Scooters can fund bike lanes

Back in October, the Indianapolis City Council approved using a dollar-per-day fee on dockless scooters to fund bike infrastructure.

“We can use it for bike lanes. We can use it for cleanup of the bike lanes, as well as resurfacing the bike lanes so that (riders) have a safe place to use the scooters,” Melody Park, the chief engineer for DPW, said during the council’s Oct. 18 Public Works Committee hearing.

It’s unclear how much money scooters will generate for the new fund. So far, there are two operators in Indianapolis: Bird and Lime. Bird in August filed an application to operate up to 6,000 scooters in Indianapolis; Lime filed to bring 1,800. It the scooter companies maxed out the numbers of scooters they requested, that would give the city more than $2.8 million per year toward public works projects.

In Austin, the opportunity is even greater. The transportation department says we’ve got about 17,000 scooters in circulation. A dollar-per-day fee for all of those would amount to $6.2 million a year.

Former Council Member Chris Riley, who now heads Bike Austin, sees this as our big chance to build a bunch of protected bike lanes. It doesn’t take much to put in place a structure that makes a bike lane far safer and far more attractive to those who aren’t already committed cyclists. And yet protected lanes remain rare, even in neighborhoods where you’d most expect them to be. There’s only one protected bike lane downtown that goes along 3rd Street and then snakes onto 4th street past the Convention Center. There’s no protected bike infrastructure going north/south.

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Protected bike lanes don’t need to be nearly as nice as this one. Just putting up some plastic barriers provides a much nicer experience for bikers. Like this two-way bike lane on Bluebonnet. It’s not even that protected, but it still provides a clear dedicated path for bikers that is separate from cars. That makes biking much more appealing.

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This should be an easy call for City Council. The scooter companies have accepted it in Indianapolis, so I don’t see any reason they should put up a fight here. The fact is, if scooter companies want to be an important part of urban mobility, it’s in their interest to advocate for better bike infrastructure that allows people to ride their devices safely, separate from cars and pedestrians.

The transportation department has publicly floated this idea, although officials have sent weird, mixed signals about what the money collected from the $1 fee would fund. I really, really get worried at the prospect of CMs getting greedy and diverting the money to other transportation priorities that aren’t directly linked to enhancing scooter/bike transportation. This money should be for bike infrastructure. Period.

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