"Scooters? They're a complex issue," says city communications specialist Robert Kellar.
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the November, 2019 issue
"Because electric scooters are a relatively new form of mobility, our laws don't fit them," adds Raymond Hess, the city's transportation manager. "They fall into a gray area, since they're neither bicycles, pedestrians, nor motor vehicles. We're observing how and when they're used so we can update and create traffic codes and ordinances--if necessary."
Scooters used to be children's toys, but today riders of all ages--although most are students and thirty-somethings--are cruising along city streets and walkways on stand-up electric scooters. But they present city officials with a number of questions:
Do they belong on sidewalks or bike paths?
Do they pose a threat to pedestrians, cyclists, or drivers? Will they create traffic jams of their own?
Kellar can't say when the city's analysis will be finished and recommendations will go to council for consideration. But days after opening the William Street Bikeway, the council signed a new ninety-day contract for a fleet of Spin scooters
The city's first protected bikeway runs from campus to the Old West Side. Plans call for it to eventually connect to the Treeline Trail and the county's Border-to-Border Trail. City officials estimate that protected lanes will result in a 35 percent reduction in vehicle/bicycle crashes and a 59 percent reduction in injuries.
The DDA-funded project resurfaced William St., consolidated water mains, reconfigured traffic lanes, and provided barriers to separate cars and trucks from bicyclists--and, for now at least--scooters.
"People want ways to get around busy streets faster and easier--and an added bonus is I can avoid parking hassles, parking fees, and parking tickets," says one U-M student zipping along Main St. "It's an ecologically friendly way to travel."
Scooters aren't just for students, though. In August, Ben Knowlton, thirty-four, bought a Glion Electric Dolly-Fold scooter, retail $499, after a trying day driving through crowded streets and seeking parking downtown. Though its top speed is 15 mph, he says it beats the time it used to took him to drive to work and park.
Rental scooters arrived
unannounced on Labor Day 2018, when Bird scooters descended in large flocks upon the city's sidewalks and roadways. The city responded forcefully, confiscating scooters left on private property or blocking sidewalks or streets. As scooter use soared, traditional drivers'--and pedestrians'--blood pressure soared. "I have seen people--and not necessarily the younger set--on scooters drive through stop signs without even a glance to see if there is oncoming traffic," says west side resident Jackie Stickney. "They travel on the streets or the sidewalks, wherever it's convenient for them, without concern for pedestrians or automobiles. They are ruder than the cyclists in town."
Last fall, the city reached a short-term agreement with Bird. But instead of renewing it this spring, the city signed with a competitor, Spin. Owned by Ford Motor Co., Spin is much more amenable to city regulation. It agreed to require riders to avoid obstructing pedestrian travel, ADA ramps, fire hydrants, call boxes, or other emergency facilities and to prohibit them entirely from some campus areas, including the Diag and Law Quad. If the city impounds lost or inappropriately parked scooters, Spin must reimburse the city $150 for each, plus $15 per day of impoundment.
Michigan State Police spokeperson Lori Dougovito says the department doesn't track "scooter-involved crashes," but her database search turned up four crashes in Washtenaw County so far this year.
"We've seen several scooters on the Border-to-Border Trail, but no reports that they're an issue," says Peter Sanderson, principal park planner for the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission (see feature, p. 33). "We're still trying to evaluate the best way to use them or integrate them into the trail's infrastructure."
"I have a poster on my wall that says INFRASTRUCTURE IS DESTINY," Hess says. "We can set the stage for what forms of transportation work for our community. We'll monitor the new bikeway and the trends in transportation of all kinds, including scooters."
[Originally published in November, 2019.]
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