One of the things we love about Downtown Huntsville is that it’s extremely walkable with wide sidewalks, attractive architecture and interesting creative placemaking and public art (have you seen the painted pianos or Clinton Row ColorWalk?)
In 2017, Downtown Huntsville added a new way to get around the city center: the Zagster (now Pace) bikeshare program. While personal bikes were a common sight in Downtown, the Pace program has added nearly 100 bikes at 12 stations all of which are accessible by downloading the free Pace app and paying a small per-hour fee to borrow the bikes.
With walkability and bike-ability now growing in Downtown, a new way to get around is being evaluated. Known as electric scooters or electric gliders, these skateboard-like devices are taking downtowns across the country by storm. Like any new technology that disrupts the norm in a useful and convenient way, these electric gliders don’t come without some controversy or resistance.
Of course, the same occurred with new disrupters like Uber and Airbnb—they broke the mold and met a basic need (in those cases, vehicular travel and overnight lodging) in a novel way. Electric glider operators like Lime and Bird are now doing the same.
The electric gliders offer a new way to get around Downtown and provide three important benefits:
- They are fun! This shouldn’t be underestimated. “Fun” is an important part of the Downtown experience. Public art and creative placemaking meet this need as do interesting places to eat, drink, shop and play. Moving around the city center shouldn’t only be about efficiency and functionality. The fact that these electric gliders are fun to ride is an important part of their value. They make getting from Point A to Point B a lot more fun than if you had to drive everywhere.
- Even though they are fun, that doesn’t mean they aren’t also efficient and convenient. The electric gliders offer an alternative to get around in a quick and inexpensive way. You simply walk up to a glider, unlock it with your app, and then ride it to your destination for a small fee. Their ease of use makes them not only fun but also extremely practical as a transportation alternative.
- They are fun. They are convenient. And they can actually be more pleasant compared to walking or biking. Imagine it’s a hot day and you need to get across Downtown. You don’t want to drive because your destination is not that far away, but you also don’t want to work up a sweat walking or biking to where you’re going. Just hop on an electric glider and you’ll enjoy a breezy, relaxing ride even on the most humid summer day. Plus, they cover more distance more quickly than walking and, in most cases, biking.
It’s pretty clear that bringing electric gliders to Downtown Huntsville could offer lots of benefits for Downtown residents, workers, and guests.
So what needs to happen to make this happen?
Currently, there are some state law issues that need to be evaluated. As a new transportation alternative, the state regulatory system doesn’t clearly define how to classify these gliders. Fortunately, it does not prohibit them so there’s not that type hurdle to overcome. While a statewide solution for how to classify these gliders will likely be the ultimate result, in the meantime, Huntsville could institute a pilot program to evaluate the use of electric gliders in walkable areas including Downtown.
As we’ve seen from social media response and other feedback, there is a strong interest among those that live, work, and play in the city center to make electric gliders another option for experiencing Downtown.
If you are interested in seeing this happen, we encourage you to share your interest with City leaders in a constructive and thoughtful way. Hopefully we’ll soon see people enjoying the convenient, efficient and fun benefits of electric gliders in Downtown Huntsville!