E-scooters: are they worth it?

E-scooters have been fraught with problems since their inception, but they're also handy to get around on. Are they worth the trouble?

There has been much hand-wringing over the rise of e-scooters.

Are they causing a rash of serious injuries? Are they mowing down innocent children on the sidewalk? Are they a secret plot orchestrated by car-hating city planners to ruin driver’s lives? New things are scary, but the reality is less exciting. Edmonton has been gently nudging people to consider active transportation for a while now, and the introduction of e-scooters is just another step towards giving citizens more choices in how they get around.

Provincial law dictates that scooters can only be legally ridden on roads or in bike lanes, banning them from sidewalks. The province has also banned owning your own scooter for no clear reason, allowing only rentals on the road. Most riders in Edmonton seem to be ignoring this law, and are scooting down the sidewalks of Jasper Avenue and Whyte Avenue regardless. This is a symptom of Edmonton’s roads being hostile and dangerous to anything but high-speed cars, and a city council that was too cowardly to put bike lanes on streets where people would actually want to use them.

While bike lanes on adjacent roads (for example, the 100 Avenue bike lane parallel to Jasper Avenue and the 83 Avenue bike lane parallel to Whyte Avenue) are useful when you have an exact destination in mind, they don’t work when you’re just browsing or don’t know where you’re going, which is why so many people cycle and scoot on the sidewalk anyways. The safety of the bike lanes is a big improvement over the road itself, but drivers still don’t respect them, and I have regularly been cut off by drivers illegally turning right in front of me. It’s also difficult for new users to navigate the bike network: there is little by way of wayfinding signage, and the city website only provides a massive PDF map which is cumbersome to read on a smartphone.

There has also been plenty of controversy over parking scooters on the sidewalk. Given that an astronomically higher number of cars are illegally parked and vandalized daily, it’s nonsensical to single out scooters for this reason. The problem could be easily solved by converting a parking stall on every other block into a designated scooter zone, but anti-scooter activists are unlikely to support giving up a handful of their precious parking spots. This has all highlighted Edmonton’s unresolved problems with vastly underbuilt sidewalks, which are too narrow to be comfortable for pedestrians or sometimes don’t exist entirely. The congested sidewalks on Whyte Avenue were already too narrow to accommodate pedestrians alone, and scooters are just adding more pressure.

In cities where a lot of car trips are under 5 km, scooters could be revolutionary. But in Edmonton, where the average car trip length is 9.4 km and growing, the outlook is much less rosy. Scooters might be useful for downtown, Oliver, and Old Strathcona residents, but they’re more likely to cannibalize transit use than get people out of cars.

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