Brookhaven city leaders are being forced to find ways to regulate “dockless” rental electric scooters and bikes that have started appearing on local streets and are raising safety concerns from City Council members.
Where people are parking the scooters is rapidly becoming a serious issue in the city. There are currently no permits for dockless bikes or scooters in the city. A draft ordinance on dockless bikes and scooters is slated to be discussed at Nov. 13 work session. Meanwhile, the city is impounding scooters that are left in the public right of way.
The scooters and bikes — most prominently owned by companies Bird and Lime — are rented most commonly using a smartphone app. They can then be parked at any location rather than at a fixed site and are usually only available for use during daytime hours.
Using a tracking device, company workers can earn a fee by finding the scooters, charging them up at night, and putting them back on the streets the next day.
“Parking is the biggest issue,” city planner Allison Stocklin told the City Council at a recent work session where dockless bikes and scooters were discussed.
Code enforcement officers in recent weeks have impounded more than a dozen Bird scooters parked in the middle of sidewalks and in the city right of way. Several were picked up on Redding Road near Caldwell Road close to Ashford Park and many scooters are also being picked up by code enforcement at and near Briarwood Park.
Parking the scooters in the middle of sidewalks impedes pedestrian access, especially for those using wheelchairs or with strollers, Stocklin said.
A Bird spokesperson said the company is addressing some of the issues.
“Bird is committed to working with the cities in which we operate to educate riders about safe riding and parking practices to protect the public right of way,” the company said in a written statement. “To help address parking concerns, we require all riders to take a photo whenever they park their Bird at the end of a ride. This will prompt our users to think of others when parking and create a log of every rider’s parking history to help ensure that rules can be appropriately enforced.”
Stocklin said Brookhaven was in an advantageous position because many other cities are already finding ways to regulate the scooters and bikes, including Atlanta, allowing the city to “pick and choose” best practices.
Some options to regulate where the scooters are parked include geofencing that uses GPS or cellular technology to essentially create a “virtual” boundary. An alert or notification is sent to a user when they enter the boundary.
The city can also prohibit the scooters and bikes in certain areas, she said, noting that Atlanta has banned parking the scooters at Piedmont Park.
Another possibility is to permit only a certain number of scooters in the city, Stocklin said.
Councilmember Linley Jones said her law office in Buckhead is at “ground zero” where she regularly sees people on scooters zooming on sidewalks and between cars in heavy traffic on Lenox and Peachtree roads. The new scooter phenomenon is “worrisome,” she said.
“As a personal injury lawyer, they are really dangerous,” she said.
The scooters top out at 15 miles per hour and typically cost $1 to unlock and about 15 cents to ride per minute.
“The biggest concern for the community and citizens is just their interaction with cars; they can be tricky for drivers not used to seeing small scooters.
And the number one issue is where they’re going to get left. That will be our challenge as policy makers,” she said.
The scooters provide a transportation alternative, especially for people seeking “last mile” connectivity from public transportation to their job or school, Councilmember Bates Mattison said. And as Brookhaven and metro Atlanta battle with traffic congestion, these kinds of alternatives are crucial in getting cars off the roads, he said.
Data shows in DeKalb County, more than 70 percent of workers drive alone to work while less than 10 percent use public transportation, Stocklin said.
She said that 7,500 scooters can pass through a single 10-foot-wide lane, about the average size of a street lane, in one hour while only 600 to 1,000 cars can do the same.
Riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited by state law, but how that applies to scooters is still up in the air. Building safe infrastructure is crucial to making the scooters and bikes a viable mode of transportation for people seeking to get out of their cars, Mattison said.
Update: This story has been updated to clarify Councilmember Linley Jones’ comments about people riding scooters near her Buckhead office. It was paraphrased that she said there were daily accidents. Her exact quote was, “At least once a day, we have a [audible noise ‘eek’] situation between a pedestrian and a car.”