Scooters confined to special lanes found much safer than sidewalk usage.
By Jim Bleyer
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of a bill greenlighting e-scooters in bicycle lanes will mitigate certain safety concerns and issues with the elderly, disabled, and toddlers that populate Florida’s urban sidewalks.
The new law, along with the horrifying short history of e-scooter deaths and injuries throughout the country, will help municipal governments regulate the world’s most recent transportation fad. Prior to the legislation, scooters were restricted to narrow, congested sidewalks and crosswalks increasing the hazard for riders as well as pedestrians.
Two days after Tampa Bay Beat ran a June story about e-scooter safety concerns in Tampa, a collision with a semi-truck there claimed the life of a 33-year-old male rider. He was not wearing a helmet and a subsequent obituary said at the time of his death, the victim was engaged to be married and was working as an accountant in Tampa.
There are no regulations anywhere in Florida requiring helmets for scooter riders. A consensus of law enforcement and health care agencies estimate fewer than five percent of riders wear helmets.
E-scooter deaths have also garnered international attention. Famous You Tube personality Emily Hartridge, 35, became the first reported fatality involving an e-scooter in Britain last Friday when she collided with a truck.
The British government is in the process of reviewing laws and public education campaigns around ridership and scooter companies.
Proponents of the fad including the scooter rental firm themselves cynically note that per capita deaths are higher with automobiles. But scooters overwhelmingly are ridden in downtown cores where slower vehicular speeds predominate. Injuries are another matter, even as scooter mishaps are underreported.
Tampa, ignoring the negative experience of many cities, rushed headlong into the scooter business partnering with four rental companies. Officials there seemed more preoccupied with scooters not being returned and left to clutter sidewalks than with safety issues.
Last month, Calvin Thornton, bicycle and pedestrian engineer in the City of Tampa Traffic Department, predicted the allowing of scooters in bike lanes will improve safety. He pointed to improving technology and rider experience as other factors in accident prevention.
But Tampa’s matter-of-fact attitude in fixing the mess with tighter regulation has cost one life and countless injuries. Sadly, there will be more. The city council is scheduled to look at the scooter controversy in August.
In contrast, St. Petersburg has been treading cautiously. Mayor Rick Kriseman reportedly was unequivocally opposed to instituting a scooter program unless the dockless, shareable two-wheelers were permitted in bicycle lanes. Now with the DeSanrtis signoff, St. Pete has scheduled a scooter agenda item for July 25.
St. Pete Councilperson Gina Driscoll said the new law is helpful but safety and liability issues remain and must be solved. The scooter rental firms need to accept some responsibilities if the city takes on the project.
”More detailed information and counsel from our city attorney are the keys to if and how St. Petersburg sets up a scooter program,” she told Tampa Bay Beat. “We can learn from the experiences in Tampa and other U.S. cities.”
The City of Clearwater adopted a wait-and-see policy as it looked across the bay at Tampa experience. Officials there have indicated a revisiting of the issue with the relaxed state law.
The City of Miami, cautious as well, is in the midst of a six-month e-scooter pilot program. Interestingly, the program occurs only in the council district of the one member enthusiastic about scooters.
Miami residents so far have mixed reactions: some like the convenience while others are concerned about safety. The scooter companies are fined for every abandoned scooter that causes clutter and must be relocated. Tampa has no such penalty.
Some cities that yearn to attract Millennials believe a scooter program is alluring as that demographic typically fits the rider profile. Driscoll begs to differ: jobs and housing are more critical criteria than a provenly dangerous recreational fad.
The new law by no means is foolproof. Safety, liability, and clutter issues still abound. But the state’s prodigious senior and disabled populations can breathe somewhat easier.