On Aug. 13 Lime announced that Google Maps will begin displaying available Lime scooters in Chicago and in more than 100 cities across the world. Users will be able to see if a Lime scooter is available, how long it’ll take to walk to the scooter, a price estimate of the ride, battery range, along with total journey time and ETA in the Google Maps app.
It’s just another move that shows scooters are here to stay and continue to become engulfed in the transportation fabric of the community. Now that it’s been more than two months since the scooter pilot program entered the scene, their advantages are becoming clearer and more people are learning how to share the road or sidewalk.
The 10 Chicago companies with permits can operate only within the pilot program area, which is most of the city’s Northwest and West Sides. There has been a high concentration on the northwest side, particularly in our community, where the beginning of the pilot program came about like some scooter deity snapped their fingers and 10,000 of them rained down.
The commonalities for the scooters: they can go no faster than 15 miles per hour, have front and rear lights, a warning bell, breaks and 24/7 service, according to CBS Chicago.
I believe the scooters are here to say, despite my mixed views on them. In the Logan Square area, they are more about fun than utility. This explains why I see a prevalence of multiple people on a single scooter, groups of friends riding them on the sidewalk and poor parking. These mistakes definitively say, “I’m out with my friends and we are being a little reckless” than anything else. This recklessness presents the most opportunity for the city to scrap the program; because someone got hurt, or damaged a scooter, or rode one drunk, or the companies violated the program, etc.
That said, it doesn’t mean they will jet out of here, even with the complaints and side-eye they (and their riders) receive. There are so many advantages to the scooters, especially over bicycles. I have seen more than a few Logan Square bikes with their wheels stolen. I am not very involved in the biking world, but I know a solid, customized bike can cost a pretty penny. If there is a sense of “collective ownership” of an e-scooter, no one person will lose hundreds of dollars and psychological pain over losing an e-scooter. It is a low-stakes relationship between the e-scooter and its riders.
E-scooters are also a lazier alternative to biking, requiring only the push of the accelerator button to get up to comparable speeds. Don’t want to get sweaty before work but still need to be on your own time, without a $30 car parking charge downtown? An e-scooter is your best bet.
Another advantage of e-scooters is reduced carbon emissions. Some of the scooters inform the rider at the end of their trip that their ride was carbon-free, but this is not entirely the case. E-scooters emit about half as much carbon as a car, are manufactured in environmentally damaging ways and are picked up by gig workers at the end of the day for charging. These workers often use cars. And a new study by North Caroline State University found that scooters are less green than originally thought because of the aforementioned upkeep that requires carbon pollution like manufacturing, transportation, maintenance.
That said, innovations are already being made. The city of Portland, Oregon is requiring companies to report all related emissions with their scooters, which will prompt competition to further lower emissions.
To be frank, residents in Logan Square are far from being without public transportation. Within much of Logan, the scooters are more emblematic of the Near Northwest side being the San Francisco portion of the “one third San Francisco, two-thirds Detroit” metaphor for Chicago from urbanist Pete Saunders. They seem to be a natural extension of AirPods, boozy brunches and rising rents.
I am confident that the city will decide to keep e-scooters around following this pilot program when it ends Oct. 15. As they become more normalized, people will treat the scooters and other pedestrians, with more respect via more responsible riding and parking. Most riders are respectful already. There is something that seems inevitable about e-scooters, and the advantages gotten from them: increased mobility, a sapping of train deserts and their rec use. These will outweigh the negatives: crashes, poor parking and sidewalk clutter.
The positive environmental impacts of the scooter will be a trendy way of decreasing carbon output in the city and getting people away from car traffic, especially for folks who don’t have bikes. Folks in transportation deserts will be able to fill in the gaps in ways cheaper and less burdensome as maintaining cars, which some scooter companies like Lime are marketing.
There will doubtlessly be abuse and bad decision making while riding e-scooters; just the other day I saw two people on a single scooter riding on the sidewalk with headphones on at the Damen/North/Milwaukee six-corner in Wicker Park. It is difficult to think of how much more rules you could break in that situation. But rule-breaking is in all institutions and most people follow the rules.
The e-scooters will be here to stay in Chicago’s future, and folks around the city and in Logan Square should begin thinking of a future with e-scooters as a normal fixture in the day-to-day routine.
Featured photo: Ariel Parrella-Aureli