E-Scooter Deaths Show Urgent Need for Safer Streets

New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy test drove a Bird scooter in New York recently. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy test drove a Bird scooter in New York recently. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

How many e-scooter riders have to die before cities realize they can’t just ignore their safety?

Another e-scooterer was killed last week in Washington, D.C. — the third such fatality in just over a month. The death rate on shared e-scooters is now six times worse than the death rate for bike share systems.

E-scooters, backed by billions in venture capital, have been in U.S. cities for just over a year now. Bird claims 10 million rides. And its rival, Lime, claims 11.5 million. But cities have done little to ensure riders’ safety — scooters can’t ride on sidewalks, so their users are forced into heavy traffic in urban areas, where there are few protected bike lanes.

Carlos Sanchez-Martin, 20, was the latest victim, struck and and fatally run over by an SUV driver as he tooled around on a Lime e-scooter in the DuPont neighborhood. His death followed the Sept. 3 roadway death of 24-year-old Lime rider Jacoby Stoneking in Dallas and the Aug. 19 killing of 21-year-old Jessica Summers on a private e-scooter. The driver who ran her over was high on heroin, police said.

Even excluding the Cleveland death, the death rate on shared Lime and Bike e-scooters is roughly one per 10.75 million trips. There have been just two bike share deaths nationwide, making the death rate roughly one for every 61.5 million trips, though there have been many more bike share trips since those stats were published in 2017 — with no additional deaths. (Note: This figure does not include two Citibike riders who were killed in a terrorist attack in New York in 2017.)

lime scooter 3

Cities are in a difficult position as private companies introduce new transport modes that cry out for changes to the physical infrastructure.

“The scooters are not necessarily compatible with what’s going on the sidewalk. We need to probably move the scooters to the bike lanes,” said Arizona State University urban planning Professor David King. “We’re having a hard time getting bike lanes built for bikes.”

The “hard time” likely comes from local Department of Transportation officials in car-centric cities. Many such agencies feel pressure to keep car traffic flowing and to maintain on-street car storage in favor of a bike lane.

But scooters could change that equation by creating so much demand for safety that cities would be forced to heed the call. New York, for example, is wrestling with that very question right now, as Lime and Bird pursue legalization.

“If scooters came to New York it would increase the number of people that want protected bike lanes,” Lime’s Chief Programs Officer (and former Seattle DOT commissioner) Scott Kubly told my Streetsblog colleague Gersh Kuntzman in July. “I also know how hard they are politically. When we found that some [Lime] riders in San Francisco were riding on the sidewalk, we asked why. They said they didn’t feel safe in the street. We asked, ‘If you had a protected bike lane, would you feel safe.’ And the vast majority gave it a hard yes. … Scooter riders want the same protection that bikers do.”

Until then, though, U.S. cities are saying they want to support sustainable transportation such as e-scooters, but then aren’t willing to make the tradeoffs to truly make the roadways safe for all modes of transportation. In the meantime, e-scooter riders’ lives hang in the balance.

For cities to adopt bikes, and e-bikes and e-scooters on their streets, bike lanes will be needed, King thinks. And in major cities where a lot of people are using these modes, there will likely be a need for wider bike lanes, he said.

Oh, and smooth roadways: Some data shows e-scooters are causing an uptick in injuries, partly because their small wheels require good pavement.

“There’s potholes everywhere,” he said. “That’s going to be tough to maintain.

58 thoughts on E-Scooter Deaths Show Urgent Need for Safer Streets

  1. We need to consider whether e-scooters are just inherently dangersous, with or without automobiles. For so many reasons, they seem more dangerous than bicycles at the same speed.

  2. Are scooter riders incentivized to ride more aggressively because they’re being charged per-minute? Or maybe people just aren’t used to riding scooters like they are used to riding a bike? Or maybe they’re just less visible than bikes…

  3. Those are my thoughts as well. Those small wheels can’t deal well with pavement irregularities. A pothole which might mean a sharp bump to a cyclist could result in a scooter rider falling, perhaps getting ran over by a motor vehicle. The geometry of scooters is also inherently stable less than that of bicycles. I would personally be very hesitant riding a scooter in the street. I would likely stay on the sidewalk. It seems a lot of riders agree with this.

    Maybe the sensible policy is to allow these (and Segways) on sidewalks, with the exception of heavily used sidewalks.

  4. There are already tons of people using similar electric mobility devices in NYC, from electric kick scooters to skateboards.

    Drivers in most cities are not accustomed to the influx of non-automotive electric mobility devices. Most cities do not even have regular pedestrian activity irregularly crossing the street, or substantial bicycle traffic like in NYC.

    The drivers are the issue, not the scooters.

  5. You’re 100% right BUT unfortunately those in charge still think private autos are essential to economic activity. If I made the rules, private autos and taxis (except taxis for the disabled) would be banned from Manhattan entirely, and also banned from the “downtown” parts of the outer boroughs. I would then start improving public transit, with the goal of banning private autos and taxis from the entire city as soon as an effective system was in place.

    Of course, with the idiots in charge that won’t happen in our lifetimes. We’ve been talking about banning cars from Manhattan from before I was born. Forget the congestion tax. Just get on with the ban already.

  6. E-scooter companies need to bear some responsibility for putting these attractive nuisances in the public ROW.

  7. No doubt cars/trucks make it worse: any scooter or bike crash can turn into a deadly crash in the presence of a car or truck. But this is an emerging issue, and we don’t yet know much for certain. Possible sources of scooter danger are all over the place right now — increased danger with cars/trucks, poor maintenance of shared scooters, and factors inherent to the scooter itself (small wheels standing on a platform). See here for recent reporting on the issue:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/24/hospital-er-reports-percent-spike-visits-involving-e-scooters/?utm_term=.27eaed401368

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/20/fatal-e-scooter-accident-emerges-just-california-legalizes-riding-without-helmet/?utm_term=.56ccf6bb5f1b

    In the meantime, do YOU want to be the guinea pig?

  8. I’m not saying this to try to absolve drivers of blame, but I would guess that the reason for the higher death rate on shared scooters than on shared bikes is because scooter shares are drawing in more people inexperienced with any kind of urban riding than bike share systems have managed to do, and that you’d probably have seen a similar uptick in the death rate on bike share systems if they’d been equally successful at drawing in people who formerly would not have been using two-wheeled transportation.

  9. That is a good point, and we would need surveys to confirm, but it is something I would expect. Electric powered devices that require little to no human effort are going to provide this influx.

    Here’s an example:

    https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/23/17882996/teens-electric-scooter-age-requirement-bird-lime

    That article indicates that a huge influx of teens for example are using the scooters, including females. One of those interviewed discusses her issue with the California helmet law (which was just repealed), because she did not want to mess up her hair. I would also assume she would consider traditional bike share because she did not want to sweat. Her options were drive or scooter, and she chose to use the scooter due to ease of use.

    This type of technology (affordable electric mobility devices) is so disruptive, it is going to reshape our urban areas.

  10. As an aside, that article is wrong that the requirement to be 18+ is a California law. It’s solely a requirement set by Bird, Lime, et al. Straight from the DMV, here are the requirements for riding a scooter in California (remember that in California you have to be at least 16 to get a drivers license):

    “An operator of a motorized scooter must be at least 16 years old,
    possess a valid drivers license or instruction permit, and wear a
    helmet.” https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/scooters

  11. Unlike highways, streets are the public commons. Poor people have as much of a right to use them as wealthy folks. A mode-blind use-tax is not just challenging. It’s unconstitutional.

    But nobody has a “right” to damage public streets, or the air, or the environment, with their vehicle of choice.

    So as long as the use-tax is calculated per vehicle tons, and/or carbon emissions, it seems almost fair.

  12. Ebikes and scooters are a cheap and dangerous fact that mass transit is failing. Our politicians would rather offer dangerous diversions than deal with the real issue.
    Fix public tranportation and watch how quickly most ebikes and scooters disappear.
    Sidewalks are just that, they are not side-bikes or side-scooters. They are sideWALKS and meant for pedestrians.
    Stop giving public these dangerous and cheap alternatives and start dealing with the
    real issue of true mass transportation.

  13. Adequate public transportation is definitely an issue but it isn’t likely having its lunch eaten by scooters. Scooters are covering trips that are too short for public transit or driving yet too long for walking.

  14. The bicycle has proven itself over a century’s time to be a reliable, effective and sustainable conveyance. These fly by night scooters come along one day and suddenly everyone’s clamoring for infrastructure to accommodate them. Not cool. #teambike

  15. I’m for making downtown city streets in top 30 density cities a total free-for-all. If we think these car commuter-oriented rules are incompatible with pedestrians & scooters, try doing shipping & receiving at even a small machine shop. Moving commuters through cities 10 seconds faster, pushes even small industry out to soulless industrial parks, where you can’t recruit design talent, labor.

  16. “…scooters can’t ride on sidewalks…” except in Denver, where the laws call e-scooters toys that are required to use the sidewalks.

  17. Bike lanes will not keep the e scooters off the sidewalk, just like they do not keep cyclists off the sidewalk. This is a nightmare for pedestrians.

  18. “Cities are in a difficult position as private companies introduce new transport modes that cry out for changes to the physical infrastructure.”

    “The scooters are not necessarily compatible with what’s going on the sidewalk. We need to probably move the scooters to the bike lanes,”

    ” Some data shows e-scooters are causing an uptick in injuries, partly because their small wheels require good pavement.”

    So Bird swoops in, drops these all over the place, knowing they are neither fish nor fowl, are incompatible with pedestrians, aren’t appropriate in a shared roadway environment, and yet it is the cities that are to blame for not doing something?! Bird has replicated this in city after city, ignoring cease and desists. And they’ve only been in existence for less than a year, but somehow these cities are supposed to magically adapt and transform the environment overnight to accommodate this kind of rogue operation? This article truly reads like some kind of parody. Angie never fails to amaze.

    And for the record, there are cities where they are allowed on sidewalks (perhaps inappropriately).

  19. No it’s not. Safe bike lanes DO keep cyclists off sidewalks and WOULD keep e scooters off sidewalks. Please stop your tiresome campaign against sustainable last-mile solutions.

  20. You are just plain wrong. Have you even bothered to look at a couple videos of street life in European cities, much less gone to one? There sure are a lot of bikes in use in Europe, you know. Shared bikes make a ton of sense in crowded cities. Scooters make even more sense in crowded cities. Ebikes and e-scooters really, REALLY make a ton of sense in a crowded small city with decent (but spotty-in-certain-growing-neighborhoods) transit coverage and/or steep hills like San Francisco.

  21. Is this comment section the Clueless Convention today??? Let me guess, vehicular cyclist weighing in here?

    This is exactly the push we all needed to get eyeballs and brains focused on the lack of decent infrastructure for non-car travel. I invite you to visit San Francisco, a place with year-round perfect cycling climate but with a dismal single-digit bicycling modeshare. Terrain, nagging afternoon winds, and the city’s consistent inability to fix potholes are major factors. The single biggest reason, though, is lack of safe infrastructure. First it was its unfortunate history of ramming freeways and freeway-like roads through the city in the ’50s and ’60s. Then came the ’90s and ’00s with some gesture of equanimity towards cyclists when many roads got bike lanes. Then came the gadfly jerks holding up the next wave of better cycling infrastructure in the name of it ‘clogging traffic.’ And now finally, a measly 15 miles or so of reasonable, safe, protected lanes and rideshare drivers parking in the rest of the bike lanes.

    Guess what, dude? This snail’s pace of progress isn’t going to cut it. That’s why we need hordes of scooter riders joining the fight for better infrastructure.

    Of course, the city would rather pull wool over its eyes and pit the scooter riders against the pedestrians, so what we have at the moment is piddly bike share and scooters banned altogether.

  22. People ride on sidewalks mostly where city failed to add a safe bike lane. I don’t blame them. I would too. My life is worth too much to be killed by a car.

    Plus, sidewalk is just a section of the road elevated a few inches by a curb. in some places it’s wider and in some places narrower. In some places, you can ride a bike on it. In some you can’t.

    In some countries they realized there are less total injuries if bikes and scooters are allowed on the sidewalk. Laws can always be updated and not all were created with data to back them up.

  23. Yes. They’ve only been in existence for less than a year and billions of dollars have been invested in it and several other companies. Which means, contrary to what you seem to be able to observe, that there is a whole heck of a lot of pent-up demand for car alternatives.

    I invite you to visit your local library and pore through reams of evidence that the rise of the automobile unfolded in more or less the same fashion 100 years ago.

    It’s not just Angie who actually understands this.

  24. The fundamental issue is wheel size – the smaller the wheel, the more likely it is to get trapped, resulting in a sudden stop, followed by the rider being tossed off. That’s why you don’t see any ellectric scooters on mountain bike trails!

  25. It’s because they’re *so* easy to use & ride that they’re attracting a whole new segment of users. My guess is behavior will start to normalize as they learn.

    One disadvantage, though is their small wheels, which are more prone to getting caught than a bike wheel. Given road conditions, I’d like to see slightly larger front wheels.

  26. Things we need to consider when looking at articles like that:

    -Overall lack of data
    -Comparisons? How do bicycle related crashes compare to kick scooter related crashes per capita?

    Or check this one out about the man who died in the second article:

    Officers “found a Lime Scooter that was broken in half up against the curb” nearly 500 feet from where Stoneking was found.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/09/04/police-man-dies-after-apparent-electric-scooter-accident/?utm_term=.e7900c6465d3

    If you crash on a scooter, even doing 20 MPH, you aren’t going to end up 500 feet away from it. Additionally, electric kick scooters do not break in half from these crashes. They are designed with hard drops and crashes in mind.

    Realistically he was probably hit by a car.

  27. > Fix public tranportation and watch how quickly most ebikes and scooters disappear.

    Oh my, where do I start?

    1. The most common use of e-bikes in NYC is restaurant food delivery. Nobody’s gonna do food delivery on the bus or subway, it would be WAY too slow.

    2. I used to live at a Metro-North station, where I could pay $240/mo to get into Grand Central within 45 minutes. Definitely 20 minutes faster than my e-bike could do. BUT… I usually worked uptown, and the e-bike was faster for that commute. Plus if I took the train, I’d need to spend time on some other form of exercise. And I saved BUNDLES of money riding and maintaining my e-bike, rather than throwing it down the Metro-North hole.

    My e-bike commute wasn’t particularly dangerous because it was almost all off road. Study after study has confirmed that the danger of chronic diseases from sedentary lifestyle are higher than the danger of acute injury from biking.

    For anyone who doesn’t commute into midtown, an e-bike might be faster, easier and cheaper than any other means.

    > Sidewalks are just that, they are not side-bikes or side-scooters. They are sideWALKS and meant for pedestrians.

    Agree 100%. Plus… the point of an e-bike is to get where you’re going efficiently. You can’t maintain 15-20mph on a sidewalk, even if biking there were legal. In general. biking on sidewalks is 5X more dangerous than in the street.

  28. > In some countries they realized there are less total injuries if bikes and scooters are allowed on the sidewalk.

    Show me the studies, I’ve seen just the opposite. The problem is, there’s no visibility and bikers tend to get creamed where cars drive on the sidewalk, i.e. at numerous driveways. Sidewalks are NOT meant for vehicles traveling 15-20mph.

    The only exception is where there’s a long stretch of uninterrupted sidewalk. That happens in some places in the burbs, but not much in NYC (Riverside Drive ~160 St excepted).

  29. I think that many plausible reasons for excess scooter injuries have been brought up. At this point, we just don’t know, I’d be interested in seeing studies and data.

  30. Don’t forget noise pollution, tire and brake emissions, small particulate pollution, medical expenses, reduced residential property values. However in California at least pedestrians are not legally allowed to walk in the traffic lane even if there’s no sidewalk, or so I was told by a sheriff’s deputy. (however he was wrong about his other statement that it was illegal to hitchhike, which I had to set him straight on).

  31. As public right-of-way, streets are not just the asphalt area between the 2 curbs. The “street” is measured from property line to property line. Sidewalks, unless they are part of a private corridor or plaza, are part of the “street”. How we choose to allocate all that street space is up to us. In most places, we’ve just chosen to give over 90% of it to private cars, the least efficient most harmful form of urban transit.

  32. not true. I’ve seen many cyclists and scooters/etc on sidewalks that have a standard bike lane right next to them. I’ve also seen cyclists use the traffic lane instead of bike lanes that have many intersections, are parked on, littered with glass, substandard width and pavement, basically typical bike lanes.

  33. Realistically, in five years the lawsuits will accumulate against both municipalities and scooter providers/manufacturers and they won’t be around long enough to benefit from the increased demand for “safer” bike lanes,if indeed this results in increased mileage. You don’t see Big Wheels for sale anymore, except on retro e-bay auctions. Marketed as a toy, ridden as a dangerous toy. Thanks for the video.

  34. Looks like these riders have death wishes, but when you’re young and haven’t experienced the consequences of poor choices, people do dumb stunts. I speak from experience, luckily without disability or death, although plenty of road rash.

  35. Sidewalks and parking curbs can’t stop a motor vehicle from colliding with pedestrians (or cyclists/scooters) on them. Happens frequently, as sidewalks only provide an illusion of safety, much like the painted bike lane dividers,or zebra striped cross walks.

  36. Don’t know if you’re from NYC or not, but riding aggressively like that is often the only way to make any reasonable forward progress. I’m not a fan of squeezing by buses on the right, often with inches to spare, but most everything else doesn’t seem horribly dangerous.

  37. Scooters are dangerous for the same reason riding a bike and walking is dangerous. We live in a society that has prioritized auto convenience and speed, expanding lanes, creating straight roads encouraging speeding, moving trees away from the road to prevent collision with trees which slows down cars, etc. This isn’t a discussion about scooters. This should be a discussion about how do we create a society that does NOT prioritize auto convenience and speed but rather prioritizes alternative modes of transportation, their convenience and safety? Whatever we do that benefits bikes and pedestrians will benefit scooters along with any other type of alternative transportation slower than cars. People die on bikes and walking, and it’s not surprising they die on scooters. Instead of questioning whether scooters are safe, or bikes or walking, why not question why we are making ALL types of alternative transportation unsafe while making car transportation so fast and ubiquitous?

  38. Reminds me of the debate around charging pedestrians and bicyclists to use the Golden Gate Bridge sidewalks(from SF to Marin county). There were dozens of letters to the editors of local newspapers demanding they pay their “fair share”. I pointed out in letter that bicyclists and walkers had to share two narrow sidewalks across the span, while motor vehicles had exclusive rights to six standard width lanes. Most of the original and ongoing costs of the bridge are from its engineering for weight bearing loads, ie wider lanes for trucks, buses, cars, (although wind shearing, painting, traffic control, interest on bonded debt play a part), so a fair share would be based on weight of user and space required. In other words pennies per passing. It didn’t end their demands, just as pointing out that they don’t “pay for the roads”, doesn’t end their demands that bicyclists should be charged to use them, or just get off them.

  39. Scooter companies are not a City. It’s not their responsibility for making bike lanes

    Are car companies responsible for building any maintaining streets? Should they stop selling cars when the facilities aren’t appropriate?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG