Guest Post by Anonymous: Scooters are not the Problem

Editor’s note: this article does not necessarily reflect my personal opinion. I welcome a counterpoint article, which I would also post anonymously. This post was written before the scooters were removed from the streets.

Scooters Are Not the Problem

Recently, Indianapolis has been taken over by a new form of transportation: scooters! These little objects are a new form of micromobility for the city; a means of getting around without a single-occupancy vehicles. They’re nimble, easily accessible, and take up very little space. But first, a little clarity; what is micromobility and how does it work?

Micromobility is, at its core, small-scaled transportation that is useful for short distances. These include bike share (both docked and dockless, the latter of which has not yet arrived in Indianapolis) and scooter share. It’s often accessed through a membership card or through a mobile application. These are typically very low-cost and can fill a transportation need where traditional forms of transportation are not useful or not leveraged well. For example, there are parts of the neighborhood commercial centers that are a little far for walking, but too close for driving, and maybe the individual doesn’t want to take their bicycle with them. Micromobility offers the ability to check out a bicycle or a scooter, take it to their destination for a few dollars, and drop it off. It’s a supplement to other shared mobility forms in the larger transportation network and not a replacement.

These new transportation options have drawn a strong reaction from the Indianapolis City-County Council (CCC). Within days of the scooters hitting the streets, Indianapolis’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (BNS) requested that the scooters be removed from service so the City could hammer out regulations. The reasoning seems to be in that they clutter sidewalks and there is no enforcement structure. In the past week, the Committee for Public Works has drawn up a set of proposed regulation that will go to the full Council in July. These regulations propose parking laws, fees and licensing structures, anonymize data collection, and so on. However, are scooters really the major problem on our streets? Are they as much of a nuisance as they’re made out to be? What is the root cause of the perceived problem that the scooters present?

Parking of motorized vehicles in bike/pedestrian space has been common for some time, but only one has drawn such a high degree of criticism.

The first and most glaring issue is the City’s transportation policies. The scooters have been noted for cluttering sidewalks, but how much sidewalk space to we have? Our status quo for decades has been to give sidewalks the absolute bare minimum of space. Even our most heavily used pedestrian corridors, such as Mass Ave and Broad Ripple Ave, have the strong majority of their space dedicated to moving and storing motor vehicles, 80% of which are carrying just one person. There has been little policy push from the City to change how we approach transportation to prioritize safety and efficiency rather than motor vehicle speed and convenience. Giving more space to sidewalks and reallocating parking spaces for geofenced micromobility parking can resolve these issues.

Another issue cited is that scooters are riding on sidewalks rather than in the street, where the micromobility providers have requested they be ridden (much like bicycles). However, when one examines Indianapolis’s streets, can we really blame scooter riders for using the narrow and often damaged sidewalks? The streets are built for speed and unimpeded access for motor vehicles. Riding a bicycle on most of them is scary, let alone riding a small scooter. Maybe wider sidewalks would help, or maybe we can allocate bike lanes as “Micromobility Lanes.” These scooters travel at the same speed at most bicyclists, so why not build more protected micromobility lanes that are safe and separated from vehicular traffic? This is sure to draw its own set of criticism (e.g. should we allow electric-assisted mobility in bike lanes, but this also raises questions about electric-assist bicycles).

The introduction of new mobility options like scooters should force us to completely rethink our transportation policies. As we move forward with things like car-share, bike-share, scooters, bus lanes, and develop mobility hubs, we need to have a very serious discussion about who streets in the city are for and how that is prioritized. Do we ensure that there is space for every transportation user on the street and establish policies that make establishing this space programmatic with street resurfacing (a Complete Streets 2.0, if you will, with some performance metrics and minimum design criteria), or will we continue to prioritize the high-speed movement of single-occupancy drivers?

Indianapolis, if it seeks to revitalize the long-dormant neighborhoods of its past and rebuild its tax base, must be denser and easily accessible by multiple forms of small-scale transportation that doesn’t require larger amounts of storage space and can be used with high turnover. This cannot be achieved through a continued policy of single-occupancy driving at the top of the City’s transportation hierarchy; at least not within the Compact Zone (the pre-WWII built areas of Indianapolis, as designated by the Department for Metropolitan Development). Reducing the need for larger amounts of expensive vehicular parking and increase options to get around by public transit, bikes, scooters, car-share, and ride-hailing should be the overall goal. These are all means to an end of dramatically improving access to opportunity throughout the city without saddling our entire population with the costs of motor vehicle ownership.

Comments 13

  • This is the first article allowing reader feedback. The media is the problem. The so called reporters wait for their bosses are try to influence the issues. Happy to see Gary and UrbanIndy doing this.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by “the media is the problem” unless you are referring to the Indy Star, which has sadly become a largely irrelevant and sad excuse for a large and vibrant city’s “paper of record.” It seems that, with increasing regularity, the front page of the Indy Star fails to report on major local, state, and national stories that are being widely reported elsewhere across the country by outlets across the political spectrum. What’s especially shocking is the regularity with which non-local outlets report on local stories that never make it to the pages of the Indy Star. There are still a number of people doing good work at the Star but overall the paper is an embarrassment to the city.

  • A someone working downtown, the scooters were great. I used them to go places I would not have gone and spent money I wouldn’t have otherwise spent, particularly for lunch and when temperatures made walking across downtown unpleasant. They were also incredibly fun to use.

    Most importantly, the dockless nature of the scooters made them easier to use vs Pacers Bikeshare bikes. You could leave them at your destination and not blocks away at a docking station. At no point did I ever see scooters blocking doors or parked in the middle of a sidewalk.

  • I believe the generalized explanation is that we have a mayor who lacks conviction, courage, vision, and overall leadership, and whose political fecklessness is incentivized by the reactionary, change-averse electorate he represents.

    If Mayor Hogsett lacks the courage to effectively advocate for hate crimes legislation, a transformative transit plan, increased funding for IPS, and increased investment in parks, all four of which seek to rectify the quantitatively and qualitatively enormous disadvantages in economic and cultural competitiveness we have with would-be peer cities, what makes you think Mayor Hogsett and our dysfunctional City-County Council have any real interest in thinking seriously about mobility efficiency and safety?

    • I see some serious clutching of pearls here.

      While I agree that, from my long-distance view, Hogsett seems like an incredibly lukewarm mayor, I’d hardly consider hate crimes legislation to be a major consideration affecting Indy’s competitiveness with “would-be peer cities”. Back when I was naive and sentimental, I thought hate crimes were an effective tool, but the last few years have shown them to be far more of a weapon against free speech and nasty, offensive but LEGAL behavior. Besides, this is more of a state consideration, and Indy as a city has respectable anti-discrimination laws in place, which are the next tier.

      As for the rest, the transit does seem to be falling into place (no help from Hogsett). Indy will never be a national leader for transit, but it may soon at least be something other than a cellar dweller.

      IPS, like most inner city public school systems, is the true definition of the laws of diminishing returns. I see even less hope for inner city public schools as the affluent population moving back to the cities generally decides to have one or no kids. No significant funding increases will ever change these dismal results.

      Parks may be the one thing where Indy is seriously lacking. However, the low rankings probably have just as much to do with the fact that the city is so damn big, resulting in low acreage per capita. Besides, aren’t the two biggest parks actually State parks–meaning they might not get included in some measurements of parkland?

      Most evidence shows Indy is quite competitive with its peer cities. Hogsett may not be helping it become a leader of the pack, but at the very least he doesn’t seem to be making things worse. The previous mayor had some goofy, far-fetched ideas. That’s still more than Hogsett can claim.

      • You’ve hit something I notice every time Indy is highlighted as being deficient in parks.

        Two of the three largest parks in Marion County are state parks (Ft. Ben and WRSP). Eagle Creek is a city park.

        Military Park and the American Legion Mall are also state properties. And the ParkScore tool doesn’t seem to count Lawrence, Beech Grove, Speedway, and Southport parks as part of Indianapolis-Marion County’s parks or park spending.

        • This is true, but the city’s low density and lack of walkability really hurts park access, even if we do have a fair number. Think about Military Park – surrounded by the massive moat that is West Street and therefore out of mind for most downtown residents. Same for Eagle Creek – unless you live directly adjacent to it, it’s very difficult to get to.

      • I still get a little dumbfounded when folks talk about IPS. Yes, it has many neighborhood schools that are struggling, but the magnet schools have bene immensely popular. Since we’ve been at Butler Lab School 60 it has had the longest waiting list due the fact that CFI has expanded to 5 campuses. The Lab School just added a second campus as well, but there is still a wait list for both the Lab Schools and CFIs.

        It seems like the district is trying to move in the right direction, but we just found out that Spanish is now gone from the Lab School because of budget cuts.

        It’s very frustrating as a parent in a great public school to hear IPS disparaged on a regular basis.

  • All of these blame posts are premature, MANY cities in the greater LA region are tacking a step back to review the issues. Indy should too as a prudent step and NO one is saying they will be banned.

  • I see that Lime have had to recall their scooters due to a problem with them breaking in half. Looks like they were rushed to market.

  • Thanks you for share post link:
    However, the low rankings probably have just as much to do with the fact that the city is so damn big, resulting in low acreage per capita

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