Electric scooters, or e-scooters, have emerged as a popular mode of urban transportation. Their rise, however, brings certain challenges to the forefront, one of them being the adequate provision of cycle lanes. A recent research collaboration in Helsinki spotlighted this issue, with findings indicating that deficient cycle lanes compel e-scooter users to take to the sidewalks.
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A Collaborative Study: Unveiling the Facts
A consortium of organisations, including the City of Helsinki, Forum Virium Helsinki, Drover AI, VTT, Vianova, and e-scooter company Voi embarked on a 12-week research project. The aim was to monitor e-scooter usage and identify the challenges faced by users. They employed an application called PathPilot, developed by Drover AI, which leverages AI and computer vision technology.
The research revealed that e-scooter riders often resort to sidewalks in areas where cycle lanes are shared with pedestrians or where the continuation of cycle lanes is hard to discern.
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Trends in E-Scooter Usage
In Helsinki, the areas around the Railway Station, Töölö, and Hietalahti saw the most prevalent use of sidewalks by e-scooter riders. The study confirmed the assumption that riders prefer to use cycle paths and lanes.
Hannu Oskala, Voi’s Director of Public Affairs, explains:
“In places like the Esplanadi area, where investments have been made in cycle lanes, there was less riding on sidewalks. Conversely, where the continuity of cycle lanes is unclear, riders often find themselves on sidewalks. In areas built with a focus on car traffic, such as Hietalahti and Jätkäsaari, e-scooter riders may find themselves among pedestrians as they avoid car traffic.”
The Role of AI: Reducing Sidewalk Riding
During the research project, an audio alert system was tested to notify e-scooter users if they were riding on the sidewalk. This intervention resulted in a reduction of sidewalk riding by approximately 15%.
Scott Shepard, Drover AI’s Head of Policy & Government Affairs, believes that real-time AI for traffic monitoring is a rapidly evolving tool and increasingly common in urban settings. Shepard states:
“Drover AI’s solution is a valuable tool for cities, as in addition to riding behaviour, the pilot provided AI-based visual and locational information on the need for road maintenance and parking enforcement. Granular infrastructure insights from PathPilot can help regulators better manage pedestrian and cycle paths.”
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The Study’s Findings: Aiding Infrastructure Management
The data gathered from the study provided valuable insights into the state of sidewalks and cycle lanes. Images collected by the e-scooters revealed details about potholes on sidewalks, which pose a potential safety risk for road users. Instances were also observed where parked cars obstructed access to the cycle lane.
Juho Kostiainen from the City of Helsinki comments:
“From the images collected by the e-scooters, we obtained accurate information about, among other things, potholes on sidewalks, which can be a safety risk for road users. Additionally, several situations were observed where, for example, a parked car blocked access to the bicycle lane.”
The Study’s Impact: Shaping E-Scooter Deployment
Voi intends to utilise the data from the study to inform the placement of e-scooters in the city. The study was executed in collaboration with the City of Helsinki (Business Helsinki, Mobility Lab), Forum Virium Helsinki, Voi Technology Finland Ab, Vianova, VTT, and Drover AI.
The findings of this research underscore the importance of robust cycle lane infrastructure in supporting the safe and efficient use of e-scooters. As cities continue to grapple with the rise of e-mobility, such studies provide valuable insights to inform policy and infrastructure development.