Getting around - under your own power, or with a shiny, smartphone enabled micro-mobility device made available by a multinational?

I probably should (again) clarify what I’m (not) about here.
I’m not trying to get GM to make a high mpg car or persuade people to stop driving, or share my values. I am trying to ascertain what people/here/think/about the efficacy of the strategies, approaches currently under discussion. What do they accomplish? What questions aren’t being asked? What are our medium to long term objectives?

Who wants to participate in an Ivan Illich book discussion group? :wink:
For those who may not be familiar with Illich, he asked all of these questions about fifty years ago and made some very astute but iconoclastic observations that still speak directly to our dilemmas today.

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To the original question… I haven’t given this a lot of thought, and I can barely bring myself to care about scooters at all, but scooters and bikeshare bring two important things to the table, in my view. First, they show people an alternative. Sure, there have always been alternatives, but they haven’t gained traction. Maybe in part because of the second point, or maybe for other reasons. But a lot of people can’t imagine a car-free downtown. The park-near-your-destination mindset is so ingrained as to blind people from seeing things any other way. Scooters close the distance, figuratively and literally, between a parking spot and the ultimate destination. It’s maybe okay for one’s car to be 6, 10, 18 blocks away if a scooter’s available. Scooters enable that imaginative leap because they’re new and flashy and have marketing that gives their presence reach into the awareness of some who might not consider more staid alternatives.

The second thing is scooters (and bikeshare) are paving the way to sharing that will hopefully someday really work. I don’t think we’ve seen a good model for person-sized goods that are not individually owned, but available when and where one needs them, and disappear from the user’s concern when not needed. The models we do have – public goods/services, traditional rentals, cars (the other big “sharing economy” item) – don’t fit the short-range, downtown-core, personal transport that scooters are trying to address. The number of scooters lost to the Willamette River, and the tribulations of the programs so far, testify to that problem not being solved yet. It’s going to take more iterations before a good solution is found, but there’s value in finding a solution eventually. Because of the first part, but also because a solution might assist a bunch of other shared-ownership problems. And if you want a link to big-picture save-the-planet values, good solutions for shared ownership can make us collectively more efficient. If one lithium battery can do what each of ten people need, that’s nine lithium batteries we don’t need.

I think this is a reasonable hypothesis. How can we assess whether this is likely, though? Are there examples of this kind of progression we can point to?
If this progression turns out to be plausible, applicable then we also need to acknowledge the shortcomings, the failings of the current iterations rather than fiercely insisting that it is (already) fabulous.

But in the current version (scooters) we have something like three thousand short-lived lithium batteries that were not part of our landscape a few months ago, doing what feet and bikes and Trimet seats used to accomplish (short urban distances). The trend is not toward lower resource use but toward ever higher resource use. We need to keep an eye on the bigger picture

We have habituated ourselves to expect sexy solutions to the grave environmental problems we’ve saddled ourselves with. And perhaps we will get lucky and this will in fact turn out that way, but looking around us, and at history, I think there is very little reason to assume this. We would do well to take a more circumspect look at these shiny, enthralling objects.

As was done here: Are e-scooters polluters? The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters - IOPscience

In this study, we found that the global warming impacts associated with the use of shared e-scooters are dominated by materials, manufacturing, and automotive use for e-scooter collection for charging. Increasing scooter lifetimes, reducing collection and distribution distance, using more efficient vehicles, and less frequent charging strategies can reduce adverse environmental impacts significantly. Without these efforts, our Base Case calculations for life cycle emissions show a net increase in global warming impact when compared to the transportation methods offset in 65% of our simulations. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that, while e-scooters may be an effective solution to urban congestion and last-mile problem, they do not necessarily reduce environmental impacts from the transportation system

Claims of environmental benefits from their use should be met with skepticism unless longer product lifetimes, reduced materials burdens, and reduced e-scooter collection and distribution impacts are achieved



That’s a fair point, and thanks for the study link. My intuition was that scooters are probably not a net environmental positive, which is why I went to the issue of a car-free downtown (i.e. lifestyle, not environment). What we learn from getting scooters to work (assuming we do/can) might have positive environmental impacts – an admittedly speculative link to future benefit. Scooters themselves, however, may not be an environmental positive It seems plausible they could be a lifestyle positive, though.

Perhaps we’re paying for an amenity at some cost to the environment. If that is indeed the exchange, how should it be judged? How much of one justifies the other?

If we can quantify the environmental impact, as the article tries to do, then we’re “mere public policy” away from compensating for it. If that doesn’t break the business model, you can have environmental and lifestyle, both.

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To most people bicycles are complex, short-lived, offshore, globe-spanning, solutions. Bicycles aren’t as easy because they’re more effort and people don’t know anything about them. They never worked on one, they were a fad in the 70’s, they’re for kids, they’re made in China, they’re dangerous. A rentable e-scooter is the bicycle of cars. It’s a small, 2-wheeled, self-powered mode of transport you don’t have to know how to fix.

People have become lazy and they want their transportation to breeze them effortlessly from place to place just like they promised us in the 50’s.

Remember that our country is founded on doing whatever you want. It’s not going to be easy to force people to stop doing something they want to do. It’s un-American at it’s core. The best we can hope for is to shame it into remission.

I don’t know if you are responding to something I said, but I was not advocating shaming or forcing. Both of those are directed at a group to which we may or may not belong. I was addressing this group - us - because we (most of us) have been carrying water for these shiny short-lived solutions since day one. So many responses here are all or nothing: if not shiny then failure. What about the middle ground? Solutions that don’t involve these glaring trade offs, these disappointments? Solutions that take the public-who-wants-to-get-somewhere seriously such as, oh, I don’t know, the joy, freedom, ease, pleasure of bikIng.

Explaining the well known principle that there is no free lunch: if not human powered then although it may be fun, sexy, feel powerful, there are costs we all bear, chickens that will come home to roost, etc.

I am brand new to Oregon/Portland one week before shelter in place. While I would not dare touch a shared bike/scooter right now (Covid plus handlebars likely full of vomit, poop, or pee residue) and I want to use my bike as full time transit, with all the bike thefts in Portland, I only feel safe using my bike as recreation so it’s basically never out of my sight. I came here expecting PDX to be a biking utopia after decades in the burbs near San Francisco. Instead, I learn that bike paths are blocked by tents, needles, trash, and stolen bike parts…that there is no secure bike parking and that the roads are so bad and the bike lanes are so poorly marked, it’s not the utopia I imagined. So bummed. I’m also 58 years old and can’t deal with aggressive cars, super fast cyclists and dodging all the debris. So, I’m on foot or in my car for all my errands/groceries, etc. and feel terrible about it. My bike was expensive in 1999 and is no longer made. I can’t risk losing it. I keep it in my living room on the 23rd floor of my building because bikes from our “secure underground gated parking” still get stolen. Heartbreaking that bike safety and bike security in Portland actually sucks as much as it does in San Francisco. Maybe this is part of why why people are sticking to their cars. Portland’s myth of being bike friendly isn’t really true. If I wasn’t afraid of human waste on the rental bikes, I’d use those. If they get taken/stolen, at least I don’t lose my bike.

Hi Amy,

Bikeshare has a lot of issues, but the logistics of creating and transferring puke, pee, and poop is such I think it’s probably less of an issue on the bikes than on surfaces all over in general. Those things barely get ridden anyway – I think each averages about 2 trips/day at 1.5 miles each, so very little opportunity to get contaminated. The UV from just sitting out there will help. And you could wear nitrile gloves or something else if you’re worried about contamination.

The lack of bike security is a serious problem. I’m lucky enough to be able to bring my bike indoors where I go most. But when I can’t, I have an old bike with no parts that I can lock to the rack. Not nearly as fun to ride, but it gets the job done.

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Thank you. How come Portland has this reputation of being so bike friendly when bike theft is massive and obstacles (eg: tents, humans, bike parts, trash) on paths/road are everywhere? What grew this rumor that PDX is the most bike-friendly place in the USA?

One reason is that some people/corporations/institutions/landlords stand to make a lot of money if Portland’s brand is burnished.
Another is that at one time Portland did have some enthusiastic and statistically noteworthy bike accomplishments, usage rates, etc.


I believe the branding dynamic 9watts describes is occurring, but I think the real reason boils down to people here being very much into identity optics.

Having said that, Portland is by far the easiest place to ride that I’ve ever lived – I worry about it ruining me as a cyclist because you can get away with stuff that would get you killed anywhere else. Drivers are way friendlier, slower, and more observant than elsewhere. For example, cyclists pass turning drivers from behind (a move that is totally suicidal anywhere else) and many drivers actually do look. Bike lanes, greenways, and slower streets are common even if not everywhere. Distances are short – almost any normal destination you want to go to will be less than 10 miles away.

Having said that, not that many people ride beyond a small dedicated core. Between noncyclists not caring about theft/paths/etc and a high percentage of the actual cyclists refusing to support anything that would actually work as some sort of virtue signaling, these issues will be with us.

I’d recommend avoiding most of the paths. As far as security goes, I have a cheaper bike to lock to the racks but I haven’t had problems occasionally locking up a good one. However, my bikes have significant cosmetic damage to virtually every component (when they’re not practically worn out) which probably makes them less attractive to thieves.


thank you. not sure exactly what you mean about identity optics and virtue signaling in terms of biking … are you saying that folks are more concerned about the rights of campers than the safety of cyclists?

ah, it used to be good. got it. thanks.
so bummed.

That is quite a stretch, and seems to me needlessly polarizing. Conversations that touch on houselessness over on bikeportland (blog, not forum) almost invariably go down that particular zero-sum path but it doesn’t seem ever to lead anywhere helpful.

I wouldn’t put it that way. Rather, few people are negatively impacted and many of those who are have mixed feelings so there’s not much pressure to do anything. The virtue signaling is about not doing anything that even temporarily makes life more difficult for those under duress in the name of compassion. What might or might not help the homeless situation is its own topic.

As far as the identity optics goes, people like to wear their identities on their sleeves out here. There’s no particular harm in that, but it means the substance takes a back seat to symbolism. Cycling is a “thing” so people play their role but also boost the image as they can.

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