How e-scooters are a plague on Tech’s campus

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

A few weeks ago, walking on Ferst Drive, an e-scooter flew by me. Having just gotten off crutches, I’m not the most sure-footed walker, so I don’t try to make space. He gives an indignant “ding” when passing, oblivious to the bike lane five feet to his left. I’ll bet that you’ve experienced something similar at Tech. From my perspective — centered on responsibility on the road, urbanism and sustainability — dockless and personal e-scooters should be removed from the future of micro-mobility at Tech and greater Atlanta.

As an avid cyclist, I’m aware of road etiquette and the risks that I take when I ride. If there’s one takeaway from this opinion, it’s that bicycles and e-scooters should never be used on the sidewalk, full stop. 

Buying and maintaining your own bicycle creates ownership. Dockless e-scooters (e.g. Lime, Bird) are dumped on sidewalks, tarnishing our campus, blocking accessibility infrastructure and creating obstacles for other bikers and walkers to navigate around. People just don’t care about stuff that’s not their own. 

From the lens of safety, cyclists who ride around Atlanta know the risks they take on the road. Much to the chagrin of my friends, I’ll only use my helmet if I don’t know the route like the back of my hand and treat most stop signs as a “yield”. 

It’s a tradeoff well worth the exercise, fun and time saving benefits. Cyclists also are incentivized to ride at a constant, safe speed because constantly accelerating and braking is a waste of energy, as opposed to riding an e-scooter which only tires your thumbs. 

Finally, the act of learning to ride a bike confers experience on the road. This isn’t to say that all cyclists are saints on the road, but the slightly higher barrier to entry — simply learning to ride a bike — combined with the physical incentives to ride at a controllable speed hopefully keeps some of the boneheads off the road. This isn’t the case with e-scooters. A trained poodle with $200 and opposable thumbs can hop on an e-scooter and ride 20 miles per hour. 

As an urbanist, e-scooters don’t fit a niche in micro-mobility inside or outside our limited sized campus. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t consider them to be road-worthy. E-scooters, by design, have a short wheelbase, low clearance and poor handling due to the upright position. 

These factors neuter their effectiveness outside the boundaries of our campus. As a result, studies have found that e-scooters fill the niche that has been previously filled by simply walking or biking. The reality is that our campus is in a dense part of Midtown and isn’t that big. Walking end to end doesn’t take much more than 25 minutes. 

There are a few exceptions — I asked President Cabrera during last year’s Earth Month bike ride why he rode an e-bike, and he replied that it’s because he usually wears a suit which is very hot. E-bikes have their own niche as they allow travel at much greater distances and are more road worthy, but I’ve ignored them as they comprise a small percentage of campus micro-mobility. As someone who cares deeply about sustainability, I’ve found that e-scooters aren’t sustainable and are mostly e-waste. 

College students are inherently transient, and most of the appliances we buy aren’t used for more than a few years if they’re lucky. 

As sourced above, we’re just adding the carbon footprint of production and charging to trips that we used to just walk and bike! In Atlanta alone, we’ve seen the coming and going of Lime, Spin, Helbiz, Jump and Veo. Now only Lime and Bird remain, meaning countless dockless e-scooters have been built and have lasted less than three years. 

Regular mechanical bicycles have been repaired and maintained for decades and only need carbs as batteries. Sustainable communities must also be equitable. The daily cost of riding dockless e-scooters quickly adds up, and the upfront cost and charging cost of a personal e-scooter is far from an equitable price just to save 30-60 minutes of walking each day. 

The adoption of personal e-scooters just screams American consumerism to me. In a school full of engineers, even imaginary ones like me, is it too much to ask to find a $50 bike on Facebook marketplace and spend a few hours tuning it up? What can we as individuals do? From a policy perspective, I’d like to remove the “dockless” aspect of our current dockless rental e-scooters. Make a bike rack network like how Citi Bikes work in New York. 

Geofencing and speed limitations would prevent reckless riding of dockless e-scooters, which has already been used in lively parts of the Beltline with more public intoxication. 

For personal e-scooters, speed limitations would prevent inexperienced riders from endangering themselves and others. Ultimately, these proposed policy changes take a long time to have significant impact. For now, heed my call to action. 

E-scooters aren’t good for our campus from the perspective of road etiquette and safety, urbanism or sustainability. So the next time you’re walking around campus and see a scooter barreling towards you, hold your line, flex your shoulders and lats and make them go around you. 

Looking forward to hearing your arguments, I will dutifully respond on the Technique forum. Many thanks to Carter, Max, and Conor for editing; Derek and Nick for introducing me to cycling and getting the (wheels) rolling. 

Yours truly, Kevin