Across the United States, electric scooters have been springing up overnight on city streets and sidewalks, leading to a combination of praise and condemnation from urban dwellers and local municipalities.
Deployed by a growing array of companies, these e-scooters have been lauded by some as compact, low-energy, eco-friendly, on-demand transportation but also criticized for a variety of reasons, including the ways they can obstruct (and in some cases: outright block) sidewalks.
Cities are weighing responses, from taxation and regulation to outright bans. Even areas that want to give scooters a shot are struggling to adapt quickly to their introduction. Meanwhile, though, a tactical urban design group called YARD & Company has jumped in and taken action on the streets of Cincinnati with their ‘Bird Cages‘ project (a reference to Bird, one of the various companies in the e-scooter market).
YARD’s philosophy, in short, is to embrace new options, rapidly prototype solutions, and leverage resulting data to build better infrastructure. In this case, their spray-painted parking spots offer a cheap, easy and quick solution for arraying scooters in a more orderly fashion, all without adding any substantial physical infrastructure.
“Last week, with a tiny budget and a little bit of creativity,” explains the group, “we installed Bird Cages in public spaces around downtown Cincinnati in a matter of hours. The goal was to spur creative thinking around how cities can smartly adapt and grow with new technology like Bird scooters,” founded by a former Uber and Lyft executive.
To some critics, electric scooters still invite danger, though, since many riders are new to the vehicles, which can lead to crashes and collisions. Others fail to wear helmets (even in states where they are legally required) or illegally ride them on sidewalks (in states where they are supposed to ride on streets). Scooters have also been impounded for blocking building entries, garage doors, sidewalks and curb cuts, posing issues for accessibility beyond the simple nuisance of clutter.
For fans, though, these scooters offer a new option for urban travel. Most have top speeds ranging from 15 to 30 miles per hour, and prices from a few cents a minute up to around a dollar per five minutes, operating much like bike sharing systems. Usage is tracked and tallied via mobile phone apps, which also help users locate available scooters.
While cities slowly figure out how (or whether) to accommodate this new form of transportation effectively, urban interventionists like YARD continue to take steps to work with the situation on the ground — solutions that, like the very existence of scooters, may lead to tensions with authorities, but may also help address dynamic situations.