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Scooters Need to be Reined in Council Must Act

One of our lead stories this month revisits the matter of bikes and scooters, a topic we previously reported in October 2018. In light of the rapidly increasing use of motorized scooter in DC since last year – and of the increased awareness by residents of hazards to pedestrians (not to say anything about hazards to users), we think right now is an appropriate time for this commentator to also revisit the topic also.

We start with an excerpt from our July 2018 editorial: “All this discussion about bicycles brings to mind that there is even a bigger craze that may soon overwhelm the sidewalks: motorized scooters. As noted in a May 17th Post report, “it’s one more thing to dodge as a pedestrian. . . .” We also shared the some reader comments from the May 18, 2018 web edition:

“I don’t really care if people want to ride a scooter, but any motorized transportation should not be allowed on pedestrian sidewalks.. they should be on the streets.. good luck with that” [effmayfield]; “They should follow the same rules as bikes, even motorized bikes (I mean motorized bicycles, not motorcycles . . .)” [junkyardog]; “Earlier this week, I was almost hit by a 20-something guy in a suit on one of the electric scooter rentals. I was walking on a sidewalk by Union Station and he buzzed past. He was going quite fast. Cyclists don’t generally bike on the sidewalks and neither should these motorized scooters. I think this is just an accident waiting to happen” [elnicho].

Barely over a year later, those sentiments are being sounded load and clear, more and more. Unfortunately, the concerns being raised seem to be falling on deaf ears – in the Council and in the bureaucracy; to the extent that any official attention is being paid it appears to be with regard to the interaction between scooters and cars (same goes for bicycles). Pedestrians, especially when on sidewalks are the forgotten class.

As reported by Darrow Montgomery in the June 10th Washington City Paper, according to Terry Owens, DDOT’s public information officer, DC “has granted permits to six dockless scooter companies: Bird, Jump, Lime, Lyft, Skip, and Spin.” [Further,] “ Owens says 420,000 scooter rides are completed in the District every month — that’s around 14,000 every day.”

And yet, there are virtually no regulations or enforcement to ensure the safety of pedestrians!

Should the solution simply be to ban them outright as our news story reports is the case in New York City and as the City Paper adds, “severely limited or outright banned in Austin, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle”?

At this stage, given that it’s still a phenomenon in its infancy and the scooter (and motorized bikes) sector of the transportation industry needs time to mature by developing “best practices” standards, among other imperatives (such as product design to ensure operator safety which seems to be absent with some of the companies putting those little monsters out on our streets), we believe it would be premature to legislate an outright ban.

Nevertheless, something must be done immediately. Since that is undoubtedly impossible for the City Council because it will be taking off for the summer in early July, until the members return in two months or so, the Mayor must get the heads of DDOT and the Metropolitan Police, along with their appropriate staff people (DDOT has special expertise with its Public Right of Way office) to implement regulatory provisions to the extent allowed pursuant to those agencies authority.

What needs to be done at a minimum is to implement stringent rules (with substantial fines for violating) to address the dangers to pedestrians of scooters speedily –- and, ominously. silently — approaching from behind without sounding any warning in advance. As has been repeatedly called out not only by us and other media, but even more importantly by regular neighborhood residents, the danger is extraordinary – and not just for seniors who have balance problems and who can at any second suddenly lurch slightly to one side which could well be the side where a scooter (or bicycle) is whizzing past and –- pow!, blood and broken bones all over.

Are we over dramatizing? Indeed not. Serious injuries could easily happen to any resident living on one of our row house streets. Even we have had our close calls, as have others we know. In one reported instance the homeowner was emerging from the house which is very close to the sidewalk and starting to turn to the left when out of nowhere from the right came a speeding scooter which could not have even been seen until fully out on the sidewalk because of the bushes next to the entry. Scooter riders like that one seem to have no inkling about the need to be aware of hidden places from which humans will suddenly be on the sidewalk.

This is just one example of so many that can be shared., but it sheds a bright light on why action is needed asap and why further inaction by city leaders is simply dereliction of duty.