Post #472: CORRECTED: Rental electric scooters tonight

Posted on November 26, 2019

Correction:  I attended the meeting and found that my original draft of this was wrong.  Councilman Noble’s idea of geofencing some sidewalks for slower speeds is included in the Town’s plan for this.  As of last night, the idea was to limit scooters to 10 MPH on Maple and Nutley, with the idea that scooters were likely to use the sidewalk on those streets.  The concept was that other streets might be added if “scooters on the sidewalk” became an issue elsewhere in Vienna.

Tonight (11/26/2019), at 8 PM, the Transportation Safety Commission will discuss the Town’s proposed pilot program for rental electric scooters (and other issues).  As I see it, the two key unresolved issues are whether you want to allow rental electric scooters on the sidewalk, and whether you want to allow them to park anywhere (as long as they don’t block the right-of-way.) 

If you need to know the background, see Post #377.  Briefly, repeated from that post:

due to a change in Commonwealth law, the Town needs to have some sort of program in place to regulate the use of rental scooters and bikes.  If not, then on 1/1/2020, the rental and use of such devices is deemed legal, including, if not explicitly barred, use on the sidewalk.  We probably don’t want that …

So it’s not like the Town is going out of its way to attract rental electric scooters.  It’s more a matter of self-defense.  (Though, I must say, my interactions with scooters in the City of Fairfax has been positive so far — see Post #393).

The meeting materials on this topic may be found at this Town of Vienna web page.  The term of art here is SMD for shared mobility device.

After skimming the documents, near as I can tell, this is just a pro-forma adaptation of the same contract that most other jurisdictions are using.  More-or-less, this appears to be the same “cookie-cutter” draft that was presented to Town Council earlier.  It outlines the framework for contracting, and nothing else.

In particular, I’m still uncertain about two key details, sidewalk use and location of “corrals” for parking scooters.   As I recall, these are both issues that the Town Council needed to resolve.

The “corrals” don’t appear to be mentioned in the legal documents.  In fact, the only mention of parking of these scooters, in general, appears to be this:

Defined response times for removing devices for critical issues designated by the Town

I think that means that the Town will ask this company to pick up scooters that are reported as blocking a sidewalk or entrance.  And, based on these documents, it’s up to the company to determine the standard for quickly they plan to pick those “mis-parked” scooters up.  But otherwise, there’s no indication that there are any parking rules at all (beyond what is specified in the Commonwealth statute above).

The sidewalk issue is, I think, critical, because as I understand it, the default under Commonwealth law is that these things are legal on the sidewalk And certain Town Council members (Majdi, at least) really objected to that.  So if the Town wants to keep them off the sidewalk, I think Town Council has to pass an amendment to Town Code to do that?  I’m not a lawyer, but that’s how I read it.

Commonwealth of Virginia law says this, emphasis mine:

The governing body of any ... town may by ordinance prohibit the use of ... personal delivery devices ... on designated sidewalks or crosswalks ... Unless otherwise prohibited, electric personal delivery devices may be operated on the sidewalks ... of any locality of the Commonwealth. ...No person shall park a ... scooter in a manner that impedes the normal movement of pedestrian or other traffic or where such parking is prohibited by official traffic control devices.

So I think that if Town Council wants to keep these off the sidewalks, they must actively say so.  And (from a part of that statute that I omitted), they are required to post signs saying so.  So this isn’t trivial.

Near as I can tell, the only mention of “mobility devices” in Town of Vienna code is section Sec. 21-8. – Prohibited or restricted activities.  That prohibits certain activities (e.g., riding two abreast in the roadway) and requires riders 14 and under to wear helmets.

To be clear, then unless the Town passes ordinances to the contrary, as it stands, rental electric scooters can be used on the sidewalk, and can be left anywhere that does not literally block the use of the sidewalk or road.

I certainly hope that the TSC is preparing to make recommendations to the Town on these key issues.  It’s a tough call.  On sidewalks:  Without sidewalk use, you pretty much can’t get to Metro or use Maple Avenue.  Councilman Noble’s suggestion of geofencing those streets to enforce lower speed limits (while allowing sidewalk use) appears to have fallen by the wayside.   So somebody needs to make the call here, otherwise the defaults (in red above) apply.  On parking:  If the Town designates a handful of areas for legal scooter parking, that pretty much negates the use of the scooter as a disseminated transportation modality.  (Or, in English, then you can get to where you want to go.)  But no rules means that these might be parked anywhere as long as they literally don’t block the sidewalk right-of-way.

Aside:  This 8 PM meeting will be preceded by separate meetings of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees, starting at 7 PM.  Having attended the last one of those, I can state that if you are thinking of attending those, just realize that they don’t expect or make accommodations for citizens to attend.  Typically, there’s no agenda posted in advance (which is true for tonight’s meeting).  The last BAC meeting consisted of Committee members standing around a table in the front of the room, commenting on a paper copy of a proposed bike map.  There was literally no use in attending the meeting as a citizen.