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Our Editorial: Keep scooters off the sidewalks

The Detroit News

It's been sort of fun to see the arrival of electric scooters in Downtown Detroit. They give the city a youthful feel, and in fact, most of the scooterists so far appear to be Millennials.

But it can also be somewhat harrowing when the scooters zip around pedestrians on sidewalks or dart into street traffic. 

Sunny Patel, 21, of Troy takes a Bird scooter for a spin in downtown Detroit Friday. The new rentable Bird scooters are now available via smart phone app in Detroit on Friday, July 27, 2018. Bird is a dockless scooter-sharing company based in Santa Monica, California.

With the arrival in recent weeks of dozens of the scooters, Detroit should update its regulations and also start enforcing them.

The Bird scooters arrived here from a company in Wisconsin that has placed them in cities nationwide.

It's a thoroughly modern operating model. Users download an app, use it to unlock a scooter (they're scattered throughout downtown) and, when the ride is finished, leave it for the next user. 

The dockless scooters are cheap and convenient enough to be an alternative to Uber or Lyft for short rides. 

But they aren't without their issues.

In other cities where they've been introduced, officials have complained about reckless handling, idle scooters littering parks, alleys and the entryways to buildings, and a danger to pedestrians. Nashville confiscated more than 400 scooters, citing the operator for not complying with city rules. 

Detroit issued a memo late last month outlining how city ordinances apply to the electric-assisted scooters.

It limits their speed to 15 mph, restricts where they can be left when a ride is done, and requires them to be picked up at the end of each day. 

The city also advises that they be used only in bike lanes and the inner lanes of roadways. But it leaves open access to sidewalks, if the rider believes he or she can safely navigate them. 

That language should be revisited. The scooters are a potential menace on sidewalks. Already in Detroit, they can be seen weaving through pedestrians and cutting through Campus Martius and other densely packed parks.

The ordinance should be toughened to keep them off sidewalks entirely, and out of parks and anywhere else where contact with walkers is more likely.

So far, the scooters have not become an eyesore, but the city should be prepared to enforce the rules about where they can be stashed when not in use.

The rentable Bird scooters can be located and rented on the spot using a free smart phone app. When the rider is done using the scooter they can just leave it park on the sidewalk and walk away.

The scooters should be given a chance to prove they can operate safely and aesthetically downtown. They bring a festive air to the city.

But protecting both riders and pedestrians should be the priority.