by Mateja Mihinjac
At its core, SafeGrowth builds on the environmental philosophy of Smart Growth urban planning, a concept that aims to restructure the way we plan cities to improve sustainability, livability, and public health.
Over the past century, the urban structure of cities has undergone some dramatic changes. With the emergence of motor vehicles, space originally intended for pedestrians became increasingly smaller and vehicle use increased, adding vast amounts of pollution into the air. It also decreased the amount of walking, which affected public health.
One strategy to transform these trends is the 15-minute city philosophy, where people have easy walking or biking access to services and amenities within 15 minutes of their residence. The concept of 15-minute cities was first laid out in the Congress for New Urbanism Smartcode, twenty years ago. More recently Mayor Anne Hidalgo adopted it as part of her re-election bid in Paris.
Unfortunately, efforts to adopt these alternative modes of transportation have not come without their own challenges, one example being the growing popularity of e-scooters that have dominated the streets of many cities since 2017.
In a very short time, the use of e-scooters has surged and many cities allowed e-scooter start-up companies to set up shop. However, while loved by some, the scooters are hated by others.
One of major drawbacks of e-scooters appears to be their major advantage – the ability to leave scooters anywhere without having to park them. This flexible use has popularised their use but also led to conflict between different traffic groups. While prohibited on main roads or bike lanes, many e-scooter riders choose to ride on sidewalks, prompting concerns for pedestrian territory being under assault.
Further, e-scooters can reach speeds of 25km/h and that has led to an increased number of injuries of both riders and passers-by. Another issue is “scooter pollution” - scooters often block the already limited sidewalk space and thus obstruct mobility for other groups of users. This has led to the introduction of parking fines for scooters in some cities while other cities have completely prohibited parking of scooters in their city core.
The result is a conflict between start-up companies that offer scooters and municipalities that think scooters should be banned from their streets. However, scooter users cannot park where such infrastructure does not yet exist. Clearly, there are unsolved implementation snags.
Are there solutions that could preserve this mode of transportation rather than simply eliminate it? 15-minute cities need alternative transport options so there must be solutions.
Industry leaders themselves acknowledge that it is time to rethink the model and build public-private partnerships that can help develop more effective and sustainable solutions.
If municipalities adopt a 15-minute philosophy, they also need to invest in redesigning urban infrastructure, such as e-scooter parking. The complete streets initiative offers one such approach that envisions wider pedestrian and bike lanes. In this case, the issue is not whether to allow e-scooters, but that sidewalks have become increasingly smaller at the expense of car lanes, which creates additional conflicts.
Others suggest that more emphasis should be on shared lanes for different types of users while increasing heightened awareness for the safety of those users.
Charging docking stations are another possible solution to the “scooters-on-the-loose” problem. Not only could they reduce the issue of loose scooters, but they would also reduce operational expenses and reduce reliance on gig economy workers (such as informal, temporary workers who hunt wayward scooters and charge them for a fee), and scooters damaged during transport.
Docking stations would also increase the availability of scooters to their users and reduce the environmental impact needed to transport scooters for charging.
Innovative technological companies have offered many ideas for these stations, which could leverage existing city utilities and infrastructure (e.g., bus stops) or become situated adjacent to bike parking corrals found in almost every street corner. Sweden has already made progress with the Street Moves project that plans a parklet with a mobility hub placed on every street by 2030.
These novel ideas offer a different way to encourage the shift to a new urban structure. They can help to better integrate e-scooters in multi-modal mobility networks where scooters don’t become a nuisance for municipalities but an alternative mode of transportation integral to the regular transport network.