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.