In the cooler, rainier autumnal weather, transportation officials may be planting the seeds of significant change for the health, safety, and way that residents and visitors get around Washington, D.C. They may allow a smaller number of private companies to double the number of scooters zipping around the nation’s capital by the new year. By the spring, the devices may quadruple in number.
This could mean the estimated 5,000 or more scooters in the district now would increase to 10,000 by January and to 20,000 by June.
District officials say they’re responding to a spike in demand from the public for convenient ways to get around and to do so with needing to use multiple clumsy and confusing smart phone apps.
They’re making big promises about safeguards, too, for more scooters and their use, including: They’ll be carefully monitored and violations will not be acceptable; new measures, including curb cuts and more special parking areas will help keep them from clogging traffic or sidewalks; and vendors will be nondiscriminatory in making the transports available across all areas of the district.
With their latest moves to support a “micro mobility” plan, Washington officials will try to avert the rising challenges that fast-arriving scooters have posed in big cities nationwide. These include rare fatalities but also a rise in cases that emergency room doctors have noted and reported on. Concerns also have increased that the scooter boom may increase safety issues for not only motorists and bikers but chiefly for pedestrians. Will scooter riders exercise due caution and respect for folks trying to navigate already busy and crowded sidewalks, and will the elderly and disabled find even greater hazard on paths that too frequently may seem to them strewn with blocks and obstacles?
District transportation officials say that scooter use, which became popular seemingly overnight, has improved as necessary regulations have rolled out, been enforced, and become accepted. By winnowing the vendors to four from the current crowd will help. The Washington Post reported that it has not been announced how this culling will occur but it will affect these operators and their current scooter fleets: Bird (600), Bolt (600), Jump (600), Lime (675), Lyft (720), Razor (600), Skip (720) and Spin (720). The newspaper noted that Jump also operates 975 e-bikes and the firms Hope and Ridecell have received conditional permits.
For now, most of the existing scoot regulations will stay. The firm has a breakdown of these that may be viewed by clicking here. The newspaper identified some of the key retained rules, thusly:
“Companies will need to continue to offer a cash payment option to customers, restrict scooter speeds to 10 mph and pay fees per device to the city. The companies will be required to continue to submit monthly data reports to DDOT with information such as the number of rides and vehicles in service, instances of reported safety incidents, and improper parking.”
For ER doctors and public health experts, the regulators’ choice to allow scooter users to go without helmets may be less than ideal. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a study of scooter injuries, focusing on Austin, Tex., and ER doctors in Los Angeles — a sunny and pioneering locale — have published data on injuries they have treated. The emergency department (ED) doctors reported this:
“Unsurprisingly, injuries associated with standing electric scooter use are prevalent, with 249 patients presenting to the ED over the course of 1 year in our study of 2 EDs. Comparatively, in a post hoc analysis prompted by the review process, we identified 195 visits for bicyclist injuries …and 181 visits for pedestrian injuries … during the same time period at the 2 EDs. Scooter injuries documented in this study were mostly minor, but could also be severe and costly, with 6% of patients admitted to the hospital, and 0.8% admitted to the intensive care unit …we found that 10.8% of electric scooter injuries were in patients younger than 18 years. This suggests that current self-enforced regulations imposed by private electric scooter companies may be inadequate. Although California law required helmet use while operating electric scooters during the entire study period, only 4.4% of injured scooter riders were documented to be wearing a helmet. A newly passed California law will make helmet use optional for electric scooter riders older than 18 years on Jan. 1, 2019; it is unclear how this change in policy will affect rider practices and injury patterns.”
Consumer Reports said it contacted “110 hospitals and five agencies in 47 cities where at least one of the two biggest scooter companies, Bird or Lime, operates. CR asked how many patients they’ve treated for scooter-related injuries, and if they have the capability to track the injuries.” The consumer advocacy group reported these results:
“Several doctors at trauma centers told CR they’ve been treating serious injuries related to e-scooters since the ride-share fleets started showing up on some city streets about a year and a half ago. For example, the emergency chief at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta estimated the emergency department has treated 360 people with injuries. Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville has seen 250 people with injuries, according to the Medical Director of the Trauma ICU. ‘We’ve had multiple concussions, nasal fractures, bilateral forearm fractures, and some people have required surgery,’ says Beth Rupp, medical director at the Indiana University Health Center, in Bloomington, Ind., where ride-share e-scooters were introduced in September. Experts told CR they’re concerned about the availability of helmets, especially when considering the nature of the ride-share business model, which allows anyone with a smartphone to rent a scooter from wherever the last rider leaves it, often from the side of the road.”
The flash popularity of scooters, Segway personal transports, e-bikes, and bicycles themselves has created only more problems for pedestrians and the disabled, the Los Angeles Times reported. A local columnist and photographer found themselves under fire when they chronicled the difficulties, for example, that Angelenos confront in trying to get around the city in wheelchairs. One of the subjects they were following took a spill, which was photographed and reported on. Critics called this reporting crass and insensitive. But the disabled individual involved praised the candor of covering the incident, saying it occurs all too often and might help wake up the public and city officials about perils in access and maintenance of hazard-filled paths.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by wrecks involving cars, trucks, motorcycles — and yes, bikes, scooters, and Segways, as well as pedestrians’ injuries. Sadly, after years of progress, the nation has seen a rollback in the safety of our streets and highways. Injuries and deaths in traffic wrecks have popped back up to unacceptable levels, while the toll for bikers and pedestrians has spiked, too, in unhappy ways.
The nation’s capital, like all too many urban centers, also is enjoying boom times, making it hectic and crowded with residents and visitors alike. Traffic gridlock seems only to worsen by the day, and politicians throughout the region deserve criticism for failing to see the soaring public need for better, more affordable, useful, and accessible mass transportation.
The verdict may still be out about the utility of micro mobility efforts, particularly with scooters. They may be a simple stopgap that, with a little skill and practice, helps people cover a short hop from here to there, notably if they’re unencumbered and not carrying anything much with them. They don’t work so well in the rain and certainly not in the snow. They don’t offer the health benefits of walking or unassisted biking. It would be great if sidewalks and paths were so cheery, well maintained, and well thought out that Washingtonians strolled more, everywhere, safely and quickly and conveniently. It would be swell if traffic were less and transit better, especially so its drop-offs and endpoints were smarter for users.
Good luck with those optimistic visions? We have a lot of work to do to keep our highways, streets, and sidewalks safer, especially by keeping tabs on how technology races ahead with our means of transport. We especially need to pay attention to these issues — and to keep to the fire the feet of lawmakers and regulators — because the nation’s capital is likely to get more rather than less congested, fast.