Scooters In Atlanta: Groups, Officials Tackle Risk, Regulation
Scooter-related incidents in Georgia have left four people dead and at least one person injured since May.
While many cities across the state have banned scooters, Atlantans of all backgrounds — pedestrian advocacy groups, city officials, scooter companies — are still arguing about what to do.
Last summer, scooters simply showed up and began dotting the sidewalks and streets in Atlanta. Now, e-scooters are controversial among Atlantans and a burden for the mayor and Atlanta City Council.
President and CEO of Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety Sally Flocks said some of the problems with scooters are actually infrastructure issues as well as poor lighting on the vehicles.
“It’s predictable that people are going to get killed,” she said.
Flocks said it has been “very unpleasant” to share sidewalks with scooters and she's almost been hit from behind several times.
“And then other people have been injured by people knocking them over, sometimes hit and run,” Flocks said.
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PEDS is “completely opposed” to having scooters on sidewalks, but the organization recognizes the danger of riding in the road.
“We do want the city to make improvements and there are things that can be done very quickly using plastic barricades to create a temporary route,” Flocks said. “They’re now being called LIT lanes — light individual transport — instead of bike lanes and that can be done with plastic barricades.”
Some Georgia cities have banned any use of scooters, including Smyrna, Marietta, Alpharetta, Lilburn and Norcross.
Jennifer Bennett, community relations director of Smyrna, said that research, study and personal experience outside of Smyrna city limits informed the decision.
“Safety is a major concern along with making sure that should the transportation and recreation dynamic within Smyrna change enough for these rented devices to be a viable and safe regulated transportation option, the introduction of shared scooter businesses needs to be regulated with careful consideration before introduction into the community,” Bennett said.
For Smyrna, safety comes first and the city's action addressed and addresses the most immediate concerns, Bennett said.
“Though there may be study of guidelines or other actions specific to all scooters including personal ownership and operation on city streets, sidewalks and paths that may be considered by the council at a future date, the ordinance in place has no planned changes proposed, at present," she said.
Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin said the city decided to ban scooters so officials could evaluate how they’d best fit into the city and how to avert risk before allowing them in unregulated. He’d consider allowing scooters in if changes were made.
Flocks said police officers would never be able to properly enforce all the rules.
Instead, she suggested changes to the scooters, such as reflective paint, posts with tail lights in the back and speedometers. Making scooters unable to hold more than one passenger would also make them safer, she said.
But the Georgia community affairs manager for Lime scooters, Nima Daivari, said Lime scooters already have headlights, tail lights and are reflective.
“As far as infrastructure improvements, we would love to see more of those — more LIT lanes and more separation from traffic in the city of Atlanta,” Daivari said.
Lime scooters are already limited to moving at 15 miles per hour maximum, but Daivari didn’t have insight into the company’s future plans regarding hardware.
The Atlanta Police Department announced they were going to begin enforcing existing scooter laws in June. APD Public Affairs Director Carlos Campos said because e-scooters are still a relatively new mode of transport, they have really been focused on education.
The APD embarked on a public awareness campaign in June and created fliers emphasizing scooter safety that they have been distributing. They also created a video public service announcement shared on their social media channels.
“Right now, our goal is mostly to educate people. There are a lot of tourists and out-of-towners who are not aware of the laws, so we want to make sure we do as much education as possible before we enforce the laws in earnest,” Campos said. “If an officer sees someone violating the law, the scooter rider may be stopped and spoken to.”
The APD has issued some citations, but usually those have been in connection with something more egregious, such as riding the scooter recklessly or running into a pedestrian, Campos said.
“Most of our education and enforcement efforts have centered on Downtown and Midtown, where e-scooter use is the highest,” Campos said. “In those areas, officers have issued 256 warnings or citations; the vast majority of those have been warnings.”
The department has filed 25 e-scooter cases at the Municipal Court of Atlanta for violation of the scooter operation ordinance, according to court spokesperson Tialer Maxwell.
“Approximately 10 cases have been resolved, some by agreement with the city where the average fine per violation is $137.44 and some by dismissal by the city,” Maxwell said. “No cases have been brought to trial. Of the balance that remains, either the initial court date has yet to occur or the defendant did not appear in court on the set court date.”
Some people have expressed discontent with the nighttime scooter and e-bike ban Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made effective last Friday, which prohibits the devices from being rentable from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
The City of Atlanta has imposed a daily citywide No Ride Zone from 9:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. for electric scooters and E-Bikes. The nighttime ban is effective Friday, August 9, 2019. Click the link in our bio to learn more.
A post shared by City Of Atlanta (@cityofatlantaga) onAug 8, 2019 at 7:39am PDT
Some complain the ban places the blame on scooter rides instead of car drivers, and that it disproportionately affects night shift workers and those of lower income backgrounds.
“A big group of people that we had some concerns about are our third shift workers, retail workers, people who are finishing work at 9 p.m. and would like to get home in a low-cost way,” Daivari said. “Ponce City Market is a great example of a retail establishment that closes at 9 p.m. and it’s on the BeltLine. So it does provide a separate, safe way for people to get home after they finish their work at 9 or 9:30 p.m. but right now they don’t have that option.”
Lime considers the temporary ban on nighttime riding a reasonable measure but hopes that it’s a short pause.
The company recently partnered with Google Maps to help ease commuting by scooter in Atlanta, by making Lime scooters now visible in walking and biking tabs in the app.
On Android devices, users will be able to see if a Lime scooter is available, how long it will take to walk to the vehicle, a price estimate of the ride, battery range, total journey time and ETA, all within the Google Maps app. iOS availability will launch in late August.
"This integration will help Atlanta residents unlock an easy way to reduce commute times,” Daivari said. “At Lime, we believe in the gift of time and our scooters offer a low cost, convenient and emission-free way of cutting through congestion. Expanding our partnership with Google Maps will help Lime connect people to their destinations faster as micromobility continues to surge as a core part of the transportation ecosystem in and around Atlanta — to the tune of over 500,000 micromobility trips per month."
Bird Rides, Inc., said they are complying with Bottoms’ curfew, “As we all work together to explore long-term solutions that more effectively meet the needs of all transit users — in particular, those who require access to transportation in the evening hours.”
“Access to equitable transit options should not be restricted to residents based on their work or class schedule, and we look forward to partnering with the city on improving safety measures for all,” the company said in a statement.
The mayor's executive order paves the way for a plan for “changes to our streets creating safer, dedicated spaces for cyclists and scooter riders,” as well as a revised selection process that will allow the city to “choose a limited number of dockless vendors and enable the city to work in partnership with the selected vendors to run a safer, more orderly dockless system.”
The selection process is anticipated to be completed by February 2020.