Late last month, Denver City Council prohibited electric scooters from sidewalks, reversing a policy that had previously allowed riders of the popular but controversial devices to travel in these pedestrian areas if the routes they line have a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or higher. Now the scooters are supposed to stick to streets, from which they were once entirely banned because the city initially classified the two-wheelers as toys.
That makes three rule shifts since the June 2018 introduction of the gadgets in Denver amid rising safety concerns. Last month, Montana visitor Cameron Hagan became the city's first scooter-riding death, and at 5:38 p.m. yesterday, September 2, the Denver Police Department tweeted that a woman was hospitalized after sustaining a serious bodily injury during a scooter-versus-car crash near the intersection of First Avenue and Cherokee Street. The woman's scooter appears to have been personal rather than a for-rent version.
These developments have resulted in widespread confusion over what's lawful and what's not, and debate aplenty about how often the various edicts are enforced.
Take the case of Elizabeth Ramos Torres, who was on a sidewalk in the area of 12th and Pearl when she was knocked to the ground by a scooter rider, who countered her complaints about his actions by saying, "Write me a ticket, bitch."
Torres was even more upset after she called 911 about the incident. She felt the reply of the operator, captured in an audio file that can be heard below, discounted her report because she wasn't injured — and she depicts a subsequent conversation with a representative of Denver Police Department District 6, which wasn't recorded, as more of the same.
According to her, "They said, 'We can't do anything about that. We don't have the resources. It's not a big enough thing for us to go look for him.'"
A teacher at the New America School in Lowry, Torres was struck on June 25, prior to the most recent regulation change. But because the speed limit on the streets where she had been walking are set at 25 miles per hour, the scooter rider's sidewalk choice should have been a violation. Moreover, she says his tactics didn't only endanger her. After causing her to fall, she points out, he nearly zoomed into an elderly man a few feet away.
Hence her call to 911, which the Denver Department of Safety initially failed to locate after Torres gave permission to provide it to Westword — but it was quickly found after she wrote a follow-up email in which she said she planned to contact the Office of the Independent Monitor about the matter. Click to listen to it:
"I was just assaulted by somebody on a little green scooter," Torres told the operator. "Who do I talk to about this?"
"Are you injured?" the operator asked.
"No, I'm fine," Torres allowed. "I'm just very angry. After he hit me, I told him, 'You're not supposed to ride those on the sidewalk, dude. You're supposed to ride them on the street.' He said, 'Write me a ticket, bitch,' and he kept going."
"Did he physically assault you?" the operator wanted to know.
"He hit me with that thing," Torres replied. "He ran into me with the scooter. I was on the ground."
At that point, the operator inquired about whether Torres wanted a police officer to be dispatched to her location. Torres countered by asking for a clarification of the law and whether the scooter rider's use of the sidewalk had been improper. "I'm not an officer," the operator stressed. "I wouldn't be able to answer that question. If you don't want an officer, I can give you the number to District 6. They'll be able to tell you if that's legal or illegal."
This question became secondary after Torres says the District 6 staffer she reached determined that no officer would be dispatched over what took place.
What's the DPD's policy on scooter-related incidents like this one? A police spokesperson offered the following explanation via email:
When there’s a crash with a scooter and a pedestrian, officers will respond and determine if there is a report needed. With these types of incidents, a non-traffic/non-criminal report can be generated. If there aren't any injuries, a report might not be made. If there are injuries, the person that caused the injuries can be cited. District officers would respond to these types of incidents. If a scooter crashes with a vehicle and there are serious injuries, the traffic investigations unit may respond to document the scene.
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For her part, Torres remains worried about the risks created by scooters beyond sidewalk usage. "I'm a driver, too. I drive to work, I drive to my son's school, and especially in Capitol Hill, you have to be really vigilant, because scooter riders don't respect the stop signs or the red lights. They just fly right through them. When the light turns green, you literally have to look both ways, because you don't know if a little scooter is going to dart out in front of you."
On top of that, she continues, "nobody wears a helmet — and I know if they're accidentally hit by somebody, a two-ton car is going to win over a scooter every time."
A former student at the Art Institute of Colorado, which closed its doors last December, Torres plans to collaborate with other onetime pupils to document the impact of electric scooters in Denver on both sidewalks and streets. She recently captured a video of traffic being held up by two people on a scooter going around 15 miles per hour in front of other vehicles.
"I call the police if I don't feel safe," she says. "But when I called about this, their response was like saying, 'Too bad. Your right to walk on a sidewalk and not be assaulted — they don't exist anymore.'"