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We really just wanted faster horses

It’s easy to forget stuff like this:

In the first decade of the 20th century there were no stop signs, warning signs, traffic lights, traffic cops, driver’s education, lane lines, street lighting, brake lights, driver’s licenses or posted speed limits. Our current method of making a left turn was not known, and drinking-and-driving was not considered a serious crime.

There was little understanding of speed. A driver training bulletin called “Sportsmanlike Driving” had to explain velocity and centrifugal force and why when drivers took corners at high speed their cars skidded or sometimes “turned turtle” (flipped over).

The transition from horses and buggies to horseless carriages, as they were first called, was one of the most impactful things to ever happen to our cities. Cars were more dangerous. Some, or perhaps many, were opposed to them initially (and didn’t see the need to move away from horse-drawn wagons). And we had to invent a myriad of traffic systems in order to try and make them remotely safe for people.

One could easily argue that we are still grappling with these same safety problems. See yesterday’s post about traffic-related fatalities. But is the answer to have never invented horseless carriages or is the answer that we need to be much better about managing and controlling them within our built environments and around humans? I would say it’s the latter.

And I would also argue that there are parallels here with how some people feel about electric scooters today. What is clear is that both urban clutter and safety are valid concerns. When electric scooters first started becoming popular, they were being left all over the place. But I think that has been largely solved through geofencing and by forcing people to take a photo of their parked scooter at the end of their rides.

Progress is also happening around safety. E-scooter company Superpedestrian, for example, has designed larger and more stable scooters, and also has something called Pedestrian Defence, which uses fancy AI to block people from riding on sidewalks, from going the wrong way on a one-way street, and from generally doing dumb and unsafe things.

Does this solve all of our problems? I don’t know. But I think innovation in the e-scooter space is a positive thing and I hope that cities like Toronto will one day become more openminded around these sorts of micro-mobility solutions. It’s not like our horseless carriages have an immaculate safety record.

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