A fundamental obligation of local governments and agencies is ensuring streets are safe for residents, riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
The rapid introduction of new micromobility services and vehicle types in cities around the world has resulted in a surge of riders on streets, sidewalks and in public spaces. Early evaluations1 showed micromobility may also be attracting a new group of users—those without experience as vulnerable road users, which might include using a personal or shared bicycle. Many of these new riders may not have the know-how or experience to understand their vulnerabilities and the ways they might pose a safety risk to themselves or others.
Because emerging mobility services, business models and vehicle types are so new, there is much to learn about their operations, risks and safety. We are all still learning how best to protect vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, to keep them safe and maximize the full potential micromobility services offer. The best results will likely flow from a safe systems approach2—in which safety is a shared responsibility among those that design, build, operate and use the transportation system. Using that approach, numerous cities, agencies, operators and stakeholder groups are already partnering to improve and ensure the safety of micromobility users in their communities.
Under the safe systems approach, the working group identified four key policy levers cities have at their disposal: Infrastructure, Education, Observation and Enforcement and Vehicle Condition. Infrastructure is focused on the role of creating dedicated, protected spaces for micromobility use and parking to ensure the safety of pedestrians and riders of all ages and abilities. Education encompasses how riders and other road users understand micromobility regulations and risks as well as how to use and interact with micromobility vehicles safely. Observation and Enforcement is directed at reducing unsafe riding behaviors and overall safety incidents, facilitating hazard-free public spaces and better understanding the cause of safety incidents when they occur. Finally, Vehicle Condition aims to ensure shared micromobility vehicles are safe and physically able to withstand the rigors of everyday operations. Vehicle design and construction are also important considerations for safety as well as other outcomes. Since micromobility vehicle design is still in an early stage and measuring advancements in vehicle design is challenging, it will be vital to develop metrics to assess design iterations as they are introduced by the micromobility industry.
The proliferation of micromobility services offers a great opportunity to emphasize a safe systems approach and reevaluate the policy, planning and design priority we’ve repeatedly afforded automobiles despite how that priority often does not lead to safer, more equitable and more sustainable outcomes we desire. Micromobility modes are among the first introduced in decades that are organically reframing how we think about our streets and public spaces and consider how the majority of road users—car, bus and truck drivers—interact with pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and other new vehicle types.
Lastly, to better understand the various factors that contribute to micromobility safety, we must accelerate our understanding of crashes and be forthright about the causes, whether they are car/truck drivers, vehicle/device deficiencies, infrastructure-related, or vehicle user error. Many existing law enforcement and hospital reporting structures do not yet include micromobility, so cities, agencies and operators will need to coordinate with their local police and public health communities to accurately identify micromobility vehicle types and ensure effective tracking. Establishing those formal reporting structures will likely take time, thus frequent communication will be necessary to determine if any shifts or trends in safety are taking shape.
City of Portland, OR – 2018 E-scooter Pilot User Survey ResultsMoving Beyond Zero, Vision Zero and the ‘Safe Systems Approach’
Micromobility & Your City is a digital tool for cities to evaluate micromobility services against policy goals that foster safe, sustainable and equitable communities for all.
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