Electric scooters have arrived in downtown Phoenix. It’s a shame the Phoenix City Council isn’t supporting the program.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated with recent reporting on scooters from local media. See the bottom of this post.]

The Friday Essay: Scooting MidtownAfter attempts in other cities, electric scooters have finally made their way into downtown Phoenix. A six-month pilot program began on 16 September 2019 and will certainly be watched by many interested parties, not least the Phoenix City Council.

As my friend Lauren Potter wrote in a blog post for Downtown Phoenix Inc., the electric scooter pilot program involves scooters from three different companies. The pilot program will be immediately constrained to downtown Phoenix, where scooters can be picked up and dropped off from almost 400 designated parking areas. Scooters can’t be driven on sidewalks, they have to stay on streets or in bike lanes. They also can’t be taken into areas that are pedestrian-oriented, such as the eastern portion of Hance Park (the west portion of Hance Park is outside of the boundaries, turns out). Unique to the electric scooters as a part of this program is that scooters will slow down and stop if they are nearing one of these no-ride zones; it will be interesting to see how that works in practice.

Of course, these are for the scooters provided as a part of the electric scooter pilot program. Up until recently, even though they were able to be purchased online and at some major Phoenix retailers, personally owned electric scooters were de jure banned in the city of Phoenix. This was, of course, a response to the gas-powered gopeds that were starting to take over streets and prompting complaints from NIMBYs neighborhood people back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I should probably mention here that I have my own personal electric scooter. As a tool to get around any central-city, and especially in a spread-out central-city Phoenix to get from a METRO light rail stop to one’s final destination, it’s a great thing to have. Especially as a small business owner, it’s great to get to clients and vendors that are just slightly out of the reach of a METRO stop on foot and still look reasonably presentable, even when it’s over 100ºF outside.

But here’s my fear: I don’t think the electric scooter pilot program will succeed here. Not because the anti-scooter forces will have their say and win over the ear of the Phoenix City Council, saying that they’re not welcome. As Laura Bliss so wonderfully put it in an essay on CityLab in August, when talking about a scooter program in Alexandra, Va., “Neighborhood change can be a frightening thing for longtime residents. A proposed mid-rise threatens to blot out someone’s cherished view. A new bus stop might bring fears of future parking troubles. And a scattering of dockless scooters may herald the rise of a new generation with different priorities—one that’s happy to sacrifice some sidewalk space to get around without a car.” Additionally, we’ve all seen the social media accounts and the naysayers doing their best to cast scooters–and their users–as urban scum.

My feeling is that the electric scooter program will fail because riders will realize that downtown Phoenix is just too automobile-oriented to ride safely with the City’s directive that scooters are not allowed to be driven on the sidewalks. Basically, our City has taken the policy that if you’re not in a car, you don’t matter. Why else would the City Council, amid staggering data of pedestrian collisions, actively reject a Vision Zero framework to reduce injuries and fatalities among all users of our streets, roads, and sidewalks? Especially in a state that leads the nation in pedestrian fatalities?

That’s how it’s going to be. We have a City Council that doesn’t want to miss out on scooters because that’s the latest urban fad but is willing to do nothing to improve safety outcomes for everyone, because we’re a car city and we can’t change that moniker. So the scooter program will fail because scooter riders have no dedicated infrastructure to them, or even a bike lane, but are cast out from using the sidewalks.

It’s a shameful day.

Edit 1, 22 September 2019, 2pm: Both The Phoenix New Times and KJZZ-FM are reporting that two of the three electric scooter companies, Lime and Bird, have withdrawn their scooters from the downtown Phoenix pilot program. According to both of these sources’ reports, the software on their respective scooters did not require riders to park their scooters in one of 400 designated scooter parking spaces, one of the major rules of the Phoenix program. Spin’s scooters were not affected. As of this edit, it’s not known if Lime or Bird will return to the Phoenix program.