Electric scooters are ugly ducklings looking for their mother.
They’re only allowed on sidewalks — for now — but are too fast to belong there. Machines moving 15 to 20 mph don’t mix well with strolling humans. When the scooters aren’t scooting, they sometimes block people’s path, particularly Denverites with mobility impairments.
Since scooters dropped in the end of July, Denver Public Works has received 74 complaints about scooters blocking sidewalks, according to spokeswoman Heather Burke.
Denver’s Bird, Lime Spin and Razor scooters fit fine on streets with or without bike lanes, city staffers say, but the law (for now) says they don’t belong there, either.
So you have this tool, that moves people in one very specific way, trying to exist on a transportation grid built for moving people in two other ways — driving and (to a lesser extent) walking.
“I don’t think that you can argue that the streets were designed for Lime scooters,” said Nicholas Williams, deputy chief of staff for Denver Public Works, in an interview Tuesday.
Williams had just presented new scooter rules to the Denver City Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, which voted unanimously to advance the bill to the full council. City Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman and City Councilman Paul Kashmann sponsored the rule change, which will work best if the streets change with them, some elected officials said.
The scooter decree sayeth:
- Scooter riders must operate in a bike lane, but not any faster than 15 mph.
- If there’s no bike lane, you can scoot in the street, on the right side — if the speed limit is 30 mph or lower.
- If there’s no bike lane or the street is too speedy, hop on the sidewalk but keep the speed to 6 mph or less.
“I think getting them off the sidewalks just seems like a no-brainer, but what this whole process has kind of shone a light on is how much work we have to do to provide safe passage for bicycles and scooters and anything other than private autos around the city,” Kashman said. “So hopefully this disruptive technology will have a silver lining along the way.”
Scooters did not start the city’s transportation woes.
“I wish we got this much attention on the fact that people are dying in car crashes every single week in Denver,” said Jill Locantore, executive director of pedestrian advocacy group WalkDenver.
Susman has advocated for more and wider bike lanes (she calls them “mobility lanes”). On Tuesday, City Council members Rafael Espinoza and Albus Brooks made clear their desire to repurpose on-street parking spots for other uses as well.
“There’s give and take — there’s decisions we have to make here — so you’ve got to have the serious conversation,” Brooks said. “So I’m letting my constituents know there will be parking coming up for bike lanes, so we can have multimodal access.”
Mayor Michael Hancock “has to be serious” about his commitment to 125 miles of new bike lanes in five years, Brooks added.
Espinoza brought a rendering of an on-street scooter corral, which he said would cut down on scooters blocking people’s path. Plus one less parked car would “daylight” dangerous intersections, he said.
“This opportunity to introduce scooters into neighborhoods and not just relegate them to bus stops and things like that is a win-win opportunity,” Espinoza said. “We would maybe institute a fee for these companies where we would visibly daylight intersections where people could store (scooters) out of the pedestrian pathway.”
Safe streets advocates like the rules in general but recommended that scooter riders not be forced to ride in bike lanes.
Piep van Heuven, Bicycle Colorado’s Denver director, asked City Council members to make some changes to the nascent rules.
“The network of lanes is still in its infancy and frankly may not be prepared for demand,” she wrote in an email to city council members. “Restrictions here are likely to create unanticipated safety consequences. What this all comes back to is the fact that our streets are unsafe, but limiting the operation of new devices and penalizing users only reinforces the status quo. Denver policy should prioritize the directions we are working to move toward, rather than re-enforce existing norms and road conditions.
Van Heuven also wants the city to create a singular definition for all electric mobility devices, like electric skateboards and one-wheels, she said.