The Salt Lake City Council received a briefing Tuesday on new e-scooter rules that would set stricter limitations on where the devices can be parked but that create few new standards to reduce sidewalk ridership.
The proposed ordinance, which is subject to approval by the City Council, “clearly puts it into city law where they can and can’t be ridden,” according to Jon Larsen, Salt Lake City’s transportation director. It would bind riders to all laws that apply to bicycles and prohibit them from riding on any sidewalk where bicycles aren’t allowed.
But the suggested rules don’t go so far as to create mandatory slow zones or scooter-free areas in high-traffic pedestrian areas, as the city’s transportation department has threatened.
Those restrictions aren’t necessarily off the table, Larsen said, but would be better handled by city administration rather than the council.
The ordinance would also allow the mayor’s office to determine the number of companies that can be awarded a contract, after the city said earlier this year it was considering a process to limit operations to one or two vendors rather than the four that are currently within the city.
That process, combined with restrictions in vendor agreements, is “really where the rubber is going to hit the road as far as putting things into action” to prevent sidewalk ridership, Larsen said.
Scooter companies have lauded the many benefits of their devices, which they see as a way to bridge people’s first and last mile of transportation, encouraging them to get out of their cars and onto public transit and thereby reducing traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.
But the relationship between pedestrians and scooter users on the sidewalk has presented the biggest challenge with the new dockless technology in Salt Lake City, leading to an increase in emergency room visits for both pedestrians and riders.
“To say some people are having a concern about dockless scooters is very mild,” Salt Lake City Councilman Chris Wharton said Tuesday. “People have very strong feelings about dockless scooters, at least from what I’ve been hearing in terms of safety concerns.”
A recent survey conducted by Lime, one of four e-scooter companies currently operating within the city, found that the primary reason users say they’re not on the streets is because they fear for their safety riding next to fast-moving cars.
“It’s not about the sidewalk being desirable,” Salt Lake City Councilman Andrew Johnston said Tuesday night, advocating for increased investment to support multiple modes of transportation. “The street is not desirable.”
But the city has to also balance the safety of pedestrians, as Larsen noted that he’s heard from many “octogenarians” and others who are concerned about being hit by a fast-moving and quiet scooter.
“If you break a hip, you’re done, right? And so that’s a very real fear for them,” he said.
Salt Lake City Councilwoman and Mayor-elect Erin Mendenhall said Tuesday that ensuring pedestrian safety is her No. 1 concern moving forward on the ordinance — though she may not have time to weigh in on the issue before her move into the city administration next year.
“The priority is 100% for me about protecting the pedestrian environment that we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create in Salt Lake City and we are still investing in prioritizing pedestrians over the built environment for cars,” she said. “In no way do I want to compromise the pedestrian safety in Salt Lake City for the sake of scooters.”
To improve the pedestrian experience, Mendenhall suggested looking at cities “that are a few scooter strides ahead of us.”
One idea she mentioned to improve the pedestrian experience is using technology akin to cameras that automatically send tickets to drivers of cars when they run red lights. Instead, these cameras — which she said she would like the vendors to pay for — would take pictures of a person riding a scooter on the sidewalk and would charge the scooter company a fee, which it could then collect from the user based on the identification tag on the device.
Mendenhall also advocated Tuesday for dockless parking options and creation of a new transportation master plan that would take new technology like e-scooters into account.
Proposed parking requirements in the ordinance include a provision that any scooter not in use “must be secured to a permitted dock, rack or corral” or otherwise placed to not interfere with the free flow of pedestrian traffic. The rules state that the scooters should not be left in a vehicle travel lane or vehicle parking space, or impede accessibility.
The ordinance also proposes requiring vendors to have users take photos of the parked scooter to ensure they are left in accordance with the city’s restrictions.
Scooters left in violation of the requirements may be “relocated or impounded at the motor assisted scooter owner’s expense," the ordinance states.
Since the scooters dropped on Salt Lake City streets last year, the dockless vendors have been regulated under a temporary operating agreement that, among other things, puts limits on where scooters can be left and how many can be dropped in city boundaries.
The city has created an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to solicit feedback about the scooters and has sponsored educational campaigns to keep people off the sidewalks. Several of the scooter companies have also been working on efforts to keep scooter users on the roads following the city’s warning of a future crackdown by launching patrol programs and in-app notifications to remind people of the rules.
While Larsen said he’s heard many concerns, it hasn’t all been bad. The city has received positive feedback about the flexibility and options for shared mobility the scooters provide and they’re seen as a fun way to get around the city, he said.
Larsen told the City Council Tuesday that he would take its feedback into consideration to improve the ordinance, including looking at ways to mitigate the financial impact the scooters have on city streets and what could be done to increase the application of scooter rules.
The city is soliciting feedback on its proposed ordinance at slc.gov/transportation/sharedmobility.