The Case For More Scooters in San Diego: A Full-throated Defense of an Extraordinary Invention – OB Rag

Ocean Beach circa 1890

By Brett Warnke

I adore e-scooters.  I think they’re the best idea to come to San Diego in a hell of a long time.  If it were up to me, I’d subsidize thousands more of the damn things in low-income neighborhoods, in addition to more bicycles.

If it were up to me, I’d do studies to see where we could lessen commute times for semi-local traffic, find new lots for additional scooter parking, and if need be, provide space and training for them at schools as well.  From Facebook freaks in the Bay to refugee kids in City Heights, I think everyone should have one handy for the day’s commutes.

Yet, we may, because of reactionary debates disguised as “progressive” or “safety-concerns” be regulating our way backward into a political logjam.

As our brilliant readers know, just in February, San Diego needed an extra $1.86 billion over five years for infrastructure needs for city sidewalks, new streetlights, new libraries, among others.  These needs in addition to funding for road modifications, bike facilities, bridge needs which were short $674.8 million (and all this after the gas tax). That stooge Mayor Faulconer’s been lauding the recent budget but we know that the city’s five-year shortfall to fund projects is $286 million higher than the previous year.

But who cares about all those infrastructure problems?

Well, in an era of political deformity and ecological crisis, we need new ideas for mobility as we debate funding old infrastructure.  The Green New Deal may not come. We have huge basic infrastructure problems even as the world speeds up.

We have a looming water-crisis among other oceanic catastrophes in the next century.  An ass-backwards Senate and the dull ostriches in rural America are increasingly blocking any investment in tomorrow. Consequently, we may be increasingly on our own in the future when developing our transportation.  Today, we are even fighting with the feds over our carbon regulations.

Historically speaking, the big boys won.  Special interests shoved their fat greedy fingers around our necks and squeezed out the road cash.  They suckered the politicians in for the long con. The oil and gas and rubber and car companies ripped out our public transportation.

And the honking suburbanites built their tacky ass homes and Jetson highways north, south, and east. The rest of us, especially the young, had little choice in paying for any of it or being forced by necessity to sit in it, day after day, burning expensive gas.

Some will call scooters unsafe.

First, new stations that “take up public space” only take up red-zones that, if needed, could be quickly plowed over my fire trucks without issue.

In terms of personal safety, in my view, you pay your money and you take your choice in life. A lot of these injuries on scooters involve alcohol. A new study in Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open found that out of 103 patients treated at 3 trauma centers for e-scooter related injuries, 79% were tested for booze.  48% were over .08.

There are exceptions to this, but drunk people have hurt themselves since German monks wandered drunkenly into the Rhine with their first cups. How about some personal responsibility? Perhaps we should think about our need to address the problem of excess consumption, the silly junk culture, the frivolous indulgence—all this could be looked at as opposed to easing transportation for an increasingly taxed, traffic-jammed, and constricted public concerned about their future.

Today, we have few choices now of getting around in a timely carbon-free manner.  And as we all know, the climate crisis is over us like a shining blade. The kicking up of carbon and warming of our planet through fossil fuel emissions is a terrifyingly present threat.  (Of course, this is mainly the result of large awful corporations, but cars do their deadly part.)

We need new ideas for individual mobility and scooters are going to reduce traffic, avoid the ever-present demands for new roads and new parking in urban spots where we need density.

As Californians, we don’t seem to have gasping “safety” concerns paying for whole skate parks so dweebs can fumble about and break their limbs on the concrete.  Yet, we can’t have practical scooters for people to move through our neighborhoods? We can’t reclaim parking lots or certain zones as charging areas or safe docks?  We can’t think ahead enough to get out of our own way to allow the individual liberty of movement? Now, in urban California?

Some argue there should be regulations.

Well, there have been regulations.  Far too many, in my opinion, but docking areas and ticketing are increasing as are clear norms and rules of the road.

Recent rules limit speeds in some areas, demand permitting for operators, and force driver’s license scanning.  I disagree with all of these of course.

Personally, I want to give low-income people, recovering drunks, and young teens a means of quick transportation around a populating and expensive California.  Our weather is perfect for these scooters, amenable to constant use.

Also, I despise the campus prohibition on these and wish we had more scooters around the place. I want more carbon-free and carbon-diminished liberty of movement, not less.  I want us walking, biking, even moped-ing, in addition to scooting.

If it were up to me, I would offer a buy-back of our killer cars, especially for those conscientious people hoping to diminish their carbon footprint. And I’d incentivize and encourage new apps for tracking our daily movements without cars so we could get subsidies for non-emission commutes.

Clearly, California can regulate.

We regulate business to the point of insanity.  And soon, if we aren’t careful, we will regulate these helpful scooters to the point of diminishing returns and be right back where we started—in a tedious discussion, with all the joy of an impacted tooth, sitting in silly quibbles over a few funds with our pre-made car-era geography.  We know the coward pols will buckle to the class of property-owner assholes, they have money and think the world owes them a parking space.

In our time, massive infrastructure changes may not come despite our needs.  Our buses are glacially slow and even basic bike lanes have been a knife fight with property owners who want to shuffle to their SUV’s.  Local reactionary groups are fighting even these bike lanes uptown, targeting local representatives for challenge, just as NIMBY groups are battling affordable housing and density throughout the state.

These organizations have formed a terrible rearguard action that threaten the future of affordability and may exacerbate progressive initiatives to get Southern California building more non-luxury homes.

Are the scooter-haters really saying we don’t have space for scooter storage?  We looped highways through Barrio Logan and ruined neighborhoods. We necklaced the city in traffic and turned San Diego into a sprawling mess with no thought of our future generation’s need for density and a carbon-free world.

With our need for movement, the current climate crisis, and the past of all this thoughtless subsidy, some argue that we can’t come up with a few quick reforms and easy places to dock some neighborhood scooters.

It’s so fatuous it could make a cat laugh!

Are they really arguing we can’t make it easier for publicly-minded citizens to stay local, to move locally? The smart set today really can’t think of a few ways to incentivize people who park these things properly or punish the slobs?  These are ridiculously low-expectations. Perhaps even the shrieking dunces at OB Neighborhood Watch could figure something out together? Perhaps on one of their odious, vigilante night-sticking operations to bedevil our local poor they could have a short chat about it?

Regardless, I know together we can do better.

Californians want to get to different parts of their neighborhoods and visitors want to explore different parts of the country in a swift, easy, and fun way.  However, in our neoliberal era, time is crunched and infrastructure is screwed. In their free moments, people want to enjoy our weather, stay out of awful cars, and have an eco-friendly method of moving freely around the infrastructural malaise of San Diego.

Our city is moving in the right direction on community choice energy.  We have climate warriors at SD 350 doing extraordinary work for the future of life in Southern California.  Scooters are one means for our future. These scooters, while irksome to a few plaintive howlers, are an effective means of circumventing the political logjams.  The infrastructure solutions if they even arrive will be terribly compromised, expensive and insufficient.

Also, in terms of safety, scooters are one way to move around and avoid those dodgy areas, the catcall and menace of corner bums taking up so much public debate.  Just today, I saw a working woman in heels riding them past encampments on her way to work in the East Village.  I have seen students taking them to the campus edge. And I have seen young people in groups, in small fleets down the street in a beautiful bird-like formation.

I say as forcefully as I can:  Abolish the helmet restrictions!  Put more of them in our densest neighborhoods!  And may a thousand scooters hum!