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Posts tagged as “Bicycling and scooters”

Scooters coming to Durham, but questions linger

A scooter swarm will soon be coming to Durham.

After weeks of deliberations, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to regulate the use of motorized scooters Monday night. At least 100 Bird scooters will hit the streets once the company receives permits—although there could be more.

“It always depend on the size of city,” said Servando Esparza, senior manager of government relations for Bird. “Our deployments and growth are based on demand.”

Residents can “realistically” expect to be able to ride scooters in 2019, transportation planner Bryan Poole told the Durham Herald-Sun.

Many questions still have to be worked out, though.

Esparza couldn’t give a definitive answer on whether Bird would be able to accept Faith ID’s—identification for undocumented, Spanish-speaking residents, provided by

El Centro Hispano, a local Hispanic advocacy and social services organization.

That frustrated council member Mark-Anthony Middleton, who said he had pushed Bird representatives for an answer to that question during the council’s work session Oct. 4.

“This council was very concerned the accessibility of the scooters, and ID was one of those factors that could curtail access. A lot of people don’t have driver’s licenses,” Middleton said.

Esparza also said that he couldn’t give an estimate on when he would be able to provide the council with an answer. The ordinance does not have a requirement that permittees accept certain forms of identification.

“We have to continue to push vendors to make scooters as accessible as possible,” said council member Charlie Reece.

Companies will be required to drop a “sufficient number” of scooters within “low and moderate income areas…as defined in the permit.” The city will also require companies to accept diverse payment types, including methods for those without smartphones or credit cards.

There also had been controversy about whether scooters would be defined as mopeds under North Carolina law, but that was not resolved by the new ordinance.

Scooters may be deemed mopeds, which would require them to have license plates, lights and rearview mirrors. Bird and Lime bikes do not have rearview mirrors or license plates, but they do have lights.

The ordinance was changed to define the scooters as “‘vehicles’ (without reference to mopeds).”

However, it still requires the companies to “comply with applicable local, state and federal laws, including state equipment and registration requirements.”

Senior City Attorney Fred Lamar says that it is up to the state, not the city,  to regulate vehicle use on the roadways.

“We have not heard anything definitively from the DMV,” Lamar said. “There are lawyers that don’t think it’s a moped.”

The ordinance requires that riders wear helmets.

But it’s not clear how much the police will actually enforce that provision or any other aspect of the law. The police department said in a statement that it will “address violations of the law that present an obvious and immediate risk to public safety.

Addressing violations may entail notice to the Transportation Department so that it may pursue civil penalties against the business owners/operators,” the statement read

However, since scooter riders aren’t required to carry a license, the police department is limited in the type of citations it could issue. The statement continued, “ … the Police Department does not anticipate being the primary agent for the regulation of these devices.”

Although Durham’s ordinance only requires that scooter drivers be 16 years old, Bird’s policies require drivers to be 18 years old. The ordinance leaves the decision for any age requirement above 16 up to the company, Poole said—a policy Bird does not plan on changing, Esparza said, noting that in most cities, the age requirement is 18.  

The new ordinance also attempts to address the piles of scooters that may be left behind—something painfully familiar to what the city saw with Lime and Spin bikes. Companies will be required to move their scooters before they are parked in the same spot for 72 hours.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission noted in a Sept. 18 letter that the Transportation Department is planning to create designated parking spots for shared bikes and scooters.

The city will charge $1,000 for companies to apply for permits and will charge $100 per shared scooter that hits the streets. It also will charge $50 for electric-assisted bikes and $25 for bikes that aren’t blessed with electric assistance.

Analysis: Five lessons Durham can learn from other cities’ scooter mishaps

I was sitting a few rows away from Durham City Council member Charlie Reece when he recounted his trip to Raleigh to try out the Triangle’s newest transportation fad: It’s not light rail (sorry, Steve), but electric scooters.

He said the experience was “very instructive on both the promise and the peril of these devices,” and then urged the Council to postpone the vote on Durham’s scooter ordinance.

After covering scooters in Charlotte last summer, I couldn’t believe that Durham was joining the many cities stumped by the challenge of regulating scooters.

Companies such as Bird are releasing rental scooters in cities across the United States. Yet, it’s as if each city has to reinvent the wheel by passing its own scooter rules.

And the clock is ticking. Scooter companies have been known to deploy their fleets quickly before cities can enact regulations.

In Charlotte last spring, Lime was ordered to remove its scooters after their release. When Bird descended on Raleigh earlier this summer, lawmakers chose to let them operate while they scrambled to establish rules.

To avoid this Hitchcockian nightmare, Durham must now decide how to best navigate this seemingly lawless landscape. Based on my time writing about and occasionally riding Charlotte’s scooters, I have some suggestions for the city and Durham residents who are likely to see scooters on their streets and sidewalks very soon:

1. Are scooters street legal? 

Durham residents gave high marks to the first year of the dockless bike share program. But if there’s any indication that regulating bikes and scooters is getting hairier, it’s the name of the proposed ordinance: Shared Active Transportation.

The euphemism speaks to the complexity of regulating very different types of vehicles.

There’s also debate over whether or not scooters are a good fit for the city’s roads – and how they should be classified.

Under North Carolina law, electric scooters may be considered mopeds, which triggers certain requirements: The scooters must have lights, license plates, and rearview mirrors. Bird and Lime scooters have lights, but not license plates or rearview mirrors.

This makes it seem like either state law needs to change or the scooters need an upgrade.

Some believe the moped designation doesn’t apply to scooters. Shea Denning, professor of public law and government at UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote in a blog post that she doesn’t think the legislature or the Department of Transportation had stand-up scooters in mind when they created definitions for different types of vehicles, including mopeds.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation said, “It is unclear how state laws apply to electric scooters.” The statement also directs people to follow traffic laws and be aware of local ordinances.

Durham’s interpretation is that scooters fall into the moped category, according to Bryan Poole, a transportation planner with the city. So companies will need to show that they meet all of the moped requirements in the state law in order to receive a permit.

“Alternatively, the state law needs to change and/or the DMV needs to issue some type of interim guidance on how to classify electric scooters,” Poole said in an email.

2. Wear a helmet.

Whether they’re fleeing freezing office buildings or dressed up for a night on the town (which, in Charlotte, means brewery hopping), adults riding scooters is a common, though somewhat cringeworthy, sight.

But these two-wheelers aren’t like your beloved childhood Razor scooter; they accelerate quickly, topping out at 15 mph. And while it’s recommended that users wear helmets, few actually do.

Bird will mail a helmet to riders if people request one, but that doesn’t help you if your dinner reservation is in 20 minutes.

Durham’s proposed scooter ordinance does include specific direction on helmets: “Persons operating motorized scooters must be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet.”

If the ordinance passes, then it will be up to law enforcement to hold people accountable for wearing helmets.

California cities from Beverly Hills to San Diego have cracked down on scooter safety. Now, helmetless riders run the risk of getting a ticket and paying hundreds of dollars.

Instead, Durham could partner with local businesses to set out bins with helmets that riders can borrow. People who use and return the helmet could get a discount on their ride. (The idea is to improve safety without increasing ticketing, which often creates a financial burden for low-income members of the community who are intended to benefit from these transportation programs.)

3. Plan for parking.

The influx of dockless bikes turned Durham’s sidewalks into a jungle of discarded Lime and Spin bikes. Scooters may initially bring a similar surge, with people leaving them pretty much everywhere.

Luckily, as more people use the vehicles, they tend to disperse into neighborhoods, freeing up downtown. And Poole said he thinks people will adapt.

“We don’t think about all the cars parked in our downtown, but when we saw 100 bikes, it was all of a sudden a travesty,” Poole said.

However, there’s no question that if vehicles are discarded irresponsibly, they can create serious hazards, especially for people with disabilities.

With scooters coming, too, Durham is considering innovative ways to minimize parking problems. For instance, Poole proposed converting parking spaces for cars into areas designated for shared dockless bikes and scooters.

This could be a great solution. It’s also important to remember that scooters are charged overnight and then neatly parked the next morning, so they shouldn’t pile up.

4. Durham, don’t settle for less.

The scooter ordinance would hike fees for bike and scooter sharing to $100 per scooter, $50 per electric assist bike, and $25 per non-motorized bike.

Last year, the city only charged $10 per bike.

A Bird representative who spoke before the City Council complained that the fee is “one of the higher ones of all the cities we operate in.”

But, let’s face it, dockless bikes and scooters pose plenty of logistical challenges, and Durham should charge a fair price for the additional services it will need to provide. From city officials and police to attorneys and neighborhood improvement services, the bikes and scooters siphon time and resources away from other projects.

The revenue will help pay for administration as well as infrastructure for bikes and scooters, according to Poole.

The ordinance also streamlines data collection for the city. Last year, Durham had trouble obtaining data it requested from bike companies, making it difficult to enforce the requirement that 20 percent of bikes to be in certain census tracts at all times.

When Uber and Lyft debuted across the country, local governments were complacent about regulating the companies. One of the major consequences was that cities didn’t have access to data to help inform decisions about traffic and transportation infrastructure.

This data will help ensure that Durham isn’t in the dark, giving the city the tools to enforce equitable access to bikes and scooters.

5. Looking for a new side hustle?

Last summer, I wrote about people who make money from scooters while they sleep. They pick up scooters at the end of the day, charge them overnight, and return them the next morning.

And they make bank. Some earn $200 a night, for only a few hours of work.

The pay is good if you are able to charge many scooters a night, but as more people sign up to be chargers, the two-wheelers get harder to find.

(Photo by Elizabeth Rennie)

This story has been updated with new information based on a more recent version of the Shared Active Transportation ordinance that will be reviewed at the Durham City’s Council’s work session on October 4.

Cyclists worry that new Durham plan is just paint

The city of Durham is planning 10 miles of new bike lanes, but some cyclists are concerned the city is simply painting new lines and not providing them with enough protection.

“More bike lanes are going to incentivize new bikers, which is great, but many of them won’t be prepared for conflict zones,” said Landis Masnor, chair of Bike Durham, at a public meeting Saturday.

On posters at the meeting, Post-it notes were used to mark areas where cyclists want more protection.

Bike Durham is an advocacy group for affordable transportation and bicycle safety. The group sent several representatives to the meeting, which sought input on the proposed bike lanes.

“Our goal with this project is to fill out gaps in the network,” said Bryan Poole, a bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for the city. “We’re expecting bike advocates to come, look at our plans and tell us their personal concerns.”

Many cyclists said painted lines aren’t enough and that they were worried about the lack of physical barriers such as plants or poles separating them from cars. But Chris Allen, an engineer with Alta Planning & Design, a city consultant, said the funding for this particular project is limited to painting bike lanes.

“We’re using peoples’ input to decide where to cut back on street parking, to allow for a buffered bike lane and more space for bikers,” he said. “But we’re limited to the width of existing lanes.”

Cyclists at the meeting kept pointing out areas where they wanted some kind of divider to separate them from cars.

Masnor pointed out one stretch of road on Stadium Drive just south of Kirkwood Drive that forces bikers from their own lane onto a “sharrow,” a marking on the street that signals bikers and cars can share the lane.

“So you get used to biking protected in your own lane, and then suddenly it’s gone and you’re sharing the road with cars,” he said. “It’s incredibly dangerous.”

Studies have found that sharrows don’t necessarily reduce crashes, despite still being a popular and affordable choice for cities looking to improve their infrastructure.

“More people are riding bikes in Durham. We need to be asking, is bad infrastructure going to cost people’s lives?” said David Bradway, a devoted cyclist and member of Bike Durham.

Bradway bikes daily from his home to Duke University’s campus with his daughter, and he is concerned about how well Duke and the city of Durham address bikers’ safety.

City officials say they are trying. Last year, the City Council adopted the Vision Zero Durham Resolution, a “commitment to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries on Durham roadways.”