Scooters Aren’t a Public Safety Hazard. Dangerous Streets Designed Only for Cars Are.

A driver struck Jenasia Summers from behind as she rode a scooter in downtown Cleveland, taking her life. If the city had followed its own complete streets policy, she would likely still be alive.

If Cleveland's East 9th Street had bike lanes, Jenasia Summers would probably still be alive. Image: Google Maps
If Cleveland's East 9th Street had bike lanes, Jenasia Summers would probably still be alive. Image: Google Maps

In downtown Cleveland Saturday night, a driver high on heroin struck and killed Jenasia Summers, 21, as she rode an electric scooter. But instead of questioning why Cleveland streets are so dangerous, the local press has responded by painting scooters as a safety hazard.

The driver, 19-year-old Scott McHugh, struck Summers from behind while traveling “well in excess” of the 25 mph speed limit, according to police reports cited by Cleveland.com. He told police he’d snorted heroin in a parking lot before getting behind the wheel, and he’s currently facing charges for aggravated vehicular homicide.

Summers was riding on East 9th Street, which runs through the heart of downtown Cleveland. The street is set up purely for motor vehicle movement, with six moving lanes but no bike lanes. If the city had provided dedicated lanes for people riding bikes and scooters, Summers would probably still be alive.

But the initial response in the local press was not to question Cleveland’s dangerous, car-centric street design. It was to cast aspersions on scooters.

“Is use of scooters a cause for concern?” tweeted Cleveland.com. Reporter Jane Morice wrote: “The scooters have been known to cause injuries to their riders in 32 other American cities where they’ve appeared over the past year.”

Scooters have been in the local headlines because the city recently told the start-up Bird to remove a fleet of 100 vehicles from public streets. Summers was not riding a Bird — she had rented an Icon scooter from a shop downtown. But whatever vehicle she was riding, it’s less relevant to this crash than Cleveland’s failure to make streets safer for walking, biking, or scooting.

While the city has recently made some progress on bike infrastructure, downtown is still practically devoid of bike lanes. Power players like the Downtown Cleveland Alliance, a coalition of property owners that essentially dictate public policy for the area, have resisted adding bike infrastructure. Even as downtown becomes increasingly residential, with a population of 15,000, the Alliance prefers to cater to suburban office workers who drive in and out.

“We don’t get much support for [bike infrastructure] from DCA,” said Jacob van Sickle, executive director of Bike Cleveland.

East 9th Street is a classic example of how the city’s cars-first approach puts people in danger. For about 30-60 minutes on weekday mornings and evenings, it carries a lot of car commuters. The city likes to keep it wide and clear for these drivers seeking quick access to freeway ramps, going so far as to station police at key intersections to direct rush hour traffic.

But at all other times, especially at night, East 9th Street is mostly empty, and its excessive width encourages speeding.

Popular bars are located on East 9th Street. At the time Summers was struck — 10 p.m. on Saturday night — it would have been bustling with nightlife. But because the street is designed explicitly for people who drive to work, Summers was vulnerable.

In Cleveland, like other cities, the first impulse of the local government was to ban Bird’s scooters. But that’s not going to solve the problems that led to the death of Jenasia Summers, not to mention the thousands of other vulnerable people struck by drivers on American streets each year.

Cleveland could have prevented this loss of life if only city officials took their own street safety policies seriously. The city passed a “Complete and Green Streets ordinance” back in 2011, but four years later, progress remained slow, the Plain Dealer reported.

Portions of East 9th Street were resurfaced in 2013 and 2016, and under the Complete Streets ordinance, those paving projects should have triggered an evaluation of the street design and the addition of bike lanes. But the city kept the same old car-centric design.

“When they repaved it a few years ago, we talked to the city about adding bike lanes,” said van Sickle. “They said, ‘That’s one of our main arterials, so we need to maximize traffic.'”

Now a young woman is dead.

  • Robert K S

    If you’re turning left, are you supposed to stay in the bike lane, or get into the left-turn lane? (I always get in the left-turn lane.)

  • colavitos_ghost

    Unclear on why this is a relevant question here, but on a bike you are supposed to get into the left-turn lane to turn left.

  • Robert K S

    Victim was in left turn lane when hit by a passed-out driver who overdosed on heroin

  • colavitos_ghost

    If you don’t see why that seems like a pretty pointless and definitely callous question to ask in the context of this tragedy, then I just don’t know what to say.

  • Robert K S

    If you don’t see why the premise of the article, that a bike lane would “likely” have saved the victim’s life, dissolves in view of the additional facts, because (a) the victim was properly not in the bike lane and (b) the odds of a passed-out driver hitting someone in a bike lane are not much different than hitting someone outside a bike lane, then I don’t know what to say. But, let’s not point out the exploitative nature of the article.

  • westpark

    Using a tragic statistical anomaly to push an agenda. Classy!

  • Michael

    If you ride in curb-side protected bike lines, the vast majority of riders make box turns and do not exit the protected environment.

    Not sure if there’s any studies on it yet, but in my experience in DC, it’s got to be more than 80%. It’s more likely than not that the rider would have been in the protected environment versus the left lane if a protected lane was there.

  • Jason Stokes

    This sounds very familiar. Same issues all over the place here in St. Louis.

    I’ve driven through DT Cleveland many times. It’s definitely beyond friendly to cars.

  • CGip88

    I don’t think the author was suggesting that bike lanes alone could have prevented her death but that the street is designed in a way that promotes speeding and careless driving. Had the city done a meaningful evaluation of the street in accordance with their 2011 plan, and made substantive changes to address the design of the street during all times of day (not just rush hour) things might have have turned out differently.

  • 1980Gardener

    let’s not go that far – scooters are often a hazard when used on sidewalks. Sidewalks are for people, not scooters.

  • KG

    Yep, it is not the fault of the 25mph-over-speed limit DUI cocaine driver but the street design..

    ..as if if the scooter had its own lane the DUI super speeder would have been able to avoid a scooter doing 15 – 20mph.

    Like: yea I was soo high in cocaine and was speeding mad 25mph over the posted speed limit but the dedicated scooter lane green striping helped me not hit the rider.

    Journalism is really dead!! 🙁

  • channonh

    It depends on the city. Denver leaders are so hairbrained, they have banned scooters from roads, bike lanes and bike paths (which pedestrians, joggers, skateboarders, stroller–pushers and skaters all use), and instead insist that these 15 mph vehicles use sidewalks!

  • W Jones

    A guy was high on heroin, hit and killed a person (on a scooter)- and somehow nobody is talking about how the junkie is going to prison. but everyone is chatting about how a rust belt city needs to redesign the entirety of its infrastructure because a VC funded scooter company has a connection at Streetsblog

  • W Jones

    I’m thinking that Cleveland should design, purchase, and construct elevated hanging roads so the two dozen electric scooters can travel safely throughout the city.

    Or we could just prosecute the guy high on heroin that killed someone with his car.

  • Matt

    How does prosecuting the guy prevent other people from getting killed on the street?

  • Chicago60609

    This is just bull. In Chicago, countless times I have seen cyclists not ride in the protected bike lane, opting instead to obstruct traffic in auto/bus lanes. And many cyclists won’t go a block out of their way to ride on a street with protected bike lanes, choosing instead to screw up traffic elsewhere. These are facts, not supposition.

  • Michael

    Do you have research to point to? I’d take your word for it, but I’ve ridden a few thousand miles in protected bike lanes and have had a very different experience.

  • runningonjava

    This is exactly the concern we have at the lawfirm I work for: LegalRideshare. It’s only going to get worse if proper regulations aren’t in place.

  • 1976boy

    Also, in Chicago, single occupant cars routinely block bike lanes, block transit lanes, and kill pedestrians. These are also facts, and not suppositions.

  • Chicago60609

    Agreed, but off topic.

  • Chicago60609

    No research, just observations from a daily cyclist and public transit rider.

  • 1976boy

    Not at all. If you are arguing that bikers do not use their lanes, it is absolutely on topic to point out that drivers do the same thing. The difference is that when drivers do it, they kill people.

  • thielges

    Reallocating space on this wide street to make a safe place for bikes and scooters sounds like a great way to reduce collisions. What’s your solution?

  • Chicago60609

    You are justifying bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior.

  • Tyler

    Bikes are permitted in the general lane of traffic.

  • If people are scootering on the sidewalk at a particular location, that’s probably a sure sign that it’s in need of a separated bikeway.

  • Carolyne Spackman

    I was nearly killed on Friday twice by different scooters on the DC sidewalk! In both cases, the scooters nearly collided with me as they were going 20 mph on a public sidewalk and couldn’t stop. I would prefer they are banned, because there is no supervision. I called the police and they wouldn’t do a thing. But someone is going to get killed on the sidewalk by a scooter, and then there will be an uproar.

  • Carolyne Spackman

    I was nearly killed on Friday twice by scooters on the DC sidewalk! The scooters were going 20 mph on a public sidewalk and couldn’t stop. These scooters should be banned from sidewalks as they are dangerous. I tried reporting it to the police and they wouldn’t even file a report. But when someone gets killed on the sidewalk by a scooter, they will act like they had no idea this could happen.

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