Riding an electric scooter on the sidewalk is one of the easiest laws to break in Denver. Despite a new ordinance that makes it illegal to ride the machines on most city sidewalks, anyone who has spent extended time downtown recently knows the restriction has done little to prevent such behavior.
In fact, when we asked the Denver Police Department (DPD) how many tickets officers have written to people who scooter on sidewalks, a court administrator noted that zero citations have been filed in Denver County Court for such a violation. According to Doug Schepman, a DPD media relations specialist, officers at this time are concentrated on educating riders: “In other words,” he wrote via email, “contacting riders and discussing safe/legal operation.”
Electric scooters first appeared in Denver about a year ago, when companies like Lime and Bird dropped their products on the city streets with little or no warning, prompting city officials to halt their operations temporarily. When the scooters returned in July, they did so under stricter regulations as part of a one-year Dockless Mobility Pilot Program created by Denver Public Works (DPW).
But because certain issues persisted—such as users riding on sidewalks—Denver City Council drafted its own ordinance (which passed unanimously January 7) that requires the machines to be ridden in bike lanes or on roads rather than on sidewalks in most parts of the city—making Denver’s law similar to most other major American cities with e-scooters.
At the time, although the ordinance was hailed as the right step in managing the future of mobility and protecting pedestrians, it was still unclear if and how it would be enforced. Councilman Paul Kashmann (District 6), who co-sponsored the bill in January, said at the time he and other City Council members would closely watch the situation to see how the ordinance would impact city infrastructure.
When we spoke with Kashmann this week, he indicated that while he’s aware scooters are on still on sidewalks, he’s being patient and continuing to monitor how education efforts are working. He also noted that scooters and bicycles are both difficult to police because they often don’t use traditional rights-of-way and don’t lend themselves to typical means of enforcement. “I think it’s the nature of the beast,” Kashmann says. “We’re new into this world. And it’s going to take a while for us to work these potentially valuable means of travel into our transportation system in a way that truly complements it.”
Kashmann says if the problem persists he’ll explore several ways of addressing it, including having discussions with the operating companies about their responsibility to educate riders, and by inviting DPW and DPD to City Council’s safety committee to present on the matter.
Likewise, District 5 Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman, who sponsored the ordinance with Kashmann, says she will consider having DPW and DPD come before the City Council’s Land Use, Transportation, and Infrastructure Committee, which she chairs. When Susman learned about the lack of citations, she inquired with DPD and was also told that officers are focused on education for now, which she thinks is probably the right course for the time being. “It seems fair,” she says, “to let people know there’s a new traffic rule they may not have known about.”
Heather Burke, a public information specialist for DPW, provided the following statement to 5280: “Denver Police are authorized to write tickets if they see bad riding behavior or if a situation requires a citation (such as a crash). However, throughout the pilot, Denver Public Works has been focusing on education, as this new form of transportation has a learning curve. Denver Public Works will continue collaborating with Denver Police, and, as the pilot wraps up later this summer, we’ll be discussing the enforcement approach should there be an ongoing program after August 1.”
While no one has yet been ticketed on a scooter in Denver, the lack of enforcement is in line with the way officers have policed sidewalks in the past. According to an anonymous police office who spoke with 5280 last summer, it is extremely rare for cyclists to be ticketed on sidewalks, particularly because the streets and bike lanes are not always safe places for people to ride.
It’s still unclear if and when officers might begin ticketing scooter riders, but Schepman noted that the education efforts will be the main enforcement strategy for the near future.