You won’t be allowed to ride a shared scooter on Seattle sidewalks + Combined bikes and scooters capped at 20K

Photo of a Spin scooter in front of Denver's Union Station.

One of so many scooters around Denver’s downtown Union Station.

When (or if) Seattle launches its scooter share pilot in early 2020 as planned, users of the shared scooters will not be allowed to ride on the sidewalk like people biking can. That’s just one of the interesting bits of news included in the city’s recently-released environmental checklist and reported by the Seattle Times’ Heidi Groover.

The city is also going to place a 20,000-unit combined limit on the total number of shared bikes and scooters allowed to operate in the city. That could put companies in a position to choose between bikes and scooters. So this could be bad news for bike share, since bikes reportedly get fewer rides per day than scooters and several companies have been closing down bike operations in other markets in favor of scooters.

I can’t say that bike share has been a big business success, but it has been very effective at increasing the number of trips people are taking by bike in our city. I hope Lime, JUMP (and maybe Lyft?) find a way to keep bikes in operation alongside scooters.

Bike share in Seattle has also been very safe despite the relative lack of helmet use, the city notes in the environmental checklist:

“SDOT’s pilot evaluation for free-floating bike share found the following: 24% of riders reported wearing helmets, five riders reported collisions, and that out of 96 bike-related injuries only three occurred while using bike share (conducted by researchers at the University of Washington).”

It’s not yet clear how scooter share safety will compare to bike share safety. They are fundamentally different vehicles, and scooter safety studies have been sort of all over the place so far. An Austin Public Health study (PDF) found pretty grim results, especially for first-time riders. But Portland didn’t find results all that different from bike use. Scooter designs are also evolving quickly, and hopefully user control and stopping ability will have improved since scooters first launched en masse a few years ago. Hopefully companies are also better at instructing first-time user on how to ride.

One big difference is that many scooter injuries are solo crashes, especially among first-time riders. Cars are still a threat, of course, but 83% of people injured during Portland’s scooter pilot did not involve a collision with someone driving.

It will be interesting to see how a sidewalk scooter-riding ban works. One of the biggest complaints about scooters in other cities is that it is stressful for other people on the sidewalk when someone zooms by on a scooter. And since pretty much no U.S. city has a complete network of quality bike lanes and routes, scooter users often find the sidewalk to be far more comfortable that trying to mix with heavy traffic.

The Seattle City Council will be asked to amend the Seattle Municipal Code (“SMC”) to allow scooters in bike lanes and on trails, but SDOT does not plan to allow them on sidewalks. From the environmental checklist document:

“Per SMC Chapter 11.46.010, motorized foot scooters may be operated on roadways, shoulders and alleys, but not on sidewalks, bicycle lanes, or public paths. Under Washington State House Bill 1772, municipalities are given the authority to set rules including determining where scooters can be ridden and parked, and at what speed. The City will request a SMC Chapter 11.46 amendment to the City Council in Q1 2020 to allow motorized foot scooters to be operated on bicycle lanes and public paths (multi-use trails) but not on sidewalks.”

The will especially get tricky in places where bike routes route people onto sidewalks, such as the sidewalks leading to and across the Fremont Bridge or really just about any bridge other than the University Bridge. There are many (far too many) places where the line between trail and sidewalk gets very fuzzy. And we even reported recently about a city plan to route the 2nd Ave bike lane onto the sidewalk as part of the arena transportation plan. 2nd is a one-way street southbound, so what would a northbound scooter rider do in this situation?

Routing bike lanes and trails onto sidewalks is not a best practice and it’s not what people advocating for quality bike routes want. But the fact is, our city has done this a lot. So it will be interesting to see how it plays out for scooter users. I would bet that when streets are too scary, people will choose to scooter on the sidewalk regardless of the law.

And, indeed, that’s what happened in Portland when that city conducted its scooter share pilot in 2018. It is illegal to bike on sidewalks in Portland, and the city extended that ban to scooter users. According to the SDOT environmental checklist, a Portland report (PDF) found:

“The number of scooter riders on sidewalks increased from 8% when the road had a protected bike lane to 39% when riding on street with no bike facilities. The number of scooter riders on sidewalks also increased from 18% when the speed limit was 20 miles per hour to 66% when the speed limit was 35 miles per hour.”

Just like with people biking, the best way to keep people from riding on sidewalks is to make the street safer and more comfortable. It’s unreasonable to expect someone to risk their personal safety just because the law tells them to. That’s not how people work. At the same time, people on the sidewalk need to feel safe. The solution is more bike lanes.

SDOT also “plans to integrate scooter share parking reporting into the Find-It-Fix-It mobile application and 684-ROAD to facilitate reporting improperly parked scooters into the City system,” according to the checklist. I would assume bikes will also be added. I’m sort of surprised the city didn’t do this sooner. It makes a lot of sense to have one place people can go to report an issue rather than expecting them to hunt around on individual company websites looking for how to report an issue.

One potential sticking point, mentioned just once in passing in the checklist, is that “the vendors must indemnify the City.” The specifics of that indemnification are going to be very important, especially if it would limit the ability for people to exercise their right to pursue legal action if they are injured due to city negligence. This is a detail people should watch closely as the wording of the scooter pilot rolls out.

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12 Responses to You won’t be allowed to ride a shared scooter on Seattle sidewalks + Combined bikes and scooters capped at 20K

  1. Zach says:

    Word I heard this weekend is that Lime has pretty much shut down operations across the region and reduced its fleet to 500 bikes in Seattle. It sounds like they’re more like hibernating until scooters can launch, but apparently they’ve just thinned out a lot!

  2. Peri Hartman says:

    The good news is that this will put a lot of pressure on creating more bike lanes.

    I think the scooters will turn out to be highly popular and we’ll see a lot of pushback about sidewalk riding. I agree that it’s prudent to keep them off the sidewalk but, as Tom details, there are many reasons why the sidewalk is the only realistic alternative. Add to the list: opposite direction on one-way streets.

    • asdf2 says:

      It will be interesting to see how popular they will be at $0.29/minute, with no discounts on monthly/annual passes. If you trying to commute on it every day, that price level adds up fast.

      As to sidewalks, it is not at all clear what people crossing the Fremont bridge are supposed to do. Technically, I suppose, they would have to walk the scooter all the way across the bridge, plus it’s approaches. But, at $0.29/min. users have a clear financial incentive (in addition to time incentive) to ignore the law a ride on the sidewalk anyway. After all, a minute walking a scooter costs just as much as a minute of riding it.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        It seems like a pretty well positioned price. At 15mph, you theoretically could go 2.5 miles for $2.90, about the same price as a bus fare. More realistically, with stop lights, between 1.5 and 2 miles. But that’s still faster than the bus. I think a lot of people will take the opportunity.

      • asdf2 says:

        The actual cost for a 2.5 mile trip would be quite a bit more than $2.90. First, you’ve got the $1 unlock fee taking you up to $3.90. Then, there’s the problem that top speed != average speed. If we add in 5 minutes for stoplights (including accelaration/deceleration), now 2.5 miles becomes 15 minutes for $5.35 (including the unlock fee).

        And that’s just for one one-way trip. Do it both directions, you’re up to $10.70/day. Repeat that 20 times per month for a work commute and you’re up to a whopping $214/month (still cheaper than parking in downtown Seattle, but not by much). And, if the scooter is used to connect to transit, all of the above is in *addition* to the transit fares.

        For that price, renting a Lime scooter on an everyday basis would be crazy – buying your own bike or e-scooter would be far, far cheaper.

        And, of course, all of the above is for one person. With two people traveling together, a one-way fare for 2.5 mile costs $10.70 – about the cost of riding 2.5 miles in an Uber car, with a 20% tip.

        There is really only a narrow range of trips this where this type of pricing makes economic sense – namely, a one-off trip that happens to follow a regional trail, with no stoplights and a distance of about 1-2 miles.

  3. AW says:

    I am certainly not looking forward to all of the clueless scooter riders filling up the bicycle trails, both those scooters that are in motion and those scooters that are left haphazardly. About the only good for people on bicycles that can come out of scooter share is a larger population of people demanding a safe place to ride.

    It is pretty non-sensical to ban scooters on sidewalk but allow them on trails as the line between the two is very fuzzy and the scooters will be on the sidewalk and not the street when the street is too dangerous. I can’t imagine anyone really thought this one through. Banning the scooters from high traffic (ie, downtown) sidewalks makes tons of sense however the vast majority of sidewalks are not crowded and would not be impacted a few scooters. If I ruled the world, I would have the city figure out which sidewalks are too busy for scooters, build appropriate and safe facilities for them and then ban them from the sidewalks and place signs stating that. And also enforce a 10mph speed limit for scooters on sidewalks for good measure.

    • asdf2 says:

      Last summer, I considered riding a Lime scooter out in Everett between the bus station and the Jetty Island ferry, but backed out because:
      1) There was no legal way to reach the destination on a scooter. You can’t ride on the sidewalk, but, since the only road that goes there is a 35 mph arterial, you can’t ride on the street either (their local law prohibits scooter riding on the street when the posted speed limit exceeds 25 mph unless there’s a bike lane).
      2) Even if I were to break the law and ride it anyway, the one-way fare would have been almost as much as riding in an Uber car.

      The same conundrums will not appear all over Seattle. There are a ton of destinations along arterials that would technically be in the service area, but are physically impossible to reach on a scooter without breaking the law, as proposed.

  4. charday says:

    Not allowed? You’re also not allowed to defecate on the sidewalk. Or shoot heroin on the sidewalk. Or block the sidewalk with a tent…

    ‘Not allowed’ doesn’t mean much when SPD has neither the manpower nor the will to enforce the laws. And anyway, I’d rather have scooters zipping by on sidewalks than blocking bike lanes.

    I just hope Jump doesn’t use up their quota on scooters. Lime’s bikes and their pricing make it pretty clear they’re not trying to compete, so I can see them switching over almost completely. I hope Lyft at least tries to compete with Jump on the bikes.

  5. Ballard Biker says:

    Pure stupidity. Seattle was one of the last holdouts to these for profit, data collecting, bullying startups that are constantly on the verge of collapse. Comparing Seattle to the other moronic cities that have caved to pressure, it’s night and day safety-wise for pedestrians and cyclists. And this is despite the recent uptick in lazy, selfish morons who took it upon themselves to ignore the law and ride their own motorized scooters.

    Also, the biggest problem with the motorized scooters “safety” studies is that they don’t quantify the amount of near collisions. For every motorized scooter/ped or bike collision, there’s probably about 19 incidences that involves somebody diving out of the way.

    In the end, money has prevailed over common sense and pedestrians and cyclists will be the ones to suffer. Luckily, abandoned motorized scooters are easier to throw out into the roadway than abandoned motorized bicycles.

    It’s not too late to reach out to your council-members and tell them to reject this. Failing that, I hope we see a citizens referendum to overturn idiocracy.

    • JAT says:

      Absolutely agree with my new grumpy best friend, Ballard Biker. If we amend the municipal code we’re merely making our caving to B.S. externality-shifting capitalism, and the safety-compliance of for-hire scooterists remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet too heavily on prudence and consideration.

  6. Pingback: Lime will shut down Seattle bike service at the end of 2019 | Seattle Bike Blog

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