Infrastructure

Community Advocates Make Push for Dedicated Scooter, Bike Lanes in Ohio

The Columbus City Council is still trying to work out on-demand transportation rules, but those in favor of the alternative transportation are seizing the opportunity to call for more local infrastructure.

by Rick Rouan, The Columbus Dispatch / September 19, 2018
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(TNS) — Alternative transportation advocates are pushing Columbus for more dedicated infrastructure for bikes, scooters and other alternatives as the city prepares to force electric scooters from the sidewalks and onto the streets.

At a public hearing Tuesday to discuss proposed legislation before the Columbus City Council, scooter riders, bicyclists and transit representatives highlighted the need for the city to invest in lanes that protect those users on the road.

"We as a community must rethink our allocation of urban space," said Doug Arseneault, a Central Ohio Transit Authority public affairs administrator, in comments supporting the city's proposed legislation.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther's administration issued an emergency order last week banning scooters from riding on the sidewalks as the council considers permanent changes to city code. The council is expected to vote Monday on the legislation, which also would prohibit riding scooters on roads with a speed limit higher than 35 mph.

Police aren't ticketing riders yet, and it's unclear how vigilant they will be if the council adopts the new law. A ban on bicycles riding on sidewalks is rarely enforced, Franklin County Municipal Court records show.

The proposed legislation would add scooters to the city's existing law that bans adults from riding bicycles on sidewalks.

"In order to embrace these new types of mobility we're going to be rather lenient. There will be a learning curve for everybody," said Cathy Collins, assistant director in the Department of Public Safety.

Among the other changes:

  • 20 mph speed limit on scooters
  • No riding on the freeway
  • Prohibition on parking in a way that blocks pedestrian movement
  • Only one person riding a scooter
  • Riding side by side with no more than one scooter
  • No operating an e-scooter while wearing earphones in both ears

The scooters appeared almost overnight in Columbus over the summer, and the city has spent months working on new rules while the scooter companies — Bird and Lime — have operated largely without regulations.

Most of the speakers at the hearing said they supported the city's regulations but were concerned about the potential hazards that still exist when riders don't wear helmets or leave scooters parked in dangerous spaces.

Strict enforcement that keeps scooters from being parked in bike lanes is needed to avoid crashes with bicycles, said Christopher Merkel, a member of the Franklinton Area Commission.

"In general, roads are the right place to be," said Jordan Davis, the Columbus Partnership's Smart Columbus director. "That does not mean we don't have work to do."

Davis said learning to use the scooters in an urban environment as opposed to neighborhood streets is difficult but that Smart Columbus plans to help in the education efforts for riders. Both Lime and Bird have hosted helmet giveaways at the Smart Columbus Experience Center as well.

Most of the burden for educating riders about city rules falls on Bird and Lime, but the city has been pushing information about its emergency orders banning scooters on sidewalks on social media, said Jennifer Gallagher, director of the Department of Public Service.

The city or the companies should consider creating a short video to demonstrate how to safely operate scooters within the city's rules, said Daniel Fohs, who uses the scooters to commute to work Downtown.

Recreational scooter users who have never navigated the city's streets on a bike are in even more danger, said Joe Motil, a Clintonville resident. He criticized the city for allowing the companies to operate unregulated for months.

"I think the scooters could be a recipe for disaster," Motil said.

In addition to the legislation governing how riders should operate the scooters, Ginther's administration already has issued rules and regulations for the companies that will require them to buy permits and provide real-time data.

Those rules could price out smaller local startups, said Kelly James, owner of Columbus-based Electric Ave. The new rules wouldn't apply to his company today, but James said he is raising capital from investors to begin operating a similar service to Bird and Lime next year.

"It really defeats any local business from growing," James said.

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.