Meet the Pro-Scooter Feed “Chicago Scooters Are Fine”
5:48 PM CDT on June 20, 2019
Today's the sixth day of Chicago's four-month dockless electric scooter pilot, and so far it seems to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, some residents are annoyed to see these venture-capital-funded gadgets being used to monetize, and occasionally block, the public way, and irritated about having to share the already-crowded Bloomingdale Trail with them, when it's not even legal to ride scooters there.
On the other hand, these gadgets offer a fun, effortless, sweat-free ride that seems to be highly appealing to many Chicagoans. Block Club reported that last weekend 11,000 trips were taken on the 2,500 scooters, which comes to 4.4 trips per vehicle. That's impressive for a brand-new transportation system featuring a mode few residents have used before.
On the other, other hand, so far the safety record for these gizmos is... not great. Based on a WBBM news report and a few calls I made to local hospital this morning, there have already been many injuries since the pilot launched on Saturday, with at least two of them requiring surgery.
- Rush Medical Center (Near West Side): 2 injuries requiring surgery
- AMITA Health (Wicker Park): "About half a dozen" scooter-related ER visits
- Mount Sinai Hospital (North Lawndale): 2 scooted-related ER visits
- Northwestern Hospital (Streeterville): No scooter injuries since the launch, 1 private scooter ER visit last week
So, if we make a ballpark estimate for how many scooter trips have been taken since Saturday by doubling the trips taken over the weekend (it's been a rainy week), that puts us somewhere in the neighborhood of one hospital visit per 2,200 rides. That's not reassuring, especially since there are plenty of other hospitals within the West and Northwest side pilot area that I didn't contact. (Northwestern Hospital is located about 1.5 miles from the test zone.)
"The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is working closely with the Chicago Department of Public Health to track injuries and evaluate the impact of scooters on the safety of Chicago residents," said BACP spokesman Isaac Reichman via email. "CDPH has asked hospitals to report the injuries associated with scooters, allowing CDPH to evaluate injury trends and patterns." BACP plans to release new scooter ridership numbers early next week, so hopefully we'll get a better sense of the injury rate in the near future.
But enough gloom and doom. Earlier this week Streetsblog Chicago checked in with the humorous scooter-skeptic Twitter feed Chicago Scooter Fails (@ChicagoFails), which has racked up 2,508 followers in the past week. So it's only fair that we give some digital ink to the pro-scooter feed Chicago Scooters Are Fine (@Chicago Scooters), launched around the same time with roughly the same number of tweets issued, but only 106 followers. That may reflect the fact that positivity usually isn't as funny as negativity. But, hey, we're going to do our best to level the playing field, (or should that be the car-free, protected shared-mobility lane?)
— Chicago Scooters Are Fine (@ChicagoScooters) June 19, 2019
Like John, the IT salesman who runs Chicago Scooter Fails, the woman who runs Chicago Scooters Are Fine asked not to have her full name published. She does PR and communications for a living.
"I launched the account because my experience walking past the scooters in my neighborhood was not nearly so dramatic as @ChicagoFails would have the Internet believe," she said in an email. "I understand that pictures of scooters balancing on top of garbage cans are amusing, but I didn't want people's perceptions of the scooters to be entirely negative if their only experience with them was scrolling through Twitter. I just kept thinking to myself, 'Settle down, people, you're fine.' I thought it would be funny to emphasize the non-issue of it all by only posting content of scooters being where they belong--out of the way and operated safely."
The woman told me she had never ridden a scooter before the Chicago pilot launched. "I rode along The 606 with a friend, then down Milwaukee (in the bike lane!)" she wrote. "I felt like a kid; I couldn't believe how much fun I had on it. I've ridden a couple times more since then, mostly just for pleasure since my commute to work is outside the pilot area."
It’s a beautiful night for a scoot around the neighborhood! This scooter is fine everyone is fine. It’s fine. pic.twitter.com/v3gR1q6R48
— Chicago Scooters Are Fine (@ChicagoScooters) June 19, 2019
Although the woman said Chicago Scooters Are Fine is intended to be a "scooter stan [fandom] account," she added that she personally has a more balanced view of the scooter trend. She acknowledged the downsides. "People are more likely to get hurt on scooters than on bikes, even when cars aren't involved," she said. "The scooters aren't owned and operated by the city (they should be). The scooters are dockless (they shouldn't be)."
However, she argued that those drawbacks of scooters are outweighed by the perks. "They're a sustainable way to get around, especially for folks with limited options," she said. "They contribute to solving the 'last-mile' problem that so often results in people calling an Uber or Lyft and skipping the CTA altogether. You don't get as sweaty on them as you do on a bicycle. And, perhaps most importantly, I really believe that over time if these things catch on, a culture and community will form around them in the same way it's formed around biking in Chicago."
The revolution comes slowly but it comes pic.twitter.com/zeeTv4gUq0
— Chicago Scooters Are Fine (@ChicagoScooters) June 20, 2019
"Already when I scoot around town for fun, and I pass by other folks on their scooters, we ring our bells at each other, smile, wave," the woman said. "It sounds cheesy, but these things are bringing joy and building connections. I think this aspect is unfortunately undersold. You just don't get that warm, fuzzy feeling in a Lyft."
In addition to editing Streetsblog Chicago, John writes about transportation and other topics for additional local publications. A Chicagoan since 1989, he enjoys exploring the city on foot, bike, bus, and 'L' train.
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