by James A. Bacon
So, I was sitting at a stoplight the other day, and some guy came hauling butt through the intersection on a scooter. Like a bicyclist or motorcyclist, he leaned hard left as he took the left-hand turn. I can’t say how fast he was riding, but if he took a spill, I’m pretty sure he would have wound up as road kill. Needless to say, the scooterist (or whatever you call a scooter rider) was a young male with a much higher tolerance for risk than the average Henrico County resident.
With this image still vivid in my mind, I now read how Arlington County and Fairfax County have enacted ordinances regulating the use of scooters on public streets and sidewalks. While I err toward a light hand of regulation for the business side of scooters — not imposing excessive taxes, fees, levies, and restrictions, etc. — I find it perfectly reasonable to regulate their use to ensure safety on public byways.
In Arlington, “micro-mobility devices” will be required to have speedometers, reports Arlingtonva.us. (Hat tip: Rob Whitfield.) Motorized scooters and skateboards will have a top speed of 15 miles per hour, and e-bicycles of 20 miles per hour, on streets and trails. On sidewalks, top speeds are restricted to six miles per hour.
“Arlington is all about transportation options,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Based on the evidence gathered during our pilot program, scooters and other micro-mobility devices are a viable transportation alternative for many. They will add another layer to the County’s multi-layered transportation network, in keeping with our goal of encouraging those who live and work in Arlington to choose an alternative to driving alone in a car. These regulations are meant to ensure that the devices are deployed and used in a safe and responsible way.”
Meanwhile, Fairfax County has adopted rules for dockless scooters, bicycles and “shared mobility devices.” Scooter speeds are capped at 10 miles per hour, according to Greater Greater Washington.
Fairfax is also regulating scooters as a business. The county charges a $1,000 permit annually plus $28 fee per device. Companies are limited to 300 devices until they can demonstrate that each vehicle is used at least three times daily, in which case they can add more vehicles, topping out at 600 total. They must be parked in areas “that [do] not impede normal car or foot traffic.”
Bacon’s bottom line: Virginia localities have invested significant sums in building networks of bicycle lanes. I can’t speak for other parts of the state, but the bike lanes in the Richmond region appear to be severely under-utilized. We’re in no danger of becoming another Amsterdam or Copenhagen any time soon. It makes sense, then, to foster use of those lanes by other users of “micromobility devices” — to get the scooters off the roads (designed for cars) and sidewalks (designed for pedestrians) as much as practicable.
Dockless devices also make a nice complement to mass transit. A rule of thumb says that people are willing to walk a quarter mile, taking about 15 to 20 minutes, to a transit stop. By reducing travel time, dockless scooters could extend the effective walkshed for buses and rail.
On the other hand, scooters can be a public nuisance if riders carelessly block sidewalks when they get off, or a safety threat if risk-tolerant young men zoom around at excessive speeds and lose control. Wisely, Fairfax County is collecting data from mobility-device providers on the number of rides, crashes, and injuries. Data collection will specifically target high-density areas like Tysons, Reston and the Mosaic district.
Collecting data is critical. With hard data, local governments can continually refine their rules and restrictions to achieve the best balance of mobility, safety, affordability, and nuisance abatement.There are currently no comments highlighted.