Scooter Company Bird Offers to Pay Cities to Build Bike Lanes

Image:  Bird.co
Image: Bird.co

Bird, the scooter start-up that became a Silicon Valley unicorn seemingly overnight, wants to chip in to fund bike lanes in cities.

Patrick Sisson at Curbed reports that the company has pledged to contribute $1 per scooter per day into a fund that will pay for projects that carve out street space where its users can ride without getting intimidated by drivers or aggravating people on sidewalks. The company urged other scooter and bike-share firms to do the same.

Bird will also convene a “Global Safety Advisory Board” led by David Strickland, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and currently a major lobbyist for the self-driving car industry. The advisory board will make safety recommendations addressing walking and biking as well as scooters, Sisson reports.

What Bird is proposing resembles bike industry initiatives like People for Bikes, the advocacy organization that promotes best practices for bike infrastructure. More support for bike lanes and pedestrian safety is certainly welcome, and the offer will no doubt endear the company to people fed up with car-centric streets.

A funding stream pegged to the number of Bird scooters also creates an incentive for cities to allow the company to expand its fleets. In Charlotte, for example, Bird is limited to 300 scooters. At that size, Bird’s proposal would generate just $109,000 annually for the city. San Francisco only allows 1,250 scooters citywide — and not all of them are Bird’s.

If cities start allowing several thousand scooters instead of hundreds, that could generate millions of dollars a year — which could actually build a non-trivial amount of bike lanes.

But Bird’s proposal also has its pitfalls. City budgets are fungible, and any outside earmarks might not actually increase whatever the government would otherwise spend on bike lanes.

And the specific projects that Bird wants to implement might not be the projects that should rate as the highest priorities for the public, as Arizona State professor David King pointed out:

Whatever you make of Bird’s offer, there’s certainly an opening here that cities shouldn’t let go to waste. The company’s incentives align with the goals of cutting car traffic and improving traffic safety. Streets where people can safely ride scooters out of the way of pedestrians and cars will be safe for people walking and biking too.

Companies like Uber and Lyft routinely mobilize their users to advocate on their behalf. If Bird riders become a large constituency supporting better street designs, that can help advance the goal of safer streets for everybody, as long as cities don’t cede the specifics of policy making.

  • Zach Katz

    Now we’re talking!

  • thielges

    $1 per scooter per day is a nice contribution but a greater benefit to safer bike environment is simply the Bird customer in the street riding the scooter. Safety in numbers.

  • This playbook already exists for highways . Do your research . Pretty soon all bike lanes will be owned by private companies and they will impose toll on them.,
    A horrible idea, a barely disguised bribe.

  • They just want to make $$$ .

  • John

    Wrong! The problem now with bike lanes is that cyclist think they’re immune from using them or obeying general traffic laws. There are bike lanes but the law permits them to ride in car lanes instead, causing slowdowns and interfering with the intent of the roadway, for cars! Running red lights, crossing in front of cars against the light and riding close enough to a moving car to hit the mirror are all to often common issues with cyclist and never are they fined or sited by police. Scooters belong in the bike lanes ONLY and the cyclist and scooterists can fight for their territory in the bright green line!

  • thielges

    Huh? What does your response have to do with my comment? It reads like standard anti-bike rant #6. And to clarify bike lanes are part of the street.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    If the law permits bikes to ride in car lanes, this shows the “intent of the roadway” is not just for cars.

    “the law permits them to ride in car lanes instead, causing slowdowns and interfering with the intent of the roadway, for cars!”

  • Jason

    It should still help provide a meaningful push on getting municipalities to pay for bike infrastructure themselves, though, to see the lanes Bird pays for immediately get decent usage.

  • Ben Phelps

    Wrong!

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    There is no such thing as a “Car Lane.”

  • Dny

    Yes now we need more bike lanes. Just like queens blvd; useless lanes no one uses. Kills businesses and takes away parking spaces by hundreds. Enough with bike lane fraud.

  • Bernard Finucane

    This is what they call boiling the ocean in Silicon Valley.

  • Michael

    Terrible idea. We don’t want any precedent set for active transportation modes being taxed $365/year before a reasonable conversation.

    Drivers only pay 0.50/gal on average in fuel taxes (average state plus fed). If they are driving 12,000 miles per year in a vehicle that gets 30 mpg, that’s 400 gallons & measly $200/year. In no rational world should a 20 pound, single passenger scooter be taxed at 1.8X the rate of a 3,500 lb/4 passenger car. Crazy.

    At that rate, there will be $50 dollar per shoe tax. Nonsense.

  • Steve SanFrancisco

    San Francisco and other cities should build elevated bicycle and scooter paths above the traffic on busy roads. It costs less than adding a new lane for bicycles to the road and lets the automotive traffic have the entire roadway while bicycles and scooters and personal mobility devices travel above the stop lights and safely out of the way of pedestrian and automotive traffic. If anyone is interested in this I started a public editable google doc project proposal with ideas and cost estimates for others to contributed to or copy from.
    https://goo.gl/MgclWx

  • No business has been killed on Queens Blvd. Human beings used to be, though.

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