Like many people in the great world of urban planning, I’ve long been a believer in biking. Bikes are great for the environment and personal health, and encouraging more cycling through easy, incremental projects and well-designed streets can have massive benefits for local economic development. But it was only in the last several months that I’ve discovered the unparalleled joys of the bike’s souped up cousin: the scooter.
Last summer, I found myself living in the Outer Banks, North Carolina - a touristy strip of beach towns on the Atlantic coast - without a car and without the money to buy one. Realizing I would need some way to get around, I bought a cherry red Yamaha C3 scooter off of an amiable surfer dude for $800. It wasn’t out of any particular interest in scooters (I had only ridden one once before), but only out of necessity in an area too big to be walkable and too sparse to have transit.
Now it’s eight months later and I am a fully converted scooter enthusiast. For me, I feel like I’ve tapped into a magical new world of transportation possibilities to go along with my long-standing love for bicycles. With that in mind, here are some ways that riding a scooter every day has had a positive impact on my life, and how embracing scooters can be massively helpful for you and your towns.
On a personal level, the easiest benefit to notice is on my wallet. With a whopping 110 miles per gallon (!), I’ve managed to ride my scooter everyday for eight months for just under $50 in gas, which is about what I would spend on cabs every three days before I got my wheels. Thankfully, my only maintenance issue cost me a case of beer for the neighborhood mechanic, but larger repairs still cost an order of magnitude less than car repairs. Factor in the $800 price tag, no monthly payments, and the fact that my insurance premiums are one-fourth what they were for my last car and I’ve already saved thousands of dollars over the cost of a car.
But the more I ride my scooter, the more I realize just how beneficial they can be from a planning perspective. With a top speed of around 40 miles per hour with the wind at my back, not all roads are for me. Changing lanes on a stroad can be a terrifying affair, and I wouldn’t dream of riding my scooter on an elevated highway. These constraints mean I spend my time on calmer, slower streets. At Strong Towns, we’re not shy about the benefits of slower streets, and I can now add “Maximum Comfort Riding A Scooter” to that list.
Because I can’t go as fast as cars, I live my life on a smaller scale. Instead of loading up a trunk with groceries at a big box supermarket, I do my shopping one bag at a time. The outlet mall is both too far and too perilous a journey for me to do comfortably, so I spend my time and money at the local thrift shops instead. Meanwhile, I spend time at the library and cafe because they’re a safe, short ride away. I may be more geographically limited than a car owner, but I’ve become a better supporter of my neighborhood because of it.
So how can scooters help us think about our towns? While we may be a long way from seeing the sea of scooters you’d find in a place like Taipei, Taiwan, judging a town’s scooter friendliness can be a great litmus test for how strong your town is.
Even if you’ve never seen a scooter in your town, ask yourself if a scooter rider could be comfortable there. If so, then I would bet that your roads are safer for bikes and pedestrians, have a comfortable human scale, and don’t require unsustainable, sprawling infrastructure.
Could you get to shops, parks, and amenities on a scooter, without getting on a highway? If so, then it sounds like you have a strong, locally connected town.
If your town isn’t scooter friendly, try to envision what types of changes would be best for your town. And if your town is scooter friendly? Then get out there and ride!