Speed Limits

Why regulate e-scooter speed?

The top speed for most E-scooters is around 20mph.[1] E-scooters that can reach 30mph, roughly the top speed that stand-up style E-scooters allow, are available but not offered by E-scooter companies.[2] Like most E-scooter companies, Bird and Lime do not provide universal speed limits for their E-scooters.[3] Instead, each company’s E-scooters are described as having the capability to go up to 15mph.[4] The technological capabilities of E-scooters offered by E-scooter companies essentially provide a speed limit of 15-20mph for most E-scooters.

When evaluating potential speed limits for E-scooters, governments should keep in mind traffic goals for their locale and four key stakeholders: E-scooter riders, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Depending on the desired traffic goals for the locale, governments should evaluate stakeholder interests to determine if setting a speed limit for E-scooters is appropriate and, if so, what that speed limit should be. The main consideration that will go into determining E-scooter speed limits is where E-scooters can be ridden. For a deep dive on this topic, please visit Where to Ride.

Possible Approaches for Governments

Based on different considerations, governments have taken various approaches to speed limits for E-scooters. Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas are provided as examples of approaches that governments have taken to address speed limits as a major safety consideration for E-scooters.

Washington D.C.’s 10mph speed limit

            Washington, D.C. has implemented a 10mph speed limit for E-scooters in the city, and E-scooter riders are not permitted to ride on the sidewalk in the city.[5] Washington, D.C. arrived at 10mph as the appropriate speed limit for E-scooters by choosing to permit E-scooters as personal mobility devices (hereafter “PMD(s)”).[6] Under 18 D.C.M.R. § 9901, a PMD “means a motorized propulsion device, designed to transport only one person or a self-balancing, two non-tandem wheeled device, designed to transport only one person with an electric propulsion system, but excluding a battery-operated wheelchair.”[7] PMDs are subject to the Personal Mobility Device Amendment Act of 2006, which states that a PMD shall not be operated above the maximum speed limit of 10 mph.[8]

One advantage to Washington, D.C.’s approach of categorizing E-scooters within the existing PMD vehicle definition is not requiring a new law for speed limits for E-scooters. Instead, the city can utilize a law that has been on the books since 2006.

One disadvantage to Washington D.C.’s 10mph speed limit has been negative reaction from E-scooter companies.[9] Bird sent a letter to Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser opining that the new speed limit could make roads more dangerous.[10] “Vehicles traveling at significantly different speeds. . . could increase opportunity for collisions between cars, e-scooters, and bikes,” Bird said.[11] “There is also no data to suggest 10mph is safe for E-scooter riders than 15mph.”[12] Spin expressed concern that the 10mph speed limit could negatively impact the use of E-scooters, stating “we hope the city reconsiders this piece of regulation, so they don’t unintentionally limit usage of an environmentally-friendly transportation lifeline.”[13]

Given the negative reaction from E-scooter companies about a 10mph speed limit, governments looking at Washington, D.C.’s approach should be aware that the city could have chosen to regulate the speed limit of E-scooters the same as E-bikes, which are restricted to having a motor incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20mph on level ground.[14]

Portland Pilot Program Findings

            For Portland, Oregon’s E-scooter pilot program, riding E-scooters on the sidewalk was prohibited and the speed limit for scooters was set at 15mph.[15]

During the pilot program, the PBOT found that the combination of these rules caused E-scooter riders and pedestrians to often feel unsafe.[16] The PBOT found that E-scooter riders demonstrated a strong preference for bikeways and other protected infrastructure.[17] In their absence, or on higher-speed streets, E-scooter riders felt unsafe riding in the road and illegal sidewalk riding increased.[18] When posted street speed limits were 30mph or higher, most E-scooter riders rode illegally on the sidewalk.[19]

The PBOT also found that illegal sidewalk riding by E-scooter riders made sidewalks feel unsafe or uncomfortable for pedestrians walking or using mobility devices.[20] During the pilot program, people submitted 1,622 reports of illegal sidewalk riding by E-scooters to PBOT’s online forum.[21]

The PBOT concluded that E-scooter riders illegally riding on sidewalks when they felt unsafe on roads and pedestrians feeling unsafe because of illegal E-scooter sidewalk riding demonstrate how important it is to have protected facilities that minimize conflicts between pedestrians, E-scooters, and motorists.[22] Governments considering speed limits for E-scooters would benefit from further looking into the challenges and findings that Portland’s E-scooter pilot program has revealed.

Austin, Texas’s Different Speed Limits for Street and University of Texas Campus

            Austin, Texas is an example of approaching speed limits for E-scooters based on the demands of specific locations. Initially, Austin passed a law which stated that for all dockless electric scooters and bicycles used in Dockless Mobility Systems, the maximum motor-assisted speed for licensed units shall be 20 mph when ridden in the street environment.[23] Recently, E-scooter companies worked with University of Texas’s Parking and Transportation Services (hereafter “PTS”) to limit E-scooter speed to 8mph in campus areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.[24] PTS announced the new speed limit to students in an email on January 22, 2019.[25] The speed limit will be enforced via virtual geofence using GPS, so that when an E-scooter enters a geofenced area on UT campus, the device will gradually decelerate to 8mph.[26]

In regards to arriving at 8mph as the appropriate e-scooter speed limit for heavy pedestrian-trafficked areas of campus, PTS director Bobby Stone said, “We wanted to make sure that the speed that we use at the rate which we thought was safe to mix with pedestrians, but we also wanted to make sure that the speed allowed the scooter to continue to operate safely.”[27] For streets on UT campus such as San Jacinto, which passes by the football stadium, the speed limit for E-scooters will still be 15mph because E-scooters often mix with cars in these areas.[28]

So far, feedback from students on the new E-scooter speed limit has been mixed.[29] Biology sophomore Sinyoung Lee said, “It’s still a lot faster than walking. I’d say if I was in a hurry, it’s something that I would resort to.”[30] On the other hand, Government freshman Michael Rigsby said, “If I could only go 8mph, I’d rather walk and not spend the money because it’s not really worth it. It wouldn’t help me get to class much more.”[31]

Governments that are interested in exploring dynamic E-scooter speed limits based on different demands of specific locations should look at the approach to speed limits taken in Austin, Texas.

CONCLUSION

            When determining appropriate speed limits for E-scooters, governments will need to look at their locale’s traffic demands and goals, along with stakeholder interests. Where E-scooters are permitted to be ridden will be a primary factor in the evaluation of an appropriate speed limit for E-scooters.

 

[1] See Electrix Scooter Top Speed, RideTwoWheels.com, https://www.ridetwowheels.com/fast-can-electric-scooters-go/ (last visited April 16, 2019).

[2] See Id.

[3] See Ethan May, Here’s everything you need to know about Bird and Lime electric scooters, IndyStar (last updated April 11, 2019), https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2018/06/21/bird-electric-scooters-rental-costs-hours-charging-locations/720893002/.

[4] See Id.

[5] See Washington, D.C. 2019 Dockless Vehicle Permit Application FAQs; Washington, D.C. Personal Mobility Device Amendment Act of 2006.

[6] See Washington, D.C. 2019 Dockless Vehicle Permit Application FAQs.

[7] See 18 D.C.M.R. § 9901.

[8] See Washington, D.C. Personal Mobility Device Amendment Act of 2006.

[9] See Andrew Giambrone, Scooter and bike companies say D.C.’s new rules for dockless vehicles are too restrictive, Curbed (Nov. 17, 2018, 10:23am EST), https://dc.curbed.com/2018/11/17/18098426/dc-scooters-dockless-bikes-rules-cap-pushback.

[10] See Id.

[11] See Id.

[12] See Id.

[13] See Id.

[14] See Washington, D.C. 2019 Dockless Vehicle Permit Application FAQs.

[15] See portland bureau of transportation, supra note 32.

[16] See Id.

[17] See Id.

[18] See Id.

[19] See Id.

[20] See Id.

[21] See Id.

[22] See Id.

[23] See Austin’s Final Director Rules for Deployment and Operation of Shared Small Vehicle Mobility Systems.

[24] See Jackson Barton, UT announces 8 mph speed limit for dockless e-scooters in campus areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, The Daily Texan (March 24, 2019, 11:27pm EST), http://dailytexanonline.com/2019/03/24/ut-announces-8-mph-speed-limit-for-dockless-e-scooters-in-campus-areas-with-heavy.

[25] See Id.

[26] See Id.

[27] See Id.

[28] See Id.

[29] See Id.

[30] See Id.

[31] See Id.

 

City* Helmet Speed Limit Age Limit
Austin, Texas yes* yes
Alexandria, Virginia yes
Atlanta, Georgia yes
Athens, Georgia*
Arlington, Virginia yes yes
Baltimore, Maryland yes* yes yes
Boise, Idaho
Charlotte, North Carolina yes* yes yes
Charlottesville, Virginia yes* yes
Cincinnati, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio yes
Dallas, Texas yes*
Denver, Colorado
Detroit, Michigan yes* yes yes
Durham, North Carolina yes yes yes
Fort Lauderdale, Florida yes* yes
Greensboro, North Carolina yes yes
Indianapolis, Indiana yes yes
Long Beach, California yes yes yes
Los Angeles, California yes yes yes
Louisville, Kentucky yes
Memphis, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee yes yes
Oakland, California yes*
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Orlando, Florida yes*
Portland, Oregon yes yes
San Antonio, Texas yes yes
San Jose, California yes
Santa Monica, California yes yes
Tempe, Arizona yes
Washington, D.C. yes

ü* Indicates age restriction on Helmet Requirement
*This is a sample of cities, selected because of their readily available regulations and ordinances. In no way is this list meant to be exclusive.