Commentary: Atlanta’s nighttime e-scooter ban has a major blind spot

The nighttime ban is a shortsighted solution to a much larger problem, says writer Maya Kroth

E-scooters Atlanta nighttime ban
A pair of e-scooters in downtown Atlanta

Photograph by Myrydd Wells

One evening, about a week ago, I was walking home down a particularly dark stretch of Ponce de Leon Avenue when my well-honed feminine spidey sense kicked in. Looking over my shoulder, I saw a man walking about 10 feet behind me. When I crossed the street, he followed. Sufficiently shaken, I raced back toward the nearest well-lit intersection and watched the man disappear into a dark park.

There were only about 800 steps between me and my door, but hardly any street lamps and no route on foot I could take that didn’t involve passing the park. I surveyed my options. Luckily, I had my phone and could order a Lyft. Seven dollars and 90 seconds later, I was safe at home.

The next day, I shared my experience in a post on Nextdoor. After the usual deluge of sexist admonishments about walking alone at night, one neighbor chimed in with a suggestion. “Better to ride a scooter,” he wrote.

And I agree: it would’ve been better. My phone is littered with apps for Bird, Lime, Jump, Bolt—you name it, I’ve ridden one. I often rely on e-scooters to ferry me home after a night out on the BeltLine Eastside Trail. The idea of traversing that four-block section of poorly lit Ponce that evening would have been a hell of a lot less daunting when zipping along at 12 miles per hour, and it would’ve cost less than half what I paid for the Lyft.

The problem was, a few days prior to my run-in with the guy in the park, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a nighttime ban on e-scooters, digitally locking up every vehicle on the streets at 9 p.m. sharp. Ostensibly this came in response to the fact that Atlanta drivers have struck and killed four scooter riders in the past year.

Still, my Nextdoor neighbors were quick to offer other tips: Why not carry mace? Here’s a link to a pepper spray that attaches to your scrunchie—perfect for jogging! How about packing a stun gun? Or a real gun? Why wasn’t I walking with a buddy? Why would I leave the house by myself at all after dark? This depressing parade was a fitting reflection of America’s appetite for pointing the finger everywhere except where it belongs.

Just as my post quickly devolved into a morass of victim-blaming, so, too, is Mayor Bottoms’s ban a shortsighted solution to a much larger problem: Designed to prioritize cars, Atlanta’s streets lack the infrastructure necessary to ensure the safety of all road users. In both cases, we are having the wrong conversation.

It’s devastating that drivers killed four scooter riders this year. It’s also devastating that four Georgians are killed in car crashes every day. Despite the hysterical media coverage, the statistics available, albeit limited, suggest that scooters are actually about as safe per mile traveled as other modes of transportation, and the “safety in numbers” principle has clearly shown that such alternative modes become even safer as more people adopt them—even when local governments refuse to invest in sidewalks and bike lanes with anywhere near the enthusiasm they bring to funding highway expansions.

In addition to mourning those four scooter riders, let’s also consider the people who are robbed, raped and assaulted while walking the streets of Atlanta every night. While scooters obviously aren’t a complete deterrent for a determined criminal, they do offer a sense of protection for those who would otherwise be traveling their route on foot.

If we truly want to make Atlanta streets safer for everyone—drivers, scooters, bicycle riders, wheelchair users, hoverboard bros, senior citizens attempting to cross multi-lane highways to get to the store, and teen girls walking home alone from the bus stop—we should not content ourselves with Band-Aid “solutions” that only serve to punish the most vulnerable road users. What we need is more and better infrastructure: protected bike lanes, adequate lighting, more sidewalks, lower speed limits, and, sure, maybe some etiquette lessons for everyone on how to share the road. In the meantime, Mayor Bottoms’s ban just leaves one less transportation alternative for folks whose options for getting around Atlanta safely are already limited, whether they’re car-less by choice or by necessity.

The city, for its part, seems to recognize this, or at least pay lip service to the idea: Planning commissioner Tim Keane has admitted the need for more bike and scooter lanes—changes have been promised within the month—but he maintains the temporary ban will “improve” street safety immediately. He is wrong. For this resident, at least, those dark Ponce blocks were decidedly less safe that night than they would’ve been without the ban.

E-scooters are not the answer to all (or even most) of Atlanta’s transit and safety woes—many scooter companies don’t even operate in the city’s most underserved  neighborhoods, whose residents face significantly greater threats to their well-being and road safety than I do and may not be able to afford to call a cab every time they encounter a shady situation. But banning scooters at night does little to improve public safety; in fact, for women like me who relied on them to help make the last mile of our journey a little safer, it only makes things worse.

Maya Kroth is a writer in Atlanta.