Learning to Ride Safely After First Denver Electric Scooter Death

A Lyft electric scooter just waiting for a rider.
A Lyft electric scooter just waiting for a rider. YouTube
Beginning at 11 a.m. today, August 27, Lyft is sponsoring a safety session at Union Station to encourage responsible riding on the company's electric scooters, which were introduced to Denver in June 2018 and subsequently generated gripes and grousing aplenty.

The event is scheduled to get under way just over two weeks after the Denver Police Department confirmed the city's first electric scooter fatality. Montana resident Cameron Hagan died on August 9, five days after being struck in the Highland neighborhood while on one of Lyft's devices. However, Patrick Quintana, the market manager for Lyft in Colorado, stresses that this morning's scooter-centric gathering isn't a reaction to Hagan's passing.

"Obviously, that is completely tragic, and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends," Quintana says. However, he goes on, "Lyft has been planning this event for a while — probably for six weeks or so at this point."

Moreover, the date has another hook. Last night, Denver City Council approved a request from Public Works to ban scooters from sidewalks. Scooter riders will "follow the same rules as people on bikes and electric bikes and ride in the street and in bike lanes," notes Public Works spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn, corresponding via email. This shift, which amends a city council policy that previously allowed scooters on sidewalks along streets with speed limits over thirty miles per hour, "more closely aligns with state law signed in May and provides more consistency in enforcement," she maintains, adding that electric scooters "remain prohibited from riding on the 16th Street Mall."

Scooter use in Denver continues under a pilot program — but that could change soon, too. Kuhn reveals that "Denver Public Works is finalizing details of an ongoing Dockless Mobility Permit Program along with a final report-out of data on the pilot, which will be released to the public/media in the coming weeks. In the meantime, pilot permits have been extended until the ongoing program is launched in the September time frame."

Cameron Hagan was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
Family photo via Fox31
Lyft would welcome this development. "We were very eager to be part of the pilot program, and working with Public Works and the city has been great," Quintana says. "They've been very reasonable, very easy to work with. And we're looking forward to an ongoing program and really want it to be successful. We'll continue to partner with Public Works, even more so than what's required in the permits. We want to make sure this is a win-win."

Not everyone is as enthusiastic as Quintana about the proliferation of scooters in Denver. Over time, we've heard from plenty of readers who despise the vehicles, which were originally banned on the city's streets because they were classified as toys. Many riders didn't follow these rules, though, resulting in complaints from drivers and pedestrians alike, as well as a rise in accidents and injuries.

One way to potentially lower the number of people hurt riding scooters is for more of them to wear helmets, as Hagan wasn't at the time of his accident. But while Lyft provides the headgear free to those who stop by its Denver Driver Hub, at 1401 Zuni Street, they're only available during very limited hours: 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Quintana says routinely pairing scooters and helmets isn't as simple as it seems. "That's difficult to pull off for a number of reasons. Having detachable parts on shared-use assets is a challenge when they become decoupled, and hygienic concerns have been raised in the past. That's why we want to make sure riders have access to helmets, so they can bring one with them — and we're hoping that over time, it becomes a habit, especially if scooters continue to be as wildly popular as they are right now."

With that in mind, Lyft will be giving away free helmets at the Union Station get-together and at other to-be-named venues as well. According to Quintana, "We want to meet scooter riders where they are and hand out helmets to reiterate that wearing them should be the standard."

click to enlarge
A Lyft scooter parked in front of Civic Center Station early this morning.
Photo by Michael Roberts
The Union Station happening will be marked by "a couple of Lyft tents where we'll have people to help answer general questions, like 'Where do I ride? How do I ride?'" he explains. "And there will be different education-oriented events riders can be sent to, because education is such a key to safety. One is a free test ride in the bike lane right in front of Union Station, where staff will be facilitating rides to reinforce that the bike lane is where you should be riding and giving recommendations on proper riding techniques. And we'll be having safety classes every fifteen minutes or so, where we'll go through a safety training. We'll have visuals that will show students, 'This is good, proper riding,' or 'This isn't proper parking.'"

For example, "We'll explain why parking a scooter in the middle of a sidewalk makes it hard for members of our disability community to navigate around it. So we'll be talking about understanding that when you ride and when you park, you need to be mindful of those around you."

In the meantime, Lyft's plan for scooters to become a more permanent part of the Denver transit scene is underscored by its stance toward local street upgrades.

"We are in agreement that we should get scooters off sidewalks," Quintana emphasizes. "But we've seen concerns in sessions with Public Works and the police department around safety — and we need to make sure our streets are safe for pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders, too. Our city is built around cars and getting around in cars, but it should be building streets for people and how people get around. For years, biking advocates have been fighting for things like protected bike lanes so cyclists can feel safe, and now, scooters also need to be involved in that fight. The reason scooter riders go on sidewalks is because they feel unsafe riding on the streets. So we need to create infrastructure like more protected bike lanes to make them feel safe. That will help us reduce the carbon footprint and enhance the sustainability of living in Denver."

The free "Ride Responsibly" scooter event, co-sponsored by Lyft, Bicycle Colorado, the Denver Streets Partnership and the Denver Regional Mobility and Action Council, will take place between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Wynkoop South Plaza of Denver Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop Street.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts