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City Council Grapples with Implementing and Enforcing Scooter Rules

It’s one thing to make rules for scooters, but on Alexandria’s City Council, there are concerns about how the city can enforce proposed new restrictions in Old Town.

During the City Council meeting last Tuesday (Nov. 26), the council worked to fine-tune the next phase of the city’s electric scooter pilot program and shape how that implementation looks when it’s applied on Alexandria streets.

The first phase of the program saw 230,000 scooters trips taken by 15,000 users, as WTOP reported, noting that the indiscriminate parking of scooters on sidewalks was a major concern among city residents. Another concern: the unsafe operation of scooters on sidewalks teeming with pedestrians.

The latest development for the second phase of the scooter pilot program is that scooters will be banned from sidewalks in a large square section of Old Town — from Montgomery Street in the north and Wilkes Street in the south, and from West Street at the western edge to the waterfront.

But Councilman John Chapman said he was concerned the specific boundaries could be confusing to those who don’t know the layout of city streets. Chapman compared the approach to San Antonio, where he visited the week before and which, he said, benefits from a simple citywide “no sidewalk” rule.

“As a tourist to Alexandria, they don’t know how far Wilkes Street to Montgomery street is,” Chapman said. “Some of the stops people will have to do will be people who don’t know the area. Setting that up as a potential conflict is also concerning.”

Staff said signs would have to be posted regularly throughout areas where the electronic scooters are banned. Council members were unconvinced, though, that the best use of police time was monitoring Old Town’s sidewalks for electric scooter riders.

“How realistic is enforcement?” asked Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “Is that something we really want to push to the Police Department? It’s nice to say ‘it’s not allowed here’ but is it worth having a police officer patrolling this square? Is that the most efficient way of utilizing our resources? I don’t know how realistic the enforcement is, to be honest with you.”

Seifeldein said enforcement would be a challenging and complex operation. He was uncertain that it merited the end result of adding the criminal offenses to people’s records.

In another comparison to San Antonio, Councilman Canek Aguirre said the city has time restrictions on scooters to limit the risk of them being operated by people coming home intoxicated. Aguirre urged staff to consider similar time restrictions near bars, but Mayor Justin Wilson cautioned that time restrictions are a double-edged sword.

“If we have micro-mobility in place, we want it when we do not have transit capacity,” said Wilson. “Overnight is when we do not have transit capacity. When D.C. had this conversation, this was an issue that came up. I appreciate the concerns around safety impacts, but you want it in a place where you don’t have transit in place.”

Late-night workers, in particular, appreciate the scooters’ availability, the council was told.

If scooters do operate at night, Chapman said the city had to be sure the scooters were designed with night travel in mind. Chapman noted that the scooters in San Antonio didn’t have lights or blinkers.

The council also addressed equal access to scooters, a recurring topic among city council members who hoped to see scooters spread to more places without transit accessibility like the West End. Scooters are currently centered primarily in Old Town, and staff said there’s little economic incentive for companies to take them outside of the densely concentrated, tourist-heavy areas.

But Chapman argued that any conversation about equity in transportation is eventually going to run up against the free market, and it was the city’s role in the process to ensure those needs are met.

“The market leaves out some people [in terms of] transit,” Chapman said. “While it doesn’t necessarily fit a private business model, our focus is getting as many people to access to modes of transportation… We have a mode of transportation that can frankly be moved around anywhere. That dockless part gives us the ability to move it to different places. I understand the downside to requiring them to be everywhere, but I think that’s something we need to embrace.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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