The city released details of a pilot program allowing electric scooter sharing in a large section of the Northwest, Southwest and West sides, but leaving out the Loop and communities along the lakefront.
(TNS) — Shared electric scooters, which have been a source of both fun and controversy in other cities, are coming to Chicago next month.
The city on Wednesday released details of a pilot program allowing electric scooter sharing in a large section of the Northwest, Southwest and West sides, including such diverse neighborhoods as Austin, Avondale, Pilsen and South Lawndale, but leaving out the Loop and communities along the lakefront.
The program has been expected in the wake of a report in March from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s mobility task force, which recommended a pilot within a defined area rather than all over the city. The scooter program will be similar to bike sharing, in that users will pay for a trip, then leave the scooter for another user.
“Scooters can potentially provide an affordable, environmentally friendly transportation solution for thousands of Chicagoans,” Sharon Feigon, executive director of the Shared Use Mobility Center, a nonprofit that advocates for shared ways to get around, said in a statement. “We are very excited to test the impact of this new mobility option in Chicago.”
Chicago is using the pilot to test how scooters can help reduce car use, get commuters to and from transit and increase access to transportation, Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said.
Scooters have been a source of contention in other cities because of concerns that they litter sidewalks and pose a safety hazard to both riders and pedestrians. Chicago’s program includes rules that try to address those potential problems.
The program, which will run from June 15 through Oct. 15, limits speeds to 15 mph and restricts where the scooters can be parked. It will include a minimum of 2,500 and a maximum of 3,500 scooters in the pilot area, divided evenly among selected vendors. Vendors have not yet been chosen — the biggest nationally are Bird and Lime, both based in California.
Those two vendors issued similar emailed statements Wednesday.
Bird said it was “eager to serve Chicago communities with our equitable and environmentally friendly alternative to short car trips.”
Lime said it looked forward to “submitting our application to demonstrate the value Lime can offer Chicago in providing a more affordable, equitable transportation solution that helps get people out of cars.”
Thom Rickert, an emerging risks specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions who has been studying electric scooters, said he thinks the city’s pilot can work because of its limits.
“It’s tougher in more congested urban areas, because you’re interacting with pedestrians and cars and infrastructure not designed for that kind of vehicle,” Rickert said. “The best thing to do is have a limited release in a restricted area.”
DePaul University transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said the city was smart to agree to only a small program.
“This pilot is large enough to help significantly improve mobility while still having safeguards,” he said in an email. He added that the mobility benefits on the Southwest Side will be especially large, due to gaps in that area’s transit service.
The city requires that scooters be parked in a way that does not clutter sidewalks. That means they must be parked upright and cannot block bus stops, loading zones or doors into buildings, the city program rules say. Vendors must remove scooters not parked lawfully within two hours of any complaint, the city says.
The scooters cannot be ridden on sidewalks or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Scooters can be located and unlocked using a smartphone, though vendors will have to offer services for nonsmartphone users and cash-based options, the city says. Pricing details were not immediately available.
The pilot zone will be bounded by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Road on the north, the city boundary and Harlem Avenue on the west and the Chicago River on the south. This area is more sparsely served by the Divvy bike share program than neighborhoods farther east.
The pilot zone includes two priority areas, where at least 25 percent of scooters must be placed every morning. The northern priority area is bounded by Chicago Avenue to the south, Irving Park to the north, Pulaski Road to the east and the city boundary to the west; the southern area will have Chicago Avenue to the north, Kedzie Avenue to the east, the Chicago River to the south and the city boundary to the west.
It will be important to guard against people riding or parking scooters inappropriately on the sidewalk, or filling up the city’s already limited bike lane network, said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, an advocacy group for cyclists, pedestrians and transit. Burke added that the group is pleased that the pilot includes many diverse communities.
“For decades cities have designed streets around cars and other modes have largely been ignored — resulting in more dangerous streets for everyone,” Burke said in an emailed statement. “More Chicagoans riding scooters can help us win street space back from cars carrying one or two people, and get more people walking, biking, and riding public transit.”
The city also did a pilot to test dockless bikes last year. This year the city chose to use Lyft, which operates Divvy, as its sole bike-share operator.
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