Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
A Bird electric scooter is ridden in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 28, 2018. The scooters just made their first appearance in Salt Lake City with 100 of them distributed in downtown.

Recently, Salt Lake City has been inundated with hundreds of electric scooters. The city introduced new requirements for electric scooters to "create affordable and safe transportation options for residents, offer reliable transportation choices and improve air quality."

The city limited the number of shared mobility devices and encouraged locating devices throughout the city, not just in the downtown area. The initial number is limited to 200 anywhere in the city, but if 100 are placed west of I-15, the company may increase its fleet size to 500 with a limit of 200 in the downtown central traffic district (between North Temple and 500 South and 400 West and 200 East). If there are racks or "corrals" for storage, the limits are increased. The city also requires a $2 million per occurrence liability insurance policy with a $3 million aggregate limit.

The city requires proof, with a picture of the parked scooter after being used, to ensure that it isn't blocking pedestrians or ADA or transit stations. A mis-parked scooter may be impounded by the city. Users must receive education on the proper and legal operation use of the scooters, which includes following existing laws and regulations and "safe and courteous riding and proper parking."

Lost in the excitement of a new high-tech solution to transportation options is the effect on pedestrians. Despite Utah law that requires motorized vehicles to operate on roads, not sidewalks, many of these scooters are being operated on sidewalks. Downtown workers and visitors have been complaining about being threatened with and being hit by scooters that can go up to 15 mph. Sidewalks by the Gateway and downtown Main Street are seeing a large number of scooters. Part of the reason is the vehicle traffic downtown is not very safe to bicyclists or scooters. Salt Lake City bans bicycle operation on sidewalks in the central traffic district. But anyone walking downtown will see many green bikes on the sidewalks. Tourists often take advantage of the convenience of the green bikes to tour the city on the sidewalks.

Negligent operation of a bicycle, and supposedly a scooter, is against the law, but most people riding bicycles are well experienced on safe operation and control of a bicycle. Most people operating an electric scooter that can go 15 mph are not very experienced, and that can significantly increase the danger for the rider and pedestrians. Whether operating on the road (as required) or on sidewalks, scooter riders are encouraged to wear helmets. But pedestrians should not require helmets to safely walk on sidewalks. If a scooter rider hits a pedestrian at 15 mph, there will be injuries. And if the rider gets back on the scooter and rides off, there is no way to identify the scooter since there is no license number easily visible.

Riding on downtown streets, with speeding vehicles, with all the parked cars pulling out, doors opening, unsafe automobile and truck drivers and even buses encourages bicyclists to ride on sidewalks. The number of families living downtown with kids are increasing, but we shouldn't require kids to ride in the streets whether on bicycles or scooters. The city requires that riders be at least 18, but since a driver's license is required, even 15-year-olds can get a scooter ride. Parents seem to be renting the scooters for their kids to have a fun ride, so many of the riders are visibly younger than 18.

9 comments on this story

This may be a good time to rethink the ban on operation of bicycles downtown and fine-tuning the scooter requirements. Electric scooters and bicyclists should be able to ride on downtown sidewalks as long as they do it safely. Parks also should be able to host scooters on sidewalks. There are a lot of scooters operating in Liberty Park.

On Aug. 15 at 8:30 a.m., the Transportation Interim Committee will hear and discuss the Salt Lake City scooter requirements. It will be in state Capitol Senate Building 210.