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Walkers Only: No Electric Motorized Scooters on Downtown Columbus Sidewalks

Someday, maybe not too far off, we’ll be hopping on hoverboards to float along downtown Columbus sidewalks to the courthouse, the parking garage, or Katzinger’s Deli, Marty McFly style (Back to the Future Part II). But not today.

And, for those who imagined that the new electric motorized scooter phenomenon would be a step in that direction, it’s not to be. You’re limited to walking.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2018, the Director of the Department of Public Service ordered, and the Mayor of the City of Columbus certified, emergency rules and regulations for the operation of these electric scooters, called “e-scooters,” that now makes it clear: In Columbus, Ohio, e-scooters belong on the streets, and not on the sidewalks.  

E-scooters are the latest craze in transportation alternatives in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Appearing overnight on one hot summer night in July, they came out of nowhere, and now they’re everywhere, thanks to e-scooter rental companies like Bird (www.bird.co) and Lime (www.li.me). Following the adage that it’s better to ask forgiveness than to beg permission, these innovative companies Bird (“Enjoy the ride.”) and Lime (“Join the movement. Transform your ride.”) introduced their e-scooters to the Columbus market by taking them straight to the people, dropping them all over the downtown and surrounding areas, in avoidance of City Hall. And, from all indications, electric motor scooter sharing is here to stay.

To use a rental scooter, you download the rental company’s smartphone app, and link to your credit card. Find a rental scooter nearby, unlock it, ride to your destination, and then lock it. You pay by the minute from the time you unlock it to the time you lock it. Unlike the CoGo bicycle sharing system, there are no docking stations for rental scooters. You can find them scattered all across the city.

The City’s Department of Public Service issued round one of its rules and regulations for e-scooter rentals at the end of August 2018, to take effect at the end of September. However, those rules and regulations failed to address whether e-scooters could be operated on city sidewalks as well as on city streets. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the city attorney was advising city police that e-scooters could be operated on both city sidewalks and city streets because the law was unclear. Rick Rouan, “City issues initial regulations for companies,” The Columbus Dispatch, Wednesday, August 29, 2018, pp. A1, A6.

Less than two weeks later the City’s Department of Public Service issued round two of its rules and regulations for e-scooter rentals on an emergency basis. The law is no longer unclear. Among its rules and regulations are the following:

Roadway use. E-scooters must be operated on a roadway, and in a bike lane, traffic lane, bike path, bike trail, or shared use path in the right of way where practicable.

Traffic laws. E-scooter users must obey all traffic laws.

Due care. E-scooter users must exercise due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.

Sidewalks and crosswalks. E-scooters shall not be operated on sidewalks or within crosswalks except when necessary to go on or off adjacent property or to park the e-scooter after the operator has finished using it.

Freeways. E-scooters may not be operated on the freeway system.

Streets. E-scooters may not be operated on streets where the posted speed limit is over 35 miles per hour, absent a bike lane or shared use path.

Maximum speed. An e-scooter shall not be operated at a speed greater than 20 miles per hour.

Passengers and packages. An e-scooter user shall not carry another person or child at the same time, or a package, bundle, or article that prevents the user from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.

Parking on the sidewalk. No person shall park an e-scooter on the sidewalk so as to interfere unduly with pedestrian traffic or access, including ADA ramps, areas for entering and exiting buildings, and transit stops.

Parking on the street. No person shall park an e-scooter on the street, including parking spaces and loading zones, so as to unduly interfere with vehicular traffic.

Private property. An e-scooter may not be operated, parked, or staged on private property without the consent of the property owner.

Earphones and earplugs. No person shall operate an e-scooter while wearing earphones or earplugs for both ears.

Disorderly conduct in operation. An e-scooter operator will be subject to all local and state laws, including Disorderly Conduct under Columbus City Code Section 2317.11.

Additionally: “No person shall operate an e-scooter without due regard for the safety and rights of pedestrians and drivers and occupants of all other vehicles, and so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person while in the lawful use of the streets or any other public or private property such as in a weaving or zigzag course unless such an irregular course is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.”

The Department of Public Service order setting out these rules and regulations states that it is an emergency order, and therefore temporary. It takes effect on September 11, 2018, and remains in effect for 30 days. We’ll provide updates to the City’s e-scooter rules and regulations as they develop.   

Meanwhile, if you spot our old friend Dr. Emmett Brown in Hill Valley Courthouse Square, tell “Doc” to call us. In Back to the Future Part II, the “future” was 2015. We’re a couple years overdue for hoverboards.

This article is provided as a public service by Mallory Law Office, LLC. While the information on this site is about legal issues, it is not legal advice, legal counsel or legal representation. Because of the rapidly changing nature of the law and our reliance upon outside sources, we make no warranty or guarantee of the accuracy or reliability of information contained herein.