Scooters: Awesome or Dangerous?

[NOTE: There is an ordinance is scheduled to be heard by the Public Works Committee tonight (June 28th), then potentially at the Full Council meeting July 16th. I have not yet seen a final draft of the document.]

As the Council wrestles with the sudden influx of dockless scooters and the surrounding public concern, I thought I’d share a few of my constituent emails on the subject. I have received well over 150 emails in the past week since the scooters arrived in my district on Saturday morning. So far, about 70% are expressing concern and/or championing regulation or a ban, and 30% expressing support and/or no regulation. Most individuals emailing me with concerns live in my district, whereas many who have reached out in support live in other districts.

Should Indianapolis to be a true multi-modal city with as many viable transportation and commuting options as possible? YES. Besides, these scooters look fun. Really fun! Here’s the deal: safety has to be considered as a top priority. So far, I have deep safety concerns.  In less than a week, I have witnessed dozens of scooter users riding on sidewalks and trails, going way too fast in crowded pedestrian paths, parking scooters in the right of way blocking entrances, driveways, sidewalks, etc. I came home Sunday night to two several scooters splayed out in front of my driveway, grateful I didn’t crash my bike into them. It’s been chaotic at best.

It’s going to be up to the City to deal with these issues. The LimeBike app clearly states that helmets should be worn, scooters can only be ridden on streets (using bike lanes whenever possible), and that scooters should be parked with care near bike racks or otherwise out of the way. While I recognize that there is a learning curve to any new initiative, the frequency of violating these policies is a serious concern. I’m confident that the companies won’t face any liability for users who don’t follow the law. 

I am also concerned about IMPD’s ability to enforce existing laws (like the prohibition of motorized vehicles on trails and sidewalks) while they clearly have their hands full with crime around the city during the busy summer months. I will have the same concerns about any ordinance changes; enforcement is an issue we must consider in the context of the rest of our public safety needs.

Two things: 1) I would love more constituent feedback 2) I will remain focused on public safety. Here are some emails for your consideration: 

CONCERN: “I heard on the news the new scooters were going to be discussed by the council soon.  We live in Broad Ripple and were out in the village and around downtown and Mass Ave on Saturday and these things are just the worst. They are all over the sidewalk like trash and have no businesses being used on the sidewalks– they go way to fast. They are just litter on our sidewalks basically and honestly we’re already unhealthy enough. Can we not walk a few blocks? I’d love to see them banned.” -C.L. (District 2)

SUPPORT: “I’m writing you today to request that you do nothing to regulate the Bird (scooter program) in our city.  This mode of transportation will allow downtown workers, including me, quicker access to the outlying neighborhoods in our great city.  For example, it is a 30 minute walk to Fountain Square, but on a scooter it is only 10 minutes.  Because of this time constraint I can rarely get to Fountain Square (or other neighborhoods).  I am excited about the possibility of exploring other neighborhoods now.  Please, do not regulate these things, and at the very least do not ban them like other cities. Let’s be different and better and keep our communities connected and our young people engaged. Thank you for you time.” -S.H. (District 2)

CONCERN: “This email is in regards to motorized vehicles on the greenways despite posted signs saying non-motorized vehicles only. See attached picture from the Monon.

The motorized scooters from Lime and Bird obviously do not meet the definition of non-motorized vehicles. As Bird refused to cease and desist after the city asked them to, they have demonstrated their unwillingness to comply with the rules.

Yesterday on the very crowded stretch of the Monon between 52nd and 54th, at least 5 people rode by me on Lime scooters. I also saw two of their scooters parked down by the fairgrounds. I think non-motorized is clear. The city council needs to make it clear that non-motorized vehicles are not permitted on the greenways and then enforce the rule. If they do not they’re opening the door for more motorized vehicles to the point where the greenways become paths  for golf carts, mopeds and other motorized vehicles, thus destroying the whole idea of a greenway.  We have a good thing going with our greenways. Let’s not ruin them. -T.D.

I know the City County Council is going to be addressing the influx of motorized scooters soon (thank you). Here’s my perspective… My husband and I spent a few hours downtown riding bikes on an Active Indy Tour on Saturday. Our route took us all over the city via roads and mostly the Cultural Trail.

 My observations/requests: 

– Did the scooter companies have permits to place scooters randomly across the City? We observed scooters everywhere, including lone scooters dropped wherever the rider happened to finish a ride. They need to have the same permits as any other vendor wanting to use that public space. And they need to be docked… not littering and obstructing pedestrian thoroughfares.

– I observed scooters being ridden on sidewalks, the middle of the street, the Cultural Trail, and the Canal. Unfortunately scooters weren’t a good fit for any of them. They are too fast for areas where pedestrians are, and too slow for the streets. 

– The folks riding the scooters did not observe signals, stop signs, etc. They wore no helmets.

I imagine that the scooter companies’ strategy is to drop them now and apologize later, hoping that by the time the City responds, there will be rider outcry and the scooters will be allowed to stay. Meanwhile, will pedestrians and recreational cyclists be deterred from walking/riding on the Canal and the Cultural Trail? While I’m open minded to alternative transportation options, the scooters seem altogether unsafe, especially as they barrel through narrow sidewalks full of pedestrians. I’d like to see them banned outright because I doubt the companies will reduce their max speeds, and I doubt our public safety folks have the resources to enforce laws related to where they can be used. If they did have those resources, I’d like to see more cycling and motorist violations ticketed! Thanks for listening and for all of your hard work on the Council!” -M.H. (District 2)

SUPPORT: “​I am writing to express my deep concern about the City’s attempt to impede the launch of Bird Scooters, an affordable, convenient, environmentally friendly, alternative mode of transportation.  

The Indianapolis Star reported, in an article titled “Bird scooters still on streets after Indianapolis asks for service suspension,”  (June 19, 2018 electronic version of the Indianapolis Star) that Indianapolis’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services requested Bird Rides, Inc. suspend operations in Indianapolis for 30 days due to “a number of public safety, legal, and regulatory Concerns” that have been raised by neighborhood groups, local business owners, and the Office of Corporation Counsel.   Additionally, the article also noted that the City-County Council introduced an ordinance on April 9th to “prohibit dockless bicycle share or hire programs in public rights-of-way.”  I understand that this ordinance is currently scheduled to be considered by the Public Works Committee on June 28th and the full Council on July 16th. 

I am deeply concerned that the actions by the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services and the proposed ordinance to be considered by the City Council sends the wrong signal to both businesses and residents in Indianapolis and will ultimately discourage the development as well as use of non-automobile forms of transportation like Bird Scooters in Indianapolis.  

As you are aware, Indianapolis has actively worked hard with not-for-profit partners to encourage multi-modal transportation.  The city has created miles of new bike lanes to encourage biking.  Indianapolis YMCA created the Indy Bike Hub at City Market to encourage and facilitate bike commuting.  Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Inc., and the City created the  PacersBike Share program and is expanding the number of bikes and bike share stations around town.  And now, the city is investing in a Red Line transit service between Broad Ripple and the University of Indianapolis. All of these initiatives will help reduce traffic congestion, increase the use of mass transit, improve air quality, and encourage Indianapolis residents to pursue an active and healthy life style and enjoy outdoor amenities such as the cultural trail.  I would ask the City and the City Council to consider the Bird Scooter service an integral part of this effort.  

While the Bird model for parking and pickup is unusual in Indianapolis, it is employed extensively in bike share programs in the rest of the country.  In Washington, DC, for example, five companies offer bike sharing services.  Three of those  services,  Mobike,  LimeBike, and Spin operate dockless systems and allow users to leave bikes at any spot around the city.  Dockless bike sharing systems also operate in cities such as Ithaca, N.Y., San Diego, California, Durham, North Carolina, and Minnesota’s twin cities.  Each of these cities has successfully addressed concerns about sidewalk ‘clutter,’ parking on curb cuts, and in the way of pedestrian or auto traffic without passing overly restrictive ordinances or requiring the businesses to cease operation.  

Please table the proposed ordinance concerning dockless bike share programs and instead work with representatives of Bird Rides, Inc., to study and implement practices employed in other cities that will encourage users to park dockless vehicles appropriately.  

Indianapolis has worked hard to create a vibrant downtown that will attract a young millennial generation of highly skilled workers.  An alternative transportation network is an important part of that effort.  Please do not shut down the entrepreneurial efforts underway in this city to expand that network through an unnecessarily restrictive regulatory scheme.  

I look forward to hearing from you regarding your position on this issue.” -B.P. (no district mentioned)