Author Justin Davidson
Electric scooters have arrived in cities all over the country, but they’re wending their way more slowly to New York, where transit innovations, like actors and food trends, come to be honed or fade away. Unwilling to wait, I go hunting for one in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, and, following the dot on my phone, find a Bird propped against a lamppost. I step on, kick off, thumb the throttle, and steer, and in seconds I feel like I’ve been doing it for years.
How can anyone detest these things? Simple, efficient, cheap, and slightly goofy, they are the 21st-century version of the Vespa. You can ride one in a dress or in a suit, or if your knees hurt too much to walk a mile or your legs are too weak to pedal. You can chug up hills and over bridges without arriving at your destination shellacked in sweat. Suddenly, a platform with two battery-powered wheels and a vertical handlebar seems like the most obvious way to get around.
Fitted out with a battery-powered motor and a top speed of 15 miles per hour, this steerable skateboard has confounded transportation experts and politicians: is it a vehicle or a bike-like toy, a solution or a sidewalk scourge? In their short existence, e-scooters have triggered a cascade of complaints: they’re too fast, slow, lame, or popular, too vulnerable to breakdowns, cracked sidewalks, vandalism, and hacking; they have no place on sidewalks, in bike lanes, or in traffic.