Finally, Denver kicks e-scooters to the street — but will that really solve anything?

Finally, Denver kicks e-scooters to the street — but will that really solve anything?

Just because it's a law doesn't mean Denver will enforce it...

CultureAugust 27, 2019 By Will Brendza

If you spend time in Denver you’ve probably had at least one close call with an e-scooter on the sidewalk.

It usually goes one of two ways: sometimes (rarely) the e-scooter pilot will give you a heads up from a respectable distance, “On your left,” they’ll warn, before slowing down and passing by.

More often than not, though, there is no warning. The e-scooter will simply buzz past with inches to spare, flying at the speed of street traffic, the rider dodging you and others on foot like slalom poles as they zap along the sidewalk.

Some 60-percent of Denver residents say they’ve been involved with an e-scooter crash or near-miss incident.

That has caused some problems for the City of Denver. Last December, for instance, a Denver man was slapped in the head for telling an e-scooter rider he needed to get in the bike lane. That very confrontation sparked a debate in the city, about whether or not e-scooters were street or sidewalk vehicles, and they’ve been debating ever since.

Well, finally, after nine months of discussion, it seems that the Denver City Council has put this issue to bed (at least, as far as they’re concerned). On Monday night they voted to banish e-scooters from the sidewalks entirely, forever sequestering them to the streets and the bicycle lanes of the city.

But will The City actually enforce this new rule? Or is it more of a gesture on their part?

Based on rider behavior observed and feedback received through Denver’s Dockless Mobility Pilot Permit Program, Denver Public Works made an ordinance change recommendation ... to prohibit electric scooters on sidewalks,” said Denver Public Works spokeswoman Heather Burke in a news release.

Which probably should have been done months ago. These e-scooters showed up in Denver back in late May of 2018, without warning or permission: they simply materialized one day; appeared by the hundreds, on the streets out of nowhere. Suddenly Denver had a new form of transportation to deal with, one without any rules or regulations governing it.

That was a challenge. But it was also well over a year ago, now. Over which time, e-scooter riders have become more abundant and accustomed to blazing down the sidewalks, buzzing by anyone who is in their way. Slapping anyone who reproaches them. Today there are 2,840 commercial dockless scooters in Denver. And only now, in late August of 2019, has the City Council made up its mind to actually do something about the question of whether scooters should be allowed on sidewalks.

Such is the speed of bureaucratic progress.

Regardless, now, e-scooter riders are expected to follow all the same rules as bicyclists and must ride in designated bike lanes or in the street. Officers of the law now have the authority to stop and ticket anyone breaking those rules.

Which isn’t an implicitly good thing… The officers of Denver PD don’t need any more power to write tickets, they don’t need any more excuses to stop people on the street. Giving police another chance to squeeze the public is not something I tend to support.

But in this case, it seems rational to kick e-scooters to the street. If bicycles are banned from riding on the sidewalks, why shouldn’t these be too? 

Will banning e-scooters from sidewalks make Denver safer? No one really knows. And if they tell you they do, they're lying; just earlier this month Denver saw its first e-scooter fatality, when a rider was t-boned by a vehicle in an intersection. So, it’s a double-edged sword: this new law makes foot traffic safer on sidewalks, but is riskier for e-scooter riders in street traffic.  

Clearly there is still a lot to figure out when it comes to e-scooters, their right of way and how they fit into the city-traffic-scape. They’re such a recent mode of transportation, our laws haven’t quite kept up, and now we’re locked in a vortex of trial and error.

But the kinks are getting worked out. (If very slowly.)