Our View: E-scooters and safety are contradictions

Our View: E-scooters and safety are contradictions
Safety for scooter riders remains a concern, but under Virginia law, only riders under the age of 14 are required to wear helmets. (Photo credit: Missy Schrott)

The kindest phrase we can find to describe the city’s transportation philosophy – which purportedly prioritizes safety – is “wildly contradictory.”

The schizophrenic approach to road safety is evident in two front-page stories in today’s Alexandria Times. The first, “Seminary Road to be restructured,” details changes the city is considering to Seminary Road – namely reducing at least one vehicle lane out of the existing four. This is being done in the name of safety.

The other is the fourth story in our series about scooters in Alexandria, which examines accountability. The advent of up to 1,600 scooters on Alexandria’s streets and sidewalks, mostly ridden by people not wearing helmets, is staggeringly unsafe.

So what gives? Does the city prioritize safety above all else, or not? Because if safety is king, then the scooters need to go.

Why do we need to wait until the end of the pilot program this fall to determine that they are unsafe? Just spend a half hour in Old Town on a nice day, and you are likely to see: scooter riders without helmets, some on sidewalks, many underage, some riding tandem, many wobbling and virtually none stopping at stop signs. Many of the above are either illegal per Alexandria’s pilot program or violations of the scooter companies’ regulations.

Whether they are fun or add vibrancy to Alexandria is moot. E-scooters are inherently unsafe. And a tweak here and there to the program isn’t going to make them so.

If making our streets safer governs all of our street-related decisions – which is what city officials repeatedly use to justify decisions that make it harder to drive cars in Alexandria – then this scooter program is a non-starter.

If city council doesn’t axe the scooter program, then it becomes clear that the real priority regarding streets isn’t safety at all, but instead a philosophy of reducing automobile use by any means possible. There appears to be a good deal of obfuscation taking place, as the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services claims to prioritize safety while waging a stealthy, but clear, war on automobiles.

Anyone in doubt need only look at the elimination of parking spots for residents on King Street to build little-used bicycle lanes. Or road diets elsewhere in the city that increase commute times. Or developer-friendly parking reductions that leave city residents with inadequate parking in Old Town and, increasingly, Del Ray.

No one at city hall owns up to this obvious war on cars – though members of city committees have done so – but it’s nonetheless a reality. Ironically, this war on cars is being waged just as vehicles are becoming safer and are polluting less.

While safety may be important to city leaders, it’s not their top priority. Various initiatives can vie for the top spot, but only one occupies it, and the top priority for our city leaders is clearly development density.

The only way to keep shoehorning more and more people into our city is to reduce their reliance on automobiles. And the way to lower motorized vehicle use is to implement policies that make it more difficult to drive and park.

Safety is the red herring for eliminating lanes on Seminary Road, as it was for adding bicycle lanes on King Street. The city’s embrace of a program as clearly unsafe as e-scooters calls that bluff.

So are we going to get rid of these dangerous toys that have invaded Alexandria, or are we going to finally admit that safety isn’t really our priority?