Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When government bugs me: scooter edition

I have lists and lists of topics I intend to write about, one is about electric cars and the mobility shed.

My old writings on the mobility shed provides a kind of hierarchy of modes in terms of their impact from the standpoint of sustainability.
Mobility shed diagram
Mobility shed conceptual diagram.

In the 2007 entry "The mobility shed revisited" I list a bunch of categories, and note the mobility shed is at the transit station/transportation management district scale.  Below I've reordered the list some and added some sub-modes.  The hierarchy per se is based on the distance of a typical trip or the maximum trip length or specialty trip need that can be accommodated.

- rollerblade
- skateboard
• bicycling
- standard
- utility bicycling
- electric
- bikeshare
• Segways?
• transit
- shared taxi/jitney (intra-neighborhood)
- bus
- rapid bus
- streetcar
- light rail
- subway/heavy rail 
• car sharing 
• taxis 
• scooters/Vespas
• Motorcycles
• driving
- car (usually big)
- cars (usually many in a household)
- electric/hybrid
• railroad passenger services

transportation hierarchyAnother way to think about it is in terms of the Transportation Alternatives sustainable transportation hierarchy diagram.   In short, active transportation modes like walking and biking + skateboards and rollerblading are the best, transit is next best, shared vehicles next, and so forth.

The reason that I have problems with the promotion of electric and hybrid vehicles is that as motor vehicles they still take up a lot of space, even though there are other benefits from their use, not to mention the very real environmental costs involved in building batteries and the battery support infrastructure.

From an urban standpoint, electric cars are just another way to greenwash car ownership and make it seem palatable.  As cars they are still space hogs competing for very scarce public space resources.

So while an electric car is better than a regular car, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, from the standpoint of sustainable transportation it's not that great.

Walking and biking are best, transit is very good, shared vehicle use is better than owning your own vehicle, and if you are going to own a vehicle, I'd rather promote scooters and such over an electric vehicle, at least as a center city mobility strategy.

Where that comes up is that yesterday, the DC City Council committee on transportation had a hearing on "motor scooters."  I didn't attend the hearing because I was testifying at another hearing held at the same time, on the commercial district revitalization plan for Central 14th Street NW, so all I have to go on is the Washington Examiner story "District to crack down on motor scooters."

From the article:

The new rules would also require all scooter drivers to wear a helmet and eye protection and would bar them from parking on the sidewalk, something now illegal for only some scooters.

Scooter owner and fitness instructor Rebecca Bly was tired of getting $100 tickets for parking her scooter on the sidewalk, so she moved it to the street -- only to have it stolen.

But ironically, I have been thinking about the issue of scooter promotion, marketing, and accommodation for awhile (in terms of the discussion above), and even talked to a scooter owner about it yesterday, when she was unlocking her vehicle in Columbia Heights.

In short, scooters are a better choice in a multi-modal sustainable transportation paradigm than motor vehicles and we ought to be promoting them as a co-equal mode, and that means appropriate accommodations, not just restrictions.

One way to accommodate motor scooters is to make "bike" corrals bigger, and allocate a portion, at least in some neighborhoods, to motor scooters.

I don't think that was the intention at this bike corral at "City Hall" (the John Wilson District Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW) but that is what has happened.

Bike corral on Thomas Jefferson Street NW in GeorgetownRight: a typical bike corral isn't set up for motor scooters, although depending on how tightly the corral is constrained at the ends with pylons, a scooter could be parked at either end of the rack.

The area for this particular corral is larger than the bike parking rack, and scooter users have used the available space, not always properly (note the leftmost vehicle parked in part in the right of way), to park their vehicles.  I can't think of a better illustration of the need to accommodate such vehicles and how we aren't really doing it so far.

And we ought to be promoting scooter use--yes including registration, licensing, and insurance requirements--more than automobile use, from the standpoint of more sustainable transportation choices. 

Unless special parking is provided, in the competition for scarce parking space on the street--especially in dense neighborhoods like Columbia Heights--scooters are likely to most often lose out to automobiles.

The Council hearing on motor scooters is but one more illustration of the need to have a comprehensive transportation plan, including an element on Parking and Curbside Management, rather than to legislate transportation policy in bits and pieces.

I know that DDOT is about to embark on a transportation vision master plan creation process, but with all the various initiatives at the Council level, from taxi policy to performance parking, I think it will be difficult to force the reconsideration of these various transportation policies and regulations in a concerted, structured, and systematic fashion.

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At 10:22 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Don't fall in love with the circles.

You've got two factors: ease of use and externalities.

And scooters/motorcyclces have LOTS of externalties. I almost got run over by one on the sidewalk in Georgetown yesterday. Parking on the sidewalk is a serous handicap.

Medical costs are much much higher as well, and we end of paying for those.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

if people would only use them for short trips and not ride on the sidewalk the externalities would be a lot lower than they are currently.

cf. Italy and Vespas, the mail carrier in the movie Diva, etc.


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