Why micromobility’s future depends on protecting pedestrians
(and why those who cry, “but cars are worse!” are missing the point)
The summer of 2021 was supposed to be micromobility’s big breakout moment: Cities coming back to life, streets teeming with people eager to stretch their legs, people hungry for al fresco dining destinations and open-air transportation options to get them there.
But recent headlines in Seattle and Milwaukee are telling a different story. Shared e-scooter operators still haven’t figured out how to keep scooters and scooter riders from intruding on and threatening the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and people with disabilities.
These are not isolated stumbles. It’s even worse in Chicago, London and Paris and other cities where walking is the primary mode of travel. Deputy Mayor of Paris David Belliard put operators on notice: “Either the situation improves significantly and scooters find their place in public areas without causing problems, in particular for pedestrians, or we look at getting rid of them completely.”
Now the question of the day is: Are operators capable of living up to their promises to keep pedestrians safe?
Are shared e-scooters being singled out unfairly?
In light of criticism and controversy, some shared e-scooter operators and even some safety advocates have cried foul. ‘Cars are the real problem! When it’s cars doing all the killing, why all the focus on scooters?’
There is some truth to this. But it doesn’t mean scooters are off the hook, for three very good reasons:
- The threat is real. Scooters are quiet, and when a rider comes out of nowhere, it’s a harrowing experience. Older adults and people with disabilities feel especially threatened, for good reason. An errant scooter to a blind person or a wheelchair user is more than just a nuisance; it’s a serious safety hazard.
- Scooters are new. For better or for worse, people have learned to live with cars. It took decades and for people to become inured to the hazards of the automobile, but it did happen. Scooters are the new mode on the block, so they get more scrutiny.
- Vision Zero. Virtually every city has adopted some version of a Vision Zero policy, which says that pedestrians are the most vulnerable and therefore should receive priority. Pedestrians deserve safe places to walk and the last thing they need is yet another hazard to contend with.
More than just acknowledging that we have a problem, we have to do something about it. So what will work better than current GPS and computer vision systems to reliably enforce correct parking and safe riding? The right solution must:
- Provide accurate positioning, even in urban canyons and poor visibility conditions
- Reliably prevent — not just detect — sidewalk riding and misparking
- Prevent other forms of unsafe and aggressive riding, like wrong-way riding and swerving
In the past few weeks, Superpedestrian has been demonstrating Pedestrian Defense to city and policy leaders, a new on-board system that promises to do all this, and more. Pedestrian Defense works via Super Fusion, a patented technology that Superpedestrian gained with the acquisition of Navmatic earlier this summer. In our next post, we’ll speak with Boaz Mamo and Sharon Zhang about how the system works, and report some impressive recent results.