Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Breaking Micromobility in San Jose

Lime Scooter (pre-recall) as spotted in downtown San Jose Nov. 8, 2018

Last week I began the unpleasant task of returning the prizes that were donated by sponsors of Cranksgiving San Jose. As most of you know, the Camp Fire smoke made the air in the Bay Area unhealthy to breathe so I made the unhappy decision of cancelling the bike-based food drive

I needed to go from my office on Santa Clara Street to La Dolce Velo on The Alameda and then to 947 Park Avenue to Be The Change Yoga & Wellness

That day (since the air was still smoky and I had a car-based errand after work) I drove to the office - like most people in the Bay Area do.

With limited time for both tasks but not wanting to use the car, I opened the Lime App on my phone, unlocked a scooter that was parked in front of Chromatic Coffee, and set off slowly down Santa Clara St.

And I do mean slowly: the scooters are now governed to a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. This was put into place a few months ago - after pedestrians complained the scooters were too fast.


Being passed by a 30 pound scooter at 12 miles per hour while you're walking on a sidewalk isn't nice, but using a scooter that can't go any faster than 12 miles an hour on a city street is downright stressful. 

For the first time probably over a year, riding on San Carlos Street, I was honked at - by the driver of a blue Chevy sedan.

Before a public hearing in June, the city had done research on scooters and found that when there is a bike lane most riders of scooters use it. A huge chunk of the route to La Dolce Velo doesn't have them, and several motorists were giving me the 'angry pass.' I scowled at them but they couldn't tell because I was wearing my N95 mask.

Be The Change Yoga - 947 Park Avenue in San Jose
After spending maybe two minutes at La Dolce Velo, I headed to Be The Change. I could feel the minutes of my valuable break slipping away and, when I needed to make a left turn onto Park, I had to take into account that I couldn't (like you do on a bike) engage in a sudden burst of acceleration to stay out of the travel lane as much as possible. This is something I have to do every day I ride my bike on Monterrey Road: there is always at least one dumpster, one car, one obstruction in the bike lane that sends me into traffic so I try to get around it as fast as possible so I am in harm's way for the shortest possible time.

When returning to work, I had to make another left turn onto Alameda. I followed the rules and stayed in the left turn lane, and when the light changed, I moved through.

The white Mitsubishi sedan behind me wasn't having it. It honked at me and tailgated me in mid-turn - apparently unaware I couldn't go any faster and not caring that moving further to the right would put me in the path of the cars on the other side of the street turning left.

Back on San Carlos Street (right turns are always easier on a bike or scooter) a filthy late 1990s Corolla tailgated me for half a block and then passed me with less than 3' of space. It also did it slowly, possibly because the driver wanted to make sure I would hear her shout the words: "Get off the road!" at me before (you guessed it) accelerating fast before turning right on Market Street - putting her out of range of any kind of response from me but endangering pedestrians crossing Market Street.

I finished the ride not far from where I started and took a screen shot of the results.


I had traveled 3.6 miles in just under a half hour. Because it costs $1 to start and $0.15 per minute to use, the low speed hit my wallet to the tune of $5.35. I removed my N95 mask and my helmet (yes, I was wearing one the whole time!) and returned to work. 

I sadly concluded scooter share is truly at risk of being micromanaged out of existence. By adding the speed governor (I traveled on a Lime scooter that maxed out at 18 or 19 miles per hour in San Francisco several months earlier) we have officially created a vehicle that is too fast for the sidewalk and too slow for city streets. If I had taken my car I would have spent less money, experienced less stress, and have been done with my errands sooner. 

The San Jose City Council will soon consider regulations on scooter share. People everywhere were caught off guard when they first showed up on the streets - and even though San Jose has killed and is killing more people with cars that remains in our blind spot as we punish scooters for the unpardonable sin of having the potential to disrupt transportation. 

At the World Day of Remembrance for traffic victims event at Akiyama Wellness Center on Nov. 18th. 

Motor vehicles are bigger, faster, and deadlier but nobody seems interested in adding a speed limiter to those.

I understand the pressure from some people - some of which, I should point out, have never used a shared scooter that is limited to 12 miles an hour - to make these things slower, but  If I could speak to Mayor Liccardo and the members of the City Council, I would ask the following question:

Do we want micromobility to succeed?

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

10 comments:

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