Indulge in a Little Scooter-Freude at the “Chicago Scooter Fails” Twitter Feed

Lots of share-mobility options in Chicago nowadays! Photo: Twitter user Run2bike via Chicago Scooter Fails
Lots of share-mobility options in Chicago nowadays! Photo: Twitter user Run2bike via Chicago Scooter Fails

Note: Just to be perfectly clear here, Streetsblog Chicago does not condone the vandalism of scooters, or even pranks involving placing scooters in hard-to-reach places. Such stunts may put you at risk of a ticket, a night in jail, and/or financial liability. However, I am in favor of documenting said vandalism and pranks on social media. -JG

As sustainable transportation advocates, let’s agree to keep an open mind about Chicago’s four-month dockless electric scooter pilot, which launched on Saturday. After all, scooters have the potential to replace private car and ride-hailing trips, especially first- and last-mile journeys to and from transit stations. They can improve transportation access in underserved neighborhoods. Some people with mobility challenges say they’re useful as adaptive devices. And scooters may be helpful in building a political constituency for converting more mixed-traffic lanes to protected, car-free lanes, since their no-exercise, sweat-free rides may appeal to some folks who would never consider bike commuting.

That said, as Chicagoans, since ten companies have dropped a total of 2,500 of these electronic gizmos on our public way, we still have the right to be critical when things don’t go as planned. And we can be forgiven for expressing a little schadenfreude when scooters are spotted hanging from tree branches.

That’s where the new Twitter feed Chicago Scooter Fails comes in. “Scooters are in Chicago,” its bio notes. “This account will be tracking the mayhem that ensues.” In existence only three days, tweeting under the handle @ChicagoFails with the hashtag #ChicagoScooter, it’s already closing in on 500 followers.

Scooter mayhem in the West Loop. Photo: Steve Niketopoulos via Chicago Scooter Fails
Scooter mayhem in the West Loop. Photo: Steve Niketopoulos via Chicago Scooter Fails

Why? Because it’s a pretty good place to get a sense of how the pilot is going, albeit from a glass-half-empty perspective. If scooters are regularly being strewn across the public way, posing a hazard or nuisance for people on foot and in wheelchairs, the public should know about it.

And, let’s face it, it’s kind of funny when expensive gadgets paid for by rich people’s venture capital are deposited on public sidewalks and immediately wind up in dumpsters. It’s also amusing to see a pair of people who are apparently unclear on the concept (or else extremely thrifty) trying to ride two-on-a-scooter.

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Nope. Photo: Ray Pride via Chicago Scooter Fails

I reached out to Chicago Scooter Fails to learn who’s behind it and why they launched it. It turns out that the mastermind is another guy named John who works in IT sales downtown — he requested that we not publish his last name. “I knew the moment the electric scooter rollout was announced that I would create the account,” John told me via email. “There are numerous reasons why I launched it, but the primary one was the overall negative feedback I received from friends and colleagues about the impending scooter invasion. As an active Twitter user, I knew our fair city would take to the Internet streets to provide their unabashed opinions. I want to ensure that Chicago has a centralized social media voice for airing scooter grievances.”

John said he has ¬†family in Texas and visits them often, so he has seen firsthand both the pros and cons of the electric scooter trend. “I’ve rented them numerous times in Dallas and Austin and rather enjoyed them,” he said. “However, I do not see them being a [good] fit in the City of Big Shoulders and have yet to ride one in my hometown.”

He acknowledged the upsides of the technology. “They are energy efficient, relatively affordable, and extremely accessible,” he said. “You can’t knock these companies for the innovation. But in a highly urbanized city like Chicago the pros do not come close to outweighing the cons.”

Photo: Twitter user MagicHelmetTV via Chicago Scooter Fails
Photo via Chicago Scooter Fails

John then listed the downsides. “Plastic clutter crowding our sidewalks, streets, bike lanes and trees is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “While those eyesores are a bother, it’s the injuries and litigation to follow that have me on guard. The companies claim that safety is their highest priority which could not be more of a farce. They are providing the untrained masses with a motorized vehicle, lacking stability, while being capable of achieving speeds of 15 MPH. That is the ability to travel at half of the legal speed limit of cars in the city at your fingertips.” (Of course the counter-argument is that the potential for people on scooters to hurt others is laughable compared to potential for death and destruction posed by people driving high-speed, multi-ton cars and trucks.)

He added that while he doesn’t ride a bike in Chicago, he respects the fact that most local cyclists seem to know what they’re doing. “The majority of consistent bike riders in this city have been cycling for a long time,” he said. He noted that Chicago has installed hundreds of miles of bikeways, and puts a fair amount of efforts into bike education and encouragement.

Still, John pointed out, there were still several bike fatalities in Chicago last year. “Imagine hundreds of [scooters] lining the streets of Clark, Sheffield, Waveland and Addison after a Saturday afternoon Cubs game versus the Cardinals in August and the potential outcome of that scene.”

But don’t get the impression that the Chicago Scooter Fails feed is all gloom and doom. It’s actually good for a chuckle, as well as an (admittedly jaundiced) update on how the pilot is going. You can send your photos, videos, and thoughts about scooters, good or bad, to John at¬†ChicagoScooterFails@gmail.com.

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