No, e-scooters are not the worst thing that ever happened to cities

scoters parked on sidewalk
CC BY 2.0 Scooters parked on sidewalk in Tempe/ Lloyd Alter

A lot of people are complaining about scooters, but they could be transformational.

Poor Mother Jones. It reported on a recent study of injuries associated with e-scooters by doctors in Santa Monica, California, as reported to emergency rooms between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2018, and which found that 249 patients were admitted.

According to the paper, 228 were injured while riding, mostly from falling off the scooter, with 25 colliding with an object and 20 hit by a vehicle. A hundred patients had head injuries (only ten were wearing helmets) and 79 had fractures.

Is that a lot? Who knows; the study just lists the injuries, not the rate of injury. According to Angie Schmitt, Bird claims there were millions of rides during the period. She talks to Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia, who tells Angie:

To understand scooter injuries, studies should allow comparison to other modes... Ideally, there would be an exposure denominator to allow calculation of the risk of injury, that is, the number of emergency department injuries per trip or per mile travelled. This could be compared to the risk of other modes of travel, including walking, cycling, driving, transit.

Mother Jones then decides that scooters are the worst thing that every happened to cities, even though there is no comparison to how many people are killed or injured by people driving cars in Santa Monica (about 285 fatalities between 2006 and 2016). Nor is there any comparison to the number of people injured in cars in crashes. Needless to say, all the alternative transportation people we know are outraged.

The Mother Jones tweet and the headline on their story, Researchers Find that E-Scooters Are a Fun, Easy Way to Go to the ER miss the fact that scooters really are a fun, easy way to get around without getting into a car. The doctors actually get this, concluding:

Standing electric scooters are a novel, innovative, and rapidly expanding form of transportation with the potential to alleviate traffic congestion, provide affordable transportation to residents of all incomes, and reshape how commuters travel the “last mile” to home or work.

Study lead Tarak Trivedi tells Annie Ma of Mother Jones: “We are not troglodytes trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Use of rental 2-wheeled vehicles, many of which are now electric, is here to stay. Action, however, is needed.”

Meanwhile, Mother Jones has sort of tweeted a retraction. I am hoping they will follow up with a story about how cities must adapt and make room for scooters, how perhaps a few parking spaces could be removed to provide designated scooter parking areas, and how we really do need alternatives to deadly carbon-emitting private rolling living rooms. Because – like the doctor said – rental 2-wheeled vehicles, many of which are now electric, are here to stay.

No, e-scooters are not the worst thing that ever happened to cities
A lot of people are complaining about scooters, but they could be transformational.

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