Opinion

HUDSON | Denver’s hip sidewalk scooters could use some good ol’ rules of the road

Author: Miller Hudson - August 20, 2018 - Updated: August 20, 2018

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Miller Hudson

Last week I found myself pursuing five electric scooters at ten miles per hour that had commandeered a full traffic lane northbound in Denver on Lincoln Avenue. Since Bird and Lime dumped hundreds of their stand-up, motorized scooters without warning on the city’s sidewalks, more and more riders seem to feel the street is a better option for them than the sidewalk. This can’t possibly be a good idea and it is only a question of time before a driver dispatches several of them to an emergency room or the morgue. Skateboarders are now joining in the fun. Honking at them only elicits a middle-fingered salute.

Over the weekend I was afforded a glimpse of what the future may hold for us. The scooter craze originated, you guessed it, in California. Bird is headquartered in Los Angeles and showed no more consideration for local government there than they have here. About a year ago scooters suddenly appeared throughout the city. After some wrangling Venice Beach was identified as a test zone for deployment. There has been sufficient time for scooters to become ubiquitous. Traveling like a murmuration of starlings, scooters romp through intersections in pulses, sweeping through stop signs and into traffic lanes. Erratic operators frequently clobber pedestrians, while sidewalks have become danger zones.

The LA Times reports that residents have been fighting back. Scooters have been thrown in dumpsters, piled and torched in alleys, even consigned to Davey Jones’ locker (apparently their GPS locators will respond for a while underwater). There is a website where you can relish their destruction with sledge hammers and saws. This resistance hasn’t prompted significant movement towards more responsible behavior from the rental companies.

In Santa Monica, which tried to call a halt to the scooters long enough to establish behavioral ground rules, its decision to license only Uber and Lyft as vendors resulted in a system “lock down” of existing scooters in the city. Disgruntled Bird and Lime customers were urged to come to City Hall immediately prior to the next day’s City Council meeting to object to the award. Free food, a rock band and a $5 dollar voucher for scooter time attracted thousands. It should be noted that neither Uber nor Lyft is currently offering scooters, but they do have existing agreements with Santa Monica for their car services.

Diego de la Garza with Mayor Garcetti’s transportation office told me that despite the hoped for confinement of the scooter trial to Venice Beach, they were leaking out across the city. Council hopes to adopt its “rules of the road” in another 30 days.

Denver was forced to threaten confiscation of scooters before it was able to negotiate a truce with Bird and Lime. It appears to me there will have to be some aggressive policing if riders are to be kept out of traffic. I suspect the scooters are just as disruptive to the disrupters at Uber and Lyft as they were for taxi companies. A recent audit found that business expense logs from 1992 indicate that 73% of reimbursed rides were taken in taxis, last year that number had plummeted to 8%. This funneling of ‘distributed value’ mainlines revenue to the 1% at the top of the disrupting food chain.

In good weather scooters are cheap and, I suspect fun. Will their success push rideshare drivers off the road? You may need them when it snows. I am willing to wager scooter pilots have executed a release that absolves scooter companies of any responsibility for injury – which they ride at their own risk. But, what if they break my leg or you maim them when they slam into your car? Personal injury lawyers should be breaking out the champagne. There are good times ahead! The notion that one person’s freedom ends where another’s begins, that boundaries are not simply courteous but necessary, appears the complaint of grumpy old men.

There is arrogance in tossing thousands of scooters on the sidewalk without attempting to negotiate an understanding or provide notice of your intentions to government. Big, bad, expensive government – brought to you by the people who bring you streetlights, fire trucks, clean water and sewers – those guys and gals. Licensing can be a pain, to be sure, but it’s regulation that insures our safety. A lack of respect for government entails a lack of respect for your neighbors.

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com.