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I have seen the future of downtown transportation, and it is fun.
The electric scooters from Bird and Lime are the greatest mode of travel in San Diego since my grandma rode through Balboa Park in a convertible or cruised Broadway in a hot rod.
The value of scootering is three-fold. First, getting around the city faster, easier and cheaper than in the old expensive convertible or gas-guzzling sports car is a big deal.
I work on the eastern edge of East Village, and my wife works on the western side of Broadway near the waterfront. If we want to meet for lunch, it’s a 25-minute walk, leaving little time to eat and walk back. Driving is faster, thanks to downtown’s one-way streets, which were designed for my grandmother’s hot-rod. But that still means a 10-minute drive for me, after which I pay up to $10 per hour for parking in a lot a few blocks away from my wife’s office, or peck around hoping to find street parking for $2 per hour. It’s a chore.
Instead, we can use our smartphones to find a scooter, walk one block to pick it up, and ride less than four minutes to drop it off at our destination. It costs $2 tops.
The city’s public officials are obsessed with changing how we get around the city. San Diego has adopted a Climate Action Plan that promises half of us who live near transit will get to work without a car by 2035. But instead of just talking about expanding our mobility options, the scooter companies have come in and actually provided a change.
I keep my helmet in my office. I ride on the street most of the time. But honestly, it’s not as safe to scooter on the street as it should be for three important reasons. The condition of the pavement is abysmal. Holes and cracks are treacherous no matter how you’re getting around.
Second, downtown’s long, straight, one-way streets facilitate high-speed traffic. Cars bunch up at each signal and roar to 35 miles per hour before stopping at the next light six blocks away. Once that first bunch of crowded, angry, honking cars pass by, scootering is a lovely experience on the street; our volume of traffic is usually low compared with the capacity our street network is built to handle.
And third, there is very little quality pedestrian, bicycle or scooter-oriented infrastructure built in downtown San Diego.
What these scooters are showing us is the fallacy that cars provide “independence.” Scooters will change how we get around downtown San Diego for many years to come.
There is a caveat: These scooters are not as appropriate for more urban cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Those cities have tremendous transit service and wide, clear sidewalks, and are filled with lots of people, cars, trucks and commerce. San Diego’s downtown sits more comfortably in the Phoenix, Austin, Dallas, Houston and Denver scale of intensity and transit availability. We actually need these machines to bridge those gaps between Little Italy, Gaslamp, Ballpark and City College, as we continue to urbanize.
Give it time. Hopefully officials see the scooters as an opportunity to build the infrastructure needed to support such a fun way of getting around our extremely beautiful city.
Howard Blackson is an urban designer with AVRP studios in downtown San Diego. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.