Those zingy electric scooters you may have spotted on sidewalks and streets look like fun.
Until one of them zips up behind you at 15 mph and nearly clips you.
Or until one cuts across two lanes of heavy traffic in a nonchalant, I-own-the-road gesture of defiance.
Electric scooters and their daredevil cousins, motorized skateboards, now join the ongoing joust between motorists, pedestrians, bikers, skaters and everyone else claiming a slice of sidewalk or street.
Swarms of these powered scooters have suddenly appeared in many cities via rental companies. A scooter typically rents for an initial $1, and then costs 15 cents a minute to ride — good for a crosstown jaunt. The scooters are supposed to be properly parked and the company is supposed to collect them overnight to make them ready for the next day.
The machines inspire a loyal cadre of scooterati — and a knot of critics who complain about hot-rodding drivers and the nuisance of stepping over scooters left splayed on sidewalks after rental periods end.
As the Washington Post observed: “The gentlemen scooting coolly across our city streets and sidewalks at 15 miles an hour, the wind gently flapping their ties and tousling their hair, are indifferent to your angry glares. They’re unbothered by your #scootersbehavingbadly tweets, and the cyclists hollering at them in the bike lanes, and the pedestrians who leap in front of them — not the wisest move, really — to shout, “You’re going to hurt somebody!” Nothing fazes the scooter bros.”
No, we’re not giddy about adding traffic to already-clotted city streets and sidewalks. Many pedestrians already maneuver around oblivious bike riders who aren’t supposed to be on the sidewalks and roller-skaters who dance across sidewalks as if they’re performing in a Disney musical. The walking hordes don’t expect, nor should they, kamikaze scooter pilots bearing down on them.
But this isn’t a you-kids-get-off-my-lawn! screed. People need cheap, fast, fun ways to get around the city. That’s why bike-sharing Divvy and its competitors are popular. Motorized scooters for rent could help commuters save time, and keep cars off the streets.
But the scooters often bring legal and regulatory kinks to be worked out. Officials in Milwaukee, San Francisco and elsewhere are scrambling to figure out how to deal with a sudden influx of scooters. Milwaukee, for example, is battling scooter rental firm Bird Rides Inc. in federal court. City officials argue that the scooters are illegal under current law. Bird’s response? Let’s just say the company is aptly named.
We don’t know when or if the scooters will descend like cicadas on Chicago. But it’s not too soon to think about some scooter-specific safety rules.
“Generally, if an item is motorized, the user must have a driver’s license and it must be used in the street,” according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. “If it’s not motorized it must be used on the sidewalk, except for skateboards, which may not be used in the Central Business District. Motorized scooters may not be used in a bike lane.”
Short version: If it isn’t powered by feet, take it to the street. Does that work for motorized scooters? We’re not sure.
Most of us are in a hurry to get somewhere — and all of us seek to avoid a trip to the ER. Happy trails, everyone.