scooter on street

Cities Can Shape Mobility Before It Shapes Them

April 7, 2021 | |

This forum first ran in the Traverse City Record-Eagle. Above photo by Beth Price.

As the pandemic eases and downtown Traverse City reopens to locals, workers and visitors — and traffic and parking demand rise in response — the coming years present an ideal time to introduce new mobility tools like shared-bikes and e-scooters. These new tools help keep cars off the road by giving people more options for getting around and by making travel for short distances easier and more fun than driving.

But it can be a challenge to successfully bring new mobility tools into a town. Some cities have ended up with e-scooters littering walkways, public places, and even rivers — prompting locals to push back. Some cities kicked the providers out. Other cities scrambled to hastily write restrictions after the fact, rarely a good option.

The good news is this: Traverse City can learn from other cities. Over the past year, our team has been exploring how other communities are tackling traffic issues, particularly those taking a creative approach and investing in new technologies such as bike-share and e-scooters, because they can be effective in keeping cars off roads.

We checked out a number of cities — including Ithaca, New York, West Lafayette, Indiana and St. George, Utah— and came away with a few lessons Traverse City could consider in order for new mobility tools to be successful.

  • Successful shared bike and e-scooter programs were usually part of a larger, overall transportation strategy led by the city itself. Ithaca, for example, created a city-led Mobility, Accessibility and Transportation Commission that’s responsible for exploring and advancing all transportation options, like biking and walking, and leading the public conversation around new mobility.
  • Cities recognized and acted on the need for reasonable guidelines for managing shared bikes and e-scooters. To prevent clutter and promote safety, successful cities had clear rules on where devices could be used and parked. West Lafayette created ample mobility parking areas, which it called “deployment zones,” outlined in low-cost asphalt tape so e-scooters don’t end up blocking sidewalks.
  • Cities designed their e-scooter and bike-share systems to provide short, in-town trips that may have been too long to walk but too short to drive. The cities did not intend the new mobility tools to be used for long-term rentals. Most cities strategically located device parking in areas to boost short trips and even made bike-share free for the first 30 minutes for users who paid a modest annual fee.
  • Launching new services often required support and funding from many local groups. In St. George, the major health and tourism agencies formed a partnership to fund and launch a citywide bike-share system.

Exploring new ways to get around town can help us grow our economy and make us healthier. As the city soon creates its guidelines for mobility tools, they can look at these lessons from other American towns to help guide success.

Carolyn Ulstad, Transportation Program Manager

Carolyn Ulstad is transportation program manager for Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. Contact her at [email protected].

Jake Myers, a former fellow on Groundwork’s Transportation and Community Design team, conducted research and interviews that informed these conclusions.

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