Local Communities Grapple With E-Scooters

In the last year and a half, e-scooters have popped up in hundreds of U.S. cities including San Francisco, New York City and Chicago. Denver has had e-scooters since last summer and legally classified them as vehicles in January. Other Colorado cities like Fort Collins are beginning to implement e-scooters this summer.


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The city of Boulder, however, has not been so accepting of this new transportation trend. Last month, Boulder’s city council placed a nine-month ban on the issuing of business licenses to commercial e-scooter companies. David Kemp, a senior transportation planner for the city of Boulder, told KGNU’s Hannah Metzger that the city is weighing up the pros and cons of e-scooters.

“E-scooter, the personal use of e-scooters, are allowed on the streets only in Boulder currently per recent passing of state legislation … our city council recently placed a hold on allowing e-scooter operators to conduct business in town while we, as staff, conduct a study period to determine all the pros and cons associated with them and to create a set of regulations that city council can consider if they choose to move forward with them.”

One of the concerns that Boulder must address is safety. According to a recent CDC study, e-scooters result in 20 injuries per 100,000 trips. This makes e-scooters 25 times more likely than cars to result in injury according to a 2007 Oxford Academic study on vehicle injury rates.

Despite e-scooters being able to travel up to 15 miles per hour, companies do not provide helmets with their scooters. Just three months ago, a man visiting from Minneapolis crashed an e-scooter in downtown Denver resulting in a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury. He is still in recovery.

In addition to safety concerns, the environmental impact of e-scooter use is also in question. While e-scooters can promote the use of public transportation systems, they also only have a 30-day street life. Kemp says he hopes to look into these environmental contradictions.

“We are definitely interested in understanding more about the longevity of the product itself, what would happen if the lithium-ion batteries ended up in a water source, like a river, like Boulder Creek for example, or a lake, is there some kind of environmental degradation that would go along with the discarding of an old scooter and how are they discarded? Are they recycled or thrown in a landfill? So there’s the product end of it but if they are replacing vehicle trips then that’s something we want to exploit, to some degree, and use so that we can bring down single occupancy vehicle trips and then also pairing e-scooters or e-bikes with transit trips is a great way to accomplish first and final mile goals.”

The first and final mile refers to the distance between a person’s destination and the public transportation system. Many have claimed that the first and final mile is the largest deterrent for public transportation use, keeping people in their cars. E-scooters hope to solve this issue by providing people with a means to get to and from transportation systems.

There is some early evidence that e-scooters may be successful as the e-scooter company Lime has reported that about one third of their users use e-scooters as a direct replacement for vehicles, cutting down on overall car use.

David Kemp says he believes some good things can come out of e-scooters. “We look at them as a form of micro-mobility, much like bikes, and anytime we can provide our community members with additional transportation modes, especially those that are sustainable, then we’re gonna do so. And in the case of e-scooters, we just need to vet some of the safety and right-of-way concerns before allowing operations and to provide a set of regulations that would, I think, be a benefit to the community of Boulder and not have a negative impact.”

Boulder’s commercial ban of e-scooters will end in February 2020 which will allow the city council to reconsider city-wide e-scooter use. The City of Boulder is currently updating its 2019 Transportation Master Plan and the public can share their feedback at beheardboulder.org.


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