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Pedestrians, Bicycles, and Scooters Not Easily Co-existing on Sidewalks, Streets

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the June 2019 issue pdf

By William G. Schulz

Scooter riders and bicyclists are out in force with summer in full swing. The Washington Post reports a survey that reveals one in six DC residents have ridden a scooter in the past year — a number that is expected only to grow.

And while the city seems to be making progress addressing the safety of bicycle lanes, tensions between bicyclists and other residents have never been higher. Proposed new bike lanes are hotly contested, especially when they would reduce on-street parking, and many pedestrians say that bicyclists on sidewalks — perfectly legal in most parts of the city — present a constant hazard to those on foot, including the elderly, disabled, and pets.

But the scooter issue seems to have city officials completely flummoxed. The two-wheeled powered vehicles have sprouted up everywhere around town, yet few people seem to understand that it is illegal to ride them on city sidewalks or without a helmet.

Scooters are dumped haphazardly along city sidewalks, in alleyways, on bike paths, and even sometimes in the street creating hazards to vehicles or pedestrians. Many people find them to be an eyesore. Recently, dockless bikes have made a re-appearance, adding to the new problem of what is being referred to as “vehicle litter.”

A frequent complaint from residents and pedestrians is that the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is not enforcing laws on the books that say cyclists and scooter riders must obey the same traffic laws as automobile drivers. The InTowner has witnessed scooter riders on the sidewalk without helmets whizzing past DC police officers who seem not to notice or care about the illegal activity.

But Third District Police Commander Stuart Emerman told The InTowner, “MPD enforces bike laws through education as well as enforcement.

“What we do have is an increase in non-traditional vehicles and pedestrians using our roadways,” Emerman continued, referencing, in part, scooter riders. “Cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists all need to work within the laws and exhibit patience and safe operating practices to make sure that everyone gets home without injury. It is a collective effort of all that use the roadway.”

Emerman further stated that “DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] handles all of the notices of infraction once they are written. We do not keep stats on how many people we educate versus issue tickets to.”

With this in mind, The InTowner, then, contacted officials at DMV for answers to the following questions:

If bikes are not licensed in the district, how are these citations enforced?;

Do you have statistics that show the number of bicyclists cited for moving violations?;

Are bicyclists cited only for infractions on city streets? In other words, can they be cited for violations while riding on sidewalks where that is legal?;

What about motorized scooters and similar vehicles? Without licenses, how do you enforce traffic laws for operators? Do you keep or are you planning to keep statistics on these violations?;

Unfortunately, as of publication time, despite having submitted these questions well in advance of deadline, no answers had yet been received. [Ed. Note: if we do receive information in response to these questions we will post on the web page version of this lead story]

Cyclists and scooter riders have long insisted that they are the endangered parties on city streets, both by reckless automobile, bus, and truck drivers, as well as city officials being seemingly’ lackadaisical about efforts to protect them and make the city more bicycle friendly, notwithstanding the creation of bike lanes. –- though more recently in response to Mayor Bowser’s push to encourage the use of bicycles there has been a noticeable effort to implement her policy, especially at DDOT where there is now a specialized bicycle unit staffed by committed personnel.

DC residents are not alone in voicing their concerns about safety – especially the safety of pedestrians on sidewalks. Other cities around the country have cracked down on dockless rental scooters. In New York City, for example, the scooters are not permitted because of the dangers they would present to riders, pedestrians, and vehicle drivers. The mayor of Nashville, David Briley, has threatened to ban the scooters in his city if scooter companies won’t address the same safety situations that frequently rile DC residents.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz. All rights reserved.