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Foss: Are our streets ready for electric scooters?

Foss: Are our streets ready for electric scooters?

Electric scooters from Jump, Breeze Bike Share presented by Hulu, Bird, Lime and Lyft are on display at a news conference in Santa Monica, Calif., on September 17, 2018. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Remember the Segway? 

Launched in 2002, the two-wheeled electric scooter was supposed to revolutionize transportation, to become one of the main ways city dwellers commuted to and from their jobs. 

That never happened -- I've never used a Segway, and I don't know many people who have -- and today the device remains little more than a technological curiosity. 

Which is why it might come as a surprise to learn that new models of electric scooters are descending upon American cities -- and that they might be coming to a city near you. 

Included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget is a plan to allow localities to permit the use of electric scooters on streets and sidewalks. Under the proposal, localities would decide exactly when and where e-scooters would be allowed operate, and how fast they could go. 

To hear e-supporters tell it, e-scooters will do what the Segway failed to do -- revolutionize transportation by replacing cars, reducing congestion and vehicle emissions. An article about electric scooters on the news site Vox described them as "a whimsical and cheap way to get around." 

Of course, one person's whimsical and cheap way to get around is another person's public nuisance and civic headache. 

I'll admit to being intrigued by e-scooters -- they do look like fun -- but I'm also wary of them, and here's why: The Capital Region is still trying to figure out how to get pedestrians, cars and cyclists to co-exist. 

Spend any amount of time driving, walking or biking around, and you'll notice that the streets aren't exactly bike or pedestrian friendly. 

Bike lanes remain a luxury, and while bicyclists are regarded as traffic under state law, it isn't unusual for motorists to yell at cyclists for biking in the road. Bicyclists often take to the sidewalks, creating a hazard for walkers. 

As for walkers, the streets have been getting increasingly dangerous, with the number of pedestrians killed each year on the rise. According to a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, 2018 saw the largest number of pedestrians killed by cars since 1990 -- 6,227. 

The rise in pedestrian fatalities is alarming, and it really ought to be acknowledged and addressed by policy makers before we add e-scooters into our transportation mix. 

Hundreds of U.S. cities have tried out e-scooters, with mixed results, according to the website CityLab, which reports on urban issues. 

Calling it the fad of the summer of 2018, one CityLab article noted that e-scooters "generated a lot of pushback. Scooters blocked sidewalks and menaced pedestrians; vandals frequently targeted the vehicles and littered the cities with broken machines. Others warned of safety issues: Doctors reported increased road injuries and the first fatal car-on-scooter crashes."  

I'm all for efficient, environmentally-friendly transportation options, but I'm not convinced New York is ready for e-scooters. 

These devices are likely to bring unintended consequences, and upstate municipalities already struggling to balance the interests of cars, cyclists and pedestrians are ill-prepared to deal with them. 

I can imagine a time when e-scooters are a sensible option for New York's streets. 

But that time isn't now, or anytime soon. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.   

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