Since Bird Scooters landed in Winston-Salem in early September, opinions have been flying about whether or not we should accept them in our community. Below is a reflection on a few of my own thoughts and experiences with this innovative form of transportation!
The most common complaints I have heard about the Birds revolve around safety, both for users as well as other citizens. One such complaint is that riders are using the scooters on the sidewalks, posing a danger to pedestrians. While I agree that this is a valid consideration, it is important to note that the safety recommendations on the scooter itself states that scooters should not be allowed on sidewalks unless local law permits. If riders are not heading this regulation, then we should find a way to better enforce this rule rather than scrapping the idea entirely.
Another concern I have heard is over the use of helmets. This is another point that Bird address on their website, mobile app, and on the scooters themselves, advising their riders that they need to wear a helmet for safety. Furthermore, if you are an active Bird rider, you can receive a helmet for free by requesting one through the app - just pay the cost of shipping! In addition to understanding the measures Bird has taken to promote the use of helmets in conjunction with their equipment, it is important to remember that the North Carolina Bicycle Helmet Law only requires helmet use for riders under 16 years old. Although that law was written about bicycle helmets specifically, it is not hard to imagine that the same regulations would be extended to scooters such as these. Therefore, while I would recommend the use of helmets to help keep yourself safe, it is not required by law and users, just like cyclists, are riding at their own risk and are responsible for their own decisions regarding safety.
I have personally used these scooters multiple times and have never felt in danger. I stayed off the sidewalks for the duration of my ride and did not wear a helmet. In using caution while on the roads, I kept myself safe and did not pose a risk to any pedestrians on the sidewalks.
Effect on the City
These scooters provide an easy, inexpensive, and convenient mode of transportation for our city. They provide connectivity across multiple areas of Winston-Salem and help fight congestion on our roads.
Downtown Winston-Salem is currently somewhat disconnected for a pedestrian with multiple separated “nodes” of activity. Think about it, our downtown includes Wake Forest Innovation Quarter , Industry Hill, Gateway, and West End, and while the Fourth Street area runs between these, it is unlikely that a pedestrian could easily enjoy WFIQ on the same evening as hanging out in the West End area due to the separation between the two. Furthermore, as traffic continues to increase in DTWS, it will become more difficult to travel conveniently by car to these nodes, not to mention the parking difficulties that can accompany driving from one of these nodes to another.
Birds are a great alternative to using a car in DTWS. You can ride them door-to-door (all the way from Alma Mexicana to Joymongers!) and you don't have to find a place to park when you get to your destination, bringing together the best of car, bike, and foot transport. The immediate connectivity this creates throughout downtown is a great development for Winston-Salem.
The Cost of Innovation
When I hear individuals bemoaning the addition of the Birds, I can't help but think to myself: "But, we are the city of Arts and Innovation! How can we not be excited for this!". What better way to be innovative than to figure out how to welcome this new mode of transportation called Bird scooters? That being said, if we are going to embrace this new transportation, there are some issues that need to be addressed in order to ensure that the Birds enhance the great things about Winston-Salem, without detracting from what we have already created here.
For example, it is not uncommon to see the scooters strewn about on the sidewalks where riders have left them after getting to their destination. This detracts from the pedestrian experience and even the look of our downtown. This is one issue that it seems could be better handled, possibly by adding better signage on the Birds for folks to please leave out of the way once stopped or by creating bird drop-off stations, similar to bike racks.
I conducted an informal straw poll on the Downtown Winston-Salem Neighborhood Group on Facebook, which was overwhelmingly in favor of the scooters, and I got a few other suggestions for how we can address some of the issues to make sure this initiative is here to stay. These included (but were not limited to): adding dedicated bike lanes, increasing the number of bike cops to help enforce regulations for scooter users, and creating a local helmet rental program for "impulse users" to utilize.
Our city prides itself on the way we embrace innovation, which is exactly what this opportunity presents. I hope that as our elected officials consider this technology that they will remember that, as the City of Arts & Innovation, we must learn to adapt, which includes finding ways to safely and effectively welcome the Birds.
Have opinions on the Birds? Tweet at @linvilleteam to let us know what you think!
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Linville Team Partners.