TransportationCamp DC 2019 was full of sessions on micromobility. It even became the dominant theme of more general sessions. In one such session, which sought to discuss “how transportation learned and grew – and changed bad habits – in 2018,” micromobility became the touchpoint of the whole conversation.
Scooters are part of a growing ecosystem known as micromobility. Because of the uncertainty of any specific micromobility mode’s longevity – Washington, DC’s dockless pilot cycled from almost all human-powered bikes to electric scooters and pedal-assist bikes in under a year – transportation agencies and companies have begun to speak of the overall ecosystem rather than any specific type within it.
For context, plenty of headlines declared 2018 the Year of the Scooter. The suddenness with which scooters appeared, though, has led many in the transportation industry to wonder if they will last, and what might replace them.
New toys, new thinking
Calvin Thigpen from Lime and Tiffany Chu of Remix led off the conversation by suggesting that micromobility is helping cities step towards better transportation planning. They argued that dockless scooters are showing city leaders that tweaking transportation networks with more car-based services won’t actually improve transportation, and that jobs like bikeshare managers in many cities have moved from fringe positions to core mobility management experts.
What this means is that many cities are seriously rethinking how they design for multiple forms of movement in limited spaces. Dockless corrals are popping up in places like Arlington, Virginia, and serious conversations about rethinking roads as spaces where fast, medium, and slow speeds can peacefully coexist (rather than just cars) are beginning, according to Thigpen and Chu.
The abundance of scooter data also answers why the rise of micromobility will force planners to change street design when bicycles, which have been around longer than cars, didn’t succeed at this. Cities are now better equipped to make decisions based on real measurements.
Chu pointed out that dockless companies are beginning to see signs of induced demand – where consumption rises with supply because demand had previously outstripped availability – with their scooters, and that this mode has figured out the most efficient way of providing a short trip that’s too long to walk but too short to drive, and is attractive to a customers that would not have considered biking.
Ultimately, Chu emphasized, if there had not been a pain point that people had felt in this trip type, dockless companies would not have taken off the way they did.
Getting ahead of the curb
With micromobility running away with 2018, according to the panel, it begs the question of what the coming year will look like. The panel suggested that 2019 will be the Year of the Curb, with the newly influential dockless vehicles needing to move from the sidewalks to share curbside spaces with parked cars, freight deliveries, and ride-hailing pickups or drop-offs.
As new modes come online and cities continue to rethink how they divide the space along their streets, each of these zones will get more crowded and require an impressive amount of foresight to be able to manage how they change.
The discussions at TransportationCamp suggest micromobility and the surprises it brought has kickstarted cities into developing a new way of perceiving mobility and to stay ahead of changes instead of reacting to them. If they can get a handle of the dockless micromobility craze, perhaps they’ll then be able to get a handle on the dockless automobility craze to make streets safe for everybody to use.