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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-21-003    Date:  Spring 2021
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-21-003
Issue No: Vol. 85 No. 1
Date: Spring 2021

 

Micromobility: A Travel Mode Innovation

by Jeff Price, Danielle Blackshear, Wesley Blount, Jr., and Laura Sandt

With increased growth in bikeshare and shared e-scooter systems, FHWA and USDOT are helping State DOTs and cities manage micromobility deployment, and are monitoring trends and evaluating facilities and design needs.

Micromobility has rapidly proliferated in cities nationwide, proving to be a popular transportation option for many users. In response to the increasing demand for walking and bicycling facilities in cities and towns across the country, many jurisdictions are exploring micromobility as an alternative mode for short trips and active transportation.

An urban street corner with parked scooters and pedestrians. © Laura Sandt, Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC).
Micromobility options like e-scooters and bikesharing remain a growing trend in the United States.

Because micromobility is still a relatively new and emerging mobility option, there are various definitions in use of what constitutes "micromobility." Building upon the Society of Automotive Engineers International's Taxonomy and Classification of Powered Micromobility Vehicles, the Federal Highway Administration broadly defines micromobility as any small, low-speed, human- or electric-powered transportation device, including bicycles, scooters, electric-assist bicycles, electric scooters (e-scooters), and other small, lightweight, wheeled conveyances. Other definitions of micromobility focus primarily on powered micromobility devices and characterize these devices as partially or fully motorized, low-speed (typically less than 30 miles [48 kilometers] per hour), and small size (typically less than 500 pounds [230 kilograms] and less than 3 feet [1 meter] wide).

As of August 2020, there are more than 260 shared micromobility systems, including docked and dockless bikeshare and e-scooter systems, in the United States, and the largest of these shared systems include several thousand micromobility devices. According to a recent National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) report, users took 136 million trips in 2019 on shared micromobility systems, a 60 percent increase from 2018. The report is available at https://nacto.org/shared-micromobility-2019.

A graphic with examples of three classifications of powered micromobility devices. The first is a scooter, labeled "electric standing or sitting scooters (e-scooters)." The second classification is labeled "electric bicycles (e-bikes)" and shows a standard two-wheeled bicycles and a covered, three-wheeled cycle. This section is divided into three classes: Class 1 – Pedal assist (pedalec), Class 2 – Throttle assist, and Class 3 – Pedal assist (pedalec) at higher speed. The third classification is simply labeled "Other" and shows illustrations of a skateboard, one- and two-wheeled motorized "hoverboards," and a Segway-type self-balancing standing scooter. © Laura Sandt, PBIC.
Examples of powered micromobility devices and their classifications according to PBIC.

Although micromobility devices may be individually owned, the recent surge of devices in cities is due primarily to the deployment of shared fleets by private companies. Shared micromobility systems are deployed in targeted service areas with the usage generally intended for short trips such as "first- and last-mile" connections to complete trips made via other modes, including transit. Shared fleets provide users with on-demand access to devices. These fleets are most commonly parked in the public right-of-way, either grouped at a dock or as dockless devices. Users typically unlock the devices using a smartphone application or key fob.

FHWA Initiatives

In late 2018, the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty (HEP) began efforts to gather information and set the stage for future FHWA micromobility research and exploration. With support from the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center (Volpe), HEP interviewed 25 staff across 11 FHWA offices to establish FHWA's definition of micromobility; consider Federal, State, and local roles in this emerging area; and develop questions for future research. As internal expertise grew, HEP expanded coordination efforts to establish an internal USDOT micromobility working group that comprised staff from FHWA, Volpe, the Office of the Secretary, the Federal Transit Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. The working group meets quarterly to track micromobility research and activities across the Department and provides a forum for exchange and discussion to maintain a coordinated approach. FHWA also coordinates micromobility topics through internal Mobility Innovation and Mobility on Demand working groups, which facilitate the coordination of current and future mobility research.

Through a cooperative agreement with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), FHWA has supported extensive outreach and coordination with a variety of external partners. For example, PBIC staff were among the first to present on micromobility at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in January 2019, sharing research and data needs. PBIC and its subcontractor, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), partnered to host a half-day workshop at ITE's Annual Meeting in July 2019, engaging more than 45 participants from around the country in a micromobility tour around Austin, TX, and a meet-and-greet with several micromobility operators to try out their devices. In late 2019, FHWA coordinated with PBIC to produce two information briefs—The Basics of Micromobility and Related Motorized Devices for Personal Transport and E-Scooter Management in Midsized Cities in the United States—and develop a curated set of resources on its website at www.pedbikeinfo.org/topics/micromobility.cfm.

To better understand the impact of micromobility on the transportation network, FHWA is coordinating with public and private sector stakeholders to explore ways to aid the research and deployment of innovative multimodal travel options that will be safer and more efficient for all multimodal device users. FHWA regularly participates in coordination meetings and virtual conferences held by the American Public Transportation Association's Integrated Mobility and Communities Consortium, TRB's Mobility Management Committee and Research and Technology Coordinating Committee, and the North American Bikeshare Association.

Additionally, FHWA supports the micromobility efforts of other Federal agencies, such as supporting the National Science Foundation's Smart and Connected Communities Program and participating in reviews of transportation-related projects, participating in the National Park Service's Emerging Mobility Working Group to exchange information on the state of the practice and ongoing micromobility activities, and presenting during the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Micromobility Forum Webinar, an event to discuss micromobility safety considerations in research, data, standards, and policy. In early 2020, HEP also interviewed 27 staff from 9 Federal agencies—including the U.S. Department of Energy and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in addition to those previously mentioned—to share micromobility research activities and help identify potential gaps in research.

Based on feedback received during various outreach activities, FHWA developed a micromobility fact sheet (available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability/fact_sheets/mm_fact_sheet.cfm) and two USDOT and FHWA micromobility handouts (available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability/resources/#micro) to communicate FHWA's ongoing micromobility research and coordination activities.

Community Experiences

Micromobility devices and shared systems offer new and powerful ways to help people meet their transportation needs. E-bikes and e-scooters can help many people overcome barriers that would otherwise prevent them from taking active forms of transportation. At the same time, there is a need to be mindful of who benefits from these systems, who may be harmed or excluded, and how micromobility systems can be designed to meet their full potential in supporting safe, equitable, and resilient communities.

A 2019 report produced for the New Jersey Department of Transportation and FHWA, E-Scooter Programs: Current State of Practice in U.S. Cities, notes that "E-scooters are an important transportation alternative for first mile/last mile trips, for neighborhoods underserved by conventional transit systems, and for individuals who do not own or have access to cars. Dockless e-scooter share programs, with the sensible equity policies, lend themselves to serving disadvantaged communities." The report is available at http://njbikeped.org/wp-content/uploads/BPRC-E-Scooter-Study-2-2020.pdf.

Cities are experimenting with a range of approaches to actively manage micromobility programs to ensure positive safety and equity outcomes. Cities are examining the effects of various safety practices—including how to set service areas, determine maximum safe micromobility device speeds, and restrict vehicle speeds or times of operation in areas with dense micromobility ridership—and exploring approaches to incentivize helmet use.

Cities also are investigating micromobility parking needs in relation to concerns about sidewalk accessibility for pedestrians with disabilities. For a deeper dive into parking management practices in Austin, see the July 2020 issue of FHWA's "Fostering Multimodal Connectivity Newsletter."

Communities are regularly engaging the public, and many are seeking to build a culture of safety through micromobility ambassador programs, rider training, and programs designed to support safe tourism and micromobility use during special events and festivals. By building program evaluation plans, conducting pilot studies, establishing data requirements and data use agreements, and partnering with diverse agencies, communities are beginning to develop protocols and training for injury reporting and incident management and learning about how to improve the safety of all road users. In many places, agencies are creating cross-departmental coordination teams, developing new funding streams, and supporting the implementation of new roadway infrastructure, operations, and parking spaces to support micromobility.

Docking stations and a kiosk located on an urban sidewalk with scooters and a bike parked in them. © Laura Sandt, PBIC.
A parking hub for bicycles with dockless, shared scooters parked beside it in Austin, TX.

Noteworthy local highlights include:

  • Phoenix, AZ: Through a pilot program, Phoenix is allowing e-scooters in its downtown area and is aiming to control usage, distribution, and parking through geofencing and clear signage and maps during the pilot phase. The city is conducting an extensive safety and ridership data evaluation.
  • Denver, CO: Denver is evaluating e-scooters' ability to help achieve reductions in single-occupancy vehicle mode share goals. The city and county of Denver's micromobility pilot flows through their Transit Amenity Program, which encourages connections to public transportation.
  • Portland, OR: Portland has been considered a leader in conducting robust evaluations of its e-scooter pilot program and putting into place programs to support the Portland Bureau of Transportation's equity and accessibility goals.

The city of Santa Monica, CA, is one of the longest-running examples in the United States of successfully incorporating micromobility into the community's shared mobility program. Santa Monica is a coastal city west of downtown Los Angeles with a population of roughly 91,000 people. The city is a leader in sustainable mobility, and was the first in Los Angeles County to launch a municipally owned and operated bicycle share system in 2015.

Shared micromobility devices such as bicycles, electric bicycles (e-bicycles), and e-scooters may create a more diverse, convenient, and accessible transportation network, which can provide more transportation options, reduce congestion, and improve quality of life.

Santa Monica strengthened administrative language regarding equitable access to these devices. For example, device operators must establish and promote low-income qualified rates for shared mobility device use and offer incentives (such as education, outreach, and payment plans) for low-income or other disadvantaged users. For more information, see www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability/case_studies/santa_monica.

In August 2020, the city of Chicago, IL, launched its second scooter pilot program with a particular focus on communities without equitable access to transportation. "This new scooter pilot program builds on our experience in the first pilot, focuses on safety for scooter riders and the general public, and requires a more equitable distribution of scooters," said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi in a press release announcing the program. "Particularly during [this] public health crisis, it's important that we explore innovative options that make it easier for Chicagoans to get around."

The E-Scooter Programs: Current State of Practice in U.S. Cities report highlights practices from 11 different micromobility programs and examines the way in which equity, safety, and other considerations were integrated into various aspects of the programs. For additional indepth case studies, pilot program evaluations, and resources, visit PBIC's Micromobility topics page at www.pedbikeinfo.org/topics/micromobility.cfm.

Considerations for Wider Use and Adoption

While the majority of e-scooter trips end without incident, much work remains to be done to improve comfort and safety for e-scooter riders with different levels of experience, training, and travel needs. A tracker of e-scooter fatalities, maintained by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center, shows that 20 of the 24 e-scooter fatalities in the United States involved motor vehicles, including some heavier vehicles and trucks.

In light of the potential for safety concerns, the Governor's Highway Safety Association produced a report that extensively discusses the needs around speed management, education, improved roadway design, and other community engagement essentials to help mitigate risks for vulnerable road users. Shared Micromobility in the U.S.: 2019—a report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials—and other research studies on shared micromobility echo these findings, calling for more attention to the need for a connected network of facilities dedicated to serving micromobility.

A man wearing a helmet rides an electric scooter on an urban sidewalk. © Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com.
Some cities are exploring how to incentivize helmet use to improve the safety of micromobility transportation.

Looking Ahead: Research and Collaboration

Regulation and management of micromobility occurs primarily at State and local government levels. Current Federal law (23 U.S.C. 217(h)) prohibits motorized vehicles from nonmotorized trails and pedestrian walkways that use Federal highway funds (with limited exceptions for maintenance, snowmobiles, motorized wheelchairs, and electric bicycles as defined in 23 U.S.C. 217(j)(2)) and from nonmotorized trails that use Recreational Trails Program funds under 23 U.S.C. 206 (except for motorized wheelchairs). There are no Federal prohibitions for micromobility vehicles using roadways or trails open for motorized use.

State legislatures and transportation departments are actively working to define lightweight vehicles and operating conditions for e-scooters, e-bikes, and other emerging dockless mobility technologies. USDOT is helping State transportation agencies and cities manage micromobility deployment through various activities such as coordinating and conducting research, developing resources and case studies, incentivizing innovative and accessible mobility through pilots and deployments, and gathering information and data on micromobility safety issues to help reduce fatalities and serious injuries.

FHWA is exploring research opportunities to support micromobility. The near-term goal is to focus on five high-priority micromobility research areas: safety, equity, resiliency, user behavior, and curbside management. These topics were identified through existing research scans, interviews with relevant FHWA staff and subject matter experts, and input from members of the USDOT Micromobility Working Group convened by the Office of Human Environment. That office intends to continue coordination and collaboration with other FHWA offices and USDOT operating administrations in developing these research topics into formal research needs statements, identifying funding, and coordinating research implementation.

A bicyclist rides down a separated travel lane in Austin, Texas. © Laura Sandt, PBIC.
Bicyclists and e-scooter riders use a separated bike lane in Austin, TX.

"FHWA and USDOT are well positioned now to expand coordination and collaboration efforts with universities, the private sector, and other domestic and international stakeholders to monitor trends and evaluate facilities and design needs," says Gloria M. Shepherd, the Associate Administrator for Planning, Environment, and Realty at FHWA.

This national capacity building effort will aid in future review of legislation and policy development to accommodate micromobility in the Nation's evolving multimodal transportation system.


Jeff Price is a transportation specialist with the FHWA Office of Human Environment. He is a transportation engineer and community planner with more than 20 years of experience in the transportation industry advising on multimodal transportation and planning issues. He holds an M.S. in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of New Brunswick.

Danielle Blackshear is a transportation specialist with the FHWA Office of Human Environment. She provides technical assistance to transportation practitioners to advance multimodal transportation systems planning and specializes in equitable and accessible mobility innovation. She received her bachelor and master's degrees in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia.

Wesley Blount, Jr., is a transportation specialist with the FHWA Office of Human Environment. He serves as the program manager for the Safe Routes to School Program and oversees the agreements with PBIC and the Volpe Center to foster collaboration around micromobility, connectivity, and safety. He holds a bachelor's degree in marketing and masters in transportation management from Morgan State University.

Laura Sandt is a senior research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Highway Safety Research Center and the director of PBIC. She holds a master's degree in city and regional planning and a PhD in epidemiology, both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability or contact Wesley Blount, Jr., (202-366-0799, Wesley.Blount@dot.gov), Danielle Blackshear (202-366-2064, Danielle.Blackshear@dot.gov), or Jeff Price (202-366-0280, Jeff.Price@dot.gov).

 

 

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