As shared e-scooters have proliferated around the world, resulting in frequent hand-wringing and disproportionate media attention relative to the damage and inconvenience they cause, a handful of cities have remained outside the e-scooter bubble due to local laws prohibiting the little rascals (no, not those rascals).
One of those cities, New York, is also potentially the most lucrative market, and the state is finally poised to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes. It’s a great opportunity for these shared scooter companies for all the reasons you’d expect. New York is a dense urban environment where the typical range of a useful scooter trip of a couple of miles encompasses many journeys.
Notably, the law specifically does not permit e-scooters in Manhattan, as lawmakers have cited safety concerns since the hyper-dense streets and sidewalks give scooters no place to ride without conflict. In the short run, this isn’t a huge deal; the prime e-scooter use case is in the outer boroughs anyway, where the city’s bikeshare system has spotty, inconsistent coverage and public transit often leaves much to be desired by New York standards.
But, in other ways, this will also be one of the most challenging markets for e-scooters yet. Although the “outer boroughs” sounds dismissive, more than seven million people live there and nearly all the subways are designed to get you to and from Manhattan. There’s a huge market for trips between or within the booming outer boroughs that current subway, bus, and bikeshare service simply isn’t providing well.
But scooters have no real place to be in the outer boroughs, too. Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx range greatly in density and infrastructure (Staten Island, I’m told, exists). Parts of them are essentially suburbia, while others approach the madness of some of Manhattan’s most crowded areas.
Ideally, there would be ample protected bike lanes for scooters to share with cyclists in the denser parts in north Brooklyn, western Queens, and southern Bronx, but the outer boroughs are exactly the areas most lacking in this critical safety infrastructure and some of the most dangerous places to ride in the city.
The advocacy group Bike New York made maps for each borough’s protected bike lanes only, or the ones with physical separation from vehicle traffic aside from lines of paint, which illustrate just how barren the infrastructure is for e-scooters and bikes. Here’s Brooklyn:
And the Bronx:
It’s hard to look at these maps and see how these boroughs will be any safer for scooter users than Manhattan, given they’ll almost always have to share street space with either cars or pedestrians.
Although everyone in New York City loves to pretend how special New York City is, this is basically the same problem scooters have in every other American city, just more so. With a lack of dedicated infrastructure, people just go and “park” wherever, which is bad for everyone. But scooters coming to New York may highlight the problem even more starkly because there’s so little physical space for mistakes.
And this is to say nothing of the road quality itself. The outer boroughs are replete with, well, very crappy roads. Potholes abound, broken glass is everywhere, and the utility companies constantly rip up the road only to shoddily pave it back over. It’s annoying enough on a bike, but downright dangerous for puny scooters.
That being said, New Yorkers are renowned for their resiliency, calmly accepting whatever may come to our humble city and definitely, definitely not throwing irrational fits about any and all changes to our daily lives. As a result, I fully expect this city to welcome e-scooters, the only way we know how.