Improving Shared Spaces Starts with Keeping Sidewalks Clean
Many metros across the country from the Bay Area to our nation’s capital have experienced a recent influx of new sidewalk clutter in the form of dockless electric scooters. Bird, Lime, and other startups have “dropped” e-scooters in urban areas to relieve busy public transportation and give pedestrians a new, more efficient way to commute. Curbed correspondent, Sarah Goodyear, describes the dropping of these scooters to the way an unruly teenager drops laundry around the house. The new trend of “docklessness” revives the question as old as cities themselves, “who owns the sidewalk and who is responsible for keeping it clean?”
In the case of the dockless electronic scooters, people who use them view them as a convenience and people who don’t may view them as a nuisance or tripping hazard. Urban planners refer to the area between the street and walkable sidewalk as the “furniture zone,” open to benches, trash cans, newspaper dispensers, and even foliage, trees, and utility poles. With bike share programs, users pick up and return bikes to docking stations, typically located in the “furniture zone.” Bikeshare opponents claim the docking stations take up too much space in this zone. With dockless electronic scooters, the docking stations themselves are eliminated, but a new problem emerges when abandoned scooters encroach into all other sidewalk zones.
The highest traffic areas of any neighborhood are the streets for cars, sidewalks for pedestrians, and in some lucky cases the bike lane or protected bike lane for cyclists. Caring for your neighborhood is a lot like caring for a home. Does your mail pile in a heap or get filed away? Are your keys on the hook or is it a scramble to find them each morning? Do your shoes collect all over the house or stop at the welcome mat? A designated drop-off zone is your neighborhood’s version of a welcome mat. With transportation sharing services growing increasingly popular, it’s ever more important for cities to designate areas for rideshare pick up, e-scooters, food trucks, and everything in between.
CityLab contributor, Laura Bliss, asserted, “if you want to see what your city is failing to provide space for, look on the sidewalk. It’s probably there.” It is mobility startups’ responsibility to not only improve our commute but find a way to integrate this new transportation into existing city traffic flow. Neighborhood walkability, atmosphere, and perceived home value all starts with keeping sidewalks clean.