St. Louis' Downtown E-Scooter Ban Needs to End

The ban hurts tourism and businesses, and it is a greater hardship for those north of downtown than south

click to enlarge E-scooters remain banned from Downtown and Downtown West St. Louis. - FLICKR/MACK MALE
FLICKR/MACK MALE
E-scooters remain banned from Downtown and Downtown West St. Louis.

Five months ago, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones banned e-scooters downtown. The mayor cited crime concerns with a ban initially portrayed as a stop-gap measure — but she soon extended it into 2023.
But even though there’s been little outcry, the scooter desert the city has created in downtown St. Louis and Downtown West is an inequity and an inconvenience for those who live, work and visit St. Louis. E-scooters make cities accessible for those who cannot afford (or choose not to have) a car while providing a valuable convenience to all others.

From an urban planning perspective, having micromobility options provide a number of benefits for a community, leading to cleaner air and healthier citizens. Micromobility encompasses transportation options that are lightweight, personally operated and generally move around 15 mph. They are especially helpful in the first and last mile of travel when partnered with public transit. Rentable e-scooters provide a sustainable transport option that is accessible to a range of users without large public investment or lengthly construction projects. Micromobility options can quickly respond to large events in different locations (sporting events, concerts, Mardi Gras, Fair St. Louis) without permanent infrastructure.

Many of the concerns around e-scooters stem from improper use — but that seems unfair because drivers break traffic laws all the time, yet we don’t ban cars.

Our urban environment is more accessible for everyone with micromobility options. Let’s compare two scenarios, one for someone who lives on the south side of downtown, in the affluent neighborhood of Lafayette Square, and someone who lives on the north side.

The Lafayette Square resident can hop on a scooter and get relatively close to the Union Station Metrolink Station even with the current ban on scooters. For the second resident, who lives in Carr Square, the Union Station Metrolink may also be the closest station, but the current ban on scooters makes their walk double that of the Lafayette Square resident. So maybe they’ll choose to ride the scooter closer to the Convention Plaza Metrolink, but that increases the time and money spent on the scooter without making their walk significantly shorter. They’ll still have to walk around America’s Center/The Dome. The Carr Square resident also can’t take a scooter to the Soulard neighborhood for dinner, while the Lafayette Square resident, and everyone south of downtown, can. For a city that is so conscious of its north-south divide that it buried the service access to its new soccer stadium to create four equal sides, it’s upsetting to see bureaucracy institute a new wedge with the scooter ban.

The desert also affects businesses. I play sand volleyball at Wave Taco downtown. After the games, I’m sandy and sweaty, and taking a scooter home is a great way to dry off and keep sand out of my car. The games are also at a variety of times throughout the evening. Sometimes my wife drops me off after dinner and scooters give me an efficient way to get home. Now, with the ban and because I live on the south side of downtown, I’ll consider playing in a league in Soulard because it has better transportation options. That’s good for Bar 101, bad for Wave Taco.

I lived in the middle of downtown for almost 10 years. When friends visit, I take them to my favorite downtown restaurants, to CityGarden, to get a view of the Arch or Busch Stadium. When scooters are allowed downtown, you can hop on and off, find them near popular attractions, and walk (one way if you want) between destinations. St. Louis has many beautiful buildings, parks and plazas. Taking a scooter allows a person to experience the city at a pedestrian scale which is more humanizing and memorable than the faster speeds of vehicles. For now, we’ll do it by car, opt not to pay for parking and end up spending most of our time and money elsewhere.

Similarly downtown residents used to regularly take scooters home after visiting south city. When the city first instituted a 9 p.m. curfew on scooters, some residents would get stranded halfway across the railroad tracks getting back to downtown. Their options were to abandon the scooter or take it back to Chouteau and complete the journey, late at night, by foot, alone.

The voices of those against the scooters have been louder than those for them, because scooter advocates are busy and have places to scoot. I’m afraid the knee-jerk reaction from the mayor's office to institute a temporary ban will become semi-permanent, like the barricades flanking South Fourth Street. And that would be a big mistake.

Cities have rolled out the red carpet to attract tech companies like Amazon. The savvy employees of companies like this aren’t just looking for a job, they're looking for a lifestyle. When we consider the NGA development and Square’s new office space, their potential employees aren’t only comparing salaries, they are looking at cost of living and local amenities. Location also means weather and commute. Maybe someone wants to move here from NYC and work at the NGA campus. They don’t own a car and it’s a lot hotter here. An e-scooter (or e-bike, but I haven’t seen those offered here yet) would be a perfect way to commute from a downtown loft.

With the current scooter ban, short trips to, from and within downtown effectively require a car. This car travel increases vehicles on the road and doubles down on using a large portion of the city for parking. Increased parking reduces available land for other uses and decreases the walkability of a city. A few weeks ago, I planned to scooter home from work, then realized I'd have to walk two miles out of downtown to even get to one. An Uber was estimated to be $15; a scooter ride averages about $5 from my office to home. That’s a significant price difference.

There are examples of cities that integrate scooters without excessive bans and slow ride zones. I was recently at a conference in Seattle where e-bikes and e-scooters made the hilly city very accessible without renting a car. Conference organizers take that feedback and use it when considering the next location. It won't matter how much money we put into our convention center expansion if people do not enjoy their time in St. Louis.

The problem is not that there are — I guess I should say were — scooters, it's how people are using them. A ban on scooters is a short-sighted solution to a problem without understanding all the intricacies. I'm most afraid of getting hit by a car running a red light in St. Louis, and we haven't banned cars downtown. If the city doesn't have the resources to manage the few who abuse scooter use, try and push it back on the companies providing the scooters. They'll figure out a way to meet the demands if they want their service available downtown. Maybe the solution is a 15-minute time limit, maybe it’s designated parking zones, maybe it’s a limited number of total scooters in the downtown zone. Maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, allowing scooters provides a cost-competitive and time-effective transportation option that is available to every citizen.

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About The Author

Jake Haggmark

Jake Haggmark is an architect at HOK and specializes in aviation and transportation. He lives and works in St. Louis city and spends his Saturdays running or biking around the city.
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