Last semester, Brown students arrived to find that easy-to-access e-scooters and bicycles had sprouted up like weeds in the cracks of campus sidewalks. New app-based programs meant that students who couldn’t bring their own rides to campus suddenly had more transportation options. And if the often-empty bike docks on Thayer Street don’t provide enough proof, an hour spent observing students around campus makes it impossible to deny how many are enjoying the ease of biking or scootering from class to class.
Though I haven’t partaken in the experience myself, I appreciate the convenience and the health benefits offered by these new options. But I’m also concerned about how often I see riders violating basic traffic laws. As new options make it easier for more students to take to the road on wheels, it’s vital to remember that they too are responsible for keeping the roads safe.
I’ll admit: I don’t have the data to prove this is a real problem. These apps are too new for any official studies on their riders’ behavior. But the number of times last semester that I saw a backpack-wearing biker atop one of JUMP’s unmistakable scarlet mounts just blow through a stop sign? It was more than once, to put it mildly. And I’m not talking about people pulling “Idaho stops,” or treating stop signs as yield signs as permitted in Idaho; I mean cyclists who don’t even slow down as they approach an intersection. According to the Rhode Island Bicycle Coalition, “Rhode Island does not provide any modifications (for bicycles and scooters) to the requirement to come to a complete stop when directed to stop by traffic control devices.” Students who don’t stop, then, are in violation of the law, providing officers from the Department of Public Safety or the Providence Police Department a cause to pull them over and potentially leading to traumatic encounters for students. But even without the threat of legal repercussions, do I really have to detail the reasons that you shouldn’t run a stop sign? Students who do so endanger themselves, those walking or riding on the sidewalks and people driving in the streets. Though the Idaho stop is, arguably, sometimes safer than coming to a full stop (though still not legal), there is no justification for blasting through the signs like the fires of hell will catch up to you if you’re two seconds late to your philosophy seminar.
There’s also the matter of parking the scooters and bikes. With e-scooters, you’re legally required to “leave at least a four-foot path for pedestrians to get by.” People who use wheelchairs or mobility devices have an even more urgent need for that space — while it’s easy enough for an able-bodied pedestrian to roll their eyes and step over an improperly-parked vehicle, that isn’t an option for everyone. I know the narrow Providence sidewalks and the walkways on campus make it difficult to achieve that mandated four-foot berth, but c’mon, it’s not that hard to make sure that you leave your scooter or bike parked parallel to a path, rather than jutting out at an angle and inconveniencing everyone who has to go by.
The reasons for obeying traffic laws or parking regulations go beyond safety and accessibility. As students, we need to respect the fact that we’re part of the larger Providence community. One aspect of this is not acting as though we’re entitled to violate the rules of the road. If we want to be good neighbors, we have to be respectful of others who are driving, walking or otherwise at risk of being mowed over by zooming bicycles.
As a wise man once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” JUMP, Lime and other vendors of e-vehicles have conveniently and affordably provided power to anyone who wants it. Now, it’s time to make sure that students uphold our end of the bargain by obeying stop signs, refraining from obstructing sidewalks with parked vehicles and generally being courteous with our wheels.
Caroline Mulligan ’19 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to