My electric scooter died in front of Lewis and Clark High School, well short of my goal of riding it up the South Hill.
The ride was clearly over on the dead and nonresponsive vehicle. Problem was, its little brain didn’t know. The inert scooter was still registered in my name. The minutes ticked by, 15 cents for each one of them tinkling out of my bank account, and I considered my options. A gaggle of teenagers eyeing my scooter vehicle considered theirs.
As my mind turned to the depravity each one of those high school-aged boys was surely capable of, I frantically sought a way to decouple the little machine from my name. The lock “button” was nowhere to be found on the smartphone app that linked me to this rentable, electric scooter. I sent two distraught emails to Lime, the company that brought the high-tech bikeshare program to Spokane last week. In response, I received polite, formulaic, auto-generated emails telling me my “request has been updated.”
I looked to the 20 or so teenagers, and my disquiet grew. The next morning’s headline flashed before my eyes: Scooter thrown from Monroe Street Bridge registered to Spokesman’s transportation reporter. I felt like I needed a torch to ward off the young men, who I was sure were desperate to destroy this machine. Toss it onto I-90. Try to jump it off something. Dissect it.
Examining the scooter, I found a phone number to call. A woman answered. My battery died, I said – what do I do? Restart the app, she said, less than helpfully.
It’s not working, I told her. She didn’t seem concerned, and told me my request had been recorded. Just leave it where it is, she said and hung up. I sent one last email, hoping the digital trail I left behind would keep me from being charged after those young monsters ravaged my ride.
I began my walk back to the Review Tower, eyeing the boys, the scooter and slowly realizing that my experience with Lime’s vehicles was far less pleasing than I had anticipated.
Beyond the scooter quagmire, there was the bicycle I checked out, which also had a small electric motor that gave a little pep to my pedaling. The bike had been operable in Spokane for all of two days, at most, and the drive train was covered in cobwebs.
Not to strain a metaphor too much, but there are some bugs to work out in Spokane’s latest bikeshare program. In the case of the e-bike, the arachnids should’ve been sprayed out with a hose.
And that’s unfortunate. Close readers of this column have surely noticed it promotes all things transportation.
More specifically, it promotes the maintenance and construction of all transportation infrastructure – from roadwork to new bikeways to better transit to the north-south freeway. And it encourages all modes of transportation, with an emphasis on increasing the choices available for Spokane commuters and travelers. Sure, most people still get around by sitting alone in their car, but we need to have a wide variety of options for commuters if we have any hope to avoid a future of snarled, maddening traffic similar to Portland and Seattle, let alone Los Angeles or Houston.
That’s why Lime’s performance so far in Spokane is painful. As a transportation option for transit riders or workers heading to a meeting across downtown, Kendall Yards or the University District, Lime’s vehicles should be great. They could be amazing. Instead, they’re technologically janky playthings for shoppers and tourists.
To be fair, Lime has only been in town for a few days, and there’s the distinct possibility that my unsatisfying experience was not shared by the other people who gave the new vehicles a spin. And, to be fair, I was never charged for the scooter ride, so my call to customer service had its desired effect.
Also, I spent a couple hours on the bikes and scooter, most of that time having a blast. Cruising through Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, on the Centennial Trail and around downtown at 10 or 15 mph felt freeing – I was out of a car and still very mobile. For lunch, I rode over to Ruins, by the Spokane County Courthouse, and parked the bike on the sidewalk right out front. Three steps later, I was in the restaurant and could forget about the bike. Someone else could have it. I was done.
Riding the adult-sized scooter is remarkable as well. My main concern – before it died anyway – had nothing to do with the sturdy scooter, which looks like a big Razor Scooter. Instead, the cracks, potholes and uneven surfaces of Spokane’s streets larded me up with worry. That’s on Spokane, not Lime.
The convenience, too, of using a smartphone to lock and unlock the vehicles is something to appreciate. A two-mile ride around town cost me less than $4. Another ride, from Riverfront Park to Central Food in Kendall Yards, cost just 75 cents.
By offering a wide collection of affordable bikes and scooters in the city core, Lime’s program should be a way for people to ditch the car every now and again for short trips, or for bus riders to get that last mile much faster than by foot. Imagine not having to get the car out of the parking garage, drive across downtown, find a parking spot and pay for parking, simply for a High Nooner sandwich. Instead, grab a scooter. Five minutes and a buck or so later, you’re at the restaurant’s door.
That should be the point of Lime. Instead, their first week in town made me think their purpose is far different than what I’d assumed. These are not necessarily pieces of the transportation puzzle. They’re toys. Really fun toys.
Has my dead battery and fingers-crossed solution overshadowed Lime’s seemingly successful launch in Spokane? Probably. Downtown Spokane on Saturday was crawling with the green machines. Frankly, it was startling to see so many people on bikes and scooters. I overheard two conversations where strangers rode next to each other, enthusiastically exchanging notes on how the scooters and bikes performed, and where best to ride them.
The point is, I’m unsure if these vehicles will replace car trips. But who cares? Grab one and putt around Riverfront Park and the Centennial Trail. The scooters are extraordinarily easy to master, and you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll smile and if you’re like me at all, you’ll laugh out loud for no other reason than you’re having a good time. And you’ll keep your fingers crossed that scooters and bikes like these will populate the city center, ready to take us to any lunch date, meeting or store.
North Monroe opens
The long-awaited, contentious renovation of North Monroe Street was completed last week, and the road opened to some fanfare.
The work was done much faster than the city had predicted and transformed the shopping district, which for years was defined by rutted concrete, dangerously small parking spaces and few safe ways for pedestrians to cross.
Now, wide sidewalks, crosswalks, landscaping, new transit stops and fewer lanes hope to remake the historic section of road from an automobile thoroughfare to a pedestrian-friendly destination.
A party celebrating the work will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Classic cars will be on display, and area car clubs are invited to participate. For more information, contact the North Monroe Business District through www.KnowMonroe.com.
Main partly reopens
Main Avenue to Spokane’s Peaceful Valley neighborhood is open to local traffic following weeks of being closed during a major renovation.
The work is related to the construction of a massive sewer tank, but the north side of the street has seen the installation of a wide sidewalk, part of the eventual Spokane River gorge loop trail.
Cedar Street is closed between Main and Wilson Avenue, also due to the work.
City street maintenance
Grind and overlay work will begin this week on Cedar and High Drive from 10th to 21st avenues. Work on High Drive between 21st and 29th continues, keeping the road completely closed to traffic.
Residential grind and overlay work will take place on Division Street and Manito Boulevard from 33rd to 37th avenues, and on Fifth Avenue from Freya to Havana.
Crack sealing will be done on Mission between Hamilton and Greene.
County pavement work
The 2018 Pavement Renewal and Replacement program will affect many commutes and cause delays through the end of October on the following roads:
Regal Road at 57th Avenue
Whitworth Drive from Hawthorne Road to Wall Street
Whitworth Drive from U.S. Highway 395 to Hawthorne Road
Liberty Drive from Melkapsi Street to Tum Tum Drive
Last week, the Spokesman-Review ran an article detailing a recent ranking by a real estate website that said Spokane has the second-best commute in the state. While there are reasons to doubt the ranking, it was based on Census Bureau data.
After the story ran, the director of planning and development at Spokane Transit Authority, Karl Otterstrom, took to Twitter and, among other things, criticized the Census numbers as not being reflective of STA’s ridership.
Otterstrom said the Census surveys simplify commutes, and only count the “mode” a person uses for the greatest distance.
“A person who drives from Newman Lake to catch a bus at Mirabeau is counted as motorist if first leg is longer than bus trip,” he explained, pointing out that this motorist is also a transit user, something the Census fails to capture.
While the Census shows that just 4 percent of Spokane commuters use public transit, Otterstrom said STA’s own surveys found that between 14 and 19 percent of adults within STA’s service area rode a bus at some point in any given 30-day period.
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