How Close Is Seattle to an E-Scooter Pilot Program?

City officials are still struggling to work through the several concerns over safety and regulation.

By Marisa Comeau-Kerege October 31, 2019

Image: Courtesy Lime

After mayor Jenny Durkan announced in May that Seattle would join the flurry of other cities hopping on the electric scooter bandwagon, Seattleites are still waiting for an update. So how soon can we expect to zoom past gridlock on the back of motorized scooter?

The answer, given in the public forum presentation at city hall on October 30, is we’re not quite sure yet.

Seattle Department of Transportation is taking its time to fulfill Durkan’s promise of a well-thought-out and thorough pilot plan. SDOT's project team has looked to Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles to glean other cities’ successes and failures in the scooter share realm. There are some similarities in topography and climate, but, as bike share program manager Joel Miller points out, “we have hills, we have rain, we have dark,” which bring about a unique set of challenges for electric scooters.  

Meanwhile, through crowdsourcing community feedback SDOT's project team—which includes city councilmember Abel Pacheco—has highlighted the city's major concerns to address in their plan.  

Safety, of course, is one of the top concerns from the Seattle community. Riding on sidewalks places pedestrians at risk and many scooter share companies advise against it. But the current city ordinances don’t allow scooters, foot-powered or electric, in the bike lanes. So where, then, can you cruise? City officials and transportation advocacy groups agree that allowing scooters in the bike lanes would make sense, so long as the speed of the scooters could match that of the bikes to continue the flow of traffic.  

Bike lanes, though, pose another problem: transportation equity throughout the city. There are fewer bike lanes around the outer edges of Seattle and, in some areas, there are none. Instead, these places typically have higher speed arterial roads. 

Other matters abound: where to correctly park; ensuring sidewalks are clear for those with disabilities; how to enforce parking and safety regulations without being inequitable to persons of color; how to educate visitors on abiding by the rules. All of these were discussed at Tuesday night's forum, but there remains no certainty on final plans.

“As you can see it’s very complicated,” said Stefan Winkler, a transportation advocate working to help set up the pilot scooter program. “We have a big hill to climb.”

The SDOT has an online survey for the community to voice their opinions and concerns which will be open until November 15.  Plans will begin to take form after all the surveys have been collected.

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