Walk Bike and (Boot) Scoot (Boogie) Nashville – Cornelia Overton, MLA Landscape Architecture, 2020
Ten minutes after arriving on my first day at the office, the city-wide Committee On Transportation met, a group consisting of representatives from myriad city and non-profit groups interested in improving public and active transportation options in Nashville. They discussed the city transit budget decision, upcoming events, political alliances, funding, and organization strategies. Then, I was surprised to hear scooters come up.
Because of several recent electric scooter-related accidents, there’s been talk around Nashville of regulating, or even banning, electric scooters like Bird, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, and others. Since I’ve barely been out of the Architecture building at RISD to eat and sleep, I hadn’t been closely following the introduction of electric scooters on US streets. Though making space for small motorized and electric vehicles was a focus of my studio design project this past spring, I hadn’t expected them to be a focus of my work experience this summer. Sure, I’ve seen kids riding them down the street on my way home sometimes, and I’ve noticed them laying around Providence in a few unlikely places, but I hadn’t taken a moment to really consider how they might be subtly catalyzing an important shift in urban design. I hadn’t realized that the scooter industry might be just the extra pressure cities need to expand biking infrastructure.
In Nashville right now, scooters are the source of much controversy. With around 70 accidents and 1 death involving scooters since the beginning of 2018, many are calling for intervention and regulation. Because of our shared interest in biking and scooter lanes, Walk Bike Nashville has emerged as a natural ally to the scooter cause. Walk Bike staff have begun teaching scooter safety classes and including scooter helmet giveaways at some of their events. This week, WBN’s executive director, Nora Kern, appeared on National Fox News during my second week here, to represent the pro-scooter interest. She took the opportunity to point out that far greater numbers of people have been injured or killed in car-related accidents, including pedestrian-car incidents, in the period in which scooters have been in our streets, suggesting that cars may be the greater issue. She took the opportunity to make the case that moving to a more safely diverse (“multi-modal” as they say in the biz) transportation system is a better long-term solution than the banning of devices that might get people out of cars.
In the transit meeting on my first day at WBN, committee members expressed concern that the Mayor might ban scooters, and that the city council would not vote to fully fund city Transport. The next day the word came that basically all of these worst case scenarios–funding cuts to public transport and a temporary ban of scooters–had indeed taken place. What a way to start the summer!
I decided to take a scooter to work while I still could. When there wasn’t a bike lane to ride in, I felt pretty uncomfortable, and definitely got some looks from drivers. When I hopped on the greenway on the way home, I wasn’t sure whether I belonged there either, but it felt great to ride in the cool respite of the greenway on a 90+ degree Tennessee day. A few cyclists cheered for me as we passed each other; one mother held her child nervously to the side of the path though I slowed to a crawl as I passed them.
From regular community ride events around town to safety classes, kids education, fundraising, and tactical active transport interventions, Walk Bike Nashville is already doing so much, that including scooters in their advocacy and education efforts is a lot to take on. The general feeling around the office is, however, if we don’t advocate for the scooter option, who else will? Scooter representatives came to our fundraising party last Friday night and their sponsor logos are now all over the graphic materials I have been designing for various upcoming events.
All around, it’s been a great start to my time at Walk Bike Nashville. The first week even ended with a big fundraising party where I was able to meet many of the organization’s supporters, board members, volunteers, partners, and a few people that accidentally wandered in from the bar next door. Next I’m looking forward to helping more with event planning, and diving into discussions about my city design guide.