It’s been a frustrating seven months for pedestrians. When electric scooters arrived in Denver last spring, a bizarre state law deemed them “toy vehicles,” and therefore they were required to be ridden only on city sidewalks where they encountered unsuspecting pedestrians. That rule is changing this week, as Denver City Council voted Monday night to approve an ordinance allowing “electric mobility scooters” (EMS) to operate in bike lanes or roadways and will remove them from sidewalks in most areas of the city.
City council voted 13-0 to approve the new law, which formally mandates scooters be ridden in bike lanes or in the street on roads where the speed limit is 30 mph or less. Only in situations where there is no bike lane and the speed limit is higher than 30 mph may an EMS be ridden on a sidewalk. The ordinance also makes it illegal to ride a scooter on the 16th Street Mall, and no scooter may carry more than one person at a time. The ordinance will go into effect after Mayor Michael Hancock signs the bill this week.
“We just started getting all these concerns and worries about [scooters on sidewalks],” says Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman (District 5), who co-sponsored the bill and is the chair of the Land Use, Transportation, and Infrastructure Committee. Susman says she recognized the need to get the scooters off the sidewalks this past fall, and teamed up with Councilman Paul Kashmann (District 6), who co-sponsored the ordinance, to draft the bill.
Susman and Kashmann consulted the City Attorney’s Office and Denver Public Works to make the ordinance similar to what has been done in most other cities where electric scooters launched last year. Until Monday night, Denver was among the only cities in the country that mandated scooters be operated on the sidewalks.
“This brings Denver up to speed with scooter cities around the country like Washington D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles,” says Piep van Heuven, policy director at Bicycle Colorado. “It’s a sensible law that will make it easy for everyone to understand the rules, and give riders the opportunity get around efficiently and effectively.”
Given the ongoing impact of scooters on the sidewalks, Susman and Kashmann moved quickly to draft the new ordinance. “I think we moved responsibly,” Kashmann says. “We don’t have the infrastructure, but we’re slowly trying to build that out.”
Kashmann notes that he still has concerns about the scooters. In particular, he says he was “cranky” when companies like Lime and Bird dropped their product in Denver with little or no warning. He also worries that even with the new ordinance, Denver isn’t equipped to handle the new transportation method. “It’s not ideal. We’re not set up for scooters,” he says. “We’re barely set up for bicycles.” Still, he believes that this ordinance will be safer, at least for pedestrians.
The new ordinance still leaves a few questions unanswered. According to Kashmann, Denver Parks and Recreation asked city council not to legislate scooter activity in parks. Parks and Recreation is planning its own comprehensive approach, so for the time being, scooters are not allowed to operate on park-maintained routes like the Cherry Creek Bike Trail. Moreover, the new ordinance does not change the state law broadly and will only apply to the city and county of Denver. Susman noted that the state legislature now has an opportunity to revise its own law and accommodate scooter use on a statewide level.
It’s also unclear how the city and the scooter companies will educate the public about the new law. Since the scooters arrived in Denver, users have consistently been riding on park trails, on streets, and in bike lanes despite efforts to prevent such behavior. Kashmann says the city will work with the scooter companies on a new education campaign, though it’s unclear if and when people will stop riding on sidewalks.
The long-term future of electric scooters in Denver is yet to be determined. Last summer, Denver Public Works (DPW) instituted a Dockless Mobility Pilot Program, under which five companies are allowed to operate fleets of 350 scooters, capping the total number to 1,750 in the city. The pilot program expires next summer, at which point DPW will reevaluate the situation.
But until then, the scooters are leaving the sidewalks—or at least that’s the hope. “We’ll keep our eye on scooters,” Kashmann says. “We’ll see how this law works and keep our eye on what develops.”