Rundles Wrapup: God Help Us
The aftermath of an infestation of multimodal transportation
Last summer, on a visit to downtown Denver, I couldn’t help but notice the new app-rentable scooters from companies called Lime and Bird and all the people whizzing around LoDo. They did look like fun, I have to admit, and I also have to admit I have not availed myself of the scooter service. But I kept thinking, “Geez, people on the scooters, and all of the pedestrians walking on the sidewalk – someone’s going to get hurt.”
Within a couple of weeks of first seeing the scooters, the city confiscated them and announced a ban, at least temporarily. Then a few weeks later, the city instituted some sort of permitting process, and back they came. At the time, there weren’t that many scooters, but the latest figures I could find indicated that now the two purveyors, plus a new entrant, Lyft, have some 750 scooters in Denver, and quite soon two additional companies, Razor and Spin, are expected to join the scooter brigade and push their numbers close to 2,000.
Plus, I’ve heard there are some 250 dockless electric bikes (soon to be 1,000) from a company called Jump, and in my neighborhood at least dozens of regular app-rentable bicycles for short hops. I’m sure we’ll see small motorcycle scooters like Vespa soon, and then what’s next? Golf carts can’t be far behind, and hey, why not electric rollerblades – size 10 at 16th and Tremont!?! There’s got to be an app for that.
Hey, I am all for new multimodal transportation options, but these vehicles are starting to crowd up all over the place, left by riders on sidewalks and lawns and wherever. They are akin to Car2Go and Zipcar – short-term automobile rentals that can be left in any legal parking spot without paying a meter or paying attention to time limits.
It all seems just so haphazard.
What really seems haphazard is the city’s response to these phenomena. With all the new scooters and bikes, it seems as if the city transportation authorities were caught flat-footed, like they had no idea they were coming. The “plan” they came up with, rather hastily, was little more than a revenue-generating idea for permits, with scant little discussion about parking and storage, not to mention safety. And while there are rules – scooters must be on sidewalks only, and not in the street or bike lanes – there’s also been scant little information put out about the rules and, obvious in the extreme, little or no enforcement of the rules. If this is part of Denver’s Strategic Transportation Plan (STP), a multimodal plan announced with much fanfare last year, then God help us. If it isn’t part of STP, then God help us.
What really worries me is the more recent news that the city of Denver is planning to take the multimodal transportation responsibilities out of its current home in the Department of Public Works and create a stand-alone, cabinet-level Denver Department of Transportation. This proposal would require voter approval and could be on the ballot as early as next May or maybe November 2019.
Transportation planning and operation always makes me nervous. There’s no doubt that we need high-level, expert transportation authorities all over Colorado, but what has happened and is happening in that arena over the last several years gives me little comfort. The new super-duper I-25 from Santa Fe through 6th Avenue, the entire I-25/6th Avenue interchange, the “express” pay lanes on U.S. 36 and the planned I-25 in the “Gap,” and pretty much all of I-70 from Denver to Vail, prove that “expert” and “transportation” rarely go together.
And what with the Regional Transportation District handling bus and rail service, the Colorado Department of Transportation handling the major highways, and every municipal entity throughout the metro area responsible for their own streets and bridges, we already have hodgepodge, haphazard Balkanization in transportation. What we don’t need is another layer of bureaucracy intent on pressing its transportation hegemony. What we need is some regional cooperation, with the understanding that what we have now is lip service to cooperation and agendas often at cross purposes.
If we had real cooperation and collaboration we wouldn’t need yet another transportation authority. Especially one that has trouble with scooters. God help us.