You may think colleges and universities exist in a bubble. Not so at UVA, not when it comes to electric scooters. UVA is filled with them, same as most major city centers around the world. Since the start of a Charlottesville pilot program a year ago, the trend has been gaining momentum. Allow us to bring you up to speed.
How’s it work?
Getting started on a Lime scooter is straightforward: Download the smartphone app, input the credit card information and look for a scooter on the provided map. Once you track one down, scan the QR code to unlock it, swipe through the instructions, pop the kickstand and buckle your helmet. Riding is easy, if unfamiliar at first. Step on with one foot, press the acceleration lever on the right handle, give yourself a little push and you’re off. Just remember to keep a hand on the left brake (it’s like a bike’s); the scooter is sturdy and steers easily, but it accelerates quickly, which takes some getting used to. Riders pay $1 to unlock a scooter, plus 23 cents for each minute of the ride. Scooters go up to 17 mph and are equipped with a red light in the back and a headlight in the front.
Where can you go?
You can scoot anywhere you can bike: in bike lanes or the full driving lane. But in observational studies, UVA students and city staffers found that 21 percent of scooter riders use the sidewalks. Around major landmarks on Grounds, scooter speed is limited to 3-4 mph and parking is banned—and don’t even think about parking your scooter near Scott Stadium on game days.
There have been approximately 50 scooter-related ER visits since the pilot program’s inception, some “fairly serious,” according to a report given to the Charlottesville City Council in June.
Virginia does not require helmet use but the city, UVA and scooter companies all suggest it. An observational study done by UVA students and city staff found that no riders were using helmets.
Several officials and survey respondents cite blocked accessibility as a major concern. Parked improperly, scooters can impede wheelchair access and can trip visually impaired people using canes. Scooters should be parked in bike racks or moped parking areas, or left upright and out of the way of sidewalks.
University Police typically issue warnings to scooter riders in cases of “imminent danger,” such as two riders on one scooter or a scooter going against traffic, according to Gloria Graham, former associate VP for safety and security.
Average adult walking speed: about 3.1 mph (about the top speed of a softshell turtle)
Scooter in a slow zone: about 4 mph (about as fast as a housefly flies)
Average speed of a Jim Ryan running in a 5K: 9.8 mph (about the same as a goat on a mission)
Average speed of an adult on a bike in the city: 11 to 12 mph (about the top speed of a domestic pig)
Scooter at full speed: about 17 mph (about the speed of an eastern gray squirrel or an eastern chipmunk)
51 percent of survey respondents listed commuting to or from school, a work appointment or work as the primary purpose for their most recent ride.
The majority—56 percent—of survey respondents who reported having ridden a scooter used their most recent trip to replace a walking trip. 28 percent said they replaced a car/carpool/Lyft/Uber trip with a scooter trip; 7 percent replaced a public transit trip; 3 percent replaced a bike trip.
Safer at night
Cavalier Daily editor Gracie Kreth (Col ’20) says she takes a scooter at least once a week and appreciates that they’re cheap and easy transportation. “I especially like them when I’m coming home from the library or from a friend’s house [at night]; I think it’s safer than walking.” Kreth says she spends about $15 a month on scooter trips.
Test rides (and walk)
Virginia Magazine staff very unscientifically tested three modes of getting around Grounds, starting at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday in early October. We went from the Aquatic and Fitness Center (next to Scott Stadium) to the Jefferson statue on the street side of the Rotunda, one of us riding a scooter, another taking a UBike and the third using shoe leather. Here are the results:
Walker: Judy Le, managing editor
Arrival time to Jefferson statue: 10:48 a.m.
Number of steps walked: 2,241
Observations: To me, this was the best way to get across Grounds: I ran into several people I knew; a kind construction worker helped me find my way; and I got to experience the glorious smells of food trucks. I didn’t have to worry about traffic laws—or traffic at all, for that matter.
UBiker: Steve Hedberg, creative director
Arrival time to Jefferson statue: 10:45 a.m.
Number of steps walked: 479
Observations: I spent seven minutes trying to unlock a bike until another rider pulled up; I was able to use that unit without trouble. The bike has gears, and riding was easy, similar to a beach cruiser. It also has a basket, which comes in handy.
Scooter rider: Sarah Poole, digital editor
Arrival time to Jefferson statue: 10:45 a.m. (I speed-walked the final five steps.)
Number of steps walked: 994 (734 to get the scooter and 260 from where I had to park it off Grounds to get to the statue)
Observations: I definitely was slowed down (~4 mph) in the “slow zone” and noticed the difference when I got outside it on Madison Lane. It’s a strange mix of feeling somewhat like a pedestrian but needing to observe traffic laws.
Sources: Christopher Robbins, Shenandoah operations manager, Lime; Rebecca White, director, department of parking and transportation, UVA; Gloria Graham, former associate VP for safety and security, UVA; Report to Charlottesville City Council on the dockless scooter pilot program, June 17, 2019; Amanda Poncy, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, city of Charlottesville; Theodore Garland Jr., Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, June 1982; Speedofanimals.com; a-z-animals.com