Lyft and Lime scooters arent supposed to ride on sidewalks, Denver residents say city doesnt enforce rules
Electric scooters are set up to be micro-mobility dream machines. The dockless vehicles, accessible with a few taps on a smartphone, provide a convenient, affordable option for commuters, tourists and others cover the last mile between transit stops and their destinations.
In downtown Denver, they can also be the source of nightmares. Downtown residents and City Councilman Chris Hinds are looking at ways to deliver a wake-up call including possibly commanding scooter companies to clamp down on where and how fast scooters can scoot in the urban core.
“Great idea. Really poor execution,” LoDo resident Robin Finegan of the two-wheeled vehicles that can cruise at 15 mph. “It happens at least once a week where I come so close to either being hit or my dog being hit. We’re being terrorized down here. Just terrorized.”
Finegan, the chair of the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association’s pedestrian safety committee, is not alone in seeing scooters as a scourge when they’re buzzing down busy sidewalks in violation of city ordinance.
Chris Nicholson lives near the intersection of 17th and Champa streets on the eastern end of downtown and says he has to look both ways when stepping out the front door of his building onto the sidewalk to ensure he won’t be run over.
“You can absolutely go to the emergency room getting knocked over by people on a scooter going full speed,” Nicholson said. “There’s a certain level of safety that one assumes when they’re on the sidewalks. We have given that away.”
Both Nicholson and Finegan have been in touch with Hinds, whose council district includes the downtown adjacent neighborhoods of Civic Center Capitol Hill, and North Capitol Hill, or Uptown. Hinds uses a wheelchair and says he sometimes feels unsafe when scooter riders pass him on the sidewalk.
“There are some folks that are more sensitive of pedestrians than others,” Hinds said. “There are also certainly some folks who go the maximum speed on the sidewalk and don’t care about anyone else who might be on the sidewalk.”
Over the last few weeks, Hinds has been gathering feedback from constituents and information from city agencies and medical care providers about the impact of scooters.
In a recent email exchange with officials from Denver Health Medical Center — just one of the city’s hospitals — Hinds learned that between Jan. 1, 2021 and May 15 of this year, the emergency room and urgent care facilities there saw 1,314 scooter injuries. That’s more than 2.5 per day. Denver Health officials cautioned that some of those cases were people injured falling out of mobility scooters like the ones seen at a grocery store. A vast majority were electric scooters being ridden on city streets and sidewalks, hospital officials said.
In a District 10 newsletter he sent out on May 26, Hinds asked constituents to vote whether they felt scooters are good for Denver or if they are a menace. The issue is more nuanced than a binary choice, Hinds knowns. He’s looking for a middle ground solution, he told The Denver Post. But based on the feedback he received — of the more than 1,300 people who responded 59% chose the “menace” option — he is considering taking action.
Specifically, Hinds is looking into a new ordinance that would build off the one the city council unanimously adopted in January 2019 to manage scooter use. Hinds’ ordinance could take cues from other cities grappling with scooter problems like San Francisco and San Jose, California, where scooter operators are required to use technology that detects when scooters are being ridden on sidewalks and slows them down or stops them entirely.
“Exactly what the sidewalk detection technology does is a different answer,” Hinds said. “Does it emit annoying beeps? Does it slow the scooter down to 6 mph? Does the technology totally stop the scooter? I don’t know yet.”
Hinds said a number of providers are touting the effectiveness of GPS-based sidewalk detection technology for their scooters and micro-mobility vehicles. They include Lime, which, along with Lyft, is one of the two companies permitted to provide scooter and e-bike services in Denver today. Between Lyft and Lime, the city has permitted up to 4,688 scooters on the city streets and up to 938 electric bikes.
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In emails he shared with The Denver Post, Hinds has received pushback from officials with the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, or DOTI.
Nicholas Williams, the department’s deputy manager of internal and external affairs, expressed skepticism that any sidewalk detection technology was actually market-ready, writing “operators have been claiming they have this technology down for years (typically when they’re trying to enter a new market) but I have yet to see it work effectively.”
Stephen Rijo, a city planner with DOTI, recommended against creating a new ordinance because the city’s existing laws already forbid sidewalk riding along most city streets unless it’s at the beginning or end of a trip. The city code also prohibits going faster than 6 mph on any sidewalk and dictates that scooter riders must yield to pedestrians at all times, DOTI officials say.
Rijo, in his email to Hinds, said the city is focusing on education and awareness efforts as the weather warms and scooter season ramps up. That includes having Lyft and Lime deliver messages through their apps on a bi-weekly basis reminding users of rules around safe riding and parking. The companies also are “adding ‘No Sidewalk Riding’ verbiage to all vehicles in a prominent location so there is no confusion about how folks should be using the system,” Rijo wrote.
Lyft says it is committed to improving safety in Denver including by holding educational safe riding events — some coming up this summer — and by supporting the city’s effort to create a larger protected bike lane network, company spokesman Colin Wright told The Denver Post this week.
“We actively promote the rules of the road to our scooter riders through our in-app safe riding tutorial, which reminds riders to ride in bike lanes where available and to follow local traffic laws,” Wright said.
Lime operations manager for Colorado Cody Noblin said the company is aware of the problems with unsafe riding in downtown Denver and is working with the city on them including through marketing campaigns and by adding stickers to all of its vehicles explaining the rules of the road.
For downtown residents like Finegan, a slow rollout of stickers isn’t good enough. She wants assurances that all scooters on Denver streets will have markings clearly showing they don’t belong on the sidewalks by the end of June. Riders clearly don’t know the rules.
“If you say something like ‘You’re not supposed to be on the sidewalk,’ they respond with ‘F you’ or ‘Yes, we are,’” Finegan said, adding that she is tired of all the negative interactions she has with riders.
When it comes to sidewalk detection technology, if it’s not ready Finegan believes the companies should use geofencing to cap speed limits at 6 mph throughout LoDo. It’s the only way to ensure safety. The companies already have systems in place that shut down scooters on the 16th Street Mall.
For Nicholson, the failure is largely on the city. There are no signs anywhere downtown announcing the scooters are supposed to ride in the street. He has never seen a police officer or other uniformed city official talking to scooter users about how the vehicles are supposed to be used.
“The response we have seen over the last three years makes me believe that DOTI genuinely does not care if people get run over on the sidewalk,” he said. “They have no interest in trying to solve these problems.”
There is no one group or agency within the city currently tasked with enforcing scooter rules right now. The Department of Safety is looking at putting its civilian street enforcement team to work in that capacity in the future but that hasn’t happened yet, department records administrator Andrea Webber said.
In the meantime, downtown residents feel like they are on their own.
Ed Neyra lives in the same building as Finegan. He was in the news in 2019 when a man riding a scooter collided with him near the Denver Pavilions shopping center and bent the frame on his wheelchair. He had to fight with insurance companies to get his chair replaced.
Neyra, who is quadriplegic, still likes living downtown for the convenient access to transportation but scooters being ridden on the sidewalks is a constant problem. He has his wheelchair outfitted with an ultra-loud horn that sounds like a semitrailer to get the attention of riders these days.
“It’s daily. I’m already numb to it,” he said. “There are rules but no one enforces them.”
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