Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien said he has been a bicycle commuter for 20 years. On the plaza on Thursday in front of City Hall, O’Brien showed up carrying his own helmet, as he surveyed the scene where Lime and Bird electric scooters were lined up for a test-ride opportunity for members of the Council and public.
“When the whole scooter thing started a year or so ago, I kinda shrugged,” O’Brien said, figuring it wasn’t going to change his life. “And then I tried one. It was amazing, within about 30 seconds, how I felt comfortable on it and I could see how so many people who may not be comfortable on bikes for whatever reason could really adapt to using this.”
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment under the hot noontime sun as dozens of people lined up to get a quick tutorial from Lime and Bird reps, strap on a helmet and then zip round the plaza.
The push by the transportation sharing companies comes a day after Seattle officials announced that they were speeding ahead with plans to launch a free-floating scooter share pilot program in the city. In a guest post on GeekWire on Wednesday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said, “Let’s try scooters in Seattle. But let’s do it right.”
For members of the Council in agreement with the mayor, that means paying attention to and getting reassurances about everything from rider safety to sidewalk clutter.
“As a City Councilmember I’m excited to do everything the Council can to make this mobility option available to folks as soon as possible,” O’Brien said.
A new era in Seattle transportation? Councilmember Abel Pacheco celebrates his birthday with a festive Lime scooter ride at City Hall. pic.twitter.com/X7sV1rvJQM
— GeekWire (@geekwire) May 9, 2019
Councilmember Abel Pacheco not only came to work on his birthday, but he rode a scooter decorated with colorful balloons for the occasion.
Councilmember Lorena González took off from one side of the plaza to the other and her giddy laughter could be heard as she sped away. She addressed the rise in injuries in cities where scooters have already arrived.
“I think we have a really strong culture in Seattle of people who ride bikes already, so I have often times seen people just traveling with their bike helmet,” González said. “It’s going to be an education process for us to make sure people understand how to safely use both bikes and scooters as they continue to be deployed throughout the city of Seattle. I think people in Seattle are very smart and very educated and they’re going to understand their own limitations and what they need to do to protect themselves.”
Glen Buhlmann used to work for Microsoft, and he gave up his car when he moved into Seattle from the Eastside. On the back of his left leg, he was sporting a tattoo of a person on a bicycle dumping a small car into a recycling bin.
“I have memberships with everything … bike shares, all three of the car shares, and I already had the Bird membership waiting for them to come,” Buhlmann said, adding that he thinks people were ready for a scooter program in Seattle a year ago. He said he believes the only valid criticism of bike and scooter-share programs is that the city doesn’t build enough safe places to use and park them.
Buhlmann figures he would mix scooters into his current transportation routine — “I’ll just use whatever’s closest,” he said. And when it comes to helmets, he doesn’t use them — “I’m not against helmets, I’m against helmet laws.”
Anna Zivarts is the program director of Rooted in Rights, a video advocacy program that is part of Disability Rights Washington.
“We haven’t seen the city figure it out yet with bike share,” Zivarts said about the prospect of scooters getting in the way of those who face challenges with accessibility. “We’re excited about the health benefits, the mobility benefits. It’s great that scooters are coming, we wan’t people to get out of cars and have more options. But we’ve got to figure out the parking.”
Zivarts, who was currently working on a video with the Seattle Department of Transportation on proper bike-share parking, said it’s not fair to ask the disability community, people whose mobility is already challenged, to bear the brunt of mis-parked bikes and scooters.
“Off-sidewalk parking would be great,” Zivarts said. “We have streets, we can decide how we allocate that space. Let’s allocate some of the parking space that goes to cars right now to bike shares and scooters.”
After some Council members took their test rides they returned to City Hall for a Sustainability and Transportation Committee lunch-and-learn session in which Portland-area officials presented findings from that city’s scooter pilot program.
The report sheds a lot of light on how scooters were received and used by the public in 2018 and what issues have raised concerns, including a lot of what Seattle hopes to address before even getting started such as safe spaces to ride, dedicated parking and equitable access.
Tyler VanBrocklin is studying informatics at the University of Washington and he’s an avid rider of LimeBikes as well as the company’s LimePod car sharing. He first rode scooters during a trip to Los Angeles with friends a couple months ago and the things were everywhere in Venice Beach.
He still has his own car but has slowly stopped using it.
“You don’t really need a car in a city like this that now has so many different options,” VanBrocklin said.
Daniel Babadzhanob is working on his own healthcare startup and he was one of the first on the scene at City Hall as Lime and Bird workers were setting up the scooters. He previously tried Lime scooters in Washington, D.C., when he was there for a conference.
“There were these scooters around and my friend and I decided to use it and try it out for the day,” he said. “We had just an unbelievable time. Just super awesome.”
His advice for the Council?
“Do it for sure,” Babadzhanob said. “It just offers another option for people to get to work and get to places and brings a new experience to Seattle.”
Councilmember O’Brien is among those who are listening.
“In a world where we have a lot of congestion, we have air pollution, these are the types of solutions we need and we need to do it right,” O’Brien said, adding that, in the case of bike sharing, “Seattle often is one of the first cities to do things when it comes to transportation.
“At the moment we’re one of the last, but that’s OK. We’ve learned from a lot of other cities. We can design a program that hopefully will be the best in the nation.”