CYCLE OF RAGE: Bird Begins Public Push For Scooters In NYC — So City Must Protect Us All

Council Member Robert Cornegy joins venture capital-backed company as it seeks a city legalization bill.

It was kind of weird to see all these people scooting around on Bird devices on Wednesday in front of a mural of American heroes such as Robert F. Kennedy. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
It was kind of weird to see all these people scooting around on Bird devices on Wednesday in front of a mural of American heroes such as Robert F. Kennedy. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s inevitable that e-scooters will be hitting the streets of New York, maybe even before the end of the year.

And it’s equally inevitable that scooter riders will die without proper protection by the city.

I was reminded of that as I watched Beatrice Jackson — all of 71 years young — tool around on a Bird scooter in Bedford-Stuyvesant on Thursday morning. Actually, Jackson — locals call her Mama B — reminded me herself.

“I could see doing this; I liked riding it,” said Jackson. “But I’m a safety person, so I’d need a dedicated bike lane. And when I say ‘dedicated bike lane,’ I mean a DEDICATED bike lane, with cement, not just painted lines on a street.”

Beatrice Jackson said she liked the scooter — if she can ride on a safe street. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Beatrice Jackson said she liked the scooter — if she can ride on a safe street. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

When a 71-year-old woman with bad knees tells you she would ride an electric scooter in the street if there were more protected bike lanes, it’s pretty clear that the fake drama over scooters that has been playing out all over the country is over. Scooters are here. But the roads aren’t ready.

Bird claims that’s where it comes in. The company has pledged to set aside $1 per device per day in a fund that will be given to cities to “build more bike lanes.” It has asked the other main scooter companies to sign the pledge, but none has so far.

I told Bird’s Director of Public Policy Matthew Kopko that New Yorkers don’t like outside companies — especially newbie tech companies with a lot more in venture capital than they have in street cred — pushing city officials around (or sticking their nose in cash). And I reminded him that every protected bike lane proposal unveiled by the Department of Transportation gets sniffed by community boards like it’s a two-day-old fish that they are deciding whether to serve or throw in the trash.

“That’s why we want to work with cities,” he said. “That’s why we brought on former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland as a consultant. We want to work with cities to create funding and technical assistance. We are creating more demand for bike lanes and we focus on funding streams for cities. These are low-speed, small footprint vehicles.”

Kopko presided over Bird’s coming out party on Thursday in Bed-Stuy, letting members of the public try out the front-wheel drive, throttle-powered two-wheelers all around Restoration Plaza. Bird, and its competitor Lime, already have friends in the City Council, what with Rafael Espinal and Ydanis Rodriguez readying a bill to legalize e-scooters in New York.

On Thursday, Council Member Robert Cornegy joined the fight — on Bird’s side.

Council Member Robert Cornegy tries out the Bird scooter. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Robert Cornegy tries out the Bird scooter. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

“There’s a narrative that communities of color don’t want to be at the vanguard of technology and we want to change that narrative,” he said. “There’s a narrative these ideas speed gentrification, but I disagree. We need to be at the forefront of technology.”

Cornegy, who is 6-foot-7, also rode a Bird scooter and said he was impressed.

A Bird scooter.

“I had my concerns, but it was awesome,” he said. “Beatrice wanted to race me. If it can be used by seniors, then it’s not just 18 year olds.”

(Full disclosure: I found the Bird scooter twitchy and enervating. I ride my bike everywhere, all day and night, and without the stabilizing effect of pedaling, I felt like my Bird scooter was always one tiny oversteer away from flipping. But that’s just me; Mama B liked it, so who am I to argue?)

I told Cornegy that if he wants scooters for his community, he’ll need to fight for more bike lanes rather than allow residents to steamroll the city, as they did two years ago on Clinton Avenue. There are currently no protected bike lanes in Bed-Stuy at all.

“I will stand up for more protected bike lanes,” he vowed. “I ride my bike every day. Residents are becoming more conscious of safety.”

They better.

  • Danny G

    Gahhh – please no ALL CAPS on the headlines

  • Danny G

    P.S. Good article. And I hope that Councilman Cornegy prevails in bringing some real-deal bike lanes to the north-south avenues of Central Brooklyn.

  • I look forward to a 2-year 25 scooter pilot on Roosevelt Island

  • Emmily_Litella

    Can’t wait. In the NY Times comments of the Aug 19th editorial in support of scooters, every other person from out of town places already having scooters complained about them being strewn about thoughtlessly. The Lime system asks you to photograph the parked scooter at the end of the ride.

  • sbauman

    People should review the history of the early 1900’s with the e-scooter and e-bike introduction scenarios. Bikes were supplanted by cars in the 1901-1915 period. The automobile industry then did its best to force bicycles off the road.

    The original League of American Wheelmen morphed into the Good Roads Association. The Good Roads Association morphed into the AAA. Let’s not repeat history.

    The human and electrically powered devices can coexist if the speeds are nearly the same and if there is sufficient room in their exclusive lanes to accommodate both. If history is any guide, faster and more numerous electrically powered devices will co-opt the exclusive facilities the bike movement has fought so hard to obtain.

  • Joe R.

    The speed disparity is no worse than that between slower and faster cyclists. Both vehicle types absolutely can coexist on bike lanes, provided they have room for safe passing (which you need anyway even if all bikes are human powered).

    What’s more imperative is improving pavement condition. NYC’s streets are bad enough if you’re on a bike. Those e-scooters cannot cope with streets in their present state.

  • Mike

    Better bike lanes would be awesome, but having a flock of scooters in the bike lane would be terrible. They move differently, and they have a quick side to side motion that is extremely dangerous in passing situations. Also, the clutter of scooters all over our very crowded sidewalks sounds like a nightmare scenario, when even one boldly placed sandwich board can cause bothersome pedestrian bottlenecks.

  • Joe R.

    Those are valid complaints. Indeed, it’s not that the scooters are all that fast relative to cyclists, but rather that might quickly move and sideswipe a passing cyclist.

    While I’ll support anything which might get us better bike lanes, I’m honestly scratching my head at the popularity of these. I get it that some people want a motor but to me a e-bike is a much more sensible platform for a motorized small vehicle.

  • thomas040

    The pavement is much more important to bikes and other two wheel, or smaller wheel vehicles, including hover boards and electric skateboards. It’s fine for cars, but if you don’t wanna get flung over your handlebars, you have to be VERY attentive for pot holes when you ride in New York.

  • Michael Smith

    San Francisco MTA evaluated the proposals for scooters in detail. Bird in particular got an impressively absolutely horrible review of POOR for almost every category. See https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/reports-and-documents/2018/08/application_rating_summary_table_08.320.2018.pdf . But hey, why should City Council, or even StreetsBlog, look at the details before getting all excited about Bird and other companies.

  • sbauman

    There are plenty of cyclists who despise the bike lanes because they cannot go 25+ mph in them. Their complaint is that the lanes are cluttered with obstacles that limit their pace to 15 mph or less.

    The numbers of these high speed cyclists has been relatively low. Consequently, they have had to cool their heels. Slow poke riders on Citibikes rule the bike lanes. This balance would change, when e-bikes and e-scooters dominate bike lanes. The 10 to 15 mph cyclist will be in the minority. There will be calls to banish them from the bike lanes because they are slowing down the e-bikes and e-scooters.

    That’s why I suggested studying the early 20th century history of cars vs. bikes. I’d hate to see history repeat itself.

  • Joe R.

    Banish them to where? The sidewalks?

    As for the complaints of faster cyclists, those are valid because there’s no inherent reason why bike lanes can’t accommodate users riding from 8 mph up to 25 or 30 mph. That’s how it works in the Netherlands. The city just needs to take more space away from cars. If we get more people on our side, including those who just ride e-bikes or e-scooters, then this might be the critical mass needed to make that happen. The present bike lanes are substandard. You’re assuming that’s all we’ll have available in the future.

  • Luxury Cleaning NYC always supported sports and physical exercise because it is not only fun but also improves your health.

  • sbauman

    there’s no inherent reason why bike lanes can’t accommodate users riding from 8 mph up to 25 or 30 mph.

    The number of conflicts among bike lane users per unit length is an increasing function of: the speed differential; the total traffic volume; and the entropy of high and low speed users. It’s a decreasing function of the lane width.

    https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/05137/05137.pdf

    For a given lane width, fewer user conflicts result when the users proceed at close to the same speed.

    accommodate users riding from 8 mph up to 25 or 30 mph. That’s how it works in the Netherlands.

    I think you forgot the conversion from metric to English speed units.
    https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/8/28/17789510/bike-cycling-netherlands-dutch-infrastructure
    So the Dutch design manual classifies roads depending on the speed of the cars traveling in them. If there’s any major difference in speed, then full separation is required — concrete barriers, a grass median, planter boxes, or bollards…What is the speed threshold?…Anything where cars are traveling faster than 30 kph. So, what’s that, 19 mph?

    N.B. 25 mph is the NYC speed limit. Devices proceeding at that or higher speeds dont’ belong on bike lanes; they should be on the lanes designed for high speed vehicles – e.g. automobiles.

    If we get more people on our side, including those who just ride e-bikes or e-scooters, then this might be the critical mass needed to make that happen

    Can e-bikes and e-scooters co-exist in bike lanes with slower, unassisted devices powered solely by human power? A significant percentage of high speed devices will make bike lanes unusable for low speed human powered devices. The result will be what we had before the protected bike lanes – bikes fighting for roadway space with vehicles. The only difference will be the vehicles will be smaller.

    You’re assuming that’s all we’ll have available in the future.

    There are several transitional steps between the present and such a future. One important aspect in this transition is that the continued safety of human powered bicycle users be assured throughout the entire transition and at the goal where cars might be replaced by e-bikes and/or e-scooters.

  • Joe R.

    For a given lane width, fewer user conflicts result when the users proceed at close to the same speed.

    OK, but we’re not talking HUGE speed differentials here. The fastest riders are likely to be going ~25 mph unless there’s a downgrade or tailwind. However, if that’s the case, everyone will be going faster, so the speed differentials are still about the same. Anyway, 25 mph will be one outlier, and probably something like 9 or 10 mph will be the outlier on the other end. That’s an extreme differential of only 15 mph, which is less than the speed variation of cars on a typical highway. In practice, the vast majority of human-powered bikes will be going in the 12 to 15 mph band, while e-bikes, e-scooters, and faster riders might be going around 20 mph or so. That’s a speed differential of 5 to 8 mph most of the time.

    The fact is bike lanes must be wide enough for safe passing regardless of whether or not you allow e-bikes. The speed differentials between even regular (not strong) human riders are enough that you can’t expect everyone to ride at the speed of the slowest cyclist, which is what happens when you have no room for passing.

    I think you forgot the conversion from metric to English speed units.

    I didn’t forget anything. Dutch bicycle infrastructure is designed for a minimum of 30 km/hr (18.6 mph), but that’s a bare minimum. Most is designed for 40 km/hr. And designers typically overdesign, so most of the 40 km/hr infrastructure is actually safe at 50 km/hr or more. You have pro cyclists training on Dutch bike paths, as well as velomobiles which can go in excess of 60 km/hr.

    N.B. 25 mph is the NYC speed limit. Devices proceeding at that or higher speeds dont’ belong on bike lanes; they should be on the lanes designed for high speed vehicles – e.g. automobiles.

    Except for the fact they can’t safely be in the lanes with motor vehicles because legal e-bikes can’t go 25 mph, much less keep up with the typical travel speed in traffic lanes of 30 to 45 mph. So you say they’re too fast for bike lanes but they’re also too slow for car lanes. Where do you put them? Or do you just continue to pretend they don’t exist like NYC has been doing?

    Can e-bikes and e-scooters co-exist in bike lanes with slower, unassisted devices powered solely by human power? A significant percentage of high speed devices will make bike lanes unusable for low speed human powered devices.

    What will most likely happen is slower riders will have an incentive to start riding e-bikes. That’s exactly what I would do should age or disability prevent me from riding at 18 to 23 mph like I do now. To me slower speeds are intolerable from either a transportation or enjoyment perspective. If I can’t do them on my own, I’ll get something with power assist. Or get a velomobile. It’ll be much the same with slower riders. Everyone wants to get where they’re going faster. Right now however, a lot of people are reluctant to get e-bikes due to the police crackdown. Once they’re accepted, I have little doubt slower riders especially will embrace them.

    There are several transitional steps between the present and such a future. One important aspect in this transition is that the continued safety of human powered bicycle users be assured throughout the entire transition and at the goal where cars might be replaced by e-bikes and/or e-scooters.

    And it will be. The speed differentials I mentioned earlier aren’t so extreme as to cause a rash of collisions. It’s also not like we’ll go from almost zero e-bikes to thousands of them overnight. As they phase in, people will get used to them. Eventually as the bike lanes start to get crowded there will be a lot of pressure on the city to widen them.

  • PUFFS

    E scooters could signal the end of bike use as currently exists in city. They are easier to use, less prone to serious accidents and will travel at @ comparable speed of a City Bike. Rider can dismount quickly and morph into pedestrian if there is a problem. Biggest issue is keeping them off the sidewalks. A similar problem that currently exists with cyclists. Plus being the elimination of problems that current rental bikes present.

  • Brandyn

    The trick is to take more room from cars and create paths designed for tiny electric vehicles. As I’m typing this, I’ve been trying to find a video on a Dutch paper describing the need for my vehicle families and infra diversity. Can’t find it after 30 minutes of searching 🙁

    You could also encourage the heck out of normal bicycles, and allow their mass to self-enforce lower speeds.

  • Joebarnathan

    I was in a brooklyn lowes the other day, I had to look for a cart for 5 min. It seems they keep a very small number of carts on purpose so the parking lot isn’t filled with empty carts. This could work as long as the amount of scooters doesn’t affect the quality of life.

  • The real issues are sidewalk and parking. Our advocacy group has sent letters to officials recommending that there be a bike/ scooter parking, in the parking lane on every block of bike lane. Otherwise parking will be on sidewalks and blocking the already overcrowded pedestrian way.
    DOT has been derelict in rolling out only one half of the infrastructure, the bike lanes without the parking. Can you imagine if that was the case for cars : roads but no parking !
    Parking is what Bird should be funding ( and maintaining since the city declines to maintain bike corrals) as well as bike lanes.
    This would guarantee less riding on sidewalks and less obstructions on sidewalk.

    At the same time scooters have a great potential to give wheels to pedestrians, as they are intuitively closer to walking. Good news for low income communities of all ages.

    Let’s not mess this one up.

  • sbauman

    we’re not talking HUGE speed differentials here…

    The ratio of speeds is more important than the speed differential in estimating the number of passing events. The speed ratio determines the distance traveled by slower devices per distance traveled by the faster devices and vice-versa. The actual speeds and the number per hour determine the density (devices per sec or devices per ft) for each speed category. It’s possible to estimate the number of passing events, by putting these two factors together.

    Consider 200 bikes per hour, split evenly between slow and fast cycles operating at 10 and 20 mph. On average the fast device will pass a slow device every 72 seconds and a slow device will be passed by a fast device every 36 seconds. That comes to 50 and 100 passing events per hour, respectively. The FHWA LOS for shared use paths would be rated B and D, respectively.

    Change the balance to 190 slow and 10 fast devices per hour. The fast device will pass a slow device every 38 seconds or 94 passing events per hour for a C LOS rating. The slow device will be passed by a fast device every 361 seconds or 10 times per hour for a A LOS rating.

    Change the balance to 10 slow and 190 fast devices per hour. The fast device will pass a slow device every 721 seconds or 5 times per hour for an A LOS rating. However, the slow device will be passed by a fast device every 19 seconds or 190 times per hour for an F LOS rating.

    Now, extend the max/min speed ratio to 3 for a slow speed of 8 mph and a fast speed of 24 mph. For the same 3 populations the results would be as follows:

    100/100 (slow/fast): 54 sec; 67 per hr; C for the fast device
    100/100 (slow/fast): 18 sec; 200 per hr; F for the slow device
    190/10 (slow/fast): 28 sec; 126 per hr; D for the fast device
    190/10 (slow/fast): 180 sec; 20 per hr; A for the slow device
    10/190 (slow/fast): 541 sec; 7 per hr; A for the fast device
    10/190 (slow/fast): 9 sec; 379 per hr; F for the slow device.

    As you can see, the slow devices’ LOS deteriorates fairly quickly with both increased fast cycle use and an increased fast to slow speed ratio.

    As they phase in, people will get used to them. Eventually as the bike lanes start to get crowded there will be a lot of pressure on the city to widen them.

    You will note that the fast device LOS improves, while the slow device LOS deteriorates. The fast device users will have no incentive to lobby for better for better roads for slow cycles or even wider roads. This is what happened in the early 20th century as automobile speeds increased. Once the automobile speed increased well beyond that of a bicycle, the better roads that were advocated did not include facilities for bicycles.

    Dutch bicycle infrastructure is designed for a minimum of 30 km/hr (18.6 mph), but that’s a bare minimum. Most is designed for 40 km/hr. And designers typically overdesign, so most of the 40 km/hr infrastructure is actually safe at 50 km/hr or more.

    Here’s a link to a Dutch Cycling Figures video: https://youtu.be/pDlmn-Ipdns

    As you scan it, look at the bicycle flow. You should note an absence of passing. All the cycles, including motor driven ones, are content to cycle at the pedal cycle speed.

    What’s that speed? If you skip to 2:19, it’s 12.4 kph (7.7 mph). If you skip to 2:22, the average e-bike speed is 13 kph (8.1 mph). As the video states, the e-bikes don’t provide a faster trip; they permit much longer trips.

  • MiklosMeszaros

    Yeah, shorter wheelbase and smaller wheels will tend to lead to much quicker steering, not to mentions certain aspects of the steering geomtry. If you’re passing a scooter and it makes a sudden move, your ability to react will be lower than the rate it which it can change direction.

    Those smaller wheels also tend to make it less flexible in contending with the infrastructure issues throughout the city. So a few folks will eventually injure themselves and the end results of those incidents will be interesting. If we do see more people on these devices, I expect a notable increase in pedestrian related contacts as pedestrians in certain areas are pretty careless and so will some scooter operators.

  • Meredith

    Here in DC we’ve had e-scooters for a while now. Bird is one of several companies operating them, and while I love the e-scooters myself, Bird is always my last choice. Their scooters are frequently broken, not where they’re stated to be on the app, not charged enough to use, or perfectly fine except for having their unlock QR code obliterated.

    Skip (formerly Waybots) scooters are occasionally uncharged or missing, but usually fine if you can find one, though I find them the least comfortable to ride – very unstable. Lime scooters are the best by far, they have better theft-prevention mechanisms and as such don’t end up destroyed nearly as often; they are almost always fully charged, and they’re also large and sturdy so they feel pretty safe when riding. (Spin is now operating e-scooters in DC too; I haven’t tried one yet.)

    Whether or not NYC ends up liking e-scooters as much as DC does, I hope Bird does better as a company for y’all than they have down here.

  • quenchy

    You forget that majority of bikers use this mode of transportation for exercise too, something e-scooters and e-skateboards do not provide adequately..
    If ever, e scooters will just be a fad

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