Lime-S electric scooter share by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

On Friday, September 21 a person riding a scooter was struck and killed by an SUV driver in Dupont Circle, the first fatality of a person on a rented scooter according to DDOT records. The tragedy sparked the usual handwringing over the danger of the devices, and comments about the persistence of victim-blaming when it comes to crashes involving motorists and pedestrians, cyclists, or now people riding scooters.

A new video from Vox highlights how poor city planning and a lack of safe accommodations for non-car traffic can put scooter riders in danger. It's not that planners are intentionally trying to harm people walking, bicycling, and scooting with car-centric design, but in practice, streets designed principally for cars end up being much more dangerous for other users than they have to be.

Streets used to be chaotic and slower-moving spaces where a variety of people and vehicles mixed together, but over time they widened and became car-only, eating into sidewalk space and becoming treacherous to anyone that wasn't a motorist. As sidewalks narrowed, there was also less space for people walking and biking — and riding scooters.

So why does that matter? Scooters are a useful mode of transportation in cities, particularly for people who don't live or work near a transit stop. Scooters provide a solution to this “last mile” problem for some riders, which can enable them to use transit more frequently. Also, cities are getting increasingly clogged with traffic, and it's best for everyone (including our environment) to get people out of their cars.

But right now scooters are being forced to compete with pedestrians for sidewalk space. In Dupont Circle, where the fatal crash occurred, both scooter riders and bicyclists are technically banned from riding on the sidewalk, even though that area is dangerous and there are no lanes to accomodate non-car vehicles.

 

 

“Smaller transportation — bikes, segways, scooters — they only work when cities make space for them,” the video says. Let's hope DC does.

Julie Strupp is Greater Greater Washington's Managing Editor. She's a journalist committed to building inclusive, equitable communities and finding solutions. Previously she's written for DCist, Washingtonian, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, and others. You can usually find her sparring with her judo club, pedaling around the city, or chatting with her neighbors on her Columbia Heights stoop.