Reasonable Regulations for Scooters

Is “scooting under the influence” a thing?

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 (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.

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10 responses to “Reasonable Regulations for Scooters”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The faster and larger “vehicle” always presents a danger to pedestrians and smaller “vehicles.” This requires balance in use and speed regulations and undistracted operation of the “vehicles,” as well as observant pedestrians. I don’t think anyone really knows what a good balance is, especially with respect to motorized scooters.

    I have a real problem with dockless bikes and scooters. They can and are left anywhere, which delights the anti-car crowd. But scooters and bikes left on sidewalks and driveways present a serious hazard for disabled people. I’m not sure public officials truly understand and appreciate this.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Pedestrian deaths have reached a 28 year high according to recent reports.

    But I’m also curious as to WHO has a “right” to use the public right of ways and in what kind of vehicle. Perhaps our resident GA experts know or can find out.

    I don’t know if those scooters should be restricted to bike lanes and banned from sidewalks or what.

    It’s a mess but it all goes back to the idea that the public right of ways – bought and maintained with tax dollars are supposed to be for everyone to use and in a wide number of different types of conveyances.

    We do ban pedestrians, bikes and things like horse-drawn wagons from interstates and higher speed roads. And we do ban bikes from sidewalks (but not multi-use trails).

    I wonder how liability law “works” when a car squashes a pedestrian or biker and now a “scooter”… Is the onus on the car driver to not squash lower level mobility critters?

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Bicycles, much less scooters, should not be allowed on sidewalks. There have been numerous times when I was almost hit by someone coming up behind me on a bicycle.

      And, to answer your question, the GA has authorized localities to regulate who can use sidewalks in Sec. 46.2-904:
      “The governing body of any county, city, or town may by ordinance prohibit the use of roller skates, skateboards, and electric personal delivery devices and/or the riding of bicycles, electric personal assistive mobility devices, motorized skateboards or scooters, motor-driven cycles, or electric power-assisted bicycles on designated sidewalks or crosswalks….”

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        re: ” …. electric personal assistive mobility devices, ……………. on designated sidewalks or crosswalks…”

        Wow.. this does not sound good………. we’re going to keep handicapped folks from using public sidewalks?

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          Any ordinance could make exceptions for devices used by handicapped folks.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Last month, I was walking on the sidewalk from Union Station up NE First St. in D.C. The road contains two bike lanes, one in each direction. A bike rider was riding fast in the street and skipped the bike lanes to head up the sidewalk in my direction. I had to jump to the side to avoid being hit.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    OH… and I’m quite sure some here believe that “reasonable regulation” is the mother of all oxymorons!

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Another issue is the rise of E-Bikes — bicycles that have electric motors that can be switched on or off. They run in price from $1,500 to $10,000. A number of states, including Virginia, have issued rules about them because they can go 25 miles per hour and if you have a 200 lb. man riding, a collision could be deadly. They come in a mountain bike version that extends someone’s range but it might get them deeper into trouble in the woods.
    David Leonard of the Times has a piece today about scooters.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    there’s a wide variety of new and different mobility vehicles that travel at different speeds and sharing the same corridor – and the difference in speed and proximity are problematical especially when you have people on foot – elderly, some on canes, parents with kids, perhaps some that are blind or handicapped, etc…

    and we’re “mixing” these with younger folks on faster vehicles, some motorized.

    But, apparently, since it is a public right of way – obtained and maintained with taxes from everyone – they are _for_ everyone.

    interesting issue….

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