Will Birds Fly in Edmond

Written by Dr. J. David Chapman in the October 2018 Issue

Will Birds Fly in Edmond

Will Birds Fly in Edmond

On-demand electric scooters are all the rage in urban environments around the country. As you might have read about or seen in the news, electric scooters are causing controversy and headaches for city planners all over the United States. A host of start-up companies are piling into the business spurred by the euphoria around Southern California-based Bird, an app-based service for on-demand scooter rentals that is now valued at $2 billion by venture capitalists less than a year after it was launched.

The fixation with electric scooters grew out of dock-less bike-sharing, where companies offer bike rentals that can be picked up and left anywhere convenient to the rider. The once-lowly scooter, now equipped with better batteries, lighter-weight materials and tracking sensors, suddenly looked like an even better urban transport option, especially for professionals in business attire.

Some claim the scooter frenzy is simply a fad, however investors poured $3.5 billion into scooter and bike rental startups globally in the first half of 2018 in spite of many municipalities not endorsing or even allowing them on city streets. There are still many issues to work out on this entry into the multimodal transportation strategy in the American urban fabric. A couple that come to mind are Americans with Disability Act, sidewalk, bike lane, street, and helmet laws. Current laws and requirements are simply inadequate to tolerate these cute and convenient little vehicles.

Nevertheless, they are here. Both major players in the industry, Bird and Lime, now have a presence in the Oklahoma City metro area. There are several hundred scooters on the streets of downtown Oklahoma City, and they are prevalent on the campus of Oklahoma State University. 

I have been getting questions about when the scooters will make it to Downtown Edmond and the University of Central Oklahoma. Plans from companies deploying the scooters are difficult to ascertain. Their mode of operations is to simply drop the scooters in cities and campuses without any announcement or approval, making it difficult to determine where they will show up next.

According to Randy Entz, Director of Planning for the City of Edmond, the city has not been contacted by any of the scooter companies and the city has made no changes to ordinances to accommodate or eliminate them. The University of Central Oklahoma executive cabinet has held discussions regarding the possibility of allowing Bird Scooters to place scooters on or near the UCO campus and scheduled a meeting with a representative from Bird to explore the opportunities and implications of scooters on campus. 

Entz thinks they could serve the campus and immediate area well, but thinks they would struggle to serve more than that because the City transportation system isn’t built for them. He believes that they could extend the walkability of an area, and serve that “last mile” connection for transit users if placed by bus stops. He envisions students who live on campus possibly using them to get to shopping and entertainment in downtown Edmond. He cautions with these advantages they will also run into the common challenges of how to cross busy arterials, how to interact with automobile traffic, and the potential that there may not be enough to ensure a return ride (a problem with many small-scale shared transportation alternatives).

So, to answer the question if Birds or Limes will make it to Edmond. The answer is not if, but when. In fact, it would not surprise me if the Birds land before this article goes to press. I suspect that they will start at UCO and move downtown. That’s their mode of operation. They act and deal with the ramifications later. I applaud UCO leadership for being proactive and can’t wait to see the impact these cute little scooters will have on our community.

Dr. J. David Chapman

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