Why little vehicles will conquer the city – nearly all of them look silly, but if taken seriously, they could be a really big deal for urban transportation.
The public reaction to the arrival of dockless bikes and electric scooters in U.S. cities can be tracked in stages. The first stage, for many, was annoyance. Who were these grown men and women on candy-colored bikes and teeny kick-scooters speeding down the streets and sidewalks, menacing walkers and leaving their rented toys all over the place? Especially in San Francisco, where this whimsical new mobility mode has taken off, scooters have come to represent yet another example of tech industry entitlement, another way for a startup to move fast and break stuff.
In response, many a Twitter urbanist has used this backlash to point out the relative danger and disruption of larger dockless vehicles:
The second stage is epiphany, when the reluctant first-time user—out of curiosity or journalistic responsibility—actually tries a dockless bike or e-scooter and realizes that they are not only a visual counterpoint to the bulk and terror of cars, but a delightful and crazily practical alternative to them.
That leads to stage three, if it comes: mass adoption.
Call them Little Vehicles — not just bikes and scooters, but e-bikes, velomobiles, motorized skateboards, unicycles, “hoverboards,” and other small, battery-powered low-speed not-a-cars. Nearly all of them look silly, but if cities take them seriously, they could be a really, really big deal. Little Vehicles could significantly erode private car and ride-hail use, and play a key role in helping cities achieve their as of now unattainable environmental and road safety goals.
Getting to mass adoption will require Little Vehicles for all seasons, for all sorts of trips, and for all types of people. Solutions to these obstacles exist, and many more will surely be dreamed up. The bigger challenge will be de-conditioning ourselves out of the belief that cars—whether privately owned or for hire—are the default mode of transportation in dense cities.