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Scooter startup Bird plans to fund protected bike lanes

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A new transit infrastructure fund and global safety council aim to help scooter riders, cyclists, and pedestrians

A man rides a Bird electric scooter across an intersection in Atlanta.
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Bird, the rapidly expanding dockless electric scooter company, announced two new initiatives this morning seeking to position the company as a safety leader among the current crop of urban mobility startups—and help give its users safe places to ride in cities.

The Los Angeles-based firm announced that it will form a new Global Safety Advisory Board led by David Strickland, former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and more recently, spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, that will “create, advise, and implement global programs, campaigns, and products to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters.”

Bird’s statement notes that the board, which will consist of transportation and safety experts as well as government officials and private citizens to be named later, won’t just focus on the safety of those riding scooters, but also pedestrians and bicyclists who share space with these riders.

In addition, Bird will begin steering revenue into a dedicated fund to expand transit infrastructure in the cities where it operates. The initiative would set aside $1 per day from each scooter in operation to help cities build new protected bike lanes, as well as maintain existing ones by repainting and repairing them.

At a time when growing micromobility options are adding numerous new transit options to city streets, this fund could be a godsend to local governments seeking to add much-needed non-automotive safety infrastructure.

“I look forward to working with the Bird team and the cities in which the company operates to make city streets as safe as possible for anyone not in a car,” says Strickland, who, as the head of the NHTSA, launched the nation’s largest connected vehicle safety program and issued the first automated vehicle policy.

Curbed has reached out to Bird to learn more about how the fund would work, how the company would interact with local governments, and how much the company expects to raise, and will update this story when we hear back.

Safety—both that of scooter users, and of city residents who must sidestep or avoid the dockless scooters often parked in the middle of sidewalks—has been a constant issue for Bird since it began operations last fall in Santa Monica, California. Currently valued at more than $2 billion, the investor darling has encountered regulatory issues in the few dozen U.S. cities where it has operated (and has expanded to two new overseas markets, Paris and Tel Aviv). In February, Bird agreed to pay more than $300,000 to settle regulatory and safety fines with the city of Santa Monica.

Bird has also been completely banned from operation in some cities, including San Francisco and Denver, due to safety concerns (it’s currently back in service in Denver). Even where scooters are currently operating, they face strong resistance by local leaders and residents who claim the vehicles can be a nuisance.

This safety push comes at the same time the company is actively fighting to change existing regulations in California. The company is backing AB 2889, currently under consideration by the California legislature, which would eliminate the existing helmet requirement for all e-scooter riders over 18. Bird has heavily publicized its program to send helmets to users free of charge, and has distributed 40,000, according to a spokesperson.

A couple rides a shared electric scooter in Santa Monica, California, on July 13, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images

“Bird and any company or individual who lobby to ease or eliminate helmet laws are prioritizing their own profits over public safety,” says personal injury and transportation lawyer Neama Rahmani, who plans to participate in a press conference in downtown Los Angeles later today to protest AB 2889. “Mandated helmet use for drivers and riders of motorized vehicles is a proven lifesaver. To lobby the Legislature to move backward on safety issues isn’t forward-thinking.”

Some cities have scrambled to accommodate the scooters. Bird is participating in a pilot program in Santa Monica evaluating the performance of dockless transit companies to determine which ones will be granted licenses to operate, with safety as one of the key criteria. The city has also quickly deployed signage, education, and enforcement. Bird and other scooter companies will participate in a similar pilot program in San Francisco beginning later this month, although details have not yet been revealed.

Funding infrastructure improvements was one of the core idea behind Bird’s previous Save Our Sidewalks pledge, a proposed corporate responsibility program the company introduced in March. The other two planks of the program included a promise to collect vehicles each night for charging and maintenance and to only add vehicles once each existing vehicle averages three or more riders per day. With today’s announcement, Bird has once again asked other dockless transit companies to joint them in taking the pledge.