Electric Scooters are Coming Back to Chicago – What Should Commuters Know?
Electric scooters may be the latest transportation trend popping up in cities around the United States, but they are also accompanied by significant risks to riders and urban commuters in general. The City of Chicago officially joined in on this trend when it organized a four-month electric scooter pilot program in the summer of 2019. However, because of the mixed results of the City’s first pilot program, it will institute a second pilot to determine whether the benefits of electric scooters outweigh the risks. This blog will outline the issues underlying electric scooter usage, explain Chicago’s plan for electric scooter implementation, and provide potential users with a few tips for a safe ride.
Background on Electric Scooters
While city commuters are generally used to either driving, riding a bicycle, or taking public transportation, a relatively new means of transportation has caught the eyes of many urban commuters: electric scooters. Most Chicago commuters have undoubtedly dreamed of a quicker way to navigate crowded city streets, and electric scooters appear to be a fun, eco-friendly way of combatting city traffic. However, the rapid implementation of these scooters – which began in Santa Monica, California, and quickly spread to cities such as Denver, Colorado, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C. – highlighted several issues with this form of transportation.
Most notably, electric scooters are significantly more dangerous to riders than traditional means of transportation. These scooters, comprised of only two wheels, a handlebar, and a narrow standing platform, operate without a helmet and can reach top speeds of 20 mph. Clearly, any type of collision with an unprotected scooter rider can have serious, and even potentially fatal, consequences. Shortly after a few major US cities began allowing electric scooter usage, The Washington Post published an article documenting the rising number of emergency room visits resulting from this activity.
In addition to safety concerns, several “pilot” cities for electric scooter programs reported how unused scooters quickly became obstacles for pedestrians on busy city sidewalks, especially for the elderly and those living with disabilities. Moreover, several incidents of malfunctioning scooters have been reported, many of which are related to the scooters’ reliance on an internal battery-powered engine. In light of these issues, a number of urban municipalities have placed restrictions on electric scooter usage. In some places, such as New York City, electric banned are entirely prohibited.
Electric Scooters in Chicago
Last summer, Mayor Lori Lightfoot approved a pilot program that allowed ten companies to temporarily operate 250 electric scooters throughout the city’s northwest and west side neighborhoods. During the pilot’s four-month span, which lasted from June 15 to October 15, 2019, a total of 821,615 trips were taken on electric scooters. On the upside, only 192 emergency room visits during this time were documented as resulting from electric scooter usage.
However, many of the issues experienced in other US cities also appeared in Chicago’s pilot program. Namely, Chicago residents lodged numerous complaints regarding electric scooters interfering with traffic flow, bike lanes, and usage of city sidewalks. Moreover, in terms of allowing equal access to these scooters through all of the City’s neighborhoods, the Mayor’s response to the pilot program found that all ten participating companies failed to adequately spread scooters throughout the pilot’s entire area. Electric scooters were easier to find in popular nightlife areas such as the West Loop, Wicker Park, and Logan Square, while potential riders in the pilot’s other neighborhoods had trouble finding scooters to use.
Due to the pilot’s mixed results, Mayor Lightfoot determined that a second pilot program was necessary to decide whether the City will agree to a deal with one or more electric scooter companies. Though the dates and locations of the second pilot program have yet to be determined, many Chicago residents and politicians are advocating for electric scooter access in the city’s lower and middle-income areas as well as the higher income, nightlife-centered areas. The Mayor’s full report on the first pilot program can be found HERE.
How to Avoid Injuries on an Electric Scooter
For those planning to try out an electric scooter during the city’s second pilot program, here are a few helpful tips for staying safe:
- Wear a Helmet. Though electric scooters are not automatically equipped with helmets, virtually every city that allows electric scooter usage strongly recommends that riders bring a helmet with them to ride. Given that scooters can reach 20 mph and ride next to fast-moving vehicles, a helmet is always a good idea.
- Check your Scooter. Before riding, the electric scooter should be quickly inspected for any glaring issues, such as a faulty wheel or brake. Riders should also pay close attention to the charge of the scooter’s battery, as several accidents have been attributed to scooters suddenly stopping after the battery dies.
- Test-Ride your Scooter first. Since many electric scooter accidents result from inexperienced riders losing control, a quick test-ride could benefit first-time users. Find an empty parking lot or alley and test your accelerating, braking, and turning skills before riding in the bike lanes.
- Safely Park your Scooter. City officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of parking your scooter near a bike rack, or at least out of the way of pedestrians and drivers. Leaving your scooter as an obstacle in the sidewalk can prove dangerous for the elderly and those with disabilities.
- One Rider Limit. As fun as riding with your friend may sound, transportation officials strongly recommend that users ride by themselves. Riding one scooter with another person could cause balance issues and significantly increase the risk of an accident.
The City of Chicago’s “E-Scooter Do’s and Don’ts” guide can be found HERE.
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