Salt Lake City mayoral candidates say they want scooters off the sidewalks

Both candidates running for Salt Lake City mayor said Wednesday that they support increased enforcement to keep dockless e-scooters that dropped on city streets last summer off the sidewalks.

Their comments come as leaders in the capital city threaten to crack down on companies that don’t do enough to reduce the number of users riding on sidewalks and as downtown pedestrians — some of whom have horror stories about nearly being run over by scooters whizzing past — call for more rules for the use of e-scooters.

“Salt Lake City must prioritize the safety of pedestrians,” City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall declared Wednesday at a debate hosted at the downtown library that focused on issues related to small businesses.

As the city works to create a formal ordinance regulating the devices, Mendenhall said the city has the opportunity to look at the work municipalities in other states have done to enforce sidewalk bans.

Among the ideas she mentioned was using technology akin to cameras that automatically send drivers tickets when they run red lights. Instead, these cameras would take pictures of a person riding a scooter on the sidewalk and would “instantly” charge the vendor a fee, which it could then collect from the user based on the identification tag on the device.

State Sen. Luz Escamilla, who has said safety would be a hallmark of her transportation policies if elected mayor, said pedestrian safety is “critical.” She has in past debates called for increased education efforts to inform people about sidewalk ridership bans and for ways to ensure scooter companies are providing maintenance of the devices to protect people from possible malfunctions and crashes.

“We’re seeing a lot more usage of the emergency room because more crashes are happening,” she said Wednesday.

When it comes to scooters, sidewalk riding has been the biggest problem in Salt Lake City, leading to several injuries and contributing to a 160% spike in emergency room visits involving e-scooters this past fall. Wounds range from broken noses, wrists and shoulders to facial lacerations, fractures and blunt head trauma.

A recent survey conducted by Lime, one of the dockless e-scooter vendors, found most of the people on the sidewalk are there because they fear even greater injuries riding next to fast-moving cars, and that the best way to solve the problem would be through the creation of more bike lanes.

Both Escamilla and Mendenhall said at a debate hosted by The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this month that they’ve ridden scooters at least once.

Wednesday’s debate, hosted by the Utah Independent Business Coalition, tackled a range of issues affecting small businesses but veered more than once into transportation.

That’s because, Mendenhall argued, expanded transit and dockless mobility options not only get people out of their cars — reducing air pollution as a result — but also help support local businesses.

“When people go to shop at small businesses, our tax revenue goes up,” she said. “We spend more money when we’re walking — and when we’re walking, we’re out of our cars and that’s a good thing, too. So locating transit and transit expansion is one of the big things and appropriate things for Salt Lake City to lead on.”

The candidate said Wednesday that she wants to expand the HIVE pass in Salt Lake City to small- and medium-sized businesses and startups and to offer it regardless of where residents live. That pass, which offers access to regular buses, TRAX and the S-Line streetcar in Sugar House as well as a one-year GREENbike membership, is available only to Salt Lake City residents.

Both candidates also have expressed support for creating a free-fare transit system across the city.

Escamilla, who lives in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood, agreed Wednesday that the city needs to expand its transportation offerings, noting that the current landscape looks “very different” in different parts of the city, such as on the west side.

She also wants to create a program for small businesses that would help subsidize “better green equipment” for their organizations. Emissions from buildings account for nearly 40% of the air pollution hanging over the Salt Lake Valley during its winter inversions, according to some estimates, but Escamilla noted that it’s not always easy for small businesses to purchase upgrades that could reduce that impact.

“As a small business owner, even if you are interested in buying that new piece of equipment that can help — from a furnace to other equipment — it’s really a $10,000 investment that you may not have,” she said.

During the debate, Escamilla pointed out that she is a small business owner and understands the challenges others face. She and her husband run a company with two other owners called Huercasa USA, which distributes products in the United States, Mexico and Canada in partnership with a Spain-based vegetable product group.