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National transportation pro: Atlanta mayor’s e-scooter crackdown is misguided

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In op-ed, California micromobility advocate argues that banning ATL’s dockless options isn’t the answer

A photo of a man on an e-scooter crossing a street in Atlanta.
An e-scooter patron crossing Atlanta’s Edgewood Avenue.

It’s been an eventful summer for advocates of Atlanta micromobility options and detractors of the e-scooter zeitgeist, to say the least. And the situation in Atlanta—among America’s most savory markets for companies that rent e-scooters, e-bikes, and other forms of micro transit—is attracting attention on a national scale.

Reps with the Micromobility Coalition, a group that works to support shared, electric-powered devices in U.S. cities that allow them, has reached out with the following op-ed titled, “As micromobility gains in popularity nationwide, infrastructure needs to catch up,” a sentiment echoed by grassroots activists in Midtown last week.

The writer is Niko Letunic, a principal at California-based transportation planning firm Eisen/Letunic, who’s been keeping tabs on Atlanta’s volatile love affair with e-scooters from afar. He writes:

In the aftermath of two fatalities this summer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms put in place a moratorium on new permits for more e-scooters in the city, capping the number of available e-scooters and e-bikes to just under 12,000.

While not an outright ban, Mayor Bottoms’s action is the wrong approach for a city that has seen incredible success with micromobility to date.

While the fatalities are a tragic occurrence, instead of limiting the expansion of micromobility, Atlanta’s leaders should consider how to properly integrate this revolutionary new mode of transportation into its transit grid. To truly be forward-thinking, Atlanta needs to advance its city infrastructure so all commuters—whether they be drivers, pedestrians, or micromobility users—can safely get to where they need to be.

A recent study conducted with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in Austin, Texas, 50 percent of e-scooter riders pointed the finger at subpar surface conditions as contributing to their injuries. Additionally, 16 percent of scooter injuries were related to an interaction with a motor vehicle.

These are not isolated cases: Inadequate infrastructure and poor road conditions are preventing commuters across the country from safely and efficiently getting to where they need to go. As more commuters choose micromobility services like e-scooters and electric bikes in Atlanta, it is vital that policymakers at all levels of government—local, state, and federal—listen to Atlanta commuters and prioritize stronger infrastructure.

E-scooters have the ability to fill current gaps in transit routes, increase accessibility to public transportation, and conveniently get commuters to their destinations at an affordable price. In 2018 alone, 38.5 million e-scooter trips were taken, overtaking the use of station-based bike services in cities. This new mode of travel is growing in popularity, and cities like Atlanta need to pave the way for safer streets and integrated transportation grids that accommodate this new technology.

Otherwise, crashes and injuries caused by inadequate road conditions and multimodal collisions will continue to happen.

A photo of scooters strewn about Atlanta streets and sidewalks.
One downside of Atlanta’s e-scooter zeitgeist: urban clutter and sidewalk blockage.
Via John Plantaseed, @johnplantaseed; twitter

Complicating matters is the lack of federal investment in America’s infrastructure. This is highlighted by the grade of “D+” given by the American Society of Civil Engineers to the nation’s weak infrastructure and lack of steady, robust investment. In Georgia, about one in every five roads is classified as being in poor or mediocre condition. More than $370 million is spent annually on vehicle repairs and operating costs due to driving on roads in need of fixing—equating to about $60 in costs for each Georgia motorist.

Furthermore, the lack of smart, integrated grids for multimodal transportation use continues to cause problems. In Georgia, collisions between cars and bikes, scooters, motorcycles or pedestrians have grown lately. Most alarmingly, pedestrian fatalities increased nearly 19 percent in 2015 from the year prior in Georgia.

In such an environment, no one—whether they drive a car, ride a bike, use an e-scooter, or walk on their own two feet—can fully feel safe when traveling to their destination.

In the longer term, designing complete streets—road infrastructure that accommodates all forms of transportation, including not only cars but also micromobility and pedestrians—will help make commuting safer for everyone and should be a policy priority. Cities should look towards improving curb space and separating vehicle traffic from more vulnerable road users like people walking, cycling, or using scooters by integrating more high-quality, protected bike lanes and sidewalks. Building more electric charging infrastructure can also help support the use of clean energy transportation like micromobility.

Cities like Atlanta can even use the revenue generated by fees paid by micromobility providers to help afford these improvements. As the [industry] creates new sources of funding for cities, allocating those funds towards building safer roads can help spur significant infrastructure investment.

The recent CDC report is a welcome addition to the conversation regarding e-scooter safety, shining a spotlight on a much larger discussion that needs to be at the forefront of civic leaders’ minds.

Commuters in Atlanta deserve safe and well-maintained roads, as well as clearly designated lanes that support their chosen mode of transportation. To prevent accidents and injuries at the most basic level, elected officials must prioritize investment in Atlanta’s infrastructure.

Editor’s note: This letter has been edited for clarity and length.