The last time I was in San Francisco I rented an E-bike and spent six hours zipping up and down its roller coaster-like landscape.
It was sinfully fun and shamefully easy.
Two days later, either from guilt or ego, I did the same thing on an old fashion two wheeler just to prove to myself that I can still climb hills under my own pedal power.
But if I’m personally agnostic about E-bikes, they are a thing.
Some 35 million electric bikes and scooters were sold worldwide last year. Walk into most American bike shops today and you can probably buy a battery assisted version.
But this isn’t about E-bikes.
This is about America’s urban mobility revolution.
This is about docks, dockless, “bike clutter,” the scooter “apocalypse,” and other more of less dreadful urban myths about how we get- or will be getting – around town.
Docks: Right now, most bike share programs in America are dock based – you have to pick a bike up at one dock and drop it off at another. This limits their practical utility, especially when it comes to the “last mile” dilemma of giving commuters a convenient way to get from their bus or subway stops to their homes or offices.
Not to mention that docked-bike share is an alien concept in most low income neighborhoods.
Enter dockless: Start up companies with names like LimeBike and Bird are beginning to pop up in cities around America. Dockless bikes can go pretty much anywhere you need to go at the swipe of a credit card, and you can drop them off where you want.
Which is starting to drive people crazy. From Frisco to Denver to Austin city officials are issuing “cease and desist” orders to force dockless bikes and scooters off the public streets and sidewalks.
Why? Because of…
“…bike litter. Undocked bikes are cluttering up the urban landscape. It’s chaos, bicycle anarchy. Not to mention…..
“….the scooter apocalypse. E-Scooter “bros” are scaring pedestrians on the sidewalks and ticking off cyclists in the bike lanes. E-scooters are a “disruptive technology” in the true sense of the term.
But then there’s this about all of that.
If you want to really talk about what’s “littering” the urban landscape you can’t ignore cars. They are everywhere you look in autoAmerica.
And it’s not just visual pollution. Urban auto traffic poisons our air, makes us sick and kills more than 5,000 pedestrians a year. Scooter bros are pesky gnats by comparison.
Right now urban America is caught up in a competition over who gets to use the public right-of-way and with what form of mobility. And it’s not just a competition between pedestrians and cyclists and scooter bros. There’s also a “bikelash,” going on, with angry motorists pressuring their elected officials to remove newly installed bike lanes so they can get back to driving as fast as they like.
Can’t we all just get along?
Eventually I believe we will.
Bike and scooter litter can be solved if cities provide “corrals” (you can fit about 10 bikes and scooters into one standard car parking space). Urban rules of the road for both street and sidewalk use can and will be established and enforced by social mores and law.
But the bottom line is this: Individual automobile use is the most wasteful, dirty and dangerous form of personal urban mobility. Anything cities can do to induce people out of their cars to bus, bike, walk and, yes, even scooter, will ultimately improve the quality of urban life and save human lives.
Revolutions are messy.
Mobility power to the people.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial writer for The Sun. This column was published in The Sun on June 17 2016.