Eyes on the Street: Badly Parked Scooters Get in the Way

A Lime scooter parked in front of the main entrance to Union Station.
A Lime scooter parked in front of the main entrance to Union Station.

Hey scooters … scoot over.

As Denver considers making the little electric vehicles a permanent feature on the city’s streets, their riders are behaving badly. They often abandon scooters in the middle of sidewalk, leave them directly in front of building entrances or park them in front of the ramps wheelchair users use to board trains.

Even people who support the new mobility option say scooters block the flow of pedestrians.

“I get it. It’s a very efficient, fun way of getting around,” says William Peace, an anthropologist and bioethicist who uses a wheelchair and public transit. “But the user just dumps them anywhere.”

Two Lyft scooters block the sidewalk on Wazee near the 16th St. Mall.
Two Lyft scooters block the sidewalk on Wazee near the 16th St. Mall.

The city’s scooter pilot program, which has allowed some 1,500 scooters on Denver’s streets, ends Aug. 1. Over the next six weeks, officials within the Department of Public Works will assess whether the program should continue.

For now, some of the five companies participating in the program have tried to reign in bad parking by asking riders to photograph where they park the vehicles. But the city isn’t sure if that helps.

“Anecdotally, it is thought that a photo-requirement increases user awareness of their parking choices,” said Heather Burke, a spokesperson for DPW, which runs Denver’s scooter pilot. “We’re working with the operators to understand if they have seen significant improvements.”

Scooter use is concentrated in Downtown Denver according heatmap provided by DPW.
Scooter use is concentrated in Downtown Denver according heatmap in DPW’s February update on the dockless mobility pilot program.

If the program continues, Denver could change its policies around scooter parking, including measures like charging the companies for parking or creating special places for people to leave them.

Denver does not provide designated parking spots for scooters but other places are doing exactly that, including the Regional Transportation District, the University of Denver, and cities like San Diego, and West Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue University.

Denver could also consider charging the scooter companies for parking, as cities like Charlotte, Detroit and Omaha have done.

On a recent afternoon, Streetsblog walked around the most popular neighborhood for the vehicles, the Union Square area, and spotted dozens of scooters. Roughly half were parked in a way that interfered with others using sidewalks and plazas.

A Lyft scooter user consults the app before leaving the vehicle in a spot that does not get in the way of pedestrians.
A Lyft scooter user consults the app before leaving the vehicle in a spot that does not get in the way of pedestrians.

Users of Lime scooters are repeatedly reminded to park responsibly, according to Evan Costagliola, director of Transportation Partnerships for the company, which operates 438 scooters in Denver.  

When users sign up for the mobile-app based service, they must swipe through a series of rules, tips and suggestions (which Streetsblog found easy to ignore). The same ideas are reinforced through regular emails sent to users, he says. And the company’s employees hit Denver’s streets to talk to riders.

“We go out into the community with brand ambassadors and community affairs managers to teach people about the technology and how to use it,” said Costagliola. “All done with the intent to get people to ride safely and be responsible users of the system.”

William Peace says that riders, whether they park badly or buzz uncomfortably close to his wheelchair, are not aiming to make his life difficult.

“The scooter users not waking up and saying, ‘I want to block the access to the train today for people with disabilities.’”

But he hopes the city — and the scooter companies — will figure out how to stop the problematic parking.

“I use a wheelchair. I am 24 inches wide,” he said. “And that means when you dump it in the middle of the sidewalk I’m not getting by. When one is left in the curb cut, I’m not getting by.”


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  • LazyReader

    I’m guessing that’s better than badly parked cars. The fact is e-Scooters solve a real hassle of getting around in a city cheaply. Regulatory permission takes years.

    Social norms (like hand signals) will evolve and manners will proliferate among the technology. A transportation technology that is green and good exercise and takes up less space than cars and less physically dangerous than cars.

    • mckillio

      Great points on the scooters, I completely agree.

      FYI, RTD is legally required to cover 30% of costs with fares. Which is part of why they’re so high.

      • LazyReader

        RTD fares are high because they have pisspoor ridership, RTD covers a geographic area of over 2,000 square miles and six counties. They spent over 7 billion on light rail they don’t need to expand service out into the boondocks and suburbs. They have enormous overhead and very few riders.

        • mckillio

          That’s the other side of the coin and it’s a catch 22.

        • TakeFive

          Okay, I accept $7 billion as the cost of the whole light rail system. That’s works out to about $58 million per mile. If RTD were just starting out today it would cost a minimum 3X as much.

          Thanks for pointing out how forward-looking and smart RTD and voters have been. And since light rail ridership is up 95% over the last ten years the investment was well worth it and will only grow in importance over time.

          • mckillio

            Agreed. It’s just too bad we weren’t forward-looking enough to make sure there were sidewalks around them.

          • TakeFive

            Nobody in the suburbs cares about sidewalks. 🙂

            IIRC, a significant amount from Elevate Denver bonds will focus on transit station access including sidewalks.

          • LazyReader

            7 Billion dollars for light rail is hardly an investment. Chicago whose
            aging rail infrastructure, various reports propose to replace the system with buses. Buses running on exclusive busways can move as many if not more people per hour, If a prepared bus system can work in a big city like Chicago it can work in a smaller city like Denver. Rapid bus systems are scalable, with low incremental costs, as downtown employment centers grow from 40,000 to 500,000 jobs. In contrast, rail systems require huge expenditures to start up and expand.

    • TakeFive

      Most people who ride RTD buses get heavily discounted fares; they don’t pay the walk-up rate. They know this even if you don’t. 🙂

  • TM

    It would also help if our sidewalks weren’t so freaking narrow. It shouldn’t even be possible for one scooter to block a sidewalk, they are not that big.

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