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Micromobility in the Camel City

“Enhancing mobility and access, easing traffic congestion, promoting sustainability and protecting public health and safety”… sounds nice right? That’s the stated purpose of the City of Winston-Salem’s new Micromobility Ordinance this is being discussed at the Public Works Committee Meeting on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 6:00pm at City Hall.

The ordinance comes in response to Bird dropping hundreds of dockless electric scooters around the city back in August 2018. These “micromobility devices” were quickly taken up by lots of people for fun and to get around in all parts of the city. Given they were new devices, deployed without permission from the city, with little education for users, and unclear laws to govern them by, it was bound to get a little crazy. We witnessed issues with users riding on sidewalks, parking scooters inappropriately, underage and dangerous riding on the roadway, however, we also saw a wide range of users taking advantage of this alternative means of transportation. I witnessed people of all ages, races, and genders making use of the scooters. They seemed to provide a viable way of navigating the city and desired alternative to driving.

Love them or hate them, these electric, stand-up scooters force us think more broadly in terms of mobility – the concept of people moving about their environment. They offer a challenge to the car-dominant system we’ve created and reveal opportunities to address the many issues related with being car-centric (i.e. traffic congestion, pollution, parking demand, high costs of road maintenance and car ownership, etc.).

This new technology and shared-transport model also has the possibility to help improve and expand bicycle facilities. Currently, there aren’t many safe or comfortable spaces to use a scooter. They are not allowed on the sidewalks and its hard to “share the road” with large vehicles driving at high speeds, plus there isn’t much education provided to the public on how to property interact.

Sound familiar? The same is often true for riding bicycles. We lack the necessary infrastructure, education, and enforcement for safe and easy movement. People riding bicycles, scooters, and whatever-new-devices all need safe spaces. More bike lanes and multi-use paths would meet the needs of many modes of transport. Clear laws and local policy, along with education and enforcement, would provide clear standards for how people should interact. By helping find a place for e-scooters (and other devices) within our transportation system, we allow for more alternative transportation options and give people more freedom to move around in ways that are economical, safe and enjoyable.

In November 2018, City Council decided to temporarily ban the scooters, citing growing safety concerns as the main reason. It seemed clear that many citizens wanted this new transportation option so the next step was to develop some kind of framework for how it could be incorporated into our city.

This brings us to the present. City Staff has been working on an ordinance to facilitate and regulate the use of “micromobily devices” and the businesses offering them to the public. The current proposal lays out definitions and policy for handling this new transportation, along with other shared-transport systems like dockless bike shares.

Here are a few highlights:

  1. “Micromobility device” means any dockless bicycle, electric, stand-up scooter, or new mode of dockless, shared transport excluding docked devices and mass transit systems such as buses, trains, trams, trolleys, and subways, and any vehicles regulated by other articles of chapter 78 of the ordinance

  2. Devices cannot be operated on sidewalks, greenways, public parks, parking decks or in Old Salem

  3. Devices cannot be rented or operated from 9:00pm to 6:00am

  4. Persons operating devices must be 16 years or older and wear a helmet

  5. Persons operating devices must follow all applicable traffic laws (i.e. stop at traffic light, yield to pedestrians, etc.)

  6. Devices must have front and rear lights that are visible from a distance of 500 feet, functional brakes, and GPS tracking capability

  7. Companies offering devices:

  8. Must submit application and pay fees for annual permit and each device deployed

  9. Cannot discriminate against low and moderate income persons in connection with the deployment of devices

  10. Must be able to identify when devices are used in restricted areas and communicate that with customers at the end of their trip

  11. Must provide the city with any requested data (i.e. frequency and location of trips, customer complaints, device defects, accidents, etc.) and must notify customers that data is being collected and could be shared with the City

  12. Must offer a 24-hour hotline and local office within the city for customers to report safety concerns, complaints, ask questions, etc.

  13. Must implement programs to educate users on how to safely operate devices and all applicable laws, and present the information on their website and mobile application

  14. The City Manager may issue two “micromobility device” permits for each category (scooters, bikes, other) each year and will use objective criteria to make the determination along with a possible “Micromobility Permittee Selection Committee”

  15. The City Manager may suspend or revoke operations if there is an immediate threat to public health, safety, or welfare. City Manager may also limit or specify the total number of devices that may operate within the city

  16. The City may impound devices used, offered for rent, stationed, left or abandoned in the public right of way and charge an impound fee

  17. The City may impose civil penalties ($250 per violation) to users or companies who violate the ordinance

  18. Private use of personal electric stand-up scooter is also subject to sections of the ordinance (i.e. where it can be used, what hours of the day, age of user, helmet requirement, applicable traffic laws, and impound of devices)

The proposed ordinance is comprehensive, to say the least, (currently 15 pages long) and there is still debate on several elements but it’s a start. City Council needs to hear from citizens on this ordinance before it is finalized. You can call or email your representative and attend meetings, like the one coming up on February 12.

As someone who rides a bike, I see the emergence of new technology and more diverse ways of movement as a great thing. We definitely have challenges to address, like educating people and building more infrastructure, but I am happy to see us moving in a direction that offers more choice to people as well as flexibility and sustainability to our local transportation system. I invite you to read the ordinance, talk to your council member about your experiences and opinions, and get involved in this historic moment. I am hopeful that we will look back and see this as a catalyst for progress in Winston-Salem!

NOTE: This topic will be discussed at the Public Works Committee Meeting on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 6:00pm at City Hall. Please consider attending or watch live on WSTV 13

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