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Scooters Cluttering the Sidewalk? Corral Them

New research from the Urbanism Next Center shows e-scooter parking areas need to be spaced within a few hundred meters of each other to see the highest use and to help declutter sidewalks.

If cities want to keep their sidewalks free of e-scooter clutter, they need to carve out spaces to park them.

New research from the Urbanism Next Center at the University of Oregon has found that when cities develop parking areas for micromobility — parking corrals, as they are known — riders generally use them.

“We find here in the district that people really want to park properly, and they do so when they are provided with the bike rack, or a corral, at or near their destination,” said Gregory Matlesky, bicycle program specialist for the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation, speaking on an April 5 panel organized by the Urbanism Next Center. The April 2024 report is titled Shared Scooter Parking: The Role of Parking Density and Land Use Compliance and Demand.

Otherwise, said Matlesky, riders will lock their devices to “improper stuff” like trees, street signs, fences and other objects.

The research was a collaboration among the University of Oregon, Cornell University and Lime. The research, which looked at trip data from March and April of 2023, examined city data provided by Lime from the U.S. and Europe.

“People have a lot of feelings about micromobility parking .... It’s one of the most-commented pieces that cities hear about from the public,” said Anne Brown, research director at the Urbanism Next Center and an assistant professor at the University of Oregon.

Just how many parking corrals do cities need and how should they be dispersed? There should be about 50 to 80 corrals per square mile, the study concluded, and they should be spaced about 200 meters apart, so that riders only need to walk about a minute to their final destination.

“How many parking corrals a city provides is the most significant predictor for parking non-compliance rate,” Brown said during the panel. “When you try to predict how much parking non-compliance is in a city, the parking corral density explains about 85 percent of that variation. So it’s hugely important for explaining the parking non-compliance.”

How many spaces each corral contains will become a function of how many scooters are in operation in a city and how much scooter activity a particular neighborhood experiences, said Brown.

The need for parking is greatest in areas with leisure or tourism activities and land uses. Transit nodes are also areas that experience high scooter and bike use. Residential areas — particularly those outside of high-density residential zones — need the least scooter parking amenities, the study found.

Shared electric scooters first began arriving on city streets in about 2017. They have transitioned from a gimmicky toy to a legitimate and ubiquitous form of transportation, found in cities of all sizes. The maturing of the industry has seen stronger bonds formed among public-sector regulators and private-sector scooter operators, resulting in more data-sharing and collaboration around city goals like transportation equity, emissions reductions and efforts to reduce traffic congestion.

In Washington, D.C., a city of about 700,000 residents spread across 69 square miles, up to 18,000 dockless devices are permitted. These provided 6.7 million trips in 2023, according to city officials. (These statistics do not include Capital Bikeshare, a publicly operated bikeshare operation that requires bikes be returned to a docking station.)

Dockless bikes first arrived in 2017, followed by scooters in 2018, a process Matlesky described as “chaotic.”

“Bikes and scooters were kind of being left everywhere,” he recalled. In 2021, the City Council passed an ordinance requiring that scooters be locked to an object.

“People are parking a little better than what they were before. But now, the parking demand has sort of outstripped our supply of bike racks,” he added. The city is on a mission to install 1,000 bike racks per year for three years. That mandate has reached its final year but, said Matlesky, it’s still not enough.

The city has developed about 220 parking corrals, generally in the space between intersections and street parking — areas which sometimes invite illegal car-parking. The corrals have the added benefit of keeping cars out of an area that needs to be more open for visibility and safety purposes. Locating parking corrals in these areas also has the added benefit of stowing scooters off of the sidewalk.

“For the most part, we just use these areas where you can’t park anyway. It’s a nice way to declutter the sidewalk and make it safer for both bikes and scooters, and make it safer by ‘daylighting’ everything,” said Matlesky. “So we get a lot of support for this sort of stuff.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.