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  1. Opinion

Can't we at least do scooters, people?

Electric scooters are here! Can Tampa riders learn to scoot? [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
Electric scooters are here! Can Tampa riders learn to scoot? [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jun. 1, 2019

Let's admit it: Transportation has not exactly been our thing.

For years, our counties failed to get rail or other significant improvements to take us into the future. (Or even to work.) When voters in Hillsborough finally rose up and taxed themselves for better transportation, one of their own elected officials promptly sued.

But seriously, can't we even do scooters?

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Tampa debuted those super-hip, rent-through-an-app electric scooters capable of zipping around town at up to 15 mph. The one-year pilot program is expected to make e-scooters a regular sight in all the logical places: downtown, Hyde Park and Ybor City, with scooters allowed only on sidewalks at least for the time being. Already rolling in other towns, it's a creative option when it's too far to walk but not worth taking the car or an Uber.

Do we like it? That first weekend, riders took thousands of trips.

Now one would not expect to see well-dressed theater-goers zooming past on scooters to catch The Wiz matinee at the Straz, one of downtown Tampa's transportation and parking headaches. But to hipster-out over cocktails at Armature Works? Eat a banh mi outside at Sparkman Wharf? To parks and festivals? To workday meetings and lunches without unparking the car?

Done right, e-scooters could be a very small but significant piece of our massive transportation puzzle. If we don't blow it.

Already we've had some riders, and you know who you are, flouting the rules and risking turning fellow citizens into future scooter-haters. Scooters were sometimes left haphazardly blocking sidewalks and entryways and even lying on the ground, and seriously, did your mother not teach you better? Scooter riders were also spotted going rogue in forbidden zones, which include Bayshore Boulevard, Ybor City's main drag of Seventh Avenue and the Riverwalk.

That last one, Tampa's spectacular open ribbon of waterside walkway through downtown, would be understandably tempting. But no, no, no. There is a certain yin and yang to the Riverwalk, runners sharing space with leashed dogs, power walkers, baby strollers and cocktail-carrying meanderers. Add platoons of electric scooters and chaos will ensue. Already the occasional bicycle flies through at breakneck speed despite posted signs to slow their wheels. You, too, know who you are.

You might be wondering how Tampa got rolling before way cooler St. Petersburg, which also is working on scooters. The answer: Not by accident.

"I think people are excited about them and we want to welcome them," says St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice. But they also want to avoid the disorder of scooters left around — "not really good scooter etiquette" — and address safety issues. In St. Pete, where the sidewalks already bustle with pedestrians and outdoor cafes, scooters in bike lanes would make more sense.

So they'll watch what happens across the bay.

"This is one time it was really okay to let Tampa beat us to the punch," Rice said.

All this talk of progress brings to mind one of the best-ever failed attempts: Twenty years ago Tampa tried an early form of bike-sharing by placing bicycles recovered by police and spray-painted bright orange around town so anyone could grab one to head to a meeting or lunch and then leave them for the next guy. This had reportedly worked in other cities, by the way.

Within weeks, more than 50 bikes vanished. So, no, we weren't ready.

It is good news that e-scooters have technology that can slow them to a crawl in those forbidden zones. And surely we can learn to follow a few rules in the name of creative ways to get around here.

Surely, even we can do scooters.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.