Seattle could allow thousands of new electric foot scooters on city streets, limit the scooters to 15 miles per hour and bar riders from traveling on sidewalks.
The details come from an environmental-review checklist published by the city this week, the latest step in Seattle’s slow-moving process of greenlighting the scooters that have swept other cities across the country.
The review offers a first look at how Seattle plans to regulate scooters but is vague in some areas as final rules and regulations are still to come. San Francisco, Portland and a handful of Washington cities including Spokane have allowed the scooters.
In total, Seattle may allow 20,000 rentable bikes and scooters, but it’s unclear how many of each device private companies like Lime would actually deploy.
The 20,000 figure is the same limit the Seattle City Council placed on free-floating rentable bikes in 2018. But the private companies that rent those bikes, Lime and Jump, have deployed fewer bikes than allowed. In recent months, there were 6,800 to 7,300 bikes on Seattle streets, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
SDOT plans to seek a change to city law to allow scooters in bike lanes and public paths, but it will continue to bar them on sidewalks, according to the new documents, which were first reported by GeekWire. Today, Seattle law allows scooters on roads, shoulders and alleys but not on sidewalks, bike lanes and other public paths. Cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk.
Scooters may be restricted in some areas with lots of pedestrian traffic, like Pike Place Market, according to the checklist.
City law already requires scooter riders to wear helmets.
Scooter designs would be reviewed by SDOT and would not be allowed to “provide assistance propulsion beyond 15 miles per hour,” similar to rentable electric bikes, the checklist says.
Parking has been a flashpoint for bikes and scooters, as advocates for people with disabilities have pointed out the risks of bikes left scattered on sidewalks.
SDOT has built new bike parking and audited how the bikes are being parked. The department penalized Lime and Jump over parking and reporting issues, but the limits have allowed more bikes than the companies are typically deploying, meaning users probably haven’t noticed a reduction on the street.
For scooters, the city plans to use similar strategies and will allow people to report poorly parked scooters through the city’s Find It Fix It app, the checklist says. The city may explore a “monetary penalty to encourage better parking behavior,” the checklist says.
“Scooters must be parked upright on hard surfaces in the landscape/furniture zone of sidewalks in the rights of way and if there are no sidewalks riders must park in a location that does not impede street uses or obstruct pedestrians,” SDOT wrote in the checklist.
“Like bikes, scooters may not be parked in pedestrian clear zones, on corners, at transit stops, in loading or disabled parking zones, or in a manner that blocks access to buildings, curb ramps, benches or other street features,” the checklist says.
Anna Zivarts, director of the disability-rights group Rooted in Rights, welcomed the sidewalk rules. While scooters can help reduce dependence on cars, “that doesn’t need to come at the expense of the mobility of disabled people who rely on accessible sidewalks to navigate our communities,” Zivarts said.
Durkan has repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of scooters and whether the city could be liable for injuries. SDOT is studying data from other cities about crashes and injuries, the documents say.
The pilot program will “incentivize scooter safety features, including scooters with larger wheels, seats, and integrated helmets,” the checklist says.
Scooter companies will be required to “indemnify the city,” but the documents do not offer details on the extent of that agreement.
The city determined the scooter pilot program would not have significant adverse effect on the environment. Comments are allowed on that determination until Dec. 23.