Some officials want Stamford to join the 21st century – and other Connecticut cities – and start allowing electric scooters on the streets.
E-scooters got caught up in the city’s 2005 ban on “pocket bikes,” speedy mini-motorcycles that swerved between lanes and created havoc on highly trafficked streets.
But things have changed.
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In 2019 the state made e-scooters legal, as long as they don’t go faster than 20 mph, and travel only in the road or a bicycle lane, not on the sidewalk. Legislators said e-scooters get cars off the road, reducing pollution, and provide inexpensive transportation for city dwellers and workers who make many short trips each day, and provide a particular benefit for those who don’t own cars.
Since then the state’s capitol city, Hartford, has contracted with a company that provides scooter rentals using a smartphone app. So have the state’s largest city, Bridgeport, and the third-largest city, New Haven.
But Stamford, Connecticut’s second-largest city, has been slow to adopt the technology.
It’s time to get on board, city Rep. Cara Gilbride proposed to the members of the Board of Representatives’ Transportation Committee. Kill the ban and open the city to low-speed motorized scooters and bicycles that “provide a transportation solution other than walking and driving,” Gilbride said.
“Many people are riding around on these modes of transportation already” in Stamford, even though there’s a ban, she said. “Police are not enforcing it, and the number of users is growing rapidly.”
Her proposal will “create guidelines to keep users safe, and give the city oversight for programs that might want to enter Stamford,” she said.
Gilbride, who brought to the meeting a draft of an ordinance that would end the ban and allow “micromobility” vehicles on the streets, was ready to launch her proposal.
Members of the Transportation Committee, however, gave her the yellow light, voting unanimously to put her proposal on hold.
They want more information, committee members said.
“We need a public hearing … to try to get other voices in on this,” said the chair, city Rep. David Watkins. “There are issues with pedestrians … with enforcement. This needs further work before it moves into consideration as an ordinance.”
Safety is a prime concern, representatives said.
Luke Buttenwieser of the traffic and parking bureau, who worked on the proposal with Gilbride, said he asked Stamford Hospital for data on injuries resulting from scooter ridership, but the hospital doesn’t keep it.
Neither do police, said Sgt. Jeff Booth, head of the traffic enforcement squad, noting an incident from a month ago, when a man with a female passenger on his scooter ran a traffic light at Summer and Hoyt streets and T-boned a car. The woman was badly hurt, including broken arms and legs, Booth said.
Accident information is sparse, he said.
“I don’t believe there’s a way to track it,” said Booth, explaining that accidents are reported using the Connecticut Crash Reporting Form. Scooters “are not listed as vehicles on the form,” which instead counts scooter riders among pedestrians and bicyclists, Booth said.
In Hartford, which has a large scooter-sharing program, it’s the same, Lt. Aaron Boisvert said.
“We don’t keep statistics. They’re considered bicycles, not vehicles,” Boisvert said. “I’m not sure anybody tracks that. It doesn’t go into the system.”
Scooter accidents, however, have been in the news.
An 18-year-old was killed last month after he and a 17-year-old friend were hit by a pickup truck while riding a scooter on Kossuth Street in Bridgeport. The survivor was badly injured.
Two days later, a 3-year-old and a 17-year-old were badly hurt after they, too, crashed their scooter in Bridgeport.
In May, police spotted a group of people riding scooters on a sidewalk on Congress Avenue in Bridgeport. As the group crossed the intersection, the last rider, a woman with a young child, lost control and crashed into a pole. The child was seriously injured.
News accounts don’t always differentiate between stand-up scooters, motor scooters with seats, or other versions of micromobility vehicles.
They are new enough that research is just getting underway, according to NewsAtlas.com, a newsletter that covers technology, science and transportation.
The media outlet cites a 2019 “first-of-a-kind study” that found that the injury rate for e-scooters was similar to the rate for motorcycles, though the scooter rate is underestimated because of the difficulty in obtaining data. Scooter accidents, which most often cause head injuries and bone fractures, were less severe than motorcycle accident injuries, the study f0und. It included scooter riders plus pedestrians who were hit by scooters or tripped over scooters left on sidewalks.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported in October that, as app-based rental services for e-scooters and e-bikes have increased, so have casualties – 190,000 emergency room visits and at least 71 deaths between 2017 and 2020, a 70 percent rise.
The safety commission recommends that riders test brakes – crashes often are caused by brake failure – and wear helmets.
In Hartford, a limited survey and anecdotal information showed that riders would like helmets to be more available, said Grace Yi, junior planner with the Hartford Department of Development Services.
Riders have expressed concern about people not obeying the rules of the program and minors renting scooters, Yi said, and pedestrians report that scooters go too fast.
Most complaints are about parked scooters obstructing sidewalks and other public areas. Now the city and the company, Superpedestrian, are setting up “corrals” for scooter parking, Yi said.
The system has built-in safety controls that include “geofencing,” which prevents riding or parking in certain areas; speed caps; required ID renewals; and more. Scooters are programmed to self-scan for mechanical problems and remove themselves from service if needed, Yi said.
“Since the April 22, 2021 launch of the program, there have been over 250,000 rides taken to date, with minimal scooter damage or vandalism,” Yi said.
The program started downtown but has been expanded citywide, Yi said.
“Overall, the high ridership and sustained demand throughout the year indicate a positive trend towards micromobility as a transportation alternative,” Yi said.