City streets, sidewalks and pathways are becoming a bit more crowded these days. With the growing availability and variety of electric mobility options there are more people competing for the same space to get around. How we move about cities is changing rapidly not only technology but also rapidly shifting work patterns. At the same time regulation is lagging to keep up in managing the use of different mobility options leaving sometimes conflicting understandings of what can be used where and who has the right of way?
Here we will dive into the rapidly growing use of a variety of electric mobility vehicles beyond the automobile and typical transit systems.
First off there are many forms of scooters and electric or e-mobility devices. From e-bikes, electric standing scooters to riding scooters that can sometimes more resemble small motorbikes and now electric unicycles. Some of these options can move at speeds up to 60km per hour! Crash helmets sold separately. Rules for each vary by the type of vehicle and the jurisdiction where it is used. Some are permitted to use sidewalk spaces while other are limited to road use only. Others are not yet be approved for use but uptake is ahead of government approval. Many municipalities are stuggling with questions of regulation such as in the City of Fredericton. How would bylaw officers chase after an electric unicycle?
This growing variety of uses, undefined or unacknowledged rules of where they can travel can create particular challenges to accessibility. First, for the pedestrian on the street who may feel unaware of these other mobility devices. They may feel threatened by sharing spaces with high-speed vehicles moving in unpredictable ways within pedestrian space. Will the person on the electric mobility vehicle have enough time or mindfulness to avoid the person with a white cane, walker or stroller? Even when unattended obstacles may be created by these vehicles being left in inappropriate places.
Second the ability of people with accessibility needs to access these forms of mobility for their own use. Some of these vehicles are available on the market and thus available to anyone for purchase. Others are part of sharing systems supported by municipalities such as they City of Calgary, local non-profits or private business. Sharing systems are typically accessed through application based systems on person mobile devices so those apps need to be up to current accessibility standards with features live dictation, voice control and high contrast options. Use of these devices in low traffic areas would further accommodate people who want to participate but may be uncomfortable on busy streets. This later point of course is a tricky balance between creating safe spaces for the electric vehicle user, pedestrians and other uses.
There are a variety of options to help improve the experience and safety of all users that city planners, regulators and community activists can promote:
Trained in town planning, an avid traveler and legally blind myself I write on issues and opportunities is see along my travels that could improve our cities from a visual perspective.