Guest Post: Can Electric Scooters Present a Compelling and Ambitious Alternative to the L-Train Shutdown Proposals? 


By Sam Taylor

Growing increasingly topical as it’s fixed deadline moves ever closer by the day, the L-Train track work shutdown stands to displace the morning routines of over nearly 300,000 left to seek out affordable and time effective alternatives expected to be provided by the MTA and DOT. 

Despite being subject of intense debate, it’s questionable whether the impact minimisation of proposed workarounds has matched the gravity and pressingly urgent nature of the impending full scale closure. Congestion bottlenecks, neighbourhood disruption from re-directed traffic and unfeasibly lengthy subway connections requirements will all likely ensue on the basis of current projections. Given the density build up and planning issues these on road and track options present, sidewalks and bikeways promisingly present less utilised paths. 

Well suited to these spaces due to their restricted speeds and met with widespread reception across America, do electric scooters hold potential as a scalable, self-propelled use case through which to achieve a viable replacement service? With the first real test in the form a month long weekend preparatory shutdown having finished up in August, commuter behaviours in the face of this (for now) temporary travel inconvenience is revealing an overriding desire for a considered solution beyond the conventional measures put forward. 

In a testing scenario conducted by the Van Alen Insitute, would be commuters commented on a wide range of obstacles encountered, from poor accessibility of bus stops to poor on time performance. In terms of travel times to Union Square, J commuters took 80 minutes, Shuttle Riders 70 minutes, whereas those who biked managed the trip with relative ease in 20 minutes. 

 The MTA’s suggested rollout of a new 200 diesel bus fleet has also been rejected due to environmental and logistical concerns required to optimise routing, with new shuttle bus routes and exclusively commissioned lanes having to join the throng of an already over capacity Williamsburg bridge crossing. Even minimally increased car usage will also have public transportation competing against blockage at critical junctions during peak hours. New ferry lines will go some way to lessening traffic, however sacrifice speed and regularity  of services as compared to buses and private vehicles. 

 So how would electric scooters enter the fray as a contender and leverage pre-existing interruption mitigation procedures? One plan the DOT and MTA have resolved on enacting is the construction of new and upgrade of pre-existing bike paths which scooters would be well placed for ridership on, namely the crosstown lane on 13thStreet. E-bikes have also been touted as a viable method and indeed could complement scooter deployment, with both capable of addressing a large share of the commuter market who may not be eager or experienced enough cyclists to go the full way pedal powered. Given the cited figure of 20 minutes for manual bicycles, electric scooter propulsion could halve these times again with consistent speed for the whole duration. 

Implicitly there are already signs of serious consideration for scooter adoption, as evidenced by the recent Bedstudy demonstration where a scooter was showed to attendees, including councilmember Robert Cornegy who rode one onsite.  

Whilst approval has not yet been granted by city authorities, the event symbolises a positive move in the direction of effective regulation and oversight of their use. This is further supported by a pieceby councilmember Rafael Espinal in the NY Daily, who also specifically cites the L-Train shut down as a prime reason for rapid adoption. 

Neither are scooter rollouts as overly audacious as some shutdown ideas such as urban gondolas across the Hudson, which require substantial physical infrastructure and manufacturing time in order to be feasible. 

While indisputably a major and enduring hassle to commuters, the L-Train shutdown presents a vital opportunity and indeed much needed re-evaluation of the transportation status quo that would have otherwise remained unchanged at the expense of everyday passengers. This forced experimentation and community advocacy around what’s possible in the mass transit space may yield a permanent and positive change in commuter culture long beyond the L lines repair and restorations. Although not all encompassing, it’s not inconceivable scooters in conjunction with similar electrically propelled modes of transport, with their relative affordability, minimal training, eco friendly status, and wide reach, will likely play a central part in a diverse range of sustainable mixed pedestrian and sidewalk options. 

Bradley Tusk