New York City could join Fort Lauderdale and other South Florida cities as the next metropolitan area to welcome a brigade of electric scooters.
Lime, the controversial bike and scooter sharing company, recently set up a pop-up shop in Manhattan to let people test ride scooters, which are illegal in New York City.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called both scooters and electric bikes dangerous and two years ago told police to crack down on people using electric scooters in the city. But advocates, lobbyists and some City Council members are trying to change that.
The controversy is not limited to New York.
After a successful pilot run, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission agreed to allow scooters on city streets. But it banned their use during spring break, when traffic on the roads and sidewalks is high.
New York City has some of the busiest sidewalks in the world and adding scooters to the equation would likely incite a small war between pedestrians. That’s why proposals to legalize their use include language requiring riders to stay in the tight bike lanes that run between sidewalks and street.
Lime says scooters are equipped for the tough New York streets, potholes and all, because they boast wide wheels, robust brakes and superior suspension. The company let people test out the scooters inside a wood-floored pop-up shop at the end of January, but there is no way to tell how the new features will fare on the streets.
The scooter controversy stems in part from the way companies like Lime deploy their fleets.
First, they research city laws to find places that do not have ordinances explicitly restricting electric scooters. Then they move in, leaving scooters in areas of heavy pedestrian traffic with instructions on how to use them.
Companies post ads offering to pay people to charge the scooters. By the time city officials respond, it is usually with fines or restrictions, or banning the scooters entirely.
Lime did not respond to emails asking for comment.
In Fort Lauderdale, home to the only full Lime scooter fleet in Florida, there have been 40 scooter-related injuries reported to the city’s Fire-Rescue from last Dec. 1 to Jan. 31 of this year. Of those, 31 victims ended up hospitalized, four with Level 1 trauma injuries.
One woman is in a coma six weeks after she was hit by a car as she rode an electric scooter to work in Fort Lauderdale.
Announcing a lawsuit against Lime, Todd Falzone, the woman’s lawyer, said a conflict between Lime’s rules and a city ordinance may have contributed to the crash.
Lime tells riders to stay off the sidewalk and Fort Lauderdale says to stay on it, he said.
A study done by UCLA researchers found a spike in emergency room visits by people injured in scooter accidents. The study surveyed emergency rooms in the Los Angeles area, where the scooters have been deployed for a little over a year.
Most patients were treated for head injuries and broken bones. The study also found that only 4.4 percent were wearing helmets when they were injured.
Gerard Albert III is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s New York City Bureau.