Right now, electric scooters of the sort that have proliferated in Denver over recent months are officially defined as toys that can only be ridden on sidewalks — a rule loathed by many pedestrians resentful of having to dodge the two-wheelers and by plenty of riders, who prefer to travel in bike lanes and on streets even though doing so is currently illegal.
The process of changing this dynamic starts at 10:30 a.m. today, December 11. That's when a Denver City Council committee will consider a proposal from members Paul Kashmann and Mary Beth Susman that will make it legal for scooters riders to use bike lanes or some streets in addition to sidewalks, depending on a number of variables, and imposes speed limits intended to make such vehicles safer and less irritating for everyone involved.
Here's how Kashmann describes the plan and why a solution is needed.
"There seem to be two sides of the issue," he says. "Some people recognize the scooters as an emerging technology to help us get around town without using automobiles. Other people see them as a nightmare of scooters speeding along sidewalks — and those are the first responses I received from constituents."
Kashmann doesn't personally have information about pedestrians getting hurt by rogue scooter pilots, "but I've heard numerous complaints of people being startled and scared. And I've heard about injuries to people riding on scooters who've hit a bump and taken a fall. That seems to be a growing tale of woe around the city."
He's personally tried out the scooters "and in my view, they're a great deal of fun. But the ones I've ridden on are awfully lightweight and not that stable, so you can see how you might run into some kind of trouble on the sidewalk or the street."
It's not hard to spot scooters on such thoroughfares, he acknowledges. During a recent drive back to his office, "I stopped at the traffic light at 13th and Bannock and there came a couple — a guy and a young woman — each on their own scooter in the middle of Bannock, just ripping up the street. No helmets, nothing. I thought, okay, this is a brave new world."
After numerous observations like this one, Kashmann recalls, "I asked our attorneys to look at what other cities were doing about scooters so we could figure out the most appropriate place for them. And the attorneys think we're on safe ground regulating them in the way we've proposed."
Specifically, Kashmann continues, "we're putting them in bike lanes where there are bike lanes, at a speed limit of fifteen miles per hour. If there's no bike lane, they can go on the right side of streets as long as the speed limit is thirty miles per hour or lower. And if the speed limit on the street is greater than thirty miles per hour, they can go on a sidewalk, but they'll be limited to six miles per hour."
He concedes that the concept is "a patchwork, where you're on the street in one case and the sidewalk in one case and bike lanes in another case. It's a bit complicated for the average tourist or casual rider to take in."
At the same time, he feels the proposal is an improvement over the present situation, in which few are clear on the rules and those who are don't appear to have much interest in following them.
"We're still struggling to accommodate regular old everyday bicycles," Kashmann maintains. "We're slowly building out a bike system around our city — and now you drop electric scooters and electric bikes into the mix. It just magnifies the fact that we've got a lot of work to do to get people safely around the city using alternatives to automobiles."
In the meantime, he points out that "Denver Parks and Recreation has asked us not to address the parks in our bill, because by early spring, they expect to have a comprehensive approach to electric vehicles in the parks and on our trail system. They're in the early stages of figuring out what to do. They recognize the need to regulate scooters as well."
Amending rules related to operating electric scooters is agenda item one at the aforementioned 10:30 a.m. meeting of the Denver City Council's Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure (LUTI) committee. The location is Room 391 on the third floor of Denver's City and County Building. Click for more information.