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Nobody Bothered Me On My Push Scooter. Then E-Scooters Came To Brookline

The author and her son.
The author and her son.

“Get in the street! GET IN THE STREET!” shouted the woman in the pink T-shirt emblazoned with a commitment to women’s rights.  She was shouting at me, her dog barking and growling in my direction, as I glided at a snail’s pace on my kick scooter down the sidewalk along Beacon Street, lugging my groceries and a full backpack.

Empower women, she appeared to believe. “GET IN THE STREET!” she shouted.

“My scooter doesn’t have a motor — could we have a neighborly conversation about this?” I answered.

“When I see people on scooters, I want to let my dog loose on them!” she snarled.

After rambling on about the evil scooter riders of Brookline, she caught herself: “Oh. What’s that you say? No motor? You can accept my apology then,” she snapped, looking a little sheepish.

Apology accepted.

I share this story not to shame the woman in the pink T-shirt. I imagine she was having a tough day and simply let it out on me — something I have certainly been guilty of. But this wasn’t the first time I’ve been shouted at in my neighborhood since the launch of Brookline’s electric scooter pilot program.  In fact, it has happened so many times that I’ve joked with friends about getting a T-shirt made: “I come in peace, propelled by my feet, and without a motor.”

My husband has also been berated. Most recently, he was cruising on his kick scooter alongside our 4-year-old who was on a three-wheel kick scooter when someone yelled at him to GET IN THE STREET. I am still wondering if they thought our 4-year-old should also be in the street? I’ll never know.

A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A "nest" of Bird scooters on Cowperthwaite Street in Cambridge (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

I used to bike to work in the Longwood Medical Area. But the combination of getting pregnant with my first child and hearing about several fatal bike accidents involving cars led me to stash my bike in the basement. Seven  years later, the bike is still in the basement. Now a family of four, we made the switch to kick scooters. The scooters have been a fun, slower-paced, and eco-friendly way for us — a family with small children — to explore our community from the safety of the sidewalk. My dad, a big believer in helmets, persuaded me to use one.

I get it that we have tension in our community about the electric scooters: Many people have legitimate concerns — pedestrian safety and sidewalk accessibility are real issues. Some have become enthusiastic — yet careful and conscientious — early adopters. Others are outright careless and/or reckless.

The scooter drama is playing out on the streets (and sidewalks) of Brookline. It is also festering online on platforms like the Brookline Townwide Discussion on Facebook where sarcasm is often countered with anger that paves the way for more sarcasm.

One Brookliner recently shared a photo of a scooter neatly parked on the edge of the sidewalk. They added a presumably facetious caption: “The sidewalk clutter these electric scooters are creating is unacceptable! I mean how can someone walk by this? There is simply no space left to walk on the sidewalks! #BANTHESCOOTERS”

Lime scooters in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)
Lime scooters in Paris (Michel Euler/AP)

One-hundred and twenty-three comments followed.

The first: “THINK OF THE CHILDREN.”

A bit later: “A toy for those too lazy to walk or bike and too entitled to wait for the T” and “The scooters are good, you're just a wet blanket.”

Further down the thread:

“I like the scooters and people are having fun. People complain they are sometimes left in the way. So are the trash bins. And no one gets a fun ride out of them!”

At least Brookline is still funny.

On a separate electric scooter-focused thread on the same forum, a community member wrote: “Brookline is a number one place to live for its beauty, schools, crime rate but are we kind to our neighbors?”

A fair question.

In between the snarky and personal attacks on Facebook, I have seen some solution-oriented ideas: designated parking areas for the scooters, fines (that fund greenspace projects) for blocking walkways or riding on the sidewalk, and — dare I say it — designated and protected bike and scooter lanes.

The Brookline e-scooter program is a pilot program. It will end in November. Between now and then, we need to determine how the program aligns or conflicts with community realities and values — and how it can be modified to better meet the needs of the community. Sure, we also need to decide if the program lives or dies. To do all that, we need productive dialogue.

Let’s not let these tensions get the best of us. I hope we can all agree that we should not be shouting at our neighbors or toying with the idea of unleashing dogs on people. And we should not be refusing to engage in peaceful dialogue.

I share this story to challenge all of us to dig within ourselves and start with kindness in the face of community tension — whether that tension is about scooters or anything else.

One more suggestion for the woman in the pink T-shirt: We should all GET IN THE STREET.  There are so many reasons to GET IN THE STREET these days, most of which I bet we would agree on.

Have something to say about the e-scooter pilot program? Kindly, send your ideas here: escooter@brooklinema.gov.

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Kate Mitchell Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Kate Mitchell is a doctoral student in the School of Public Health at Boston University where she focuses her work on maternal and newborn health and well-being.

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