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Stickers Are Alexandria NIMBYs’ Latest Weapon in Their War Against Scooters

Photograph by Andrew Beaujon.

The stickers are round and red, and in big white letters outlined in black they say “Save Historic Alexandria” atop the logo of the Alexandria Historic Foundation. AHF issues plaques, offers grants for preservation of the small Virginia city’s historic properties, and advocates for preservation.

Where do scooters fit into such a mission? The foundation’s president has not yet returned Washingtonian’s phone call, so it’s not clear whether the logo is even legitimate. But what is for certain is that dockless electric scooters, which are in Alexandria as part of a pilot program that expires at the end of September, have exercised a certain sector of Alexandria residents even more than the prospect of a halal chicken butchery did this spring. As Joanne Tang reported for Greater Greater Washington last week, the letters section of the Alexandria Times is a reliable source of people sounding off about electric scooters.

“According to the input I have received, the scooters have ether destroyed our City as we know it, or are a welcome transportation alternative,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in his most recent “Council Connection” newsletter. The sticker-placers are presumably in the former category. Twitter and Facebook are good places to find people talking about the “scooter menace” or sharing photos like this:

Why scooters have drawn so much ire is among the most enduring mysteries of Alexandria “historic character” activism. Alexandria’s history is replete with lots of vile historic character, like being a major center in the trade of enslaved people. The city’s only high school is still named for an unrepentant segregationist. A statue of a Confederate soldier stands at the intersection of South Washington and Prince streets, facing south. The Virginia General Assembly has squashed the city’s desire to move it, but the Commonwealth did eventually allow Arlington to follow Alexandria’s lead and rename its portion of Route 1, which previously honored Jefferson Davis.

Proponents of historic character seem to take a selective view about which character is worth preserving. A stroll through Old Town reveals many items that would be out of character with the city’s history: air conditioning units, traffic lights, a Taco Bell Cantina. Not to mention cars, which definitely postdate the days when Alexandrians—the unindentured white male ones who owned property and could vote, anyway—swanned around in tricorner hats and stockings. (As Jackie Mansky reported for Smithsonian, self-propelled scooters have a long and rich history, and motorized scooters enjoyed a craze in the US in the early 20th century.) In 2017, the Virginia DMV reports, there were 1,441 accidents involving vehicles in Alexandria that resulted in five deaths and 176 injuries. A report the city issued last month says there were six minor injuries due to machine errors, user errors, or potholes. There were two accidents involving scooters—and the operator of one of them said they were hit by a car, the report says.

I spotted one sticker on a Lime scooter parked in a park across the street from my house in Alexandria. Lime says it’s not crazy about people putting stickers on its property but would be happy to hear the concerns of whoever’s putting them on its scooters. “We’re working hard to be respectful of Alexandria and its residents including encouraging scooter riders to park properly and deploying teams to keep sidewalks clear and orderly,” a Lime spokesperson tells Washingtonian.

Recently Washington Post journalist Andrew Heining wrote on Twitter that his wife saw someone place one of the “Save Historic Alexandria” stickers on a Bird scooter, then drive away in a Lexus SUV. It was a scene rich with Alexandrian character.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.