Cities Attempt to Strike a Balance on Electric Scooters

Electric scooters in a city available for rent
By Richard Dahl on July 22, 2019 3:00 PM

The recent death of a popular British YouTube personality in an electric scooter accident has prompted renewed calls for tighter regulation of the personal transport devices.

Actress Emily Hartridge, 35-year-old host of the YouTube comedy video series, “Ten Reasons Why,” was killed July 12 when the scooter she was riding collided with a bus in a London roundabout. Well before that tragedy, e-scooters had been drawing increasing ire as an unregulated public nuisance, but Hartridge’s death drew attention to a more serious impact: the threat they are posing to life and limb.

The evidence of injuries and deaths has been mounting. In April, a study by the Austin Public Health Department found that e-scooters were responsible for 190 injuries — 48 percent of them head injuries — in that Texas city during a three-month period last year.

Studies in other cities have produced similar findings. In January, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on one that was conducted at two Los Angeles hospital emergency rooms over a one-year span. The study identified 249 scooter-related injuries, 228 of them to riders. Forty percent were head injuries and nearly a third were fractures. Only 4.4% of the patients were wearing helmets while riding.

A Promising Transportation Option

Despite all the negatives, however, even critics admit that e-scooters offer a cheap, clean transportation option that can help reduce traffic congestion. Seeking to strike a balance between public safety and enhanced transportation, many cities and states are passing laws and ordinances that are attempting to provide some order to the disorder:

  • In March, the Boston City Council passed an ordinance creating a licensing system for e-scooter companies. It sets a cap on the number of licenses, the number of scooters, and requires the additions of brake lights and turn signals on the scooters. It also requires vendors to develop a safety plan to communicate to riders.
  • An ordinance passed by the Atlanta City Council in January prohibits use of e-scooters on sidewalks, as well as cell-phone use by riders.
  • On July 16, San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency ended a pilot program and allowed e-scooter companies to apply for annual permits. San Francisco’s regulations limit the areas where e-scooters can be used and provide preferential treatment for e-scooter companies that provide helmets.
  • On June 15, Chicago became one of the last major American cities to allow e-scooters when it launched a four-month pilot program that prohibits their use in the downtown Loop.
  • Seattle still bans e-scooters, but the mayor and city council now support a pilot program scheduled to begin later this year.
  • In April, the Sacramento City Council passed an e-scooter ordinance that aspires to limit e-scooter “littering” by requiring that they be parked next to bike racks.

Meanwhile, the SAE Industry Technologies Consortia, an organization that includes governmental and private-sector partners, has launched an effort to assist local governments in developing best standards for developing e-scooter regulations. The group encourages the use of technological tools to enhance safety, including the use of “geofencing,” which automatically reduces scooter speeds in certain geographic areas.

Cities and Users Have a Responsibility

Our cities are too often congested by too many automobiles, so e-scooters provide a great new option for people to get from Point A to Point B quickly, cheaply, and cleanly. But their introduction into the transportation mix also introduces risks to users and pedestrians alike.

In April, the National Association of City Transportation Officials reported that Americans took 84 million trips on shared scooters and bikes last year—more than twice as many as the previous year. The organization’s executive director, Corinne Kisner, said that, as a result, cities are in a position to determine a future that is best for users and pedestrians alike.

“Cities are proactively thinking about how to harness the incredible potential of these shared services in the public right-of-way,” she said. “As stewards of the public realm, it is vital that cities retain authority over their streets.”

You might be an e-scooter user who loves the convenience. And you might be the kind of pedestrian who finds their presence annoying. Whichever the case, it’s important to recognize that you’ll need to give some ground as cities develop plans to keep the peace and keep people safe.

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