What Can We Learn About Scooters from the History of Jogging?

Maybe nothing, but maybe something!

Unless you live extremely out in the sticks, you’ve probably seen the electric scooters that have metastasized across American cities over the past six months. Companies like Bird and Lime are expanding almost weekly, and now their dockless scooters can be found in over 100 municipalities. But just as quickly as they appear, complaints about them start popping up in local newspapers, Reddit pages, and city council minutes.

Largely these complaints are coming from the NIMBYs of the world. But while usually the arguments of that faction can be thrown out as bad faith, we should acknowledge that there are some real problems with the implementation of electric scooters in our urban hubs. They were largely released with no sort of regulatory framework in place, meaning that city officials are scrambling to catch up. In the meantime, they’re being driven both on sidewalks and in roads, pretty much at the discretion of whoever’s piloting them at a given moment.

It’s reminiscent of another sort of travel revolution, this one from decades ago: the advent of jogging. Jogging took the nation by storm in the 1960s and 1970s, winning converts among the most disparate of demographics, from hippies to Wall Street businessmen. It could be a form of self-help, a tool for fitness, or a spiritual practice. But for all its practitioners, there was little guide for how to jog. There was no national governing body for this new fad.

Thus, jogging sparked an intense debate about proper use of public space among those that partook and those that did not. With such a new movement, there was little guidance about how to properly comport oneself when out jogging. And pedestrians and drivers, having never had to share the roads with people running beside them, didn’t know how to handle the situation either. Joggers would run in the roads, weaving between cars, or on the shoulder, or on sidewalks where they were available. Joggers faced harassment from pedestrians and drivers, and often gave as good as they got. As the Chicago Tribune wrote in the 1981 column, “Joggers Need Some Traffic Rules”, “These runners in their color-coordinated togs trot down not only the middle of the road but the middle of the sidewalk, the middle of the busy street, and the middle of the intersection as well.” The American Automobile Association even put out a statement marking their territory: “The streets are primarily for automobiles.” It got so bad that jogging detractors worked to institute jogging bans in municipalities across the country, comparing joggers to swarms of locusts.

Of course, none but the most curmudgeonly drivers today would say that jogging is such a scourge on our roadways. And that is because in the decades since, we’ve developed social norms about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Similarly, we’re in the infancy of this new transportation technology. There’s been no time for norms to develop, meaning that scooter drivers don’t know what to do, because there really is no right or wrong. But just like jogging, those things should develop with time, and the diatribes and tirades against electric scooters we see will seem just as silly as those against jogging do now.