Electric Scooters Compete With Pedestrians On Sidewalks

by Julius Ijidola

For urbanists looking for a quick and efficient way to get around the city, electric scooters just may be the perfect solution. Except for one thing. As their usage increases, so does a growing concern. Electric scooters run at speeds of up to 25mph but share the sidewalk with pedestrians walking at 3-4mph. A collision with an electric scooter could prove fatal. 

There are clear dangers to riding electric scooters, especially for pedestrians who share the sidewalks with them. Beyond the risk of collision with riders, there’s the issue of indiscriminate parking of scooters during the day and, at night. Because scooters are dockless, they can be left anywhere, including on crowded sidewalks once a user is done with it, posing yet another risk to pedestrians, who can trip over them unawares, especially at night. 

In Singapore, this has led to an almost absolute ban of electric scooters (they are forbidden on walkways that are set aside for pedestrian traffic). In Nashville, Tennessee, the local authorities are considering legislation that requires registration of scooters. Other issues for legislation include whether riders will be required to wear helmets or be limited to certain roadways as in Singapore. Also, there’s an argument for banning the use of scooters while under the influence.  While, shockingly, there aren't currently any laws on the books to protect pedestrians in this scenario, it's clear that the pedestrian would still have a fairly sound legal case.

In resolving the safety concerns between pedestrians and e-scooter riders, one solution might be to allow pedestrians to ‘own’ these sidewalks with motorized devices limited to persons with disabilities. Conversely, electric scooters could be permitted wherever bicycles are, which are protected bike paths, lanes and bike facilities, but not on sidewalks.

Electric vehicle companies and bicycle advocates can work together to advocate for protected bicycle facilities which can be used by scooters as well. Electric scooter companies like Lime and Bird have valuations around $1 billion, an impressive warchest that can be used to lobby for infrastructure that would accommodate their products. 

In response to concerns about safety, Lime and Bird, the two largest e-scooter companies have come out publicly to state that safety is a top priority for them, not really surprising given that a single fatality could shut down their business. In addition to encouraging riders to follow local regulations, they have invested over $3 million to promote safe riding and proper etiquette. Bird says they provide in-app safety laws in line with local laws and some cities employ “bird watchers” whose job is to ensure the company’s devices are picked and parked correctly. 

In conclusion, despite local laws that have been put in place, critics say electric scooter riders – often lacking access to bike lanes and looking to steer clear of speeding cars are always going to be forced into walkways. The electric scooter phenomenon is new but growing rapidly, and the need for research on electric scooters is as urgent as the need for action. All stakeholders involved must do more to regulate transportation using scooters so that accidents can be brought to the barest minimum.