Opinion: Denver Should Legalize Scooters Now

Relegated to Sidewalks, New Law Would Allow Scooters in Bike Lanes and Roads

An electric scooter near Elitch Gardens. Photo: Lime.
An electric scooter near Elitch Gardens. Photo: Lime.

Wednesday the Denver City Council will hear a reading of a bill to correct an outdated law that requires electric scooters to operate on sidewalks. The new mobility devices, which first appeared on Denver’s streets this spring, are a good thing for Denver — and you should ask your representative legalize them in bike lanes and on city streets.

Today, the city requires people to scoot on sidewalks and nowhere else. An existing ordinance targets the human-powered scooters that became popular as toys in the early 2000s. But newer electric scooters travel at faster speeds, which makes them dangerous when they mix with people on sidewalks.

The new law would allow scooters in bike lanes and on any city street where the speed limit for cars is 30 mph or less. The city would continue to allow Scooters on sidewalks, but riders would be required to keep their speed to six mph or slower.

An episode of South Park satirized the arrival of scooters to the Colorado mountain town.

This spring, after hundreds of scooters appeared “out of nowhere,” the city reined them in with a pilot program that forces scooter companies to obtain permits and adhere to a set of guidelines. But that didn’t change the ordinance that makes them illegal to ride anywhere but sidewalks.

In this car-dependent city, the pilot, which will continue through next summer, will assess whether dockless bikes and scooters can “help achieve the city’s stated mobility goals, including a reduction of single-occupant vehicle commute trips from 73% to 50% by 2030,” according to the program’s website.

It’s likely that scooters will help shift people from cars to other modes of transportation, which could also reduce traffic. The new mobility devices allow people to make short trips that would take too long to walk, including rides to transit stops, a benefit that enables people to make better use of public transportation. But like all ways to get around, they come with a few side effects.

Without designated parking areas, riders sometimes abandon the vehicles in the middle of sidewalks or in front of businesses. Bike lanes are a better place to scoot than sidewalks, but bicycles travel at different speeds than scooters, which can cause problems in busy bike lanes. Nationwide, a handful scooter injuries and at least two fatalities also raise safety concerns.

But these problems stem from not from the scooters, but a lack of designated spaces for them. There are no good places for scooters because Denver has designed its streets to prioritize cars.

The city must become more aggressive in developing a network of “complete streets,” where roads have designated places for transit, bikes, pedestrians—and scooters. In the years it will take to make that a reality, bike lanes and streets are the best place for scooters, which this new law would allow.

Some call the quick proliferation of this new mobility option a dorky absurdity; others say they’re fantastic. An episode of “South Park” even satirized their fictional invasion of the Colorado mountain town. But they’re here to stay, and that’s good for the city.

Whether the battery-powered mobility devices are how you roll, or it’s your eyes that roll when you spot them, it’s time for Denver to legalize scooters in bike lanes and roads. Ask your city council representative to vote yes on the scooter ordinance. To send a quick e-mail, click here.

An earlier version of this story misstated the action the Denver City Council would take on January, 2. The council heard the first reading of the bill, a vote was not taken.