One of my friends recently declared on Facebook, “I am officially anti-scooter.” And she’s not alone… social media is ablaze with e-scooter hatred as if people were putting ketchup on a Chicago hot dog. I watched an episode of South Park dealing with the electric shared scooter epidemic last year. Six months later, Chicagoans are talking about the barbarians at the gate, with 10 new companies entering the city this summer.
It seems to be the consensus that the real problem is the riders, not necessarily the scooters themselves. Strewn all over people’s lawns and blocking doorways, it’s easy to see why people see scooters as unpopular and cumbersome. Yet e-scooters and electric bikes are growing in popularity, and curiosity is overcoming the bad press.
I myself have been dying to test one of these bad boys out, and I saw my chance at the Liberty Bank 500 E-Scooter Race, held in the Liberty Bank parking lot last Thursday night, announced on Instagram.
Orchestrated by Derek Erdman, a local artist, the Liberty Bank 500 E-Scooter Race was a fun way to bring locals together and get a conversation going. Excited, people waited in their cars or under bus awnings for the rain to pass, just to participate or try a scooter out, doing 12 loops around the empty lot to win the race.
To quote Ricky Bobby from the movie Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first you’re last”. Well, I came in dead last, but at least there wasn’t a Nascar-style explosion. For my first time on an e-scooter, I think I did pretty well… Even though I totally wiped out in the 10th lap and broke my glasses.
As I walked home (okay, limped home), I replayed the evening in my head: Maybe I shouldn’t have been in a race my first time on an e-scooter. Maybe I shouldn’t have raced on a rain-soaked surface, is it had just stopped raining ten minutes ago. And maybe I shouldn’t try to keep up with a young lady who takes turns like a BMX Bandit and is literally dressed like the devil. Honestly, watching Ashley Armitage blow past me in the third lap, I felt like a rube at a poker game who’s barely good at UNO.
Photos: Erik Island
I should tell you, I’m not even a bicycle person… My idea of extreme sports is riding the 62 Kimball Bus to the South Side after 11 pm. But scooter racing was worth it, racing around milk cartons while the California Blue Line train roared overhead. And I am definitely going to do it again. I just had to be smarter about it next time.
The next day I learned that Lime Scooters was having its “First Ride Academy” series on Saturday at Palmer Square Park, the first of many events happening every Saturday until the end of July. The signup and orientation begin in front of St. Sylvester School (3027 W. Palmer Square Ave.), across the street.
Their campaign, along with community outreach, is geared towards teaching people to ride safely and (yes!) park responsibly. So I iced my knee, superglued my glasses back together and prepared to check it out. (Note: This is not an ad for Lime e-scooters, nor do I work for any scooter company.)
Cesar Cardona, a Lime scooter city launcher, got us in helmets and safety vests, then he demonstrated how the scooter works and gent over the safety precautions and Rules of the Road. After fielding questions from the group, we talked about how he deals with people’s disdain for the scooters. Cardona, who has overseen Lime Training Academies all over Latin America, dismisses the negative comments with a shrug.
Photos: Erik Island
“People say they don’t like broccoli,” said Cardona. “Have you tried it, or are you just saying you don’t like it without trying it?”
Sheree’ Patton, a Lime scooter community organization manager, was there to answer questions and help people sign up for discounted rides via Lime Access. Sheree’ Patton travels the world promoting Lime scooters, eager to engage with people and soften the already negative electric scooter image.
“We’re super interested in the community, especially in low-income areas where we offer discounted rides and job training placement programs,” Patton said of the program. “Also, look at the different age groups here, so many adults—it shows that the interest in e-scooters isn’t just kids.”
Patton even brought some of her family members in from North Carolina to join in the fun.
This past spring, Chicago’s Transportation and Mobility Task Force recommended Chicago look to micro mobility, like scooters, to provide more transportation options to underserved neighborhoods and increase first- and last-mile options. This is particularly important to connect workers to manufacturing jobs in Chicago. Right now, many of Chicago’s manufacturing jobs are located in areas that lack transit options, including some in the pilot area like the Near West Side, the Little Village, South Austin and West Garfield Park, according to Lime’s training academy press release.
Lime let us keep our helmets, which the company is giving away for free at these training sessions to ensure safety is the top priority. So far, they have given away 200 helmets.
For my first time taking a scooter onto the street, it was a huge adrenaline rush, breezing down Kedzie Avenue in the bright sunshine. And I felt more secure riding in a group with other newbies. With Cardona looking after us like a mother duck walking her ducklings into a lake for their first swim, giving us instruction the whole time, we were in good hands.
Photos: Erik Island
Despite the lazy placement of scooters all over town, the scooter apps instruct people to park the scooter in an upright position, out of the way of walkways and doorways. I’ve signed up for three different scooter apps, and the instructions are clear—even requiring you to take a photo of the parked scooter. When deciding where to park, as Patton told us, it’s a matter of common courtesy.
“If I was a pedestrian or if I was riding a bike, I wouldn’t want a scooter in my way,” she said.
No matter what your opinion of e-scooters and electric bicycles are, they’re here to stay (for now). But the good news is that, in time, things will get better. Like with pedaled bicycles, there will eventually be a standard of road etiquette. And soon enough, winter will come and squash all of our joy (sorry).
Those of you that are e-scooter curious, join Patton and Cesar at the Training Academy this Saturday, July 6, at the same location. Then come get your Fast N’ Furious fix at the next Liberty Bank 500 E-Scooter Race on July 25. And for goodness sake, get a safety helmet.