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F.C. Council Wrestles With New Scooter Policies & Sidewalks

THE F.C. CITY COUNCIL will take up a vote next month to finalize a policy concerning electric scooters on sidewalks in the City. (Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr)

The Falls Church City Council took two votes on the issue of scooter policy Tuesday night, one a resolution to endorse a “Shared Mobility Devices Demonstration Project” in advance of a Dec. 31 deadline set by the state legislature, and the second one a preliminary OK to an ordinance that prohibits the use of scooters on City sidewalks except on the main arteries of Washington and Broad Streets.

That second policy awaits a final OK at the Council’s last general business meeting of 2019 on Dec. 9, and the split vote of 4-3 indicates that there will be modifications to the policy by the time it comes back for a final vote next month.

A rare split 4-3 vote saw Mayor David Tarter and Council members David Snyder, Dan Sze and Phil Duncan voting for the restrictive ordinance, and Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly, Letty Hardi and Ross Litkenhous voting against.

However, everyone agreed that some form of restrictions on the use of scooters is needed, and it is mostly a matter of degrees.

Litkenhous, for example, said that while at first he was opposed to allowing use of scooters on sidewalks (“sidewalks are for walking” being the mantra), he’d come to change his mind, recognizing that safety concerns need to extend to the users of scooters as well as pedestrians.

“We are being asked to craft an ordinance to address a problem that does not yet exist,” he said, and maybe a one-year demonstration project will provide the data needed to make a better judgment later.

While he said he supports “a middle ground” on the issue, his vote Tuesday opposed the general sidewalk prohibition.

Hardi also pointed out that the City should not have different rules that its neighbor, Arlington County, which has adjusted its ordinances to allow use of scooters on sidewalks.

“There’s a reason they’ve changed their policy after a year,” she said, “and its probably because they’ve recognized the problems associated with a sidewalk ban.” She suggested that maybe there could be “no scooter zones” at certain spots in the civic core in the City.

Voting with Litkenhous and Hardi against the ban, Connelly said, “We have to presume that people are not complete idiots” and will be sufficiently courteous using sidewalks. She suggested there be language in the ordinance about scooter riders “yielding to pedestrians.”

On the other hand, Snyder said that as one who works in downtown D.C. where scooters proliferate, that “it’s pretty hazardous” there. He also cited the need for scooters companies to have insurance to cover their users the way that Uber has insurance to cover its drivers.

Councilman Sze drew some laughs when he said the reason streets in Falls Church are named “Great Falls” and “Little Falls” is because “I’ve fallen many times on them,” and that scooters “make me paranoid that they’re hunting me down.” Sze was among three on the Council, along with Hardi and Tarter, who confessed to have used scooters, themselves.

Tarter, voting for the ban, said that, working in the Clarendon area of Arlington, “I have almost been run over numerous times.” He said that whatever the final form of an ordinance takes, “it will take some fine tuning.”

Duncan added that many of the sidewalks in the City are substandard now and would not be ideal for scooter use, and maybe encouraging use of scooters on streets would be a better approach. He noted surveys showing that scooter users’ least favorite place to ride is on sidewalks, anyway.
It was evident to everyone, as indicated by the split vote, that Tuesday’s was not the final word on the subject, but that when it comes back for a final OK on Dec. 9, there will be modifications crafted in the meantime.

Updates in the general policy noted by Kerri Oddenino, the City planner assigned the job of assembling relevant information on the policy, included the recommendation that licenses be limited to three companies for the year of the demonstration project with a maximum of 50 scooters per company.

Also, it was recommended that evaluating applications from companies include interoperability with adjacent locality, that permit fees be $3,500. The overall policy applies to more than scooters, but all “shared mobility devices,” such as motorized skateboards, bicycles and electric-power assisted bicycles as well as scooters using a 1,000 watt or a gasoline engine that displaces less than 36 cubic centimeters, weighs less than 100 pounds and has a speed of no more than 20 miles per hour on a paved surface level (the speed limit on sidewalks would be on the order of eight miles per hour).

Arlington County’s 2019 evaluation report identified ten main operational challenges for shared mobility devices (SMDs) consisting of (1) inconsistent deployment, (2) problematic deployment sites such as bus stops and pedestrian right-of-way sidewalks, (3) high operating speed, (4) sidewalk riding, (5) broken SMDs, (6) stolen and vandalized SMDs, (7) idle SMDs, (8) incorrectly parked SMDs, (9) crashes and injuries and (10) data collection.