I spent a little time outside of Dallas this summer, long enough that when I returned I realized that I had missed the emergence of an entirely new cultural trend in this city: the scooter. When I left, it was all about bike share. Now, we have scooters. What does that mean for the future of bike share? I don’t care. I’ve only ridden the new rent-able scooters twice, and already I believe they are, without overstating the point, the single best thing that has ever happened to Dallas, maybe since La Reunion accidentally populated this once-frontier trading post with an overabundance of educated European socialists.
We just spent an entire issue yammering on about walkability. It already feels out of date. The future is all about scooter-ability. Scooters can solve all of Dallas’ problems. They are the missing key that will unlock Dallas’ latent urban energy. They will make the streets alive and active and full of life. They will transform the city’s urban core. They will create jobs and solve poverty, bring about unity and peace, drop the crime rate, increase the birth rate, inspire great poetry to be written about Dallas and help the Cowboys win a Super Bowl. Scooters will make all of our dreams become reality, and all of our realities feel like dreams. Scooters will save Dallas’ soul.
But seriously, I do think the scooters are pretty cool. They solve a problem highlighted by bike share: navigating spread-out Dallas is more manageable when you can move faster than walking. They also solve a problem created by bike share: sweat. And the scooters are fun to ride.
There is one challenge, though. They can be dangerous. And, like the bike share experiment, they help highlight the fact that Dallas would be a better, safer, more livable place if we had streets that better accommodated multiple forms of mobility: walkers, bikers, cars, transit, and, of course, scooters.
The city is looking into investing in more bike lanes. The problem, as always, is that infrastructure is expensive and cities don’t have a lot of money. So how can we solve that problem? Turns out it is pretty easy: the scooters will solve it. Or, more precisely, the scooter companies.
Curbed reports that Bird, one of the scooter companies operating in Dallas, wants to help cities build more bike lanes for their scooter riders. They have proposed donating $1 per scooter per day to a fund that will help expand bike lane infrastructure in the cities in which they operate.
Why would a private company invest in public infrastructure? Well, because it is smart business. The biggest threat to the private scooter companies are the public bodies charged with keeping us safe. Dallas’ scooters are currently permitted on the city’s streets because the council granted it a trial period to see how the experiment goes. If there are too many accidents, it is not unthinkable that the city will pull the plug in the name of being the big, overprotective nanny government that it is.
Bird wants to get ahead of those politics, and to do so it is creating a special safety board to oversee its operations:
The Los Angeles-based firm announced that it will form a new Global Safety Advisory Board led by David Strickland, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and more recently, spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, that will “create, advise, and implement global programs, campaigns, and products to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters.”
Bird’s statement notes that the board, which will consist of transportation and safety experts as well as government officials and private citizens to be named later, won’t just focus on the safety of those riding scooters, but also pedestrians and bicyclists who share space with these riders.
In addition, Bird will begin steering revenue into a dedicated fund to expand transit infrastructure in the cities where it operates. The initiative would set aside $1 per day from each scooter in operation to help cities build new protected bike lanes, as well as maintain existing ones by repainting and repairing them.
San Francisco and Denver have already banned the scooters (though Denver let them back in again). There are grumblings in other cities that scooters are a nuisance. Dallas could back off its scooter experiment. But that would be foolish for one simple reason. We all know getting around Dallas is a pain. Driving can be infuriating. Walking is humiliating. DART is incorrigible. Bikes are sweaty. Scooters are the first form of mobility I have ever encountered in Dallas that are actually fun. That’s not me overstating things again. It’s simply true. Now, Bird seems willing to work with cities to make the scooter thing work. There’s no reason why Dallas shouldn’t work with Bird to keep scooters on the streets.