Spotted by me this afternoon, as soon as I set out to the Medical Centre:
That’s two dogs there, and two e-scooters. You can tell they’re e-scooters rather than just scooters, because of the wires, and because what couple, with dogs, would have, you know, scooters? That they had to push along? Also, they walked right past me, and I got a close look.
This charmingly convivial scene doesn’t tell us that e-scooters will survive the resumption of, if you get my meaning, London. When the traffic finally roars back, will e-scooters be safe enough for such people? I now somewhat doubt it. But maybe they’ll find their niches, in the quieter and more bike-friendly bits of London, like the bit where I live, the quiet bit between Horseferry Road and Vauxhall Bridge Road and north (or is it east?) towards Vincent Square. I saw several other e-scooter drivers today, including, rather interestingly, a guy with an e-scooter which had a wider platform than usual, so he could stand with his feet next to each other, in the manner of this gizmo.
What the above photo does tell us is that there are maybe more people than is widely realised who would like e-scooters to have a future in London. This couple are not your normal e-scooter drivers, burly singleton types speeding to and from work, or with rucksacks on their backs and delivering at speed. These two look like they’ve settled down, and would like that settling down to include e-scooters.
Like I’ve been saying for months now, we shall see.
When out-and-about yesterday afternoon, I lost count of the e-scooters I saw. These are about half of them, or so, maybe less. The photo-quality is rubbish, because I was usually busy photoing something else, and because, on London’s currently very empty roads, these things go really quite fast, and are usually past me before I even notice them. My speciality is static stuff, like architecture and sculpture and signs and photoers photoing and taxies-with-adverts stopped at traffic lights. E-scooters are seldom static, and when they are I tend not even to see them:
The best photo of an e-scooter by far that I photoed yesterday showed a very clear face of the person doing the e-scooting. Since there are legal uncertainties about whether and where these things are allowed, I didn’t show that one.
As Lockdown drags on, I become ever more impatient to learn whether these machines have any long term future in a traffic-heavy city like London. Lockdown has created very e-scooter-friendly circumstances on London’s roads, but that cannot last. I am zero-ing in, in my autodidactic way, on a law of transport, which says that all vehicles are really systems. You can invent a superbly clever vehicle. But if the right environment for it does not exist, or is the kind of environment that the powers-that-be are not inclined to create, then it’s no go. Steam locomotives are obviously also railway networks. Cars and lorries are, almost equally obviously, road networks, for which, in the early days of the car, there was huge political backing. Bicycles likewise need bicycle networks, or at the very least laws restraining the cars and lorries from running them over on what is basically their network.
Perhaps my waning enthusiasm for e-scooters is linked with the near miss I was subjected to very recently by a delivery e-scooter, e-scooting on the pavement I was slowly walking along. He was in a big hurry and had he hit me, I’d have suffered serious damage. I can remember when such behaviour was fairly common with juvenile-delinquent propelled bicycles, but someone or something seems to have taught some manners to the scumbag cycler fraternity in recent years. The e-scooting people will have to learn similar lessons if they want any help from the politicians, to create an e-scooter network. The e-scooting people I see, in London SW1, are almost none of them juvenile delinquent in demeanour or dress. They all seem like hard-working young citizens. That delivery guy is the nearest to an e-scooter delinquent I’ve encountered, but he too was working, very hard indeed, which is what caused the problem. Needless to say, I had no time at all to take any photos. He wasn’t stopping to apologise, quite the opposite. If he’d hit me, he’d have done a hit-and-run escape, assuming he was able to.
Once anecdotes like that start circulating, the politics of e-scooting will become more like the politics of knife crime. As in: Why the hell isn’t it being stopped?
This looks rather promising. It’s a new design for an e-scooter which, by the look of it, is still portable, but which answers some of the doubts that are now being expressed about e-scooter safety.
Carson Brown, the designer and public face of TAUR argues that a basic cause of e-scooter danger is the ungainly body posture demanded by the current and less bulky versions of the e-scooter:
One thing that sets TAUR apart is the foot platforms, which provide a dedicated place for the rider to stand. Instead of placing your feet behind one another with your hips twisted awkwardly, you stand fully facing forward with your feet side by side. The platforms are 2.5 times wider than the deck of a typical scooter and help the rider with stability. The benefit of facing head-on with your body aligned is that you are able to twist 180 degrees in either direction — giving the rider maximum ride awareness.
There are other tweaks added to achieve much greater safety, like much bigger and tougher wheels, and lights to signal your presence. In general, the TAUR, Carson says, is an e-scooter designed to travel on roads, rather than merely on super-flat surfaces like shopping centre pedestrian areas.
Having been watching the e-scooter story unfold, I note that a big problem now is that to achieve maximum portability, safety seems to have been sacrificed. That’s a deal breaker for many and probably most people. I’d sum up the TAUR by saying that the “traditional” e-scooter, the one we now see trundling about in London from time to time, is the smallest and cheapest and most portable e-scooter you can have that still goes reasonably well. The TAUR, on the other hand, is the safest e-scooter you can still carry by hand when you’re not travelling on it. It’s not as light as it can be, so you can lift it easily. It’s as heavy and bulky as it can be, while still remaining liftable.
This reminds me somewhat of the definition of, I think it was, the General Motors Cadillac. A car like the Ford Model-T was the cheapest car you could have, and that of course was mass produced, to make it as cheap as possible. And of course GM had their version of that also, at the bottom end of their range. But, the top-of-the-range Cadillac was the most luxurious car GM could still sell in sufficient numbers for it to be mass-produceable. This notion of satisfying a basic requirement while maximising another very desirable variable is a powerful way to think about the design of manufactured things, I think. The trick being to choose exactly the right variables, to be satisfied, and to be maximised.
If obliged to select just one of the many photos I have photoed during Lockdown and before Lockdown was over and done with (i.e. now and for the foreseeable future until all this nonsense ends and we can get back to whatever the new normal turns out to be), I think I might well choose this one:
The big point about the photo above, photoed earlier this week, is the state of the road that the e-scooter is travelling on. No other traffic. London is still in a state of semi-Lockdown, of a semi-voluntary sort. Roads like the one you see above are often empty, and into this emptiness several dozens of e-scooters have raced joyously, as shown above. But if and when anything resembling normality returns to this road, it will fill up with regular traffic, and it will then change from the total safety you see above to a state more like “you almost certainly won’t die today”. For an e-scooter, it will be like being in Bomber Command during the war. Your chances of surviving the next trip will be quite good. Surviving a tour of two dozen operations, not so much. Commute every day for ever and you’re doomed to severe injury or worse.
A few dozen minutes later, in Parliament Square, I saw something with much more of a future, namely a fully functioning bicycle road, both ways, with a white line in the middle, just like a regular car road. And all this in a spot which has been a shambles for about half of the last decade, on the Parliament approach to Westminster Bridge, with Big Ben up on the right as we look:
And then, on this same cycle road, an e-scooter:
That arrangement has a future, because this is a glimpse of the new normal. E-scooting and bicycles seem to coexist very happily safely. This is especially so if the e-scooters make a point of going at the same speed as the cyclists, whenever overtaking would be any problem. The point being that e-scooters can go much faster than bicycles, but often shouldn’t.
I was going to show a couple more e-scooter photos, but a blogging rule I constantly forget but have remembered now is: if you can separate out your points into separate postings, it’s probably best to do that.
So, I’ll end on this point. Bicycles and heavy motorised traffic don’t go together well. But bicycles and e-scooters, with the heavy traffic removed, that works very well.
Just as bikes flattened the roads to make way, literally, for the first cars, so too now, bikes are now narrowing their roads, to exclude those same cars and to make way for e-scooters. I believe “History” to be in the category list for this posting with good reason.
Today, GodDaughter2 and I finally met up with each other. The timing changed again, from yesterday afternoon to this afternoon, but the location was as previously rearranged, Acton Central railway station.
Once in Acton and wandering around therein, I did little photoing. Surprising though it may appear to many regular readers of this blog, I focussed almost all of my attention on GD2 herself. We did take a few photos of each other, but I did little in the way of photoing the many attractions of Acton.
However, once I got into the train back home from distant Acton, normality reasserted itself, and in the train I sneaked a few photos of something I’ve not seen before, namely a guy with an e-scooter, on a train:
I’m surprised I’ve not seen this sooner. I thought I had spotted one a week ago, but the guy said it was a mere scooter.
But this e-scooter was the real thing, and it wasn’t the only e-scooter I observed, as GD2 and I wandered around seeking an eatery, and then a drinkery. I reckon there were about half a dozen, all told, although I wasn’t counting at the time. Including another e-scooter mate of the guy in the picture who turned up just after I took the above photos. But we were all then getting off at the same stop, and I wasn’t able to photo the two of the together.
As a modified version of Lockdown persists, e-scooters are multiplying in London. But will they survive the return of traffic normality?
I only seriously noticed e-scooters this year. But whenever I seriously notice something, the pattern is usually that I have already noticed it, but rather less seriously.
So it was with e-scooters. Here are the two earliest photoings of these devices that I’ve so far been able to discover in the photo-archives.
This one was spotted and photoed by me in July of last year, in the vicinity of the Tate Gallery (ancient version):
And then, two weeks later, in August, there was this, beside Victoria Dock, out east:
A piece of up-and-coming technology being driven towards some ancient tech that is now only a sculpture. When I say ancient tech, I’m talking about the lower reaches of the old dock crane there, not the ship. The ship is still a real ship. Well, nearly. It’s now a hotel. But it could surely still travel, if business would be better elsewhere. And behind all that is the footbridge across the dock, a particular favourite of mine.
My next task is to discover what e-developments suddenly made e-scooters possible, during the last five years or so? Was it just that e-motors got smaller? Was it the batteries that made the difference? Once again, the Internet falls over itself to tell me how to buy an e-scooter, but is less forthcoming about why I am suddenly able buy such a thing at all.
My taxis-with-adverts enthusiasm is no more than an aesthetically driven hobby, the way my granny used to collect ornamental plates, or so I recall it. Watching what happens to and with e-scooters during the next few years will be to watch a little slice of transport history.
Today I went shopping in Oxford Street. I was photoing cranes and roof clutter and scaffolding and suchlike, when an e-scooter wizzed by, so I was able to photo that instead, and when I got home, I discovered there was another e-scooter in my photo:
Because I was swinging my camera from left to right, the invisible face would have been in focus but was invisible, but the visible face was out of focus, so it all turned out rather well.
As did the shopping. I was at the Dyson Shop in Oxford Street to try to purchase a Dyson God machine, one of those ones shaped like the a giant version of the end of a needle where the hole is. You sit in front of these magic devices, twice a day, morning and evening, chanting rhythmically, and if you do everything right, you get turned into a perfect person who will live for ever. They sell it as a machine which spits out cold or hot purified air to order, but I know better. Because London is in the grip of a heatwave, I assumed that these devices, which all you Muggles think are just devices to stay cool with, would all have been sold and I’d have to wait a month, minimum, until London is cold again. Which I was willing to do, because immortality is something that I for one am prepared to be patient about.
But no. No, I realise I’m not going to be immortal and it’s just a hot/cold fan. That was just to add some comedy to this blog. But no again, they hadn’t run out of these fans in the Dyson Shop. Everywhere else in the world had run out, on and off line, but not this one shop, the Dyson Shop, which had been hoarding them for itself to sell. So I was in the one place on earth where I could have a good retail experience. How cool is that? Comfortably cool, if all goes according to plan.
These Dyson fans were selling like hot cakes. I saw three grey-haired geezers just like me taking theirs out of the shop while I was waiting for mine. Hot cake shops, meanwhile, were presumably not doing nearly such good business.
Next, I will open it and try to get it to work. Wish me luck.
So there I was, standing near the top end of Victoria Street, with two things on my mind and being photoed by me. There was Pavlova, and there was the fact that the road junction at the top end of Victoria Street is as muddled and meaningless and shapeless as the magnificent (Parliament) Square at the other end is clear and meaningful and shapely. Seriously, they’ve been hacking away at this place for the last decade, redoing Victoria Tube and much else besides. When you look at it all at ground level, you think: Why did they bother? What a missed opportunity to bookend Victoria Street with something almost as good as what happens at the other! But no, it a mess.
At which point, into this meaningless muddle there came these three persons, on their three e-machines:
That’s right, a small flock of e-scooters, driven by young persons. I knew I’d encounter such a site in circumstances that would enable me to photo it sooner or later, and that moment had arrived. The photos are not great, as photos. But, they do the job.
I vividly recall encountering my first flock of cyclists driven by young persons in hoods, and thinking: It’s only a matter of time before we are all reading about bike-by shootings. Because that was the atmosphere exuded by that cyclist flock. It is a minor but definite regret of mine that I did not record this prophecy before it was fulfilled, as fulfilled it very soon was.
However, I don’t believe that there are going to be any scoot-by shootings any time soon. E-scooters, in fact scooters of both kinds, are fundamentally different from bikes. Bikes work more safely if you keep your hands on the handlebars, but you don’t have to keep your hands on the handlebars. You can steer a bike using only your arse and your feet. You can therefore ride a bike and deploy a weapon, should you be inclined. However, it is my clear understanding that if you take both your hands off the handlebars of an e-scooter, you come an immediate cropper. Even taking one hand off one handlebar would severely endanger you.
Any assassin gang able to get their hands and feet on e-scooters can also obtain bikes, so bikes will continue to be the means of transport of choice for assassin gangs who can’t or don’t want to use a motor vehicle. (Remember, bike gangs can easily split up after they’ve done their evil deeds, and individual bikes can go places cars can’t.)
In general, e-scooters are just not as “empowering” as bikes. They are more unstable, more vulnerable, not least to bikes. I got the chance to interrogate a couple of e-scooter guys, a few days before I photoed the above photos, and this was what they told me. It wasn’t easy to explain, they said. You’ll have to actually do it to get what we’re saying, they said. But, e-scooters are kind of dangerous, they said.
This conversation is the first one I’ve had that made me less gung-ho than I have been lately about e-scooters than more. E-scooters may not be about to conquer the world after all.
I continue to see a steady and slightly increasing number of e-scooters in my local area, every time I venture out into it, and I do mean every time. But maybe this is a temporary phenomenon made possible by Lockdown and the consequent reduction in the number of threats to e-scooters. Maybe when business-as-usual resumes on all of London’s roads, as it surely soon will even as business as a whole in London takes a big hit, then maybe the e-scooters will retreat, instead of becoming ever more numerous.
What e-scooters probably need is dedicated e-scooter pathways. I have seen enough non-hooded, middle class e-scooters, and even a couple of e-scooter family flocks, to suggest that the political clout to contrive such pathways might materialise. But it will take its time, I think.
Elsewhere, such as in London, well, as it says here:
Electric scooters have long been something of a grey area, ..
You can hire them and ride them, but you can’t own them and ride them. Or something.
Meanwhile, yesterday, I was out for a bit, and spotted three more e-scooters scooting by. The people are fast making up their minds. The regulators need to catch up, or they’ll start looking very silly.
See also, Michael’s comment on an earlier posting here, about how the path is being cleared by cyclists for e-scooters. The regulators are creating e-scooter paths, which they now call “cycle lanes”.
So, cyclists are smoothing the ride for e-scooters. I seem to recall once upon a time reading that cyclists, way back when, did something rather similar for cars. They created a demand for flatter and better roads. Which the cars then proceeded to dominate, until now, in places like London, where so many of the cyclists are members of the regulating classes. E-scooters are more evenly matched against cyclists. Perhaps because of that, expect battles. Maybe the e-scooters, like cars, will get kitted out with bumpers at the front.
Typically, for the last few months, I have days and days of doing nothing other than whatever I feel inclined to do. On such days, doing two, three or even four blog postings here is doable. But give me a Something that I have to do, and there goes about two thirds of the day.
Once again, I think this is one of the many symptoms of getting old, for poor old me, anyway. Being old, I now need an hour or more to get myself worked up into a sufficiently active state to do the Something in question, and then when it’s done, I need a couple more hours to recover my wits. On a day like that, me doing three or four blog postings is a lot less likely. Today, if you include this one, I will have done three postings. But the first two were very perfunctory, more like tweets done on a blog than your actual blog postings. This one is a bit longer, but that’s just because it’s a ramble.
The silly thing is, the Something I did today was all done and dusted within about one hour. I stepped outside, went to my nearby bank, did my bank business, and then, because the weather was rather filthy, I just went straight home again. But even that made a big dent in my day.
The reason I mention all this is to make that same e-scooter point I’ve been obsessing about here lately, to the effect that e-scooters are about to conquer the world, aka London. Every time I go out, even just to the shops and back, I see several e-scooters. Today, the e-scooter count was: five. That’s a personal record. Five. In the space of less than an hour. I didn’t even try to photo any of them. Like I say, the weather was filthy, and cameras and rain do not mix well. Also, e-scooters are fast and are gone before I can photo them. That they’re fast is why they catching on so fast.
Maybe I should stop this posting now, but here’s another e-scooter thing. A friend with whom I recently discussed my current fascination with e-scooters said: You may be right about why e-scooters make sense. Trouble is: They’re naff. The people who ride on them are twats. E-scooters are not cool.
This friend, however, although far younger than me, is nevertheless no longer of the age where she gets to decide these things. It is teenagers and twenties who determine the coolness of lack of it of things like e-scooters. All my e-scooter sightings today were of teenagers or twenties. Clearly, these teenagers and twenties think that e-scooters are cool enough for them to allow themselves to be seen on them in public, given the advantages to them, in such things as speed and convenience. What old codgers think is only of concern to them if they can be doing something that the codgers disapprove of. If the old codgers, under the delusional impression that they think they can decide such things, think that e-scooters are not cool, so what? That’s just their old codger way of saying they don’t approve. Good. That’s a feature, not a bug. Bring on the e-scooters!
I am still not fully recovered from doing all that tedious Something I did earlier today. So, I reserve the right to go through this tomorrow morning and do whatever grammatical tidying and spell-checking is necessary. As of now, I’m too knackered to bother. I trust it still makes sense, despite whatever communicational blunders now afflict it.