - any company that wants to do business in Seattle should be precluded from disallowing liability actions against the company. If someone is injured due to negligence on behalf of the manufacturer or operator, they should have recourse pursuant to Washington law. There is an inherent assumption of risk associated with using any scooter-share or bike-share, suggesting a higher burden of proof with respect to damages that could be awarded, and the Mayor deserves praise for appearing to protect consumers.
There is a separate issue with respect to whether the companies should indemnify the City for injuries sustained by riders that may be due to negligence on the city’s behalf. Road design claims, for instance, are hard to prove, but if someone is injured because of poor design by the city, or because of poor roll-out of regulations, the city should be on the hook for that error. Again, however, actionable claims of this nature are difficult, at best. I look forward to seeing this concept fleshed out more, to say the least.
Promoting Equity and Accessibility
It’s good to see the Mayor acknowledge that we must apply RSJI to deployment of such a program. It’s also another example of politicians picking and choosing when they care about racial equity. Last I heard, there was no RSJI analysis for the current “emphasis” patrols, for instance. There definitely hasn’t been for TNCs.
Otherwise, it makes complete sense that there is a pricing and deployment scheme to match equity goals in the city. As for accessibility and the likely impacts of scooters left around haphazardly - the city is collecting fees from bike share ostensibly to create new bike corrals, and these should be prioritized as part of a pre-roll-out, and at a scale that meets the need. Simple paint and post boxes are relatively cheep, and looking at places like the no-parking zones at intersections should be considered, particularly in areas where we already see significant bike-share use.
Here’s what’s next
Broadly, there is a lot in here that is generally good. There is also a concerning level of indemnification talk that, frankly, could provide such an onerous requirement that there will never actually be a scooter-share launch in Seattle, and an opportunity to place the blame on the operators.
There is also a lot of sit-back-and-wait. At this rate, I wouldn’t expect scooter share to kick off until late 2019 or sometime in 2020, if at all. There should also be consideration of impacts with bike-share, and how our city allows use of bike lanes for scooters. As for speed, limiting scooter speed to 15 MPH makes sense. There is also the question of how this intersects with this administrations backpedaling on safe street investments.
For all of the cheering this “announcement” saw, diving deeper, this is a rejection of science around safety, cherry-picking certain points and presenting them absent context in order to justify a snails’ pace approach to maybe allowing a mode that is preferred by younger generations, while setting it up to be rejected, blaming the operators who may decline to operate under an over-zealous indemnification requirement, further “justifying” disinvestment in safe streets throughout the city.
I do hope that I’m wrong, but given the roll-out of the proposed pilot roll-out, I have no reason to be optimistic.