The Future — and Present — is Micromobility as Transportation Infrastructure: Lessons from the 2023 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting
This post was authored by Calvin Thigpen, Director of Policy Research at Lime.
Coming back to DC after 3 years away, it’s clear micromobility has come a long way and will continue to improve with Lime’s leadership and city partnership
For regular attendees of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference, hosted annually in Washington DC, the city and its transportation system may have been frozen in their mind as they last saw it in January 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. This year, the TRB conference was back in full swing, giving transportation practitioners and researchers a refreshed look at the city and how micromobility has become a part of the city’s transportation fabric.
The most striking change for conference attendees was likely the new bi-directional protected bike lane on 9th St NW, immediately adjacent to the Convention Center. This is just one part of a growing network of protected bike lanes that DC has been steadily building over the past 3 years, starting with a commitment in 2020 to build 20 miles of protected bike infrastructure. A mountain of academic research as well as Lime analysis shows that providing bike lanes encourages more micromobility use, and recent studies also reveal how most micromobilty crashes and injuries occur on streets lacking bike infrastructure and with high-speed, high-volume car traffic.
Washington DC has also been busy installing a less-celebrated, but equally important feature for micromobility users: bike racks and corrals. Starting last year, Washington DC has committed to installing 1,000 bike racks per year. And the evidence, both on the streets and in academic research, shows that this investment is improving parking compliance. A recent study published in the Active Travel Studies journal published in the Active Travel Studies journal showed how in DC, a combination of education, reminders, and dense parking infrastructure all helped improve parking compliance among bike and scooter riders. DC has become a world leader in micromobility, with Lime riders taking over 7.6 million rides on e-scooters and e-bikes since Lime launched in 2017. In 2022 alone, almost 580,000 people took nearly 2.7 million Lime rides in the District.
And all of that was easy to see before attendees even set foot in the Convention Center!
Within the conference itself, micromobility was a hot topic, with nearly 100 presentations dedicated to all things scooters and bikes. As Lime’s Director of Policy Research, I was thrilled to attend the conference as the new chair of TRB’s Powered Micromobility Subcommittee. I led a workshop on the future of micromobility and bicycling alongside co-organizers John MacArthur, Chris Cherry, Bahar Dadashova, Celeste Chavis, and Rebecca Sanders. Over 150 people from 17 different countries attended to hear four panels and participate in breakout sessions. The main topics were safety, parking, equity, and sustainability, four pillars on which Lime is building its exciting future.
From the safety panel a general consensus emerged that having safety outcomes on par with bicycles is an important first step that shared scooters have achieved, but there is still more to do to protect from cars as part of a Vision Zero approach. Safety comes first and always at Lime - we are proud of all that we’ve accomplished but always strive for more.
On the topic of parking, Sharada Strasmore from DDOT noted that their evaluation study found that over 90% of shared scooters were parked properly, in part thanks to DDOT’s commitment to install 1,000 bike racks per year. Cornell Prof. Nick Klein shared research that found the general public overestimates the prevalence of misparked scooters, perhaps because they equate tidiness with compliance.
With respect to equity, multiple presenters from major cities across the country from Oregon to Baltimore spoke about the amazing opportunity micromobility has to solve transportation equity problems. At Lime, we work towards this goal through deploying our vehicles in neighborhoods underserved by traditional transportation options, often connecting people to mass transit via shared e-scooters and e-bikes. We are also proud of our Lime Access program, which provides significant discounts to residents of the cities we serve who qualify for federal, state, or city assistance.
On the sustainability panel, the excitement over how far the industry had come since its early days was palpable. I was proud to present research on behalf of researchers at Fraunhofer ISI, a German research institute, which examined the net sustainability impact of Lime’s shared e-scooters and e-bikes. I shared that Lime’s Gen4 e-scooters have a carbon footprint that is 84% lower than 2019 models - a dramatic increase in 4 years that means scooters are less polluting than even public transit.
Between the workshop and the many other sessions dedicated to micromobility, several pieces of research stood out as providing helpful insights for policymakers and practitioners.
Prof. Jordi Honey-Roses conducted field observations of bike racks in Barcelona, finding big differences in usage patterns. Some bike racks served as long-term storage, others were barely used, and still others saw lots of use and turnover. Shared micromobility can help ensure bike racks see lots of traffic - in line with Donald Shoup’s recommendations around car parking turnover. Prof. Honey-Roses’ research also found that dockless bikes did not contribute to bike rack overcrowding - they composed only a small fraction of parked bikes.
Jonah Chiarenza presented research showing how bikes and e-bikes have similar speed profiles, suggesting that despite their electric assist, e-bikes can be regulated similarly to bikes.
A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found encouraging patterns of access for shared micromobility: “Based on data across all operators, the typical access time to dockless micromobility [in DC] was 0.5-2 minutes.” And even more encouraging for Lime, the researchers found that “among operators, Lime had overall shorter access time than other operators.” That’s worth celebrating!
Researchers from the University of Vermont surveyed e-bike and bicycle users about their perceptions of safety. The researchers found that “e-bike users … feel somewhat safer than conventional bicyclists,” though riders of electric and conventional bikes alike strongly preferred separated bike lanes. This suggests that “the provision of separated bicycle facilities remains a critical factor to increasing bicycle use” among bike and e-bike riders.
Between the bike infrastructure improvements DC has made and the wealth of research showing how the shared micromobility industry has advanced in the last several years, TRB attendees were left with a clear message as they departed: with investment, sensible regulations, and partnership, cities can make scooters and bicycles an integral part of their transportation system.