New York Laws Regulating E-Scooters Are Almost as Silly as the Rules for E-Bikes

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Scooters on the Seine

They are still banned in Manhattan where they would be most useful. Why not ban parked cars instead?

Paul Steely White has long been respected for his work as executive director of Transportation Alternatives, and he now works as director of safety policy for Lime, the big e-scooter company. He likes the new legislation regulating e-bikes and e-scooters, saying, "The weight of this moment cannot be overstated. New York is on the cusp of making its streets safer and more equitable for everyone — all our legislators have to do is vote yes."

He doesn't seem to be troubled by the fact that they are still banned in Manhattan under the weird clause that reads, “No such shared electric scooter system shall operate ... in a county with a population of no less than 1,586,000 and no more than 1,587,000 as of the 2010 decennial census.” According to Gersh Kuntzman in Streetsblog,

Several sources confirmed to Streetsblog what everyone has been saying for weeks: That “Scooter-free Manhattan” language was a concession to senators from the borough who believe the devices are unsafe in the most congested part of the city (these same lawmakers have proposed no such restrictions on the most unsafe devices currently on our roads; car and truck operators killed 200 people last year in New York City compared to zero killed by scooter riders).

The e-scooter rules are a lot more sensible than the e-bike rules, requiring that riders must yield right-of-way to pedestrians, keep off the sidewalks, not cling to other vehicles, and should ride in the bike lane or as close to the edge of the street to “prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic.” According to Kuntzman, the bike lane rule is controversial.

They’re ordered to be in the bicycle lanes, where the normal speed of vehicles is 10 miles per hour — but these are motor vehicles moving at 20 miles per hour,” he [lawyer Steve Vaccaro] said. “The state is shoving them into the bike lanes, which will only overcrowd the bike infrastructure we have. What’s the plan for adding capacity? It’s one thing if the scooters were capped at 15, but they’re having them at 20.”

I am not sure this is a problem, especially since New York bike lanes are already full of pedestrians. The problem in New York City is the amount of space they give to storage of personal cars; if they got rid of those, there might be lots of room for bigger sidewalks, bike and scooter lanes.

But I do think the ban in Manhattan is a big problem. They will end up there anyway if they are allowed on the other side of the East River; I recall there are quite a few bridges. Nonetheless, some people just don't like scooters. The writer of an op-ed in the New York Times describes the situation in Nashville, where they have been allowed.

Let’s start with the least noxious: People abandon them in the middle of sidewalks, in doorways, at street corners where pedestrians are trying to cross. In a city dense with tourists, many of them drunk out of their minds, the introduction of more than 4,000 tripping hazards is not a civic boon... In the year since electric scooters arrived here, the city has passed increasingly stringent rules for using them, but injuries continue to rise. Last month, the inevitable happened: Brady Gaulke, a 26-year-old Nashville man, was killed in a collision with an S.U.V. while riding a scooter.

No discussion or mention of how many people are killed and injured every day by dockless cars, or why it is automatically assumed that it was not the driver of the SUV's fault. When a pedestrian is killed by an SUV, would everyone demand that sidewalks be banned?

scooters on sidewalks

Scooters on sidewalks in Marseille/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It's true, people can be jerks about scooters. I saw this in Marseille recently. It is easy to complain about stupid tourists doing this, but in fact I was following a bunch of local kids, pushing and playing with the scooters without power, the scooter alarms going off, pushing them to the bus stop and then just dropping them on the sidewalk. Is that Lime's fault, tourists' fault, or just exuberant teenagers?

Bird scooters

Bird scooters not all over the sidewalk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

A few minutes later, being tired of walking and still 6 km from my hotel, I got on a Bird and had a lovely e-scooter ride, parking it carefully and sending Bird a photo proving it.

Scooters in Paris

Scooters in Paris/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Scooters are a great low-carbon alternative to go relatively short distances. There is obviously a learning curve where cities, operators and users will figure out how to make it all work and co-exist with people who walk and cycle. As the mayor of Paris said, "We need every tool in the box to get cars off the roads." E-scooters could be one of those tools; it is a shame they are being banned in Manhattan instead of parked cars.