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Electric Scooters on Public Streets: Unsafe at Any Speed. Here's Why.

Electric scooters: A boost to urbanism or a danger? Governor Andrew Cuomo has just vetoed a bill that would have legalized electric bikes and scooters for use on public roadways and paths in New York State. The governor claims he vetoed the bill because there was no requirement that riders wear helmets, but there are other reasons for concern. The E.U. has a top speed of 20km/hr (12mph) for e-bikes, which is sound, while the U.S. federal limit is 20mph, which is too fast for most riders and conditions for safe operation. The New York bill did nothing to address e-bike speed danger. As for scooters, there is a whole list of concerns, centering on balance, control, and signaling of intent. These are basic to protecting riders, bystanders, and drivers.

Dedicated preservationists and urbanists are big supporters of mass mobility as a way to preserve and enhance pre-automobile neighborhoods and build vibrant new ones. Car-dependency can't do it. So, I was excited to follow the development of electric scooters and scooter-sharing systems. So excited, I shelled out $500 for my own scooter, made by the same company which supplies Bird. Big mistake. Find out why in the video.


Bob Jones

Tim, this smacks of someone who has spent all of 10 seconds on a scooter.

If you want to signal and brake, use your right arm to signal. If you want to signal and accelerate, use your left arm to signal. At the speeds involved, there is no difficulty returning the left hand to the handlebar and panic-braking.

Yes, riding over bumpy roads on a scooter with no suspension sucks. If you want a cheap light scooter, you can't go absolutely _everywhere_ a car goes. If you want that, you need a more expensive and heavier scooter. Both options exist. If you thought this scooter was going to be as comfortable as riding around in your 2-ton rolling living room, I simply don't know what to tell you.

And your concerns about riding with a messenger bag or a backpack are laughable. Have you tried it? It's absolutely fine.

This is classic letting-the-perfect-be-the-enemy-of-the-good. An escooter allows an individual mobility approaching that of a car, with effectively none of the carbon footprint and a very preferable impact on urban space to that of a car. Replacing cars, which require what 15 foot lanes to move one person and the blight that is car parking, with scooters? Yes please!

Do I ride an escooter? No, personally, I prefer an unpowered bicycle. But an escooter allows my wife, who's not comfortable on a bike in traffic, to get around without a personal car or cab or Uber.

Tim Tielman

Thanks for commenting. I know you know I spent more than 10 seconds on a scooter, and that I am evaluating, specifically and deliberately, the kind of scooter offered by scooter rental companies around the world that average people are going to encounter. I also used them in situations that these scooter companies encourage people to use them, and as directed by the scooter companies and the scooter manufacturer.

NO SCOOTER COMPANY OR MANUFACTURER RECOMMENDS EVER OPERATING A SCOOTER WITH ONE HAND, NOR HAVING ANYTHING HANGING FROM THE HANDLEBARS. They do this because they know it impedes balance and stability and is unsafe and want to minimize legal exposure. This is before one even considers turning, braking, or accelerating with one hand on the handlebars, as you suggest. This is reckless and dangerous.

Shifting weight also impedes balance and stability, and is exacerbated by speed, turning radius, center of gravity, and other factors. That's why shifting loads on trucks are so dangerous. That's why a shifting load on a slippery sidewalk causes people to fall all the time. The same goes for shifting loads of backpacks, bags, and purses. You cannot project your experience riding a scooter with a messenger bag or backpack onto others. The Corvair, lawn darts, the Boeing 737 Supermax were safe for thousands—millions—of users. Until they weren't.

For the reasons I pointed out, electric scooters are unsafe at any speed. Bikes, trikes, and e-bikes are much safer for the average user in circumstances they are likely to encounter. I have five bikes, one e-bike and one car. I ride a bike to work most days, including through Buffalo winters. Riding an e-scooter back and forth to the office once told me everything I needed to know about the relative suitability of e-scooters for everyday mobility.

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